The History of USS Hornet

The might of an aircraft carrier lies in its ability to quickly move about the world’s oceans, projecting power whenever and wherever it is needed. The heart of a carrier’s combat strength is its aircraft; her Air Groups provided Hornet’s lethal sting. Hornet’s success was dependent on the capabilities of highly trained pilots and aircrews and the specialized aircraft that operated from her flight deck.

In World War II, her air groups consisted of a fighter (VF) squadron, a bombing (VB) squadron and a torpedo (VT) squadron. During the 1950s as naval warfare technology evolved, so too did the complexity and specialty of carrier-based aircraft. Joining the classic fighter and attack aircraft were electronic/early warning, photo-reconnaissance, and anti-submarine warfare aircraft. Dual-role aircraft also provided aerial tanking and limited cargo capabilities and helicopters proved essential to carrier operations which included search and rescue missions.

World War II Combat Record Awards

Hornet WWII Battle Stars Pacific Campaign
USS Hornet (CV-12) was awarded nine Battle Stars for Pacific service in World War II:
  • One Star — Asiatic-Pacific Raids – 1944
  • One Star — Hollandia Operation – 1944
  • One Star — Marianas Operation – 1944
  • One Star — Western Caroline Islands Operation – 1944
  • One Star — Western New Guinea Operation – 1944
  • One Star — Leyte Operation – 1944
  • One Star — Luzon Operation – 1944-1945
  • One Star — Iwo Jima Operation – 1945
  • One Star — Okinawa Gunto Operation – 1945
Hornet WWII Presidential Unit Citations
USS Hornet (CV-12) was awarded a Presidential Unit Citation for the following operations:
  • Air Group 2 (VF-2, VB-2, VT-2, and part of VFN-76)
  • March 29 – May 1, 1944 — Palau, Hollandia, Truk.
  • June 11 – August 5, 1944 — Marianas, Bonins, Yap.
  • September 6 – September 24, 1944 — Philippines, Palau.
  • Air Group 11 (VF-11, VB-11, and VT-11)
  • October 10 – Nov. 22, 1944 — Ryukyus, Formosa, Philippines, Luzon.
  • December 14 – Dec. 16, 1944 — Luzon.
  • January 3 – January 22, 1945 — Philippines, Formosa, China Sea, Ryukyus.
  • Air Group 17 (VF-17, VBF-17, VB-17, and VT-17)
  • February 16 – June 10, 1945 — Japan, Bonins, Ryukyus.

World War II Combat Record Statistics

In 18 months of combat operations, USS Hornet CV-12 achieved the following combat record:
  • 668 Japanese planes shot down
  • 742 Japanese planes destroyed on the ground
  • 1,269,710 tons of enemy ships sunk or heavily damaged: 73 ships sunk, 37 probable, 413 damaged
  • Ship’s engines burned 28,437,630 gallons of fuel oil
  • Ship’s evaporators distilled 41,231,453 gallons of fresh water
  • Ship steamed 155,000 miles (equal to six trips around world)
Air Wings:
  • Aircraft burned 5,644,800 gallons of aviation gasoline
  • Aircraft fired 4,878,748 rounds of machine gun bullets
  • Aircraft delivered 17,793 bombs, 5,842 rockets, and 116 torpedoes
  • Aircraft flew 18,569 combat sorties
  • Aircraft logged over 23,000 arrested landings
Ship’s Guns:
  • Fired 7,275 rounds of 5″ ammo
  • Fired 115,179 rounds of 40 mm ammo
  • Fired 409,580 rounds of 20 mm ammo

1 carrier sunk, 1 cruiser sunk, 10 destroyers sunk, 42 cargo ships sunk, and assisted in the sinking of the IJN super battleship Yamato.

World War II Statistics

USS Hornet CV-8

  • Displacement (standard) – 19,800 tons
  • Displacement (full load) – 25,500 tons
  • Deck length – 824 feet (251 m)
  • Deck width – 114 feet (34 m)
  • Draft – 24 feet (7 m)

USS Hornet CV-12

  • Displacement (standard) – 27,100 tons
  • Displacement (full load) – 36,380 tons
  • Length – 872 feet (250 m)
  • Width – 147 feet (28 m)
  • Draft – 28 feet (8 m)

USS Hornet CV-8 was a Yorktown-class aircraft carrier. She launched the famed Doolittle Raid on Tokyo in 1942 in response to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

USS Hornet CV-12 is one of the 24 legendary Essex-class aircraft carriers constructed during and after World War II. Built at Newport News, Virginia, she is the eighth ship to be named “Hornet.” She is one of the most decorated ships of the US Navy, having rounded out her service as the prime recovery ship for Apollo 11 and 12, the historic first manned lunar landing missions.

For 16 continuous months Hornet was in action in the forward areas of the Pacific combat zone, sometimes within 40 miles of the Japanese home islands.

  • Under air attack 59 times, she was never seriously damaged.
  • Her aircraft destroyed 1,410 Japanese aircraft, only Essex exceeded this record.
  • Her air groups destroyed or damaged 1,269,710 tons of enemy shipping.
  • 72 enemy aircraft shot down in one day during the famous “Great Marianas Turkey Shoot.”
  • 10 Hornet pilots attained “Ace in a Day” status.
  • 255 aircraft shot down in a month.
  • 30 of 42 VF-2 Hellcat pilots were aces.
  • Supported nearly every Pacific amphibious landing after March 1944.
  • Scored the critical first hits in sinking the super battleship Yamato.
  • Launched the first carrier aircraft strikes in support of the liberation of the Philippine Islands.
  • In 1945 launched the first strikes against Tokyo since the 1942 Doolittle Raid.

General Ship Statistics, Dimensions, & Specifications

LENGTH, overall:

1943: 876 feet
1956: 893 feet

BEAM, extreme width:

1943: 147 feet
1956: 192 feet

DRAFT (under load):  29 feet


1943: 27,100 tons
1953: 33,100 tons


1943: 33,900 tons
1956: 40,300 tons

HEIGHT ABOVE WATERLINE (top of mast): 190 feet


COST (Original): $69 million

Engineering Plant and Mechanical

ENGINES: 4 Westinghouse Geared Turbine Engines

BOILERS: 8 Babcock & Wilcox M-Type

PROPELLERS: 4  four-bladed propellers of solid manganese bronze; 15 foot diameter, 27,190 lbs each


No. 1 and 4: 258 feet
No. 2 and 3: 186 feet


PROPULSION: 150,000 horsepower

RUDDER: 430 sq. ft. in surface area

ANCHOR CHAINS: 2 chains — 1,100 feet long, 108,000 lbs

USS HORNET CV-12 Specifications

KEEL LAID: 3 August 1942

LAUNCHED: 30 August 1943


CV-12: 29 November 1943
CVA-12: 11 September 1953
CVS-12: 18 December 1958

DECOMMISSIONED (Final):  26 June 1970


WWII: 3,600 – 4,000 including Air Wing
Post-WWII: 3,000 – 3,500 including Air Wing


WWII: 92 – 101
1953 – 1958: 86
1958 – 1970: 44



(12) 5-in. 38-cal. (4 twin mounts, 4 single)
(10) 40 mm quad mounts
(59) 20 mm single mounts


(8)  5-in. 38-cal. single mounts
捕鱼大作战 (14) 3-in. 50-cal. twin mounts


(7) 5-in. 38-cal. single mounts
(4) 3-in. 50-cal. twin mounts


(4) 5-in. 38-cal. single mounts


The first Hornet is christened. Hornet would become one of the most distinguished names in American naval history with her performance in the Revolutionary War. The first two ships in the new Continental Navy were Hornet and Wasp.


In a one hour gun battle, the second Hornet, along with another sloop, battered the canons at the citadel at Djerna, damaging one of the walls enough to allow the Marines to rush over it and capture the citadel, thus deciding the war with the Barbary Pirates.


The third Hornet, a large sloop-of-war, was built in Baltimore in 1805 and was the first of its name designed as a warship. During the War of 1812 with Britain, she was victorious in several noted battles. While under the command of James Lawrence in 1813, she defeated the HMS Peacock in a widely acclaimed sea battle. Lawrence was promoted and later awarded the Congressional Gold Medal. Hornet continued carrying out anti-piracy operations in the Caribbean Sea after the war until lost at sea during a heavy gale off Tampico, Mexico in 1829.


The fourth ship to bear the name Hornet was a small five-gun schooner, used principally for inshore patrol work as a dispatch vessel. It did serve concurrently to the third Hornet.


An iron-side wheeler was number five, and the first Hornet to be steam-propelled. She was captured from the Confederates off North Carolina in 1864 and saw service with the U.S. Fleet during the rest of the Civil War.


The sixth Hornet was a converted yacht purchased for use in the Spanish-American War. After participating in operations at Daiquiri and Siboney, this Hornet, in company with two other converted yachts, met a superior force of Spanish ships at Manzanillo. In spite of being outnumbered three to one, the American ships attacked the Spanish group; they succeeded in sinking of disabling the entire enemy squadron while the Hornet suffered no casualties.


The seventh ship named Hornet was an early aircraft carrier. USS Hornet (CV-8) was the third and final member of the Yorktown class, commissioned just weeks before the attack on Pearl Harbor. As a pre-World War II vessel, her size was limited in accordance with naval treaties of the 1930’s. CV-8 was sunk during the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands in late October 1942.


The eighth Hornet was an Essex-class aircraft carrier. USS Hornet (CV-12) was commissioned in November 1943.

She entered the Pacific War in March 1944 and was part of the famous US Navy Fast Carrier Task Forces that pounded enemy installations in the western Pacific supported numerous island invasions。 She was awarded 11 battle stars for her exemplary WWII service。 She also served three tours of duty in the Vietnam War and recovered the Apollo 11 and Apollo 12 lunar landing spaceflights in 1969。

CV-12: The Grey Ghost Enters the War



The Navy’s aircraft carrier hull number 12 was originally slated to be commissioned as the USS Kearsarge. However, the ship’s name was changed to honor the fallen USS Hornet (CV-8) after she was sunk at the Battle of Santa Cruz Islands while protecting US forces holding Guadalcanal. USS Hornet (CV-12) was commissioned November 29, 1943, becoming the eighth ship to bear the name.


March 15

USS Hornet left Pearl Harbor en route to the forward area. Her combat debut as the flagship of Rear Admiral J.J. “Jocko” Clark came quickly as she joined famed Task Force 58.

USS Hornet (CV-12) was commissioned November 29, 1943, becoming the eighth ship to bear the name.

June 19

Battle of the Philippine Sea where pilots from Hornet and other carriers destroyed enemy aircraft with minimal losses in what came to be known as the “Great Marianas Turkey Shoot”.

June 24th

Hornet participated in the Western Carolina Islands operation with air support strikes on Peleliu.


Hornet air group VF-2 had the distinction of being the top fighter squadron in the Pacific with more total victories and more “ace” pilots any other fighter squadron up to that time.

October 23-26

Hornet participated in the Battle of Leyte Gulf, launching 2 long-range strikes against a rapidly retiring Japanese fleet and scoring hits on several capital ships.


Hornet and Task Force 58 began intensive operations in the Philippines and surrounding areas. For the next two months, strikes were made against positions on Formosa, Luzon, Saigon, Cam Ranh Bay in French Indo-China, and Hong Kong.


February 16

Hornet kept a date the old Hornet (CV-8) had made some 34 months before when she conducted the first carrier strikes on Tokyo, neutralizing air fields and hitting shipping and targets of opportunity.

June 5

The carrier and crew weathered a severe typhoon that threw 120-knot winds at the warship. The flight deck of the Hornet and her sister ship Bennington(CV-20) were heavily damaged and both were put out of action.

July 7

Hornet steamed through the Golden Gate. She offloaded planes and ammunition then entered dry dock at Hunters Point Naval shipyard for repairs from the typhoon.


After armistice signed with Japan, Hornet was used as a troop transport in Operation “Magic Carpet,” bringing veterans of the Pacific back to the West Coast.


August 14

Hornet returned to San Francisco and was designated an inactive part of the 19th Pacific Fleet.


January 15

Hornet is decommissioned at Hunters Point, San Francisco.


March 20

Hornet捕鱼大作战 was recommissioned at Hunters Point after 4 ½ years. The carrier departed San Francisco and transited the Panama Canal en route to Brooklyn Naval Shipyard in New York.

May 12

Underwent modernization renovation in New York. Hornet’s 27-month, $50 million renovation, known as SCB-27A, gave her more powerful catapults and arresting gear, a strengthened flight deck, a new streamlined island, new ammunition lifts and numerous other improvements to facilitate the Navy’s new jets and heavy attack bombers. This program upgraded virtually every system aboard the ship and brought her to the forefront of carrier technology.


October 10

HORNET received the new designation “CVA” for attack carrier.


September 11

Hornet  was recommissioned at New York Naval Shipyard.

December 8

During sea trials, Hornet捕鱼大作战 landed its first jet, an F2H-3 Banshee.


May 11

Since Hornet was based on the West Coast, the Navy returned it to California on an around-the-world cruise, via the Atlantic, Mediterranean, and Indian Oceans. The cruise lasted eight-months and ended in Manila Bay in late June when Hornet joined the Pacific Fleet.

July 25

Hornet fighters assisted in a search for survivors of a British Cathay Pacific DC-4 commercial airliner that had been shot down by two Chinese La-7 Fins fighters. The British airliner had crashed off the Chinese island of Hainan and Hornet pilots were able to locate several survivors in what became known as the “Hainan Incident.”


During this year, the Hornet conducted operations and training in the Pacific.



Hornet was ordered to Bremerton, Washington to start her next modernization, called SCB-125 by the Navy. While at Puget Sound Naval Ship Yard, Hornet was fitted with an angled flight deck.


Chinese anti-aircraft gunners shot at two of Hornet’s aircraft but, other than minor damage, both aircraft returned to Hornet safely.


Hornet returned to San Diego and spent the rest of the year conducting training around the California coast before heading to the western Pacific.


Modernization was completed and also included the fitting of an enclosed hurricane bow. Following tests, training, and carrier qualifications, Hornet departed for a six-month deployment with the 7th Fleet in the western Pacific.



Hornet left for another Western Pacific cruise.

June 27

Hornet was re-designated an “anti-submarine warfare support” (ASW) aircraft carrier, CVS-12. Her CVS conversion was done at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard.



Hornet departed for the Western Pacific in her new role as an ASW carrier. As an ASW carrier, one of the more noticeable changes was the addition of helicopters and piston-engine aircraft.



Hornet returned to Long Beach and started another WestPac Cruise.



Returning to Bremerton, Hornet捕鱼大作战 was dry docked for four months.


Hornet crewmen helped fight the famous Hollywood Hills fire that devastated the Los Angeles suburb. Hornet’s捕鱼大作战 two diesel generators were used to feed electricity into the Southern California power grid.



Hornet started her seventh WestPac Cruise and returned to Long Beach at the end of the year where four of the remaining 5-inch guns were removed.



Hornet捕鱼大作战 returned to Hunter’s Point to undergo another modernization and conversion called FRAM II.


Hornet departed for her eighth WestPac Cruise.



The conversion to FRAM II modernization was complete.


Hornet departed for her ninth WestPac Cruise and first Vietnam cruise. Most of her time was spent supporting Navy and Marine aircraft on an around-the-clock SAR (search and rescue) mission. Her helicopters flew inland in support of strike aircraft while her assigned A-4E Skyhawks flew 110 combat missions off another carrier.



Hornet arrived back in San Diego and entered dry dock for overhaul.


Hornet served as the Prime Recovery Ship for Apollo AS-202’s suborbital space flight. The unmanned capsule was recovered 300 miles north of Wake Island.



Hornet left for her tenth WestPac Cruise and second Vietnam cruise. During this time, Hornet supported Seventh Fleet units in and around Vietnam and the Gulf of Tonkin. Hornet tracked Soviet submarines and was over flown several times by Soviet aircraft.


After several trips to Japan and Hong Kong, Hornet returned to Long Beach.


Hornet entered dry dock in Long Beach in late November.



Hornet leaves dry dock after a completed overhaul and departs for her eleventh WestPac and third Vietnam Cruise.


Arriving in the Gulf of Tonkin shortly after the bombing halt, Hornet pilots conducted surveillance and ASW operations before stopping at Hong Kong and Japan.



Returns to San Diego after being stationed off Vietnam for most of the remainder of the cruise.


Hornet was selected by the Navy as the Prime Recovery Ship for the Apollo Program.


Departed Hawaii for primary Apollo 11 recovery area, and President Richard Nixon arrived on board to observe Apollo recovery mission.

July 24

Recovered the Apollo 11 astronauts, Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong and Mike Collins.

Apollo Recovery Program

USS Hornet (CVS-12) was selected by the Navy as the Prime Recovery Ship (PRS) for Apollo 11, America’s first lunar landing mission. On July 24, 1969, President Richard Nixon, ADM John S. McCain (CINCPAC) and a number of other dignitaries were present while Hornet捕鱼大作战 recovered astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins and their spacecraft Columbia. Armstrong and Aldrin were the first two humans to walk on the Moon.

The Navy units embarked on the USS Hornet that participated in the Apollo 11 recovery were: Helicopter Anti-submarine Warfare Squadron Four (HS-4) flying the Sikorsky SeaKing SH-3D helicopter; Underwater Demolition Teams Eleven and Twelve (UDT-11 and UDT-12); Airborne Early Warning Squadron VAW-111 flying the Grumman E-1B Tracer, and Fleet Logistics Support Squadron VR-30 flying the Grumman C-1A Trader.

The eight-day Apollo 11 mission marks the first time in mankind’s history that humans walked on the surface of another planetary body. On July 20, 1969, two astronauts, Mission Commander Neil Armstrong and LM pilot Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin Jr, landed on the Moon in the Lunar Module (LM) Eagle.  During a historic 2 ½ hour lunar surface excursion, the astronauts set up scientific experiments, took photographs, and collected rock and soil samples. After the Eagle rendezvoused with the Command Service Module (CSM) Columbia, the astronauts returned to Earth, landing in the Pacific Ocean on July 24. Apollo 11 fulfilled President John F. Kennedy’s challenge for America to land a man on the Moon and return him safely to Earth before the 1960’s decade had ended.

Apollo 11 was launched on a Saturn V on July 16, 1969 from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. After 1 ½ Earth orbits, the S-IVB stage was re-ignited, putting the spacecraft on course for the Moon. The S-IVB was fired again once the CSM reached the Moon to insert the spacecraft into orbit around it.  On July 20, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin entered the Lunar Module (LM) Eagle and descended to the lunar surface. The LM landed in the Sea of Tranquility with Armstrong reporting, “Houston, Tranquility Base here – the Eagle has landed.” Armstrong stepped onto the lunar surface several hours later stating, “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind”.

Aldrin descended the ladder several minutes later。 Both astronauts unveiled a plaque on the LM descent stage with the inscription: “Here Men From Planet Earth First Set Foot Upon the Moon, July 1969 A。D, We Came In Peace For All Mankind。” The astronauts deployed the scientific instruments, took photographs, and collected 22 kilograms of lunar rock and soil samples。 The astronauts traversed a total distance of about 250 meters。 The EVA ended after 2 hours, 31 minutes when the astronauts returned to the LM and closed the hatch。

After spending over 21 hours on the lunar surface, the Eagle blasted off. Once the LM had docked with Columbia, the two astronauts transferred to the CM, and the LM was jettisoned into lunar orbit (the crash site of the Eagle on the Moon is still unknown).

Three days later, just before Columbia was positioned for reentry into Earth’s atmosphere, it was separated from the Service Module. Apollo 11 splashed down in the Pacific Ocean on July 24 at 5:50 a.m. local time, after traveling over 950,000 miles in a little more than 8 days. The splashdown point was 920 miles southwest of Honolulu and 13 miles from the USS Hornet.

Four months later, the USS Hornet (CVS-12) repeated this flawless performance as PRS for the recovery of Apollo 12, America’s second lunar landing mission. On November 24, 1969, the spacecraft Yankee Clipper, with its all-Navy astronaut crew of Pete Conrad, Alan Bean and Dick Gordon, splashed down a little over 2 miles from the aircraft carrier.


Hornet returned to Long Beach with a banner proclaiming “HORNET PLUS THREE,” which declared them to be the recovery vessel for Apollo 11.


Departed Long Beach for Hawaii as primary recovery platform for Apollo 12 mission.


Departed Pearl Harbor for primary Apollo recovery area to pick up the spacecraft Yankee Clipper, with its all-Navy astronaut crew of Pete Conrad, Alan Bean and Dick Gordon, splashed down a little over 2 miles from the aircraft carrier.


Hornet returns to Long Beach, CA.



The Navy announces CVS-12 will be deactivated in June.


An S-2E Tracker makes last arresting landing aboard Hornet.


Hornet begins deactivation at Long Beach, CA.


Hornet decommissioned at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, Bremerton, WA.



The Navy ordered Hornet stricken from the Naval register.



Hornet designated a National Historic Landmark by National Park Service. She is listed on the National Register of Historic places, #91002065.


May 26

Hornet was donated to the Aircraft Carrier Hornet Foundation.

October 17

Hornet was opened to the public as the USS Hornet Museum.


USS Hornet was designated as a California State Historic Landmark.

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