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USS Hornet Discovery

With yesterday’s announcement of the discovery of the USS Hornet (CV-8) by the research vessel Petrel, the final chapter has finally been written in the story of one of America’s most historic warships.  Commissioned on October 20, 1941, she was sunk a year and six days later during the Battle of Santa Cruz, yet in that year and six days, the Hornet made history. 

Her first combat mission was to deliver the B-25 Mitchell bombers of the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo to their launch point in the north Pacific on April 18, 1942.  As America’s first strike against the Japanese after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the raid raised American morale and shocked the Japanese who felt their island homelands were outside the range of U.S. bombers.  Although none of the 16 B-25 crews had ever taken off from a carrier before, they all successfully launched from the Hornet and bombed their targets in Japan.  

Next, the Hornet participated in the pivotal battle for Midway, where her aircraft along with those of the Enterprise and Yorktown sank four Japanese aircraft carriers shattered Japan’s hopes of victory in the Pacific.  Of the aircraft she sent out to attack the Japanese forces, Hornet’s Torpedo Squadron 8, was completely wiped out during the battle, with only one survivor.  However because of the unit’s sacrifice, U.S. dive bombers caught the Japanese off guard, and within a span of six minutes, turned three of the four of their carriers into flaming infernos.

Hornet’s final campaign would be the six-month long battle for the island of Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands group.  Critical to both sides, Guadalcanal was invaded by the U.S. in August 1942 and quickly became a “slugging match” where the Americans and Japanese hammered each other mercilessly for control of the island.   On the morning of October 26, the Hornet and her sister ship Enterprise moved to block a Japanese fleet headed towards Guadalcanal and the two forces met near the Santa Cruz Islands.  The fleets clashed in a carrier versus carrier engagement where Hornet’s aircraft damaged the Japanese carrier Shokaku (which was part of the Pearl Harbor attack) and a heavy cruiser.  However, the Hornet was struck by three bombs, two torpedoes and two enemy dive bombers which deliberately crashed into her which forced her to be abandoned.  She was eventually sunk by torpedoes from two Japanese destroyers, taking 140 of her dead crew to the bottom with her.

Today we know that Hornet sits peacefully on the bottom of the Pacific, three miles below the surface.  Her guns still point to the sky and the decks are still littered with the debris of a battle that raged over 76 years ago.  Her final resting place and that of 140 of her crew is now a war grave, known only to those who found her.  Yet her discovery once again brings to light the story of this valiant ship and her courageous crew who fought to “hold the line” in the first year of the Pacific War.

To learn more about the Hornet and her role in World War II, come see the displays at the museum, which include a 10’ model of the Hornet as she appeared during the Doolittle Raid, and aircraft types such as the SBD Dauntless and B-25 Mitchell that operated from her decks during the war.

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