USS Hornet CV-12
The West Coast’s USS Hornet, like Intrepid in New York, Yorktown in Charleston and Lexington in Corpus Christi, is one of the 22 WW II-built Essex class carriers. All the museum ships were in the group of 16 Essex class carriers selected for conversion to hurricane bow, strengthened deck, catapults and lifts, andangled deck layouts under Project 27 and 125 modifications that commenced in the 1950s. As museums, they attract thousands of visitors a day. There are two museum aircraft carriers on the West Coast, USS Midway in San Diego and Hornet in San Francisco.
This “Grey Ghost” doesn’t carry as many aircraft or attract as many visitors as the longer-established and better-sited Intrepid, but her displays and vast hangar deck are worth the 30-minute trip out from San Francisco to old NAS Alameda. Ring (U.S.A.) 510 521 8448 or check out the ship’s programs through the web site http://uss-hornet.org, and ask for further details. Ask also about public transport, but remember San Francisco is not as well-blessed with public transport as some other cities. A few buses do run by the old Alameda gates, but it’s still a long walk to the carrier’s berth, a couple of kilometres or more across an empty air station.
Only 30 minutes or so from San Francisco, Hornet is best approached by car.
The museum is open, generally, 1000 to 1700 daily except 7 February, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day and New Years Day. There are several entry packages, but full price Adult entry fees are $14, Seniors are $12.
This Hornet is not the one of Jimmy Doolittle’s “30 seconds over Tokyo” fame. That ship (CV-8, a Yorktown class aircraft carrier, launched 14 December 1940) reluctantly went to the bottom off the Santa Cruz Islands on 26 October 1942 after repeated bomb and torpedo hits by Japanese navy aircraft. Long after she had been abandoned, it required another nine torpedoes and 400 rounds of 5-inch shells from American destroyers plus, finally, four Long Lance torpedoes from a couple of Japanese destroyers to send her to her watery grave. A new Essex class carrier then building, hull number 395 and initially named Kearsarge, was quickly re-christened “Hornet“, the eighth USN ship to bear that name.
The origins of her “Grey Ghost” nickname are not clear, but they might be connected to the fact Hornet was the first of the USN fleet carriers to wear the odd “dazzle” camouflage system, predominantly light grey with contrasting darker-hued geometric shapes, while sister-ship Lexington became a “Blue Ghost” because she retained her old one-shade USN blue-grey paint scheme.
NAS Alameda deserted
The once-thriving NAS Alameda looks deserted. The main gates stand open and the proud guardhouse sentinel aircraft look on forlornly. Way down the bottom of the airfield at the end of a row of mothballed warships and transports is the spick and span USS Hornet. On the other hand, there is a big free car park nearby and the ship may be boarded from solid-looking brows.
CV 12 fell foul of the infamous 5 June 1945 typhoon. She recorded winds of 110 – 120 knots and seas of 100 feet or more broke over her bow, damaging her flight deck. The first 24 feet were so buckled that she could only operate aircraft by steaming astern at 18 knots and launching her aircraft “the wrong way”. This was a design feature of the Essex class, but the damage was severe enough to send Hornet back to the USA for repairs. On the other hand, this Hornet was a very lucky ship in that she was never hit even once in 59 air attacks by Japanese aircraft. At the same time, her aircraft and guns claimed 1410 enemy planes as well as considerable damage and destruction to ships and shore installations.
Hornet is the “Ship that Affected the Course of History,” say the pamphlets. Once aboard, watch an interesting 20-minute video detailing her life. Hornet‘s fighter squadron, VF 2, claimed no less than 72 Japanese aircraft in one day in 1944. Hornet was also the primary recovery vessel for a number of Apollo spacecraft in 1969. Visitors are free to wander about her flight deck and hangar, poke around her aircraft and view many of her operational and engineering spaces.
The 32-knot Essex class carriers served the USA very well in WW II, Korea, Vietnam and elsewhere. Sister ship Antietam was the first with an angled deck in 1952 and her fellow Essex class Hancock was the first operational carrier to launch an aircraft by steam catapult in 1954.