THE U.S.S. HORNET MUSEUM
by Martin J. Quinn
The Essex-class carrier USS Hornet (CV-12) was launched on August 30, 1943 and commissioned into service on November 29, 1943. Originally named Kearsage, the name was changed to honor the Yorktown-class carrier Hornet that carried Doolittle's Tokyo Raiders and was sunk at the Battle of Santa Cruz in October 1942. After a shakedown cruise and working up period, the new Hornet joined the Fast Carrier Task Force in March, 1944.
Hornet participated in raids against the Caroline Island, Tinian and Saipan, before engaging in the Battle of the Philippine Sea in June 1944. Over two days, the US Navy broke the back of Japanese Naval Aviation, eliminating the Japanese flattops as any real threat for the rest of the war.
Hornet and her air group continued to be busy of the over the following months, participating in the Battle of Leyte Gulf and attacking shipping and airfields in support of the continuing liberation of the Philippines. When Iwo Jima and Okinawa were assaulted, Hornet was there. On April 6, 1945, her aircraft were instrumental in the destruction of the Japanese battleship Yamato. The war ended for Hornet when twenty-five feet of her forward flight deck was wrecked in a Typhoon in early June, 1945.
After repairs in San Francisco, Hornet participated in Operation Magic Carpet, ferrying troops back to the states after the war. Decommissioned in January 1947, she was decommissioned in September 1953 after undergoing an SCB-27A conversion to an attack carrier.
She spent the next several years as part of the 7th fleet in the familiar waters of the South Pacific, before undergoing her second modernization in January 1956. This was the SCB-125 upgrade, which included a hurricane bow, steam catapults and angled flight deck.
Post-refit she operated with the 7th fleet again, before being designated an Anti-Submarine Warfare Support carrier in 1958 after another period in the Puget Sound shipyard. Hornet spent the next dozen years in this role, as well as supporting combat operations in Southeast Asia and participating in the Apollo space program. She was decommissioned for the last time in 1970, and spent almost 20 years in reserve, before being removed from the Naval Register in 1989, being sold for scrap in 1993.
Instead of ending up like so many veteran ships, Hornet was saved from the junkman's torch by a group in the Bay Area and turned into a Museum in 1998. Currently, she is moored at the former Alameda Naval Air Station.
It was here that I visited her on a sunny, warm Monday afternoon in November 2002, during an off-day on a business trip to San Francisco. Taking the ferry from Pier 39 in Fisherman's Wharf, it took about 30 minutes to cross the bay to Alameda. Once in Alameda, you are left standing at the small ferry terminal. There was information on a bus line, but no information on how to use the bus to get to the Hornet. I knew the Naval Air Station was right in front of me - I had seen the abandoned runway on the trip on - so I started walking...and walking...and walking. About 15 minutes later the main gate came into view and with it the masts of ships in the distance. Making my way onto the base, I began to see signs for the museum and continued on my way.
I came upon Hornet, tied up to the inside of a pier, her stern pointed out into the bay towards San Francisco. She is tied up near the spot where her namesake loaded a cargo of B-25 bombers in April, 1942. At first, I thought the museum might be closed, since there was no one about. The museum is in financial difficulty, and I realized that the ship was open, it was just that I had her practically to myself.
Hornet is in very good condition. Her hull looks like she was freshly painted, in fact the ship looked as if she could almost be put back into service. Once onboard, I was fortunate to have a Docent approach me. These are volunteers - many of whom are vets - who give guided tours of the ship. One of the things I've noticed about naval museum's in other parts of the country (I live in New Jersey) is the access you get inside the ship, as opposed to the Intrepid in New York. It was no different here, as a Docent lead a small tour down into the engine rooms, which were in remarkable shape.
From there, I returned to the hangar deck and then proceeded to the flight deck. Hornet - unlike Intrepid - has no aircraft on her flight deck. On the flight deck, a Docent took a group of about 10 of us up to the Pri-Fly and then to the bridge. I've been on the both the Intrepid and the Yorktown, but with the Docent tour, I actually learned a few things.
The tour returned us to the hangar deck, where I was on my own. Towards the front of the ship you can see the forward elevator pit. There is also a replica of the Hornet's scoreboard from World War II on the starboard side of the ship (unfortunately I was remiss in snapping a picture of this).
The hangar deck also has a small collection of aircraft on it, so I walked around and checked these out. Some are in good shape, others are being restored. others are awaiting attention.
Since I had to meet business associates for dinner back in San Francisco, I had to catch a bus back to the ferry and was unable to see the rest of the displays below the hangar deck. Hopefully I'll catch that next trip to the Bay Area. While waiting for the bus, I was able to shoot some more pictures of Hornet tied up to the pier.
If you are in the Bay Area, I highly recommend taking an excursion to the Hornet Museum. Their web site provides driving directions. If you have the time and the weather is nice, I recommend the ferry if you are coming from San Francisco - the view is amazing. Either way, go support the museum if you get the chance.