The Ship that Held the Line: The USS Hornet
They're not really made of steel.

These warships we model are actually made of flesh and blood, of brains, sweat and courage. We model the steel part because we can, but at our loss do we forget that each model we build was once the home, office and at times, the tomb of real sailors.

If you feel the way I do about ships, and if you are, like me, working on your Trumpeter Hornet, then you will likely want to read The Ship That Held the Line, subtitled "The USS Hornet and the First Year of the Pacific War" by Lisle A. Rose. The book is published by the U.S. Naval Institute and is available at and other merchants.


Three Themes
This book has three themes: the first is of course a history of the Hornet, from the yards until its death at Santa Cruz. The second theme is a naval history of the early part of the Pacific War, focusing on the recovery from Pearl Harbor and those first victories against the Japanese. The last theme is an analytical look at the U.S. Navy's grudging shift from battleships toward sea control from the air, the move to center stage of the aircraft carrier as the prime component of Navy power.

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Being There
The writing is throughout top-notch. The author's style in retelling history reads like a good novel, with a keen sense of bringing the reader out to sea. For example, describing the carrier as she worked up to deployment, Rose writes:
“While the planes flew, the ship's company settled back into the daily routine of life at sea. Dawn general quarters were followed by breakfast; then the 08:00 crew mustered on station. Occasionally at least some of the engineering department was formally mustered on the hanger deck to give the sallow, heat-enervated men an opportunity to escape their cramped workspaces below decks and get a bit of sun and wind. The rest of the day was consumed with work, chow, sleep and maybe some poker or craps shooting.

"The endless sea stretched monotonously around the ship from horizon to horizon, broken only by the forms of dashing destroyers and stolid cruisers holding steady course. Men woke, worked, ate and slept with the sounds and rhythms of the ocean. It hissed along side of the gliding hull; its salty smell mixed with the oil and gasoline fumes. It provided a backdrop of uniformity and harmony.”

Later, when the ship is under attack, the author quotes a sailor as saying:

“No matter what the eye tells, the realization of a torpedo hit comes through deep in a man's stomach, like the dull thud of a blow buried deep in flesh.”

Finally, Rose takes us right into the belly of the ship as she dies at Santa Cruz:

“Crashing into the compartment without warning, the bomb detonated near the port bulkhead with a horrible roar. The concussion raised everyone several feet off the deck. The blast transformed steam tables, servers, lockers and ladders leading to the deck above into blazing hot shrapnel… Nowell and most of his mates died instantly, their bodies shredded by shrapnel, wretched and torn by very severe concussion and burned by unbearable heat.”


“The cries reverberate through the empty hull that had been constantly filled with the sounds of men and machines from its birth. 'Pilots, pilots, man your planes,' 'Supper, supper for the crew,' 'I'll call three whores and a pair of treys,' 'Seaman, if I've told you once, I've told you a hundred times…' Only the dead inhabit the Hornet now, and perhaps the ghosts of Johnnie Waldron and the men of Torpedo 8 as well. The last voices fade away over the side. By 17:27 everyone is gone, and the United States Ship Hornet (CV-8) passes forever from the navy lists. A hush falls over the big, abandoned hulk, which rolls gently in the soft swells of the tropical ocean.”

History and Philosophy
Interspersed of course is the history of that first year or so of the Pacific War. While many readers can already recite in their minds the familiar names of Pearl, the Doolittle Raid, Midway, Coral Sea and the other battles, Rose adds in enough “big picture” text to refresh astute readers and educate those newer to the history of the Pacific War.

Lastly, the book chronicles the rise of the carrier as the primary offensive tool of the U.S. Navy, as the realities of war at sea in the early 1940's make it clear that the age of the battleships is receding under the evolutionary pressure of the carriers. The author analyses the mistakes of both sides, with special attention paid to the action at Midway. Again, much of this may not be totally new to those already familiar with naval strategy, but the writing is good enough to carry the informed reader without undue effort, and clear enough to inform a reader new to the subject.

Who Should Consider Buying the Book?
The book is not your one-stop shopping item for photos and details that will enable you to build the ultimate Hornet; the Classic Warships' book is your baby for that. What this book will do for the Hornet modeler is provide the story behind the steel, awaken in you an increased admiration for the men who served on the ship, and the risks they took on in the days before long range radar, sophisticated control systems, state-of-the-art damage control and the like.

Having read this book, I look at my still unpainted Hornet now in a very different way. Like “Band of Brothers,” this book exposes you to the boring, busy, uplifting, frightening, happy, sad, lonely, comradely lives of men at war at sea in the early 1940's, and through that, explains the history of a proud ship present at key naval battles in the Pacific.

Click this link to buy The Ship that Held the Line: USS Hornet from


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