Today, October 26, 1942: Last Full-Size American Aircraft Carrier to be Lost to Action in World War 2

USS HORNET, PACIFIC OCEAN 1942 -- Lt. Col. James "Jimmy" Doolittle takes off from the USS Hornet 650 miles from Japan on a top-secret bombing mission. The Doolittle Raid, U.S. Army Air Force special order #1 of World War II, was a daring one-way mission of 16 B-25 Mitchell medium bombers with 80 aircrew, commanded by Colonel Doolittle, to carry out America’s first offensive attack on Japan. The crews secretly trained for two-weeks and modified the B-25s at Eglin Air Force Base's Wagner Field, Auxiliary Field 1 prior to the mission. (Photo courtesy National Museum of the U.S. Air Force)

On September 25, 1939, the keel of the USS Hornet was laid into place at the Newport News shipyard at Norfolk, Virginia. This was to be the 7th ship to bear the name Hornet with the original USS Hornet being on the first warships built by the Continental Navy.

This USS Hornet was a full-size aircraft carrier with a flight deck measuring 827 feet. The ship displaced 20,000 tons and was built at a cost of $32 million. In addition to the 2,919 personnel and up to 90 aircraft, the Hornet was outfitted with 8 x 5”/48 (130mm) caliber Dual-purpose guns, 16 x 1.1”/75 caliber (28mm) anti-aircraft cannons mounted in 4×4 turret arrangements and 24 x M2 Browning .50 caliber heavy machine guns.

On October 20, 1940, the USS Hornet was officially commissioned at the Norfolk naval Station.

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On December 14, 1940, Mrs. Frank Knox, wife of the Secretary of the Navy, launched the USS Hornet.

On December 7, 1941, the USS Hornet was undergoing sea trails when news of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor reached Washington DC.

By the end of 1941, Japan had attacked and/or invaded Pearl Harbor, Wake Island, Guam, Philippines, Siam (Thailand), Hong Kong, Gilbert Islands, Burma and Borneo.

On January 11, 1942, Japan invaded the Dutch East Indies, which at that time consisted of most of what today we know as Indonesia.

On February 2, 1942, the USS Hornet undergoes sea trials with two B-25 Mitchell medium bombers. The test launches of the B-25 bombers went off without any problems.

In February 1942, the guns aboard the USS Hornet were modified to 8 x 5”/38 Dual-Purpose guns, 16 x 1.1” (4×4) cannons and 30 x 20mm anti-aircraft cannons.

On February 15, 1942, Singapore surrendered to Japan.

On February 19, 1942, Japan bombed Darwin, Australia, located on the northern coast.

On March 4, 1942, USS Hornet sails to Pacific Ocean.

On March 9, 1942, Java surrendered to Japan.

On March 13, 1942, Japan invades the Solomon Islands.

On March 21-27, 1942, USS Hornet conducts carrier qualifications off coast of San Diego for Airgroup 8.

On April 1, 1942, USS Hornet is loaded with 16 B-25 Mitchell bombers and 135 Army personnel.

April 2, 1942, USS Hornet leaves San Francisco with sealed orders to conduct the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo.

On April 5, 1942, Japan attacks and raids Ceylon (Sr Lanka), pushing their reach into the Indian Ocean.

On April 9, 1942, US and Philippine forces surrendered Bataan, leading to the infamous death march which resulted in the deaths of nearly 1,000 US troops and as many as 10,000 Filipino forces.

On April 13, USS Hornet rendezvous with USS Enterprise near Midway.

On April 18, 1942, 16 B-25B bombers took off from the US aircraft carrier, USS Hornet. Their mission, led by Lt. Col. James Doolittle, was to bomb Tokyo and several other targets on the Japanese island of Honshu. After the bombing, they flew on with plans to land in China, since returning to the USS Hornet was impossible. The mission has become known as the Doolittle Raid.

On April 30, 1942, USS Hornet leaves Pearl Harbor after Doolittle raid to join USS Lexington and USS Yorktown in Battle of Coral Sea.

On May 7-8, 1942, the Japanese moved to control the Coral Sea, only to be thwarted by US aircraft launched from aircraft carriers belonging to a US task force commanded by Rear Admiral Frank Fletcher. Both sides suffered losses and damages to their carriers, but in the end, the US inflicted enough damage to the Japanese fleet to claim the victory.

On May 8, 1942, the Philippines surrendered to the Japanese after the fall of Corregidor.

On May 20, 1942, Burma surrendered to Japan.

May 26, 1942, USS Hornet escorts damaged USS Yorktown back to Pearl Harbor.

On May 28, USS Hornet, USS Enterprise and partially repaired USS Yorktown leave Pearl Harbor for Midway.

On June 4-7, 1942, US Admirals Frank Fletcher, Chester Nimitz and Raymond Spruance led US naval forces in defeating Japanese admirals Nobutake Kondo, Chuichi Nagumo and Isoroku Yamamoto, who were leading Japanese fleet at the Battle of Midway.

On June 7, 1942, Japanese forces capture Attu Island, the westernmost of the Aleutian Islands, located about 450 miles west of the Kamchatka Peninsula.

On July 6, 1942, Japanese forces landed on Guadalcanal, one of the larger of the Solomon Islands. They spent the next month constructing an airfield from which they could launch air attacks on targets in Australia, Southeast Asia and any other location within a thousand miles.

In July 1942, the USS Hornet’s guns were once again upgraded to 8 x 5”/38 Dual Purpose guns, 20 x 1.1” (4×4) cannons and 32 x 20 mm anti-aircraft guns.

On August 7, 1942, members of the US 1st Marine division landed on Guadalcanal. Their mission was to take the island and valuable airfield from the Japanese. The mission was dubbed Operation Watchtower.

On August 17, 1942, USS Hornet heads to Guadalcanal.

By August 24, 1942, USS Enterprise, USS Saratoga and USS Wasp severely damaged at Guadalcanal. USS Hornet only operational Hornet class large air craft carrier left in Pacific for US Navy.

On October 24, 1942, USS Hornet and repaired USS Enterprise sail to Santa Cruz Islands to intercept Japanese fleet.

On this day, October 26, 1942, the Battle of Santa Cruz Islands takes place between US and Japanese navies. The US fleet was only half the size and power of the Japanese fleet. The battle is an aerial battle conducted by planes launched from carriers on both sides. According to one account:

“The Battle of Santa Cruz Island took place without contact between surface ships of the opposing forces. That morning Enterprise planes bombed carrier Zuiho. Planes from Hornet severely damaged carrier Shokaku, and cruiser Chikuma. Two other cruisers were also attacked by Hornet aircraft. Meanwhile, Enterprise was hidden by a local rain squall, and Hornet, became the focal point of the Japanese coordinated dive bombing and torpedo plane attack which left her so severely damaged that she had to be abandoned. From 09:10 to 09:17 Hornet was hit by two Kamakazis, seven bombs and two torpedoes. After this the cruiser Northhampton (CL-26) took Hornet under tow. Later in the early afternoon Hornet had fires under control and was making ready to get under way when she was attacked for the second time by six Kate torpedo planes. At 16:25 the order was given to abandon ship. Commented one sailor, awaiting rescue, when asked if he planned to re-enlist, “Dammit, yes-on the new Hornet!” Captain Mason, the last man on board, climbed over the side and survivors were soon picked up by destroyers”.

“The abandoned Hornet, ablaze from stem to stern, refused to accept her intended fate from friends. She still floated after          receiving nine torpedoes and more than 400 rounds of 5-inch shellfire from destroyers Mustin and Anderson. Japanese destroyers hastened the inevitable by firing four 24-inch torpedoes at her blazing hull.”

On October 27, 1942, at 1:35AM, the USS Hornet sank into 16,000 feet of water, making it the last full-sized US aircraft carrier lost in World War II.

For several weeks, the US had no active aircraft carriers and only one battleship operating in the Pacific. The USS enterprise limped on to Guadalcanal with repair crews working day and night before eventually launching their planes to help in the effort. After launching its aircraft, the Enterprise retreated back to safer waters to undergo weeks of vitally needed repairs.

Even though the US lost the USS Hornet and sustained a lot of damage to large part of the fleet, coupled with the Marine victory on Guadalcanal, the US managed to repel the Japanese advance in the Solomon Islands. The Japanese ended up losing 25 of the 27 bombers that attacked the USS Hornet. The Japanese lost over 100 aircraft and sustained considerable damage to their fleet making it impossible for them to reinforce their forces on Guadalcanal leading to an Allied victory in the Solomon Islands. This played a crucial part in the protection of Australia as that was the destination target of the Japanese at the time.

The USS Hornet lost in the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands was classified as CV-8. A new USS Hornet, classified CV-12 was launched on August 20, 1943 and served in a number of battles in the Pacific without sustaining any damage until hit by a powerful typhoon in 1945.


Sources for the above includes: World War II in the Pacific; World War Two in the Pacific; The United States Loses the Hornet; USS Hornet (CV-8) Conventionally-Powered Aircraft Carrier (1941); U.S.S. Hornet CV-8; World War II Pacific: Battle of Santa Cruz, 26 Oct 1942; Today, August 7, 1942: US Forces Launch Attack of Guadalcanal

Dave Jolly

R.L. David Jolly holds a B.S. in Wildlife Biology and an M.S. in Biology – Population Genetics. He has worked in a number of fields, giving him a broad perspective on life, business, economics and politics. He is a very conservative Christian, husband, father and grandfather who cares deeply for his Savior, family and the future of our troubled nation.

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