Alameda in history: The USS Hornet

Alameda in history: The USS Hornet

David Baker

Aircraft aboard the USS Hornet. Photo by David Baker.

As many are aware, on, November 16, marked a pair of significant milestones for Alameda’s resident aircraft carrier: the 70th anniversary of the Hornet’s commissioning during World War II, and 15th year in service as a museum. The Hornet celebrated this momentous occasion by holding a formal gala to honor its legacy and continue the tradition of excellence that has been part of the ship’s legacy since long before Hornet CV-12 was commissioned.

The Hornet that is currently docked in Alameda is not the first to bear that name: This Hornet is the eighth ship to carry that name. The first USS Hornet was a merchantman that was converted into a warship when war broke out between Great Britain and the American Colonies.

Since the Revolutionary War, there has been a ship carrying the name Hornet serving in the U.S. Navy in every war the United States has been involved in with a few exceptions, most notably, World War I.

In October of 1941, the first aircraft carrier to be named Hornet was commissioned, just in time for the country to be drawn into World War II. Hornet CV-8, sadly, was lost when the Navy was forced to scuttle the severely damaged ship after the battle of Santa Cruz to keep her from falling into enemy hands. After the Hornet was sunk, the aircraft carrier Kearsarge was renamed Hornet to continue the tradition of ships with that name in the U.S. Navy.

This USS Hornet, CV-12, entered service in August of 1943 and began the most impressive campaign of any Navy ship to serve in the war. The Hornet participated in many crucial campaigns throughout the course of the war, including the invasions of Layte, Yap, Formosa, Okinawa, and Iwo Jima.

During the Hornet’s service in World War II, her planes sunk over 50 ships, one of which was an enemy aircraft carrier, and shot down hundreds of enemy aircraft, while never being seriously damaged by enemy fire. The only major damage the Hornet received during the war was sustained when 24 feet of the flight deck collapsed from the weight of water while she was sailing through a typhoon.

After World War II, the Hornet was temporarily decommissioned before being refitted and sent back to the fleet shortly after the end of the Korean War.

Throughout the Cold War, the Hornet served primarily as an anti-submarine ship defending the fleet against the threat of Soviet submarines in the Pacific. In 1969, the Hornet was taken off of military patrols and assigned to be the primary recovery ship for not just one, but two Apollo missions. The Hornet received the honor to pick up both Apollo 11 and 12 space capsules after their successful mission to place men on the moon. Being designated as the recovery ship for both moon missions was a fitting end to one of the most successful careers for any ship to serve in the Navy.

In 1970, the Hornet was retired from the Navy for the last time. But her service was not finished. In 1998, the Hornet was once again commissioned into service, this time as a museum to preserve the heritage of the Hornet, and tell the history of the brave men who lived and died on the ship in service to their country.

Today, visitors can board the Hornet and tour this incredible ship on a daily basis. The Hornet also has special events throughout the year. According to the museum’s website, the Hornet has special celebrations on the Fourth of July, Halloween, and New Year’s Eve, as well as Big Band dances throughout the year. The Hornet also has a thriving education program with an overnight live aboard experience, and scheduled “Living Ship Days” in which ship operations are simulated, and special guests are invited to help make the ship come alive.

Related: Seamen honor USS Hornet’s 70th birthday