Can a US aircraft carrier sink?

Sunken WWII aircraft carrier found in the South Pacific

The wreck of the USS Hornet lies at a depth of around 5300 meters near the Solomon Islands in northeast Australia. The legendary "Doolittle Raid" on Japan started from this ship in April 1942. In October 1942, she was sunk by Japanese planes and destroyers.

The US aircraft carrier "USS Hornet", which sank in the South Pacific during World War II, has been found. The wreck of the ship, which was used in decisive battles between the United States and Japan, lies at a depth of around 5,300 meters on the sea floor, announced the research team funded by the late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen on Tuesday (local time).

The aircraft carrier sank in October 1942 during a battle against the Japanese off the Solomon Islands Santa Cruz Islands northeast of Australia. The researchers had already discovered the wreck at the end of January with the help of their research vessel "Petrel" and the analysis of naval archive data.

The research team wanted to find the Hornet because it is "a place of history as an aircraft carrier that has seen many key moments in naval battles," said expedition manager Robert Kraft. These include the "Doolittle Raid", the first and surprising US air raid on Japan in April 1942. The bombers took off from the deck of the Hornet at a great distance from the Japanese home islands and landed with great difficulty on the coast of China.

The researchers of the search expeditions led by Allen had only found the wreck of the aircraft carrier "USS Lexington" around 800 kilometers off the Australian coast last year. Allen did not live to see the latest find: he died in October 2018 at the age of 65.

Here is a link to pictures of the find.

The Hornet (CV-8) was the seventh US warship of that name and a Yorktown-class carrier. Commissioned in October 1941, its operating time up to the sinking on October 26, 1942 was record-breaking with only one year and six days. But it was also the last big so-called "Fleet Carrier" of the USA - in contrast to the much smaller "Escort Carriers" - which was lost in the Second World War, and even since then.

With a displacement of (fully loaded) up to 29,000 tons, the Hornet was around 251 meters long, a maximum of 35 meters wide and made up to about 33 knots (61 km / h) with oil-fired steam turbines (output 120,000 hp). There were up to 2900 crew members and 70 to 90 aircraft on board; there were almost 70 machine guns, automatic cannons and large-caliber cannons with a caliber of 12.7 centimeters. In addition, the carrier was partially armored.

The first bombing raid on Japan

Shortly before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor or in the Pacific region in December 1941, the Hornet was on a training voyage in the Atlantic off Virginia. In March 1942 it entered the Pacific via the Panama Canal, docked near San Francisco and took on an unusual configuration, namely 16 medium-range air force bombers of the type North American B-25 "Mitchell", range about 2200 kilometers. They were just small enough not to be fully loaded with bombs (normal would have been about 1300 kg) and to take off from porters in headwinds, and they were supposed to carry Lieutenant Colonel James Harold "Jimmy" Doolittle (1896-1993) and his men in the The first operation of this kind to carry out the legendary Doolittle Raid on April 18, started around 1,300 km from Tokyo and thus much further away than planned - but that's another story.

After a temporary relocation to the South Pacific off Australia and Nauru, she took part in the decisive battle at Midway in June 1942, that atoll roughly halfway between North America and Asia, where she, together with the porters Yorktown and Enterprise (and all kinds of battleships, Cruisers, destroyers ...) a huge Japanese force around the four carriers Kaga, Akagi, Hiryu and Soryu as well as two light carriers surprised and it came to the first sea battle, in which the opposing ships did not see each other but planes fought everything and decided .

Two squadrons with dive bombers and torpedo bombers of the Hornet were particularly unlucky, because the Japanese did not find the former and on the return flight they ran out of fuel, so that the machines had to flood; the other squadron flew into a dense Japanese parachute and was completely shot down.

Ultimately, it was primarily Enterprise and Yorktown aircraft that decided the battle when they caught the four large Japanese carriers in a tactically extremely unfavorable situation and sank them. On the US side, Yorktown was lost to air and submarine attacks. This broke the aviation backbone of the imperial Japanese fleet and Japan henceforth on the defensive.

At times the only carrier

After several weeks of repairs and refreshment in Pearl Harbor, the Hornet set course for the Solomon Islands, which were actually British at the time, in August 1942. There, in the northeast of Australia and east of New Guinea, however, the Japanese had established themselves months ago after an attempt to take New Guinea entirely and use it as a stepping stone to Australia had failed. Heavy land, air and sea battles have raged in the region since then.

The Hornet was supposed to be stationed near the most fiercely contested Solomon Islands island of Guadalcanal, and during her voyage there she suddenly became the only active US fleet carrier in the Pacific when Enterprise and Saratoga had to be taken from the front line, badly damaged and the Wasp sank on September 15th.

On October 24th, off the Solomon Islands, more precisely off the Santa Cruz archipelago, the Enterprise joined them. Here is a link on Google Maps to illustrate the fighting region. Both carriers and their escort ships were marched to intercept a Japanese combat group targeting Guadalcanal.

On October 26th a battle broke out, which was effectively fought out again mainly with airplanes. The Japanese carriers Zuiho and Shokaku (along with other ships, such as the heavy cruiser Chikuma) were badly damaged, but the Hornet was harder hit. She put at least three bombs and two torpedoes in a short time, and two damaged aircraft crashed on her. Fires followed, electricity and propulsion failed, and aircraft could no longer take off and land. The US cruiser Northampton towed the Hornet and repairs continued when Japanese torpedo bombers surfaced, one of which was fatally hit to starboard.