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Weapons of World War Two

The Battle of Midway (Jun 1942)

Hornet aircraft carrier

Hornet aircraft carrier

After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the American public opinion, despite having reacted with indignation, was still shocked. To this contributed the fact that Japan was very far away and that the average citizen did not clearly see how the blow could be returned to the enemy. Technically speaking, it was indeed not possible but, due to evident reasons of prestige and social psychology, it was decided to try it anyway. Since there were no aircraft capable of reaching Japan due to their insufficient operational range, it was decided to "help" the bombers chosen for the enterprise, the Mitchell B-25B, by making them to take off from an aircraft carrier which would approach the target as much as possible. The unit chosen for such a far-fetched enterprise was a modern aircraft carrier which had just entered service: the "Hornet". She was classified as an attack aircraft carrier due to her characteristics, which allowed her to carry out long-range war operations while transporting a large number of aircraft, from fighter aircraft to bombers and torpedo bombers; she had as well a good amount of self-defense artillery. On the contrary, the escort aircraft carriers (of which 71 units were built during the war with enough time to take part in operations) could carry a maximum of about 30 aircraft, which were only enough for forming an aerial screen over the convoy, and their anti-aircraft armament was a reduced one. After transporting the B-25 bombers, the "Hornet" carried out many other war actions, but her operational life was a brief one: the 28th October 1942, in the most acerbated period of the Battle of Guadalcanal, she was hit by torpedoes from two Japanese aircraft. Immediately after, in a quick succession, three 250-kilogram bombs and an aircraft, whose pilot had been fatally wounded, fell over her. The precious vessel could no longer do anything: turned into a flaming scrap heap, she was abandoned by the surviving crew. For sinking her, it was necessary to bring some surface units close to the agonizing aircraft carrier to give her the "coup of grace" with some torpedoes.

Unlike the aircraft carriers of the "Ranger" class, those of the "Yorktown" class, to which the "Hornet" belonged, had a conventional funnel and an island. To improve the maneuverability of the aircraft in the deck, they were fitted with three elevators in the centerline and three catapults. The flight deck had an aircraft arresting system on each end. The American aircraft carriers of that period were designed for reaching high and sustained speeds while moving backward, so that the aircraft could land in both directions. This characteristic was never operationally used. After the limitations imposed by the Washington Treaty ended the 31st December 1936, United States could build as many aircraft carriers as they wanted, regardless of the displacement demanded. The Naval Expansion Act signed the 17th May 1938 authorized to notably increase the displacement of aircraft carriers. On the other hand, the expansion of the Japanese power in China and the forecasts of war in Europe led the United States Navy to consider that the numbers were more important than the improvements in the designs, and so the "Yorktown" class was used as the foundation for the new aircraft carrier which was denominated "Hornet". The most significant differences between both aircraft carriers were the wider beam of the flight deck, the greater number of light anti-aircraft cannons and the slightly greater displacement of the "Hornet".

Launched: 14 December 1940 in the Newport News Shipbuilding & Dry Dock shipyards (Virginia)

Length: 252.5 meters

Beam: 34.7 meters

Draught: 8.8 meters

Displacement: 19800 tonnes

Propulsion: Curtis & Parsons steam turbines fed by nine Babcock & Wilcox Express boilers, for a total power of 120000 horsepower; four propellers

Maximum speed: 33 knots

Operational range: 12500 nautical miles at 15 knots

Armor: 101 millimeters in waterline; 152 millimeters in flight deck; 76 millimeters in hangar and castle

Armament: Eight 127-millimeter 38-caliber cannons (8 x 1); sixteen 28-millimeter anti-aircraft cannons (4 x 4); sixteen 20-millimeter anti-aircraft cannons (16 x 1), increased to twenty-four cannons (24 x 1) in 1942

Aircraft: From 85 to 100 of the Wildcat, Dauntless, Avenger and Devastator types. During the Doolittle Raid she carried B-25 Mitchell twin-engine bombers

Complement: 2919 (in 1942)

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