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Hornet and Chokai - Two faces of Guadalcanal

By Sakhal

USS Hornet

After the Japanese attack against Pearl Harbor, the American public opinion, despite having reacted with indignation, was still shocked. To this contributed the fact that Japan was very far and the average citizen did not see clearly 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 anyway. Since there were no aircraft capable to reach Japan, it was decided to "help" the Mitchell B-25B bombers chosen for the enterprise making them to take off from an aircraft carrier that would approach the target as much as possible. The unit chosen for this mission was a modern aircraft carrier that had recently entered service: the Hornet. Unlike the previous Ranger class, the Yorktown class - to which the Hornet belonged - had a conventional funnel incorporated to the isle. To improve the management of the aircraft on the deck, there were three elevators in the centerline and three catapults. The flight deck had as well arresting devices in each end. The American aircraft carriers of that time were projected to reach and sustain high speeds while moving backwards, so the aircraft could land in each direction. However this feature was never used in operations.

After the limitations imposed by the Washington Treaty had ended the 31st December 1936, United States could build as many aircraft carriers as it wanted, regardless of the displacement required. Later the Naval Expansion Act of 17th May 1938 authorized to notably increase the displacement of aircraft carriers. Moreover, the expansion of the Japanese power in China and the predictions of war in Europe made the United States Navy to consider that the numbers were more important than the improvements in the projects, so they resorted to the five years old Yorktown class to build the new aircraft carrier. The most significant differences between the Yorktown class and the Hornet were the wider flight deck in the Hornet, the larger number of light anti-aircraft cannons and a slightly larger displacement. Like her two sisters, the Hornet had a small turning radius, half than in the Lexington class for example, and this demonstrated to be vital to elude attacks from bombs and torpedoes. The modifications for wartime were limited to the increase of the defensive armament and the installation of an improved radar. There was no need to modify the Hornet to harbor the B-25 bombers used in the Doolittle Raid, but since their wings could not be folded they were placed astern on the flight deck, thus preventing the aircraft carrier from operating with the smaller aircraft until the B-25 had took off. Because of this during the raid she was escorted by the Enterprise.

The Hornet was classified as attack aircraft carrier due to her characteristics, which allowed her to carry out long-range war operations transporting a large number of aircraft, from fighters to bombers, having as well a good amount of self-defense artillery. Contrarily, the escort aircraft carriers of which 71 units were built during the war (just in time to take part in operations) could carry no more than 30 aircraft, which were enough only to form an air patrol over the convoy. Besides their anti-aircraft armament was reduced. After transporting the B-25 bombers, the Hornet performed many war deeds, but her operative life was brief: the 26th October 1942, in the crudest moments of the Battle of Guadalcanal, she was hit by torpedoes launched by two Japanese aircraft. Immediately after, in quick succession, fell over her three 250-kilogram bombs and an aircraft whose pilot had been fatally wounded. All of this left the vessel reduced to a pile of scrap on fire. The Yorktown class could endure a considerable amount of battle damages and it is possible that the Hornet could have resisted if she would have not been in front of the advance of the Japanese Fleet.

Hornet and Chokai - Two faces of Guadalcanal

The Hornet CV-8 in April 1942, as she was prepared for the Doolittle Raid. Note the Mitchell B-25B bomber at prow, aligned with the guide lines painted on the deck, and the Wildcat fighter placed in the elevator astern.

Class: Yorktown (Yorktown CV-5, Enterprise CV-6 and Hornet CV-8)

Built in: Newport News Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Shipyards, Virginia

Authorized: 17 May 1938

Keel laid: 25 September 1939

Launched: 14 December 1940

Completed: 20 October 1941

Fate: Sunk the 27th October 1942

Length (in waterline): 232 meters

Length (total): 252.5 meters

Beam (in waterline): 25.3 meters

Beam (in flight deck): 34.7 meters

Draught (maximum): 8.8 meters

Displacement: 20220 tonnes

Engines: Nine Babcock & Wilcox Express boilers; Curtis & Parsons steam turbines with simple reduction; four propellers

Power (total): 120000 shaft horsepower

Fuel load: 6502 tonnes

Speed (maximum): 33 knots

Operational range: 12500 nautical miles at 15 knots

Armor: 102 millimeters in waterline; 76 millimeters in main deck; 25-76 millimeters in lower deck; 76 millimeters in hangar

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 (24 x 1) in 1942

Aircraft: From 85 to 100 of the types Wildcat, Dauntless, Avenger and Devastator; B-25 bombers were embarked during the Doolittle Raid

Complement: 2919 (in 1942)

IJN Chokai

In the spring of 1942 the alarm given about Guadalcanal attracted the attention of the Allied High Command. According to informations received from an anonymous person, the Japanese were on the effort of building an airfield in that seemingly unimportant island located in the Solomon Archipelago. The Australian shouted that a Japanese airbase in Guadalcanal would be like a beam in an eye for the Allied defense. This caused the amphibious landing in the island to obtain approbation on the highest level, so the first American offensive, contrarily to the intentions formerly declared, was launched in the Pacific, while the European Front was relegated to a second plane causing this great disgust to Winston Churchill. Nobody could predict that the Battle of Guadalcanal would last for more than six months - concluding the 9th February 1943, when Guadalcanal was considered to be solidly in American hands - and would demand such a high price in human lives and materials on both sides.

In any case, the 7th August 1942 an Allied fleet, comprised by three Australian cruisers (Australia, Canberra and Hobart) and two American cruisers (San Juan and Chicago), serving as protection for numerous transports of diverse nature and accompanied by a sole group of destroyers, emerged in the horizon in the northern coasts of Guadalcanal. The amphibious landing was practically consummated and only a part of the material, destined to ensure the protection of the division and to allow to complete the airbase started by the Japanese, awaited for being disembarkment. And it was precisely in the night of the 8-9 August when the Japanese appeared into scene. And they did it following their own style, surprising the enemy where this one less expected it: in the sea.

As soon as the warning about the unexpected American landing in the morning of the day 7 had arrived from Guadalcanal, Counter Admiral Mikawa had raised his ensign in the Japanese flagship, the heavy cruiser Chokai, and departed heading to the south along with the "intervention force" formed with the units available in that moment, this is, four heavy cruisers besides the Chokai, two light cruisers and one destroyer. Navigating overseas to the south, Mikawa took the responsibility of an operation which in any way seemed to correspond to the Navy. The evening of the 8th August the intervention force, navigating in linear formation, approached the canal south of the small isle of Savo, one of the two mandatory points to reach the Guadalcanal Sea.

In the Imperial Japanese Navy, since the glorious years of Admiral Togo, who had led it to victory in Tsushima, there was in use a simple, but seemingly effective, system to keep sharp the sight of the gunners for the eventuality of a nocturnal combat. It consisted of being in the deck during the night, with the ship completely in dark, counting the largest number possible of stars. This could seem a rudimentary and naive system, but they would have thought otherwise the American mariners who in the night of the 7-8 August 1942 saw the cruiser squadron led by Admiral Gunichi Kurita falling upon them like a sea monster. Shooting frantically, the Japanese ships passed between the American ships sinking four cruisers and damaging a fifth one after ten minutes of combat. The Chokai set ablaze the cruiser Astoria with the first salvo fired against her but in return, before ceasing fire, this one managed to hit once the Japanese cruiser causing damages on her that would be irreparable during operations.

The Chokai was not very recent warship because she had already ten years but she was an imposing one nonetheless. Built with a characteristic streamlined profile, she had five 203 millimeters twin turrets emplaced in the centerline, three of them at prow with the central turret at higher level, allowing a notable concentration of fire. The anti-aircraft armament, initially of normal power, would comprise in 1944 four 160-millimeter cannons and sixty-six 25-millimeter cannons. An acceptable armor, good speed and large operational range rendered the Chokai as an unreservedly good unit. The main war actions on which she took part were the failed invasion of Midway, along with the heavy cruiser group of the main squadron led by Admiral Kondo, the series of battles of Guadalcanal, where she was the flagship of the squadron led by Kurita, and finally the battles of Leyte Gulf, where, after having resulted unscathed on the battles of Sibuyan and Surigao, she was sunk by aircraft from an American aircraft carrier in the battle in the island of Samar, in the morning of the 25th October 1944.

Hornet and Chokai - Two faces of Guadalcanal

Class: Takao (Takao, Atago, Maya and Chokai)

Built in: Mitsubishi Shipyards, Nagasaki

Ordered: 26 March 1928

Laid down: 5 April 1931

Launched: 30 June 1932

Commissioned: 1932

Fate: Sunk the 25th October 1944

Length: 203.76 meters

Beam: 18.69 meters

Draught: 6.1 meters

Displacement: 13160 tonnes

Engines: Twelve Kampon naphtha boilers; steam turbines with gear reduction; four propellers

Speed (maximum): 35.5 knots

Operational range: 30000 kilometers at 14 knots

Armor: 102 millimeters in waterline; 76-102 millimeters in deck above the deposits; 76 millimeters in main turrets

Armament: Ten 203-millimeter 50-caliber cannons (5 x 2); four 120-millimeter 50-caliber cannons (4 x 1); twelve 25-millimeter anti-aircraft cannons (increased to sixty-six in the 1944 upgrade); eight 610-millimeter torpedo tubes (4 x 2); two aircraft and two catapults

Complement: 773

Categories: Ships - Naval Warfare - World War Two - 20th Century - [General]


Website: Military History

Article submitted: 2015-10-17

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