The USS Hornet holds a near-legendary status in US Naval history. The colossal aircraft carrier stalked the Pacific in World War 2 and launched one of the first air raids of the Japanese homeland, including Tokyo.
After laying on the murky seabed for over 75 years, the shipwreck of USS Hornet (CV-8) was discovered in January by the research vessel Petrel and an onboard robotic sub at a depth of 5,200 meters (17,000 feet) off the Solomon Islands. Its location was hunted down using sonar technology and naval archives that detailed deck logs and action report from the nine US warships.
The project was funded by Vulcan Inc, a philanthropic firm started by the late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, which has found and explored dozens of shipwrecks, sunken subs, and lost aircraft.
“We had the Hornet on our list of WWII warships that we wanted to locate because of its place in history as a capital carrier that saw many pivotal moments in naval battles,” Robert Kraft, director of subsea operations for Vulcan, said in a statement. “Paul Allen was particularly interested in aircraft carriers so this was a discovery that honors his memory.”
The ship met its violent fate during the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands in October 1942 after being struck by a Japanese dive-bombers and torpedo planes. As detailed by the Aircraft Carrier Hornet Foundation: “When Hornet and Enterprise were just north of the Santa Cruz Islands, search aircraft from the opposing forces found each other’s main fleet. Within 10 minutes, Hornet was hit by four bombs and two torpedoes, and sustained significant damage from two Val dive bombers that crashed into her. Hornet lost her propulsion capability and was dead in the water.”
“Later that afternoon, she was attacked again and hit by another torpedo and two bombs. At this time, she was abandoned and sank early the next morning.”
At least 140 souls of its 2,200-strong crew were lost. Richard Nowatzki, now 95, was one of the lucky ones. As an 18-year-old gunner onboard during the Hornet’s final days, he remembers the fateful blows with vivid recollection.
"They used armor-piercing bombs, now when they come down, you hear 'em going through the decks … plink, plink, plink, plink … and then when they explode the whole ship shakes,” he told CBC This Morning.
The recent expedition by the Petrel even managed to capture footage of the gun Nowatzki was manning during the attack.
"I know I've been a very fortunate man," he added. "The actual fact that you can find these ships is mind-boggling to me… I want to thank you for honoring me this way."