Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1946 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger
Warship Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2020: Hannah on the Beach
Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives, Catalog #: 80-G-304721
Here we see a Curtiss SB2C-3 Helldiver scout/dive-bomber of VB-80 from USS Hancock (CV-19) flying over two battleships of the invasion fleet, 75 years ago today, during strikes on Iwo Jima on 19 February 1945. The brand-new Essex-class fleet carrier was less than a year old but “Fighting Hannah,” as she was known by her crew, was well on her way to earning a long list of well-earned honors.
One of eighteen Essex-class carriers completed during World War II, CV-19 was the fourth U.S. Navy warship named after Founding Father John Hancock.
Besides being the famous inaugural signator of the Declaration of Independence, Hancock is also a key father of the Marine Corps, having signed the commission of Samuel Nicholas, the Corp’s first officer and Commandant of Marines, inked on behalf of the Continental Congress 28 November 1775, some 18 days after the organization was founded.
The Massachusetts-native and first governor of the Commonwealth would have no doubt approved of the fact that the carrier with his name was built by Bethlehem Steel in Quincy, a city that was his own place of birth in 1737.
Laid down 26 January 1943, the 35,000-ton, 888-foot carrier, a “long-hull” version of the class, was launched 364 days later and commissioned 15 April 1944. In all, she was built in just under 15 months.
USS HANCOCK (CV-19) Launching at the Bethlehem Steel Co. Yard, Quincy, Massachusetts, 24 January 1944. NH 75626
USS HANCOCK (CV-19) In Boston Harbor, Massachusetts, on 15 April 1944. NH 91546
In June 1944, while in the Caribbean, she picked up Carrier Group Seven (CVG-7), composed of a “Sunday Punch” of 36 F6F Hellcats of VF-7, 36 SB2C Helldivers of VB-7, and 18 TBF Avengers of VT-7, which would remain her airwing for the rest of the year.
After shakedown, Hancock joined Halsey’s 3d Fleet at Ulithi on 5 October and was raiding Okinawan and Formosan airfields a week later before shifting to lend a hand in the huge operation that was the liberation of the Philippines.
USS HANCOCK (CV-19) SB2C-3 Helldiver of VB-7 flies below the overcast along the Eastern Coast of Formosa, en route to attack shipping at Kurin Ko, the principal North Coast Port, 13 October 1944. Note the twin gun pod under the plane’s wing, and nickname “Satan’s Angel” by its cockpit. At this time, Hancock’s airwing used an upside-down horseshoe for its tail code. 80-G-281326
Covering Army operations in the PI, she became the flagship of Fast Carrier Task Force 38, 17 November 1944 when VADM “Slim” McCain came on board.
Vice Admiral John S. McCain, Sr. Commander task force 38, in his quarters aboard USS HANCOCK (CV-19). 80-G-294462
Surviving a “severe typhoon 17 December and rode out the storm in waves which broke over her flight deck, some 55 feet above her waterline,” Slim would take Hannah and a collection of her sister ships on an epic voyage through the South China Sea that we have talked about previously. This included sinking numerous Japanese tankers and transports and, along with her sisters, the Katori-class light cruiser Kashii.
Japanese Convoy of tankers and transports hit and left burning by carrier-based planes of task force 38, 15 miles south of Cam Ranh Bay, taken by planes from USS HANCOCK (CV-19), 12 January 1945 80-G-300706
Japanese Cruiser KASHII sinking off the coast of French Indochina after attack by SB2Cs from carriers of task force 38. The ship is in a large convoy of tankers and transports hard-hit in the action, 12 January 1945. Taken by a plane from USS HANCOCK (CV-19) 80-G-300683
By mid-February, Hannah had turned North and was raiding airfields near Tokyo with her CVG-80 air group reportedly downing 83 enemy planes in two days.
Then came Iwo Jima where her aircraft plastered the Japanese naval bases at Chichi Jima and Haha Jima on 19 February.
As noted by DANFS: “These raids were conducted to isolate Iwo Jima from air and sea support when Marines hit the beaches of that island to begin one of the most ‘bloody and fierce campaigns of the war. Hancock took station off this island to provide tactical support through 22 February, hitting enemy airfields and strafing Japanese troops ashore.”
USS HANCOCK -CV-19 and USS WASP CV-18 At Ulithi Anchorage, circa Mid-March 1945. Photographed from USS WEST VIRGINIA #: 80-G-K-3814
Then came more raids on Japan proper and support of the invasion of Okinawa, with CVG-6 aboard. There, she encountered the Divine Wind.
“A suicide plane cartwheeled across her flight deck on 7 April and crashed into a group of planes while its bomb hit the port catapult to cause a tremendous explosion. Although 62 men were killed and 71 wounded, heroic efforts doused the fires within half an hour enabling her to be ‘back in action before an hour had passed.”
USS HANCOCK (CV-19) afire after being hit by a kamikaze attack off Okinawa, 7 April 1945. Note fires burning fore and aft, and TBM Avenger flying over the carrier. Photographed from USS PASADENA (CL-65). 80-G-344876
Casualties are buried at sea on 9 April 1945. They were killed when Hancock was hit by a Kamikaze while operating off Okinawa on 7 April. 80-G-328574
Steaming back to Pearl Harbor for repairs, Hancock was back off Japan running airstrikes by 10 July.
A striking photograph shot by an aircraft off USS Hancock (CV 19) captures an attack against the Japanese battleship Ise. A flight deck is visible on the aft part of the ship reflecting her conversion to a hybrid aircraft carrier. 7/28/1945
Although “Fighting Hanna” did not enter Tokyo Bay until 10 September, her planes flew overhead during the formal surrender on board the battleship Missouri. She earned four battle stars in her short but very busy wartime service.
With the war ending, Hancock, just 16 months old, became a means of transport for Magic Carpet trips, shuttling nearly 10,000 GIs, Marines, and Sailors around the Pacific through January 1946.
A peacetime baseball game on Hannah’s empty deck in 1946.
She then did the same for aircraft for another few months until she was inactivated at Seattle just before her 2nd birthday.
Decommissioned officially on 9 May 1947, Hancock rested at her moorings until the Korean War sparked her reactivation.
Towed to Puget Sound in December 1951, she was given a new strengthened flight deck and updated aircraft handling gear with the addition of blast deflectors to become, what DANFS says was the “first carrier of the United States Fleet with steam catapults capable of launching high-performance jets,” when she finished her Project SCB-27C (Two Seven-Charlie) conversion 15 Feb 1954. On top of this, she received a further SCB-125 update at San Francisco in 1956 which added an enclosed bow and an angled flight deck. Her British-built C11 steam cats were the most advanced in the world at the time.
With this, she was dubbed an attack carrier (CVA-19). After conversion, she was much different in topside profile, a carrier of the jet era. Gone were her myriad of twin 5-inch, quad 40mm guns, and Oerlikons as well as her number three centerline elevator, the latter replaced by one with a deck-edge type of greater capacity. Her primary AAA weapons were new twin radar-controlled 3-inch/50 Mk 22 guns capable of firing 50 rounds per minute. Her island had been reconstructed to fit and operate the more modern radar.
USS Hancock (CVA-19) underway at sea on 15 July 1957. She was then serving with the Seventh Fleet in the western Pacific. There are seven FJ Fury, ten F2H Banshee (two different models); two F7U Cutlass, fifteen AD Skyraider, and three AJ Savage aircraft on her flight deck. Note the corner 5-inch singles and twin Mk 22 3-inchers behind them. NH 97539
Uncle Milty and a new singer named Elvis, or something even held a show on Hancock, the pride of the Navy.
Hannah was even used as a testbed for launching early nuclear-capable Regulus cruise missiles from carriers. The big Vought-built turbojet-powered missile weighed nearly 7-tons and had a 22-foot wingspan. Carrying a W27 warhead– a development of the Mark 27 nuclear bomb for the A-3 Skywarrior and A-5 Vigilante with a 2-megaton yield– Regulus had a 500-nm range on a one-way trip.
The theory was that an unconverted straight-deck WWII Essex— the Navy had a few extras at the time– could be modified to carry 40 or 50 of these missiles in their hangar spaces and serve as a floating Regulus battery.
XSSM-8 Regulus, guided, taken aboard USS Hancock (CVA-19) for a tactical training mission at Naval Air Station, North Island, California, August 1, 1954. 80-G-648762
Being lifted on board 80-G-648764
Elevator and hangar trials on the missile’s railed launcher 80-G-648775
On deck. Note the JATO booster rockets on the side. 80-G-648792
Launched 17 October 80-G-648793
Then came a new war.
Color photo of USS Hancock (CVA-19) leaves Pearl Harbor on 19 February 1962 with CVG-21 aboard on a West Pac cruise. Photo via USS Hancock (CVA-19) 1963 cruise book available at Navysite.de
An epic photo of catapult crewmen positioning an A-4C Skyhawk for launch, 24 March 1965. The carrier was then operating in Southeast Asian waters. Photographed by PH1 Jean Cote and PHC Robert Moeser. This A-4C appears to be BuNo. 149508. Markings below the cockpit indicate that the plane’s assigned pilot was LCDR Olof M. Carlson. USN 1110178-B
In all, Hancock would complete nine deployments to Vietnam in a day under 11 years, eight with Carrier Air Wing 21 (CVG/CVW-21), and one with CVW-5, a wing typically associated with the much larger USS Midway. The deployments typically ran about eight and a half months, although some were longer.
*21 Oct 1964 – 29 May 1965
*10 Nov 1965 – 1 Aug 1966
*5 Jan 1967 – 22 Jul 1967 (CVW-5)
*18 Jul 1968 – 3 Mar 1969
*2 Aug 1969 – 15 Apr 1970
*22 Oct 1970 – 3 Jun 1971
*7 Jan 1972 – 3 Oct 1972
*8 May 1973 – 8 Jan 1974
*18 Mar – 20 Oct 1975
Hancock’s wings in this period typically consisted of two squadrons of F-8 Crusader “gunfighters,” three attack squadrons of A-4E/F Skyhawks, and dets of RF-8 photo birds, EKA-3B electric Whales, E-1B Stoofs with a roof, and SH-3 helicopters. On her first three deployments, Hannah carried a squadron of A-1 Skyraiders and a det of A-3Bs Skywarriors in place of an A-4 squadron.
A well-worn A-1A Skyraider “Spad” of VA-215, “The Barn Owls,” is brought up to the Hancock’s catapult, while operating off the coast of Vietnam, 6 May 1966. Photographed by Photographer’s Mate Third Class Worthington, USN 1120337
When it came to going air-to-air with the Vietnam People’s Air Force, Crusaders from Hancock earned that dubious distinction first when they tangled with MiG-17s on 3 April 1965.
Via the NNAM: An F-8J Crusader of Fighter Squadron (VF) 211 pictured over the Gulf of Tonkin as it returns to the carrier Hancock (CVA 19) following a combat air patrol. Note the AIM-9 Sidewinder missile on the fuselage mount. During the Vietnam War, VF-211 was known to return to their carrier with AIM-9s missing from their arsenal given the fact that the squadron was credited with shooting down seven enemy MiG-17 fighters in air-to-air combat. Now designated VFA-211, the Fighting Checkmates celebrate their 75th birthday this year, having been established as Bombing Squadron (VB) 74 in 1945.
The shadow of a U.S. Navy RF-8A Crusader photograph recon plane passes near a burning Communist Vietnamese PT boat after it was blasted by U.S. Seventh Fleet aircraft from aircraft carriers USS Midway (CV 41) and USS Hancock (CV 19). This was one of the five PT boats destroyed by U.S. Navy aircraft on April 28, 1965. The boats were spotted in the Song Giang River near the Quang Khe Naval Base (located some 50 miles north of the 17th Parallel) despite heavy camouflage. A total of 58 Navy aircraft (28 strike and 30 support types) took part in the day-long attack. All were recovered safely. USN 711478
VA-55 A-4Fs on the deck of USS Hancock (CV-19) in an undated photograph UA 462.31
Aerial view of the attack aircraft carrier, USS HANCOCK (CVA-19) while operating in the South China Sea, 15 June 1966. Chief Photographer J.M. McClure, photographer USN 1118793
How many jets can you cram on a WWII carrier? USS Hancock (CVA-19) with Carrier Air Wing 21, passing under the Golden Gate Bridge, August 2, 1969, bound for Westpac and her fifth Vietnam cruise
Color photo of A-4F Skyhawks being launched from the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Hancock (CVA-19) for a strike in Vietnam in 1969. The A-4F on the starboard catapult was assigned to Attack Squadron VA-55 War Horses, the one on the port catapult to VA-164 Ghost Riders. Navy photograph from the 1969-70 cruise book.
An F-8 Crusader Fighter Aircraft arrives for a recovery onboard the attack aircraft carrier USS HANCOCK (CVA-19) 13 March 1971 while operating in the Gulf of Tonkin. K-88448
She celebrated 25 years with the fleet.
USS HANCOCK (CVA-19) In San Francisco Bay, California, upon her return from her 1968-1969 deployment to the Western Pacific, 3 March 1969. Crewmen in the formation of “44-69” on the flight deck signify 25 years of service. Photograph by Photographer’s Mate Second Class Winfield S. Frazeur. USN 1141660
Then she celebrated 30 years with the fleet.
USS HANCOCK (CVA-19) With men of VA-55 and crew members in the formation of “44-74” in honor of the ship’s thirty years of service. The photo was taken on 3 January 1974 by PH1 Cook. NH 84727
She would earn 13 Vietnam battle stars along with five Navy Unit Commendations and was present for the endgame in April 1975 when Saigon fell.
Landing her CVW-21 airwing for a final time, she took aboard five Marine helicopter squadrons and flew a mix of 25 CH-46s, UH-1s, AH-1 Cobras, and CH-53s into South Vietnam for Operation Frequent Wind, evacuating American and allied civilians and personnel.
Hancock launched the first helicopter wave of TF76 at 1244 on 29 April. Two hours later, the Marine aircraft landed the U.S. Defense Attaché Office compound in Saigon.
Refugees from South Vietnam debark U.S. Marine Corps Sikorsky CH-53D Sea Stallion helicopters of HMH-463 on the flight deck of the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Hancock (CV-19/LPH-19?) during Operation Frequent Wind, before the fall of Saigon. 29 April 1975. Photo by Arthur Ritchie via Navsource. http://www.navsource.org/archives/02/19.htm
In all, Hannah would recover 2,500 souls during the operation and famously ditch several empty South Vietnamese military helicopters over the side to make room for more.
USS Hancock returned from her final West Pac cruise on 20 October 1975 when she sailed under the Golden Gate on her own steam.
In all, Hannah had 26 commanding officers, most of which went on to wear stars. She had fought her way across the South China Sea in WWII from Indochina to Tokyo, launched wonky experimental cruise missiles from her deck, hosted the Pelvis before he was cool, flexed her muscle for Uncle in the Taiwan and Laos crises of the 1950s, and both opened and closed Yankee Station. In the end, perhaps no carrier spent more time in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam conflict than USS Hancock.
On 12 December 1975, CVW-21, a veteran of eight of Hancock’s Vietnam cruises (and one on sister ship USS Bon Homme Richard), was disestablished and has not been seen since.
On 30 January 1976, Hancock herself was decommissioned and sold for scrap before the end of the year. By the end of 1977, she had been scrapped in Southern California. A veterans’ association is alive and well to keep her memory alive.
Her bell is on display in front of the ComNavLant Office Building in Norfolk, VA
She is also commemorated both in her WWII configuration and in SCB-125 conversion format in scale models by Trumpeter, Dragon, and others.
Of her sisters, Hancock outlived all in the fleet except the training carrier USS Lexington and 1950s latecomer USS Oriskany. Even with that, the newer Oriskany was laid up just eight months after Hannah. Today, four Essex-class flattops survive as museums in various states of repair: Yorktown, in South Carolina; Intrepid, in New York City; Hornet, in California; and Lexington in Texas. Please visit them.
There has not been a fifth USS Hancock but confusingly the Navy christened USS John Hancock (DD-981), a Spruance-class destroyer, at Pascagoula in 1977. After solid service, that greyhound was decommissioned at age 20 while still young and disposed of by dismantling– but that is another story.
USS HANCOCK (CV-19) photographed in 1944 while wearing camouflage pattern 32/3a. The photo is superimposed over a cutaway drawing of the forward hull of a typical “ESSEX” class carrier of that time. Catalog #: 80-G-334743
(As built, via Navypedia)
Displacement: 27,100 tons standard
Length: 888 feet overall
Beam: 93 feet waterline
Draft: 28 feet 7 inches, light
8 × Babcock & Wilcox boilers
4 × Westinghouse geared steam turbines
4 × shafts
Speed: 32.7 knots
Range: 14,100 nmi at 20 knots
Complement: 2,631 officers and enlisted crew. 3448 total with aircrew and Marine det.
Sensors: SK-2, SC-2, (1 – 2)x SG, SM, 2x Mk 12/22 radars
4-inch (100 mm) belt
2.5-inch (60 mm) hangar deck
1.5-inch (40 mm) protective decks
1.5-inch (40 mm) conning tower
4 × twin Mk 32 5 inch/38 caliber guns around the island
8 × single 127/38 Mark 24 Mod 11 pedestal mounts, two on each corner
8 × quadruple Mk 1/2 Bofors 40 mm guns
46 × single Mk 4 Oerlikon 20 mm cannons
Displacement: 41,200 tons fully loaded
Length: 910 feet overall
Beam: 147′ 6″ feet deck
Draft: 35 feet
8 × boilers
4 × Westinghouse geared steam turbines
4 × shafts
Speed: 28ish knots
Complement: 3050 plus aircrew and Marines
Sensors: SPS-12, SPS-8, SPS-10, 4x Mk 25, 4x Mk 35 radars, SLR-2 ECM suite
(Updated in the 1960s to SPS-30, SPS-37, SPN-10 radars, WLR-1, ULQ-6 ECM suites)
4-inch (100 mm) belt
2.5-inch (60 mm) hangar deck
1.5-inch (40 mm) protective decks
1.5-inch (40 mm) conning tower
8 × single 127/38 Mark 24 Mod 11 pedestal mounts
11 × twin 73″/50 Mk 33 RF AA guns
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