Aircraft Carrier

CVB / CVA / CV 43   -   USS Coral Sea

 

USS Coral Sea (1986)

US Navy photo

Type, Class:

 

Aircraft Carrier; Midway – class;

Builder:

 

Newport News Shipbuilding & Drydock Co., Newport News, Virginia, USA

STATUS:

 

Awarded: June 14, 1943

Laid down: July 10, 1944

Launched: April 2, 1946

Commissioned: October 1, 1947

Decommissioned: April 30, 1990

Fate: Sold by the Defense Reutilization and Marketing Service (DRMS) for scrapping on 7 May 1993. Scrapping was delayed by numerous financial, legal and environmental issues; finally completed 8 September 2000.

Homeport:

 

-

Namesake:

 

named after the Battle of the Coral Sea  /  May 4 – 8, 1942

Crest Motto:

 

none-

Displacement:

 

approx. 45000 tons (as built)

Length:

 

295 meters

Beam:

 

34,45 meters

Draft:

 

10,67 meters

Propulsion:

 

4 geared steam turbines; 12 boilers; 4 shafts; 4 screws;

212000 shaft horsepowers (shp);

Speed:

 

30+ knots (55+ km/h)

Crew:

 

ca. 4100

Armament:

 

see: INFO > Midway – class Aircraft Carrier

Aviation :

 

full flight deck with island, up to 137 aircraft

>INFO>:

(Deployments, Port Visits, etc.)

 

 

see ship’s history, below …

 

images

USS Coral Sea – 1948

USS Coral Sea in the Mediterranean Sea – July 28, 1955

USS Duncan (DDR 874), USS Bellatrix (AF 62) & USS Coral Sea /  WESTPAC – April 1962

note: 7 A-3D "Skywarrior" heavy attack aircraft on the flight deck

USS Coral Sea – 1977

USS Coral Sea making 30+ knots – March 1989

USS Lexington (CV 2) – Burning and sinking after her crew abandoned ship during the Battle of Coral Sea, 8 May 1942

Photo credits: US Navy, US Naval Historical Center

 

Namesake & History:

The Battle of the Coral Sea:

 

The Battle of the Coral Sea, in early May 1942, was one of the major turning points of the Pacific War. It was the first battle in which aircraft carriers engaged each other, and the first naval battle in which neither side's ships sighted or fired directly upon each other. The engagement ended with no clear victor, but the damage suffered, and experience gained by both sides, during and after the conflict, set the stage for the Battle of Midway one month later.

 

 

Background:

 

In early 1942, having conquered nearly all of Southeast Asia in just a few months, Imperial Japan was at the apex of its power. Still reeling from a long series of humiliating defeats, the Allies were just beginning to develop the skills and organise the material assets needed to survive and, eventually, to strike back. Allied strategy at this time was focused on a defensive build-up of the United States Army and Marine strength on New Caledonia (well to the south of the Solomon Islands), and Australian Army and Royal Australian Air Force units in the south and east of the Australian Territory of New Guinea, just north of Australia itself.

 

On March 12, the Prime Minister of Japan, General Hideki Tojo, said:

“Australia and New Zealand are now threatened by the might of the Imperial forces, and both them should know that any resistance is futile. If the Australian government does not modify her present attitude, their continent will suffer the same fate as the Dutch East Indies”

 

In April 1942, Japanese forces left their new stronghold of Rabaul (on New Britain, just north of mainland New Guinea), and launched a two-pronged strategy: an amphibious assault against Port Moresby (Operation "MO"), and another against Tulagi in the Solomon Islands. The intention was threefold: to establish control of the Solomons, initially with a seaplane base; to destroy, and then occupy Port Moresby (the last Allied base between Japan and Australia); and in doing these things, to bring the American aircraft carrier fleet to battle for the first time in the war.

 

Historians remain divided about Japanese longer-term intentions. There seems little doubt Japan planned to greatly strengthen their hold on the Solomon Islands, as a bastion against any future US counter-attacks; a reasonable probability northern Australia would be invaded; and considerable doubt about the following strategies, if any were planned. In practice, Japanese military planning structure was complex, had ill-defined areas of responsibility, and was crippled by endless, bitter debates between the army and navy. Regarding longer-term Japanese plans in the South Pacific, there is only one firm deduction: whatever strategy the navy put forward would be challenged by an army counter-plan.

 

Three Japanese fleets set sail: the invasion forces for the Solomons and Port Moresby, and a covering force of two large new aircraft carriers (Shokaku and Zuikaku, both veterans of the Pearl Harbor, a smaller carrier (Shoho), two heavy cruisers, and supporting craft. Alerted by radio intercepts, the Allies knew that Japanese land-based aircraft were being moved south and an operation was impending. In opposition were three main fleets: USS Yorktown (CV-5) already in the Coral Sea under the command of Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher, USS Lexington (CV-2) en route, and a joint Allied surface fleet. The carriers USS Hornet (CV-8) and USS Enterprise (CV-6) were heading south, after the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo, but arrived too late to take part in the battle.

 

The battle:

 

Lexington arrived to join Yorktown on May 1st. The Japanese occupied Tulagi without incident on May 3rd, and construction of a seaplane base began. After fuelling, Yorktown closed on Tulagi and, on May 4, launched three successful strikes against Japanese shipping and aircraft there — revealing the presence of an American carrier to the enemy, but sinking the destroyer Kikuzuki, crippling the island's seaplane reconnaissance capability, and damaging other vessels, before retiring to the south to rendezvous with the Lexington and the newly-arrived cruisers. Meanwhile, the two large Japanese carriers were approaching from south of the Solomons — neatly placing the Allied fleet between the two Japanese fleets.

 

Land-based B-17's attacked the gradually-approaching Port Moresby invasion fleet on May 6, with the usual lack of success. Almost another year would pass before air forces realized that high-level bombing raids upon moving naval targets were pointless. Although both carrier fleets flew extensive searches on the 6th, cloudy weather kept them hidden from each other, and the two fleets spent the night only 70 miles apart. Other allied aircraft joined the battle, from airbases at Cooktown and Iron Range on Cape York Peninsula, Australia.

 

That night Fletcher, mindful that his primary role was to protect Port Moresby, took the difficult decision to detach the Allies' main surface fleet, under the Australian Rear Admiral John Crace, to block the probable course of an invasion fleet. Crace's force consisted of the cruisers HMAS Australia, USS Chicago, HMAS Hobart, and the destroyers USS Perkins, USS Walke and USS Farragut. Fletcher and Crace knew that exposing surface ships to attack by land-based aircraft, without air cover was to risk a repeat of the sinking of HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse five months before. Their fears were realised when the cruisers were located by a squadron of Japanese torpedo bombers, and came under intense air attack, on the afternoon of May 7. Whether as a result of luck or skill, the Allied ships escaped with few casualties and little damage. Only a matter of minutes after the Japanese raid, Crace's force was inadvertently attacked by friendly B-17s, and Farragut and Perkins once again survived narrow misses.

 

On the 7th, both fleets flew off all available aircraft, but neither found the main body of the other, and both mistakenly attacked subsidiary forces. Japanese aircraft found and attacked the US fleet oiler USS Neosho (AO-23) and the escorting destroyer USS Sims (DD-409), mistaking them for a carrier and a cruiser. Sims was sunk, while Neosho was crippled. Meanwhile, the US aircraft had missed Shokaku and Zuikaku but found the invasion fleet, in company with the small carrier Shoho, which was soon sunk. In the previous five months, the Allies had lost a dozen battleships and carriers, and had been unable to sink a single major Japanese unit in return. Shoho was small by carrier standards, but the laconic "scratch one flattop", radioed back to the Lexington, brought news of the first Allied naval success of the Pacific war.

 

Finally, with dawn searches on May 8, the main carrier forces located one another, and launched maximum effort raids, which passed each other in the air. Hidden by rain, Zuikaku escaped detection, but Shokaku was hit three times by bombs. Listing, and on fire, Shokaku was unable to land her aircraft, and effectively, was put out of action.

 

Both American carriers were hit by the Japanese strike: Yorktown by a bomb; the larger, less maneuverable Lexington, by both bombs and torpedoes. Although she survived the immediate damage, and was thought to be repairable, leaking aviation fuel exploded a little over an hour later. The Lexington had to be abandoned and torpedoed, to prevent her capture.

 

Crace's force continued to stand between the invasion force, and Port Moresby. Inoue was misled by returning fliers' reports, as to the strength of the Allied cruiser-destroyer force, and ordered the invasion fleet to return. With Shokaku damaged and Zuikaku short of aircraft, neither was able to take part in the crucial Battle of Midway a month later. The damaged Yorktown returned to Pearl Harbor.

 

USS Coral Sea (CVB 43 / CVA 43 / CV 43):

 

Coral Sea (CVB-43) was launched 2 April 1946 by Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Co., Newport News, Va., sponsored by Mrs. T. C. Kinkaid, commissioned 1 October 1947, Captain A. P. Storrs, III, in command; and reported to the Atlantic Fleet.

 

The ship began a series of career milestones when, on 27 April 1948, two P2V-2 Neptunes, piloted by Cmdr. Thomas D. Davies and Lt. Cmdr. John P. Wheatley, made JATO take-offs from the carrier as it steamed off the Norfolk, Va. This was the first carrier launchings of planes of this size and weight. Coral Sea sailed from Norfolk 7 June 1948 for a midshipmen cruise to the Mediterranean and Caribbean, and returned to Norfolk 11 August.

 

After an overhaul period, Coral Sea was again operating off the Virginia Capes. On 7 March 1949, a P2V-3C Neptune, piloted by Capt. John T. Hayward of VC 5, was launched from the carrier with a 10,000-load of dummy bombs. The aircraft flew across the continent, dropped its load on the west coast, and returned nonstop to land at the Naval Air Station, Patuxent River, Md. Following training in the Caribbean, Coral Sea sailed 3 May 1949 for her first tour of duty in the Mediterranean with the 6th Fleet, returning 28 September.

 

On 21 April 1950, the first carrier takeoff of an AJ-1 Savage heavy attack bomber was made from Coral Sea by Capt. John T. Hayward of VC 5. The remainder of the pilots of the squadron completed carrier qualifications on board Coral Sea in this aircraft on 31 August, marking the introduction of this long-range attack bomber to carrier operations. At this time, Coral Sea returned to the Mediterranean for duty from 9 September 1950 to 1 February 1951, bringing her impressive strength to the 6th Fleet in its important role as guardian of peace in the Mediterranean.

 

An overhaul and local operations upon her return, as well as training with Air Group 17, prepared her for a return to the Mediterranean once more on 20 March 1951. As flagship for Commander, Carrier Division 6, she took part in a North Atlantic Treaty Organization Exercise Beehive I. She returned to Norfolk 6 October for local and Caribbean operations, next sailing for the Mediterranean 19 April 1952. While on service with the 6th Fleet, she visited Yugoslavia, and carried Marshall Tito on a one-day cruise to observe carrier operations. The ship was reclassified CVA-43 on 1 October 1952 while still at sea, and she returned to Norfolk for overhaul 12 October.

 

Coral Sea trained pilots in carrier operations off the Virginia Capes and Mayport, Fla., and in April 1953 she embarked the Judiciary Committee of the House of Representatives for a three-day cruise. On 26 April, the carrier sailed for a tour of duty in the Mediterranean. This cruise was highlighted by a visit to Spain, and participation in NATO Exercise Black Wave with Deputy Secretary of Defense R. M. Kyes on board as an observer. Returning to Norfolk 21 October, she carried out tests for the Bureau of Aeronautics and trained members of the Naval Reserve at Mayport, Fla., and Guantanamo Bay.

 

Coral Sea returned to the Mediterranean from 7 July to 20 December 1954, and during this tour was visited by Generalissimo Franco as she lay off Valencia, Spain. On her next tour of duty in the Mediterranean from 23 March to 29 September 1955, she called at Istanbul, and participated in NATO exercises.

Sailing from Norfolk 23 July 1956 for Mayport to embark Carrier Air Group 10, Coral Sea continued on to the Mediterranean on her next tour. She participated in NATO exercises, and received the King and Queen of Greece on board as visitors in October. During the Suez Crisis, she evacuated American citizens from the troubled area, and stood by off Egypt until November.

 

She returned to Norfolk 11 February 1957. She cleared that port on 26 February and visited Santos, Brazil; Valparaiso, Chile; an d Balboa, C.Z., before arriving at Bremerton, Wash., 15 April. Coral Sea was decommissioned for conversion 24 May 1957, and upon completion was recommissioned 25 January 1960 to rejoin the Fleet. During September 1960, she conducted training with her new air group along the west coast, then sailed in September for a tour of duty with the 7th Fleet in the Far East.

 

Installation of the Pilot Landing Aid Television (PLAT) system was completed on Coral Sea on 14 December 1961. She was the first carrier to have this system installed for operations use. Designed to provide a videotape of every landing, the system proved useful for instructional purposes and in the analysis of landing accidents, thereby making it an invaluable tool in the promotion of safety. By 1963, all attack carriers had been equipped with PLAT and plans were underway for installation in the CVSs and at shore stations.

 

Following the Gulf of Tonkin incident in August, Coral Sea departed on 7 December 1964 for duty with the U.S. Seventh Fleet. On 7 February 1965, aircraft from Coral Sea, along with those from USS Ranger (CVA 61) and USS Hancock (CVA 19), blasted the military barracks and staging areas near Dong Hoi in the southern sector of North Vietnam. The raids were in retaliation for a damaging Viet Cong attack on installations around Pleiku in South Vietnam. On 26 March, the Seventh Fleet units began their participation in Operation Rolling Thunder, a systematic bombing of military targets throughout North Vietnam. Pilots from Coral Sea struck island and coastal radar stations in the vicinity of Vihn Son. Coral Sea remained on deployment until returning home on 1 November 1965.

 

Coral Sea continued WestPac/Vietnam deployments until 1975. She deployed from 29 July 1966 to 23 February 1967; 26 July 1967 to 6 April 1968; 7 September 1968 to 15 April 1969; 23 September 1969 to 1 July 1970; 12 November 1971 to 17 July 1972; 9 March 1973 to 8 November; and from 5 December 1974 to 2 July 1975. Operations by Navy and Marine Corps aircraft in Vietnam expanded significantly throughout April 1972 with a total of 4,833 Navy sorties in the south and 1,250 in the north. Coral Sea, along with Hancock, was on Yankee Station when the North Vietnamese spring offensive began. They were joined in early April by USS Kitty Hawk (CV 63) and USS Constellation (CV 64). On 16 April 1972, aircraft from Coral Sea, along with those from Kitty Hawk and Constellation, flew 57 sorties in the Haiphong area in support of U.S. Air Force B-52 strikes on the Haiphong petroleum products storage area in an operation known as Freedom Porch.

 

Operation Pocket Money, the mining campaign against principal North Vietnamese ports, was launched 9 May 1972. Early that morning, an EC-121 aircraft took off from Da Nang airfield to provide support for the mining operation. A short time later, Kitty Hawk launched 17 ordnance-delivering sorties against the Nam Dinh railroad siding as a diversionary air tactic. Poor weather, however, forced the planes to divert to secondary targets at Thanh and Phu Qui which were struck at 090840H and 090845H, Vietnam time, respectively. Coral Sea launched three A-6A and six A-7E aircraft loaded with mines and one EKA-3B in support of the mining operation directed against the outer approaches to Haiphong Harbor. The mining aircraft departed the vicinity of Coral Sea at 090840H in order to execute the mining at precisely 090900H to coincide with the President Richard M. Nixon's public announcement in Washington that mines had been seeded. The A-6 flight led by the CAG, Cmdr. Roger E. Sheets, was composed of Marine Corps aircraft from VMA-224 and headed for the inner channel. The A-7Es, led by Cmdr. Leonard E. Giuliani and made up of aircraft from VA-94 and VA-22, were designated to mine the outer segment of the channel. Each aircraft carried four MK 52-2 mines. Capt. William R. Carr, USMC, the bombardier/navigator in the lead plane, established the critical attack azimuth and timed the mine releases. The first mine was dropped at 090859H and the last of the field of 36 mines at 090901H. Twelve mines were placed in the inner segment and the remaining 24 in the outer segment. All MK 52-2 mines were set with 72-hour arming delays, thus permitting merchant ships time for departure or a change in destination consistent with the President's public warning. It was the beginning of a mining campaign that planted over 11,000 MK 36 type destructor and 108 special MK 52-2 mines over the next eight months. It is considered to have played a significant role in bringing about an eventual peace arrangement, particularly since it so hampered the enemy's ability to continue receiving war supplies.

 

The Paris Peace Accords, ending hostilities in Vietnam, were signed 27 January 1973, ending four years of talks. North Vietnam released nearly 600 U.S. prisoners by 1 April, and the last U.S. combat troops departed Vietnam on 11 August. However, the war was not over for the Vietnamese. By spring 1975, the North was advancing on the South. Coral Sea, USS Midway (CVA 41), Hancock, USS Enterprise (CVAN 65) and USS Okinawa (LPH 3) responded 19 April 1975 to the waters off South Vietnam when North Vietnam overran two-thirds of South Vietnam. Ten days later, Operation Frequent Wind was carried out by U.S. Seventh Fleet forces. Hundreds of U.S. personnel and Vietnamese were evacuated to waiting ships after the fall of Saigon to the North Vietnamese. South Vietnam officially surrendered to the North on 30 April.

 

On 12 to 14 May 1975, Coral Sea participated with other Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps forces in the recovery of the U.S. merchant ship SS Mayaguez and her 39 crew, illegally seized on 12 May in international waters by a Cambodian gunboat controlled by the Communist Khmer Rouge. Protective air strikes flown from the carrier against the Cambodian mainland naval and air installations as Air Force helicopters with 288 Marines from Battalion Landing Teams 2 and 9 were launched from Utapao, Thailand, and landed at Koh Tang Island to rescue the Mayaguez crew and secure the ship. Eighteen Marines, Airman, and Navy corpsmen were lost in the action. For her action, Coral Sea was presented the Meritorious Unit Commendation on 6 July 1976.

Coral Sea relieved Midway in the northern part of the Arabian Sea on 5 February 1980 in connection with the continuing hostage crisis in Iran. Militant followers of the Ayatollah Khomeini, who had come to power following the overthrow of the Shah, seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran on 4 November 1979 and held 63 U.S. citizens hostage. The hostage crisis ended on 20 January 1981 when Ronald Reagan succeeded Jimmy Carter as President of the United States and Iran released the U.S. citizens.

 

On 13 October 1985, Coral Sea returned to the Mediterranean Sea for her first Sixth Fleet deployment since 1957. Commanded by Capt. Robert H. Ferguson, with CVW-13 embarked, it was also the first deployment of the new F/A-18 Hornet to the Mediterranean. The Hornets were assigned to VFA-131 and VFA-132 in Coral Sea.

 

On 24 March 1986, Libyan armed forces fired missiles at U.S. naval forces operating in the Gulf of Sidra after declaring international waters as their own. U.S. retaliation was swift and deadly. Additionally, F/A-18 Hornets from Coral Sea and A-7E Corsairs from USS America (CV 66) conducted air-to-surface Shrike and HARM missile strikes against Libyan surface-to-air missile sites at Benghazi and Tripoli on 14 and 15 April.

 

Coral Sea continued deployments to the Mediterranean Sea and Indian Ocean area throughout the remainder of the 1980s and into the 1990s. In 1987, she developed the "Coral Sea configuration" in whch to help streamline aircraft maintenance, two attack squadrons on board used a shared maintenance. On 19 April 1989, while operating in the Caribbean, Coral Sea responded to a call for assistance from USS Iowa (BB 61) due to an explosion in the battleship's number two gun turret in which 47 crew members were killed. The explosive ordnance disposal team from Coral Sea removed volatile powder charges from the ship's 16-inch guns and flooded powder magazines. Coral Sea also dispatched a surgical team and medical supplies. VC-8, using SH-3G helicopters, also performed medevac and logistical support to Iowa.

 

Coral Sea was decommissioned 26 April 1990. Stricken from the Navy List, she was sold by the Defense Reutilization and Marketing Service (DRMS) for scrapping on 7 May 1993.

 

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