Thursday, February 28, 2019

Just Discovered, 76 Years Later: The Carrier That Launched the Doolittle Raid

Earlier this month, CBS News announced a riveting discovery. After 76 years on the floor of the South Pacific, The U.S.S. Hornet—the WWII carrier that launched the Doolittle Raid—has been found.

Distinguished Service of the U.S.S. Hornet

There have been several U.S. Navy vessels with the name Hornet. This one, CV-8, served just over a year. Commissioned in October, 1941, just weeks before the attack on Pearl Harbor, she steamed her way into history with her first combat mission, the audacious Doolittle Raid of April 18, 1942. I know that story well, as it’s depicted in my new novel, The Plum Blooms in Winter. And HHH readers know it well by now too, as Cindy Stewart and I partnered last year on a series of posts (examples here and here) that explored the adventures of the Doolittle Raiders stranded in enemy territory after the mission.

Jimmy Doolittle pilots his B-25 off the deck of the U.S.S. Hornet, launching the Doolittle Raid over Tokyo. (April18, 1942)

While the physical damage wrought by the Doolittle Raid’s sixteen B-25 bombers was minimal compared to later raids, historians credit the Raid with having a major impact on the course of the war. Prior to the Doolittle Raid, the Japanese harbored a mystical belief that their home islands—and their emperor—were invulnerable to attack. Learning otherwise was one of the factors that led them to commit their forces to what they hoped would be the destruction of the U.S. fleet at the Battle of Midway a few weeks later. The U.S. staged an ambush there which proved to be the turning point in the Pacific War. The Imperial Japanese Navy never recovered from the destruction wrought on its carrier fleet at Midway.

The U.S.S. Hornet saw action at Midway, where her attack on the Japanese heavy cruiser Mogami effectively ended the historic battle. She received four service stars and her Torpedo Squadron 8 received a Presidential Unit Citation for extraordinary valor in that battle.

In late October 1942, the Hornet sailed with the U.S.S. Enterprise to meet a Japanese attack force threatening Guadalcanal. During this operation, the intrepid Hornet was targeted by torpedo planes and dive bombers. She sank, bearing 140 of her complement of 2200 sailors with her.

Extravagant Pursuits of the Super Wealthy

The mission that discovered Hornet was the brain child of the late Paul Allen, cofounder of Microsoft. Allen was a man of wide-ranging—and extravagant—interests. He retired from Microsoft’s board in 2000, but his other investments and interests no doubt kept him busy. Allen invested in technology companies and real estate ventures and gave more than $2 billion to philanthropy. He was included on Time Magazine’s list of the 100 Most Influential People in the World two years running (2007 and 2008). He funded efforts in brain science, cell science, space exploration, wildlife and conservation, documentary filmmaking, the arts and community services.

Paul G. Allen
Paul Allen poses at the Flying Heritage Collection in Everett, WA
When Allen passed away late last year as a result of his third bout with cancer, he was estimated to be one of the fifty wealthiest people in the world. And one more bit of trivia: as a young man, Allen reportedly achieved a perfect SAT score of 1600. 

Allen also owned two professional sports teams (the Seattle Seahawks and the Portland Trailblazers) and—what else—two of the world’s one hundred longest yachts, the Octopus and the Tatoosh. Octopus has been involved in a number of research and rescue operations.

Octopus1 Grand Cayman 2010
Paul Allen's Octopus. His interest in deep-sea research and exploration began with hosting expeditions from this vessel, one of the world's largest private yachts.
Perhaps those operations helped trigger Allen’s interest in a new venture. In 2015, he purchased a 250’ offshore services vessel and had it extensively retrofitted to serve as a deep-submergence research vessel. The RV Petrel is the world’s only privately-owned vessel equipped to explore up to 6000 meters below surface. Still funded by Allen’s estate, the ship’s mission is to explore historically significant wrecks at challenging depths and conditions.
We've done a number of these explorations to try to find sunken warships. We try to do these both as really exciting examples of underwater archaeology and as tributes to the brave men that went down on these ships.

          – Paul Allen, USS Indianapolis Live from the Deep

The Petrel’s resume to date includes the discoveries of one Italian destroyer, one Australian submarine, four Japanese battleships and nine destroyers, two U.S. destroyers and two light cruisers, the carrier U.S.S. Lexington, and the heavy cruiser U.S.S. Indianapolis. The Indianapolis’ 1945 demise en route from Guam to the Philippines marked a terrible tragedy, stranding 890 crewmen in shark-infested waters with insufficient life rafts and supplies for a horrifying four days. Only 316 of the men survived this ordeal. It was the most deadly disaster the U.S. Navy has incurred from the loss of a single ship.

“This Is It. This Is Hornet.”

This winter, Petrel set her sights on the WWII carrier U.S.S. Hornet. I haven’t seen an explanation as to why Hornet was chosen, but perhaps the carrier’s distinguished service record accounts for it. Or perhaps it was her status as the last American fleet carrier to sink under enemy fire.

To locate Hornet, the Petrel's project crew combed the ship’s logs of nine other U.S. vessels, and triangulated with ship's logs from Japanese vessels as well. This gave them an approximate location east of the Solomon Islands. But that still left 140 square miles of seabed to explore.

The Petrel sent down a sonar drone for an initial scan. Data retrieved once the drone returned to the surface appeared to show a large, carrier-shaped piece of debris more than 3.5 miles down. It looked promising enough that the project crew deployed the ship’s Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV), capable of live-streaming images back up an armored cable from as far down as 6000 meters.

The result is a haunting sequence of footage which identifies the carrier unmistakably as CV-8, the U.S.S. Hornet. The ROV gives us a clear, locked-in-time view of the ship’s rear guns. Richard Nowatzki, a 95-year-old veteran who served at 18 as a gunner on the Hornet, was astonished at the footage.

I used to stand on the right side of that gun. That's where my equipment was.... If you go down to my locker, there's forty bucks in it. You can have it.

Also clearly visible: anti-aircraft guns pointed into the sky. A chunk of airplane fuselage. An intact aircraft tug. A signal horn. Even personal items such as a jacket and a mess kit evoke the tragedy of so many lost lives, so many years ago.

Screen capture from CBS video. Richard Nowatski and the U.S.S. Hornet bearing B-25s to the Doolittle Raid

Click the image above to check out the haunting video. There's also an article with great still images:

The Plum Blooms in Winter | Linda Thompson

The Plum Blooms in Winter

My Doolittle Raid novel is finally here! And I'm thrilled (and humbled) by the reviews it's receiving.

“A taut, crisp debut achievement that colorfully evokes the Pacific theater of WWII. Start this one forewarned: it's a stay-up-all-night read."

-Jerry B. Jenkins--21-time NYT bestselling author (Left Behind, et al)

A Prostitute Seeks Her Revenge--In 1942, Miyako Matsuura cradled her little brother as he died on the sidewalk, a victim of the first U.S. bombing raid on Japan. By 1948, the war has reduced her to a street-hardened prostitute consumed by her shame.

A Doolittle Raid Hero Finds His True Mission--Dave Delham makes aviation history piloting a B-25 in the audacious Doolittle Raid. Forced to bail out over occupied China, he and his crew are captured by the Japanese and survive a harrowing P.O.W. ordeal. In 1948, he returns to Japan as a Christian missionary, determined to showcase Christ's forgiveness.

Convinced that Delham was responsible for the bomb that snuffed out her brother's life, Miyako resolves to restore her honor by avenging him--even if it costs her own life. But the huntress soon becomes hunted in Osaka's treacherous underworld. Miyako must outmaneuver a ruthless brothel owner, outwit gangs with competing plans to profit by her, and overcome betrayal by family and friends--only to confront a decision that will change everything.

I stepped away from a marketing career that spanned continents to write what I love: stories of reckless faith that showcase God's hand in history. I'm so excited to work with the all-star team at Mountain Brook Ink to launch my debut novel, The Plum Blooms in Winter, on December 1! Inspired by a remarkable true story from World War II's pivotal Doolittle Raid, The Plum Blooms in Winter is an American Christian Fiction Writers' Genesis Contest winner. The novel follows a captured American pilot and a bereaved Japanese prostitute who targets him for ritual revenge. Please also feel free to check out my blog, Five Stones and a Sling, which hovers in the region where history meets Bible prophecy meets current events. It's rich ground--we live in a day when prophecies are leaping from the Bible's pages into the headlines!

I live outside Phoenix with my husband, a third-generation airline pilot who doubles as my Chief Military Research Officer. We share our home with our daughter, our son and daughter-in-law, a brand new grandson, and a small platoon of housecats. When I'm not writing, you'll find me rollerblading--yes, I know that makes me a throwback ๐Ÿ˜Š--or catching a moonrise, or dreaming of my next trip. Next up: Wales, then Israel.


  1. Fascinating! And also I found that tidbit of information on Paul Allen interesting as well. Thanks for the post.

    1. Hi, Connie! Thank you so much for being such a consistent encourager! It means a lot!!

  2. Very interesting!

    Have you read the novel Far From the Dream by Lance Wubbels? I read it a long time ago, but I think it may involve the USS Hornet as well. I'm not sure.

    1. I'm glad you found the post interesting, Lisa! I haven't read that one, no, but it could very well be. :)

  3. Linda, thank you for this fascinating post!

    1. It's very much my pleasure, Caryl! Thank you for reading, and commenting. :)