USS Coral Sea (CV-43)
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Ordered: 14 June 1943
Builder: Newport News Shipbuilding, Newport News, Virginia
Laid down: 10 July 1944
Launched: 2 April 1946
Commissioned: 1 October 1947
Decommissioned: 26 April 1990
Struck: 28 April 1990
Nickname: ''Ageless Warrior''
Fate: Disposed of by scrapping, cannibalization
Class and type: Midway class aircraft carrier
Displacement: 45,000 tons
Length: 968 ft. (295 m)
Beam: 113 feet (34 m) waterline, 136 feet (41 m) flight deck
Draft: 35 feet (11 m)
Propulsion: Geared steam turbines 212,000 shp
Speed: 33 knots (61 km/h)
Complement: 4,104 officers and enlisted men
Armament: 18 - 5"/54 caliber Mark 16 guns, 84 - Bofors 40 mm guns, 68 - Oerlikon 20 mm cannon
Armor: Belt: 7.6 inch
Deck: 3.5 inch
Aircraft carried: Up to 130 (World War II) and 45-55 (1980s)
U.S.S. Coral Sea (CV/CVB/CVA-43), a Midway class aircraft carrier, was the second ship of the United States Navy to be named for the Battle of the Coral Sea. She earned the affectionate nickname ''Ageless Warrior'' through her long career. Initially classified as an aircraft carrier with hull classification symbol CV-43, the contract to build her was awarded to Newport News Shipbuilding of Newport News, Virginia on 14 June 1943. She was reclassified as a ''Large Aircraft Carrier'' with hull classification symbol CVB-43 on 15 July 1943. Her keel was laid down on 10 July 1944. She was launched on 2 April 1946 sponsored by Mrs. Thomas C. Kinkaid, and commissioned on 1 October 1947 with Captain A.P. Storrs III in command.
Before 8 May 1945, the aircraft carrier CVB-42 had been known as U.S.S. Coral Sea; after that date, CVB-42 was renamed in honor of Franklin D. Roosevelt, the late President, and CVB-43 was named Coral Sea.
The ship promptly began a series of career milestones when, on 27 April 1948, two P2V-2 Neptunes, piloted by Commander Thomas D. Davies and Lieutenant Commander John P. Wheatley, made jet assisted take-offs (JATO) from the carrier as it steamed off Norfolk, Virginia. This was the first carrier launchings of planes of this size and weight. Coral Sea sailed from Norfolk, Virginia on 7 June 1948 for a midshipmen cruise to the Mediterranean Sea and Caribbean Sea, and returned to Norfolk, Virginia 11 August.
The USS Coral Sea on her maiden cruise in 1948
After an overhaul period, Coral Sea was again operating off the Virginia Capes. On 7 March 1949, a P2V-3C Neptune, piloted by Captain 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, Maryland. Following training in the Caribbean Sea, Coral Sea sailed 3 May 1949 for her first tour of duty in the Mediterranean Sea with the Sixth Fleet, returning 28 September.
Operations in the 1950s
On 21 April 1950, the first carrier takeoff of an AJ-1 Savage heavy attack bomber was made from Coral Sea by Captain 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 Sea for duty with the Sixth Fleet from 9 September 1950 to 1 February 1951.
An overhaul and local operations upon her return, as well as training with Air Group 17, prepared her for a return to the Mediterranean Sea 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, Virginia 6 October for local and Caribbean Sea operations, next sailing for the Mediterranean Sea on 19 April 1952. While on service with the Sixth Fleet, she visited Yugoslavia, and carried Marshal Josip Broz Tito on a one day cruise to observe carrier operations. The ship was reclassified as an ''Attack Aircraft Carrier'' with hull classification symbol CVA-43 on 1 October 1952 while still at sea, and she returned to Norfolk, Virginia for overhaul 12 October.
Coral Sea trained pilots in carrier operations off the Virginia Capes and Mayport, Florida, and in April 1953 she embarked the Judiciary Committee of the United States House of Representatives for a three day cruise. On 26 April, the carrier sailed for a tour of duty in the Mediterranean Sea. 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, Virginia on 21 October, she carried out tests for the Bureau of Aeronautics and trained members of the Naval Reserve at Mayport, Florida, and Guantanamo Bay.
Straight deck Coral Sea in 1955
Coral Sea returned to the Mediterranean Sea from 7 July to 20 December 1954, and during this tour was visited by Generalissimo Francisco Franco as she lay off Valencia, Spain. On her next tour of duty in the Mediterranean Sea from 23 March to 29 September 1955, she called at Istanbul, and participated in NATO exercises.
Sailing from Norfolk, Virginia 23 July 1956 for Mayport, Florida, to embark Carrier Air Group 10, Coral Sea continued on to the Mediterranean Sea on her next tour. She participated in NATO exercises, and received Paul, King of the Hellenes, and his consort, Friederike Luise Thyra of Hannover on board as visitors in October. During the Suez Crisis, Coral Sea evacuated American citizens from the troubled area, and stood by off Egypt until November.
She returned to Norfolk, Virginia 11 February 1957. She cleared that port on 26 February and visited Santos, Brazil; Valparaíso, Chile; and Balboa, Canal Zone, before arriving at Bremerton, Washington, on 15 April. Coral Sea was decommissioned at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard on 24 May 1957 to receive a major conversion (SCB-110A), which included an angled deck, relocation of her elevators to the deck edge, new steam catapults, an enclosed hurricane bow, hull blisters, removal of the armor belt and several anti-aircraft guns, and other changes. Upon completion, she was recommissioned on 25 January 1960 and rejoined 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 Seventh Fleet in the Far East.
Vietnam and operations in the 1960s to early 1970s
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.
The Coral Sea leaving Pearl Harbor in 1963
Following the Gulf of Tonkin Incident in August, Coral Sea departed on 7 December 1964 for duty with the Seventh Fleet. On 7 February 1965, aircraft from Coral Sea, along with those from the U.S.S. Ranger and the U.S.S. Hancock, 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 Vinh Son. Coral Sea remained on deployment until returning home on 1 November 1965.
The U.S.S. 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 United States Navy and United States 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 the U.S.S. Hancock, was on Yankee Station when the North Vietnamese spring offensive began. They were joined in early April by the U.S.S. Kitty Hawk and the U.S.S. Constellation. 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 Stratofortress strikes on the Haiphong petroleum products storage area in an operation known as Freedom Porch.
After refitting, from 1970 through to 1971, and during Reftra down to San Diego, the Coral Sea on its return trip to Alameda caught fire in the communications department. The fire spread so fast that Captain William H. Harris commanded that the carrier be put just off shore between San Mateo and Santa Barbara in order to abandon ship if the fire could not be put under control. Several communications personnel were trapped and Radiomen Bob Bilbo and Bill Larimore pulled many shipmates out of the burning and smoke filled compartments.
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, the U.S.S. 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. Coral Sea launched three A-6A Intruders and six A-7E Corsair II aircraft loaded with naval mines and one EKA-3B Skywarrior in support of the mining operation directed against the outer approaches to Haiphong Harbor. The mining aircraft departed the vicinity of Coral Sea timed to execute the mining at precisely 09:00 local time to coincide with President Richard M. Nixon's public announcement in Washington that naval mines had been seeded. The Intruder flight led by the CAG, Commander Roger E. Sheets, was composed of United States Marine Corps aircraft from VMA-224 and headed for the inner channel.
Flight operations during the Vietnam war
The Corsairs, led by Commander 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 MK52-2 mines. Captain William R. Carr, USMC, the bombardier/navigator in the lead plane, established the critical attack azimuth and timed the naval mine releases. The first mine was dropped at 08:59 and the last of the field of 36 mines at 09:01. Twelve mines were placed in the inner harbor and the remaining 24 in the outer. All 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 MK36 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.
Paris Peace Accords, assorted events in the late 1970s and 1980s
The Paris Peace Accords, ending hostilities in Vietnam, were signed on 27 January 1973, ending four years of talks. North Vietnam released nearly 600 American 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. The Coral Sea, Midway, Hancock, Enterprise, and Okinawa responded on 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 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 May to 14 May 1975, Coral Sea participated with other United States Navy, United States Air Force, and United States Marine Corps forces in the Mayaguez incident, the recovery of the U.S. merchant ship S.S. 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 U Tapao, Thailand, and landed at Koh Tang Island to rescue the Mayaguez's crew and secure the ship. Eighteen Marines, Airmen, and Navy corpsmen were lost in the action. For her action, Coral Sea was presented the Meritorious Unit Commendation on 6 July 1976. Meanwhile, she had been reclassified as a ''Multi-Purpose Aircraft Carrier'', returning to hull classification symbol CV-43, on 30 June 1975.
Coral Sea entering Pearl Harbor in 1981
Coral Sea relieved the U.S.S. Midway in the northern part of the Arabian Sea on 5 February 1980 in connection with the Iran hostage crisis. Militant followers of the Ayatollah Khomeini, who had come to power following the overthrow of the Shah of Iran, seized the United States Embassy in Tehran on 4 November 1979 and held 63 Americans hostage. The crisis ended on 20 January 1981 when Ronald Reagan succeeded Jimmy Carter as President of the United States and Iran released the Americans.
On 25 March 1983, the Coral Sea left its homeport of Alameda, California, for its new homeport of Norfolk, Virginia. The Navy sent the carrier on a six month around the world cruise, with ports of call in a dozen countries. The U.S.S. Carl Vinson replaced the Coral Sea at her homeport at what is now the former Alameda Naval Air Station.
On 11 April 1985, while on refresher training with its air wing in the Guantanamo Bay area, the Coral Sea collided with the Equadorian tanker ship Napo and subsequently underwent two months of repairs at Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth, Virginia. On 13 October 1985, Coral Sea returned to the Mediterranean Sea for her first Sixth Fleet deployment since 1957. Commanded by Captain Robert H. Ferguson, with CVW-13 embarked, it was also the first deployment of the new F/A-18 Hornet to the Mediterranean Sea. The Hornets were assigned to VFA-131, VFA-132, VMFA-314 and VMFA-323 on 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. A missile (SA-5 site at Sert) attack on CV-43's aircraft (Tomcat/Hornet package) conducting a ''Blue Darter'' fell short and dropped into the Mediterranean. F/A-18's from Coral Sea and America flew combat air patrols, protecting the carrier groups from Libyan aircraft. The Hornets were frequently called upon to intercept and challenge numerous MiG-23s, MiG-25s, Su-22s, and Mirages sent out by Libya to harass the fleet. The Hornets often flew only a few feet from their adversaries, ready to shoot if need be. Coral Sea was the only carrier that could be counted on for DLI when needed, her deck was ready 24/7.
On 5 April 1986, in response to the U.S. show of force, the La Belle Discotheque in the Federal Republic of Germany was bombed, resulting in the death of one U.S. serviceman and many injured. On 15 April 1986 aircraft from the Coral Sea and America, as well as U.S.A.F. FB-111s from Lakenheath A.F.B. in the U.K., struck targets in Libya as part of ''Operation El Dorado Canyon.'' The Hornets went into action for the first time, flying several ship to shore air strikes against Libyan shore installations that were harassing the fleet. During this action, the Hornets from the Coral Sea attacked and destroyed the SA-5 missile site at Sirte which had been ''painting'' U.S. aircraft on its radars. This was the combat debut for the Hornet, and incidentally marked the first combat use of the AGM-88A HARM anti-radiation missile. The Hornets attacked the SAM sites in bad weather and at wave top heights. All Hornets returned to the Coral Sea without mishap.
U.S.S. Coral Sea making a high speed run in 1989
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 which two attack squadrons on board used a shared maintenance program, helping to streamline aircraft maintenance. On 19 April 1989, while operating in the Caribbean Sea, Coral Sea responded to a call for assistance from the U.S.S. Iowa 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 (407 mm) guns. Coral Sea also dispatched a surgical team and medical supplies. Medevac and logistical support to the Iowa was provided by Coral Sea's deployed helicopter squadron HS-17 (Neptune's Raiders) flying the Sikorsky SH-3H, along with VC-8 flying the Sikorsky SH-3G aircraft.
Decommissioning and Scrapping
Coral Sea was decommissioned 26 April 1990 and stricken from the Naval Vessel Register two days later. She was sold by the Defense Reutilization and Marketing Service (DRMS) for scrapping on 7 May 1993 to Seawitch Salvage of Baltimore, but scrapping was delayed by numerous financial, legal and environmental issues. Nearly 70,000 tons by the time she was struck, Coral Sea was the largest vessel ever scrapped up until that date and may be the last large American aircraft carrier ever to be scrapped (newer environmental laws make it unprofitable for companies to scrap carriers within the United States, and it is illegal to sell capital ships for scrapping abroad). The company attempted to sell the hulk to China for scrapping, but the Navy blocked the sale in court. The scrapping continued off and on for several years until finally completed on 8 September 2000.
Before 8 May 1945, the aircraft carrier CVB-42 had been known as U.S.S. Coral Sea; after that date, CVB-42 was renamed in honor of Franklin D. Roosevelt, the late President, and the name Coral Sea was changed to CVB-43. What is unknown to this day is, what Coral Sea's name was prior to her renaming in 1945. After further investigation many believe the original name of CV 43 was U.S.S. Leyte, because the name Leyte was given the same day to U.S.S. Crown Point (CV-32). The following is a quote from the reply to in inquiry made to: (Public Affairs Officer Naval HIstorical Center Washington Navy Yard 805 Kidder Breese SE Washington, DC 20374-5060) on 18 June 2008 regarding the name of CVB-43 prior to being named U.S.S. Coral Sea. ''When CVB-42 was renamed from U.S.S. Coral Sea to U.S.S. Franklin D Roosevelt, no name for CVB-43 had been determined. So there was no ''original'' name for the ship.'' From my study of the WWII Navy and it's ship naming policies, it's possible that it would have been named U.S.S. Okinawa when the CVE of that name was canceled on 11 August 1945.