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USS Coral Sea (CV-43)
USS Coral Sea (CV-43)
Career (United States)
Name: USS Coral Sea
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: Cannibalization, finally scrapped 8 September 2000
General characteristics
Class & type: Midway-class aircraft carrier
Displacement: 45,000 tons
Length: 968 ft (295 m)
Beam: 113 ft (34 m) waterline,
136 feet (41 m) flight deck
Draft: 35 ft (11 m)
Propulsion: Geared steam turbines
212,000 shp
Speed: 33 knots (61 km/h)
Complement: 4,104 officers and 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)
45-55 (1980s)

USS Coral Sea (CV/CVB/CVA-43), a Midway-class aircraft carrier, was the third 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 USS 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.

Early Milestones

The USS Coral Sea on her maiden cruise in 1948

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.

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.

An F7U-3 Cutlass is launched from Coral Sea in 1952

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 on her first WestPac (Western Pacific cruise).

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 Ranger and 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 Coral Sea made another Westpac/Vietnam deployment from 29 July 1966 to 23 February 1967.

In the summer of 1967 the city of San Francisco adopted the ship as "San Francisco's Own."[1] This might seem ironic given the strong anti-military sentiment in the San Francisco Bay area, and the fact that this occurred during the Summer of Love.[2] Despite this, the city and the ship enjoyed a formal, official relationship. However, there were probably many times the crew did not enjoy the attitudes of Bay Area residents at all. The feeling was mutual.[1] In July 1968, prior to a deployment to Vietnam, Coral Sea participated in the carrier trials of the US Navy's proposed new interceptor, the General Dynamics-Grumman F-111B.

Prototype F-111B during carrier trials aboard Coral Sea in July 1968

The ship continued to make WestPac/Vietnam deployments until 1975: 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 Hancock, was on Yankee Station when the North Vietnamese spring offensive began. They were joined in early April by Kitty Hawk and 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 refresher training (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, 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, Fall of Saigon, Mayaguez Incident

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. 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. On 29–30 April 1975, Operation Frequent Wind was carried out by Seventh Fleet forces. Hundreds of U.S. personnel and Vietnamese were evacuated from Saigon to the ships of the Seventh Fleet lying off Vung Tau. South Vietnam surrendered to the North on 30 April.

On 12 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 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 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.

Iranian Hostage Crisis, Final Western Pacific Cruise

Coral Sea entering Pearl Harbor in 1981

On 4 November 1979 militant followers of the Ayatollah Khomeini (who had come to power following the overthrow of the Shah of Iran) seized the US Embassy in Tehran and held 63 Americans hostage. Thus began the Iranian Hostage Crisis.

The Coral Sea relieved the Midway in the northern part of the Arabian Sea, off the coast of Iran, on 5 February 1980. This operating area was nicknamed Gonzo Station by the men on the ships operating there, apparently because of its vicinity to Iran and the assumption that war with Iran was likely.

Later, along with the USS Nimitz and other ships in company, the Coral Sea participated in Operation Evening Light, the unsuccessful and aborted rescue attempt of 24 April 1980. (Aircraft were launched from the Nimitz and the Coral Sea played a supporting role.) The crew of the Coral Sea and other ships in company received the Navy Expeditionary Medal for their efforts. By the time the ship pulled into Subic Bay, the Philippines for a port call on 9 May 1980 the crew had spent 102 consecutive days at sea – mostly off the coast of Iran.[3] (The Iranian Hostage Crisis ended on 20 January 1981 when Ronald Reagan succeeded Jimmy Carter as President of the United States and Iran released the Americans.)

At this time (1979-1981) the ship was commanded by Captain (later Admiral) Richard Dunleavy, who was to play a role in the Tailhook scandal, which forced him into retirement. However, while commanding the Coral Sea he was considered an excellent commanding officer by his crew, who respected him greatly, even though they worked long, difficult hours under him and he could be a strict disciplinarian.[4]

On 10 June 1980 the Coral Sea returned to her homeport of Alameda. Shortly after its return the San Francisco Bay area press reported the theft of a set of golden bear statues from the ship. These statues had been presented to the Coral Sea by the city of San Francisco after the city had adopted it as "San Francisco's Own." Two sailors from the Coral Sea were caught with the statues after attempting to sell them, and the sailors were subsequently court-martialed and sentenced to prison. All of the statues were recovered in good shape.[5]

The ship embarked on her final Western Pacific deployment on 20 August 1981. After making port calls at Pearl Harbor and Subic Bay, the Philippines, the ship operated in the South China Sea. After a port call at Singapore the Coral Sea headed to the Indian Ocean where she relieved the USS America (CV-66) at Gonzo Station, and operated with Royal Navy units in GonzoEx 2-81 (17–23 November).[1]

An F-4N Phantom is catapaulted from Coral Sea during her last WESTPAC deployment in 1982

The Coral Sea battle group, under Rear Admiral Tom Brown, was involved in exercises with the Royal Navy under Rear Admiral Sandy Woodward – who operated with HMS Glamorgan as his flagship. During one exercise, Woodward was able to manoeuver Glamorgan into a position where he could have "sunk" the Coral Sea with Exocet missiles.[6] The result of this exercise played a part in the belief of Admiral Woodward that the British should sink ARA General Belgrano because of the fear of a similar situation arising between that ship and the British Aircraft Carriers HMS Hermes and HMS Invincible during the Falklands War.[7]

Later, the Coral Sea participated in Exercise Bright Star 82, an exercise involving the defense of Egypt and the Suez Canal (4–9 December).[1]

Relieved on 17 December 1981 by the USS Constellation (CV-64), the Coral Sea departed Gonzo Station and called at Pattaya, Thailand after 98 consecutive days at sea. Like the visit to Subic Bay after 102 days at sea during the Iranian Hostage Crisis, Pattaya was a welcome sight for the crew, who availed themselves of the pleasures the city had to offer, as sailors are often stereotypically seen to do in literature and film. However, as with most port calls the Coral Sea made, no serious incidents were reported that might have damaged the ship's reputation.

After departing Pattaya the ship called at Subic Bay and Hong Kong. The Coral Sea then operated in the Sea of Japan before making a port call at Sasebo, Japan.

After departing Japan the Coral Sea made another port call at Subic Bay, then again at Pearl Harbor before steaming to California. The Coral Sea arrived at her home port of Alameda on 23 March 1982.

The ship then began upkeep, training and operations off the coast of California. In late July 1982 the Coral Sea served as a movie prop in filming of portions of the motion picture The Right Stuff.[1]

World Cruise, Deployments to the Mediterranean, Final Years

On 25 March 1983, the Coral Sea left its homeport of Alameda, Calif., for its new homeport of Norfolk, Va. The Navy sent the carrier on a six-month around-the-world cruise, with ports of call in five countries. The USS Carl Vinson replaced the Coral Sea at her homeport at what is now the former Alameda Naval Air Station.

The Coral Sea passing under the Golden Gate Bridge in March 1983

On 1 March 1984, Carrier Air Wing 13 was established.[8] The wing would make three deployments aboard Coral Sea from 1 October 1985 to 30 September 1989. On 11 April 1985, while on refresher training with its air wing in the Guantanamo Bay area, the Coral Sea collided with the Ecuadorian tanker ship Napo and subsequently underwent two months of repairs at Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth, VA

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 2 January 1986, EA-6B Prowlers from VAQ-135 reported aboard. The Squadron was called on a "No Notice Deployment" by The Joint Chiefs of Staff to augment CVW-13 with Electronic Countermeasures/Jamming Support.

A pair of F/A-18s on the flight deck of Coral Sea in 1986

On 24 March 1986, Libyan Armed Forces' units fired missiles at Sixth Fleet forces operating in the Gulf of Sidra after declaring international waters as their own. A missile (originating from an SA-5 missile site at Sirte) attack on CV-43's aircraft (Prowler/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.

On 5 April 1986, in response to the US show of force, the La Belle Discothèque 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 USAF F-111Fs from RAF Lakenheath 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" US 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.

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 USS 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 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 from Naval Station Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico.

USS Coral Sea making a high speed run in 1989

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.

Two years after the scrapping started, a transcript of a supposed communication between a US naval vessel and a Canadian lighthouse began circulating widely in email. The Coral Sea was one of the ships most frequently identified. The urban legend continues to circulate,[9] and the Navy's webpage on it points out that the Coral Sea could not have been sailing off the Canadian coast at the time as it was being scrapped.[10]

Pop Culture

In the rock mockumentary This Is Spinal Tap, director Rob Reiner portrayed himself as Martin DeBergi, and during several scenes, wore a USS Coral Sea ballcap. However the letters were altered as it read "USS Ooral Sea OV-4B".

Pop radio presenter Emperor Rosko got his first opportunity to broadcast whilst in the US Navy where he presented a show on the Coral Sea, using the name Michael Prescott.[11]

In the second episode of The West Wing, a military operation is stated as being supported by "the F-14s off the George Washington and Coral Sea". This episode aired more than nine years after the Coral Sea was decommissioned.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 USS Coral Sea Tribute Site - Ship's History. Retrieved on 2010-09-22.
  2. Various Bay Area news reports 1964–1983
  3. US Navy Bureau of Personnel Records, 1982
  4. USS Coral Sea CVA-43 Association – Guestbook 2007. Retrieved on 2010-09-22.
  5. Various News reports, San Francisco Bay Area newspapers, June and July 1981.
  6. Admiral Sandy Woodward, One Hundred Days: The Memoirs of the Falklands Battle Group Commander, HarperCollins, 2003 pp. 84–88. ISBN 978-0-00-713467-0
  7. Admiral Sandy Woodward, One Hundred Days: The Memoirs of the Falklands Battle Group Commander, HarperCollins, 2003 pp. 206–207. ISBN 978-0-00-713467-0
  8. "CVW-13 Carrier Air Wing 13 CARAIRWING THIRTEEN - US Navy". Retrieved 2012-08-13. 
  9. Mikkelson, Barbara (18 March 2008). "The Obstinate Lighthouse". Retrieved 17 September 2011. 
  10. United States Navy (2 September 2009). "The Lighthouse Joke". Retrieved 17 September 2011. 
  11. "Having an audience with Emperor Rosko". Soundscapes. October 2004. Retrieved 6 October 2012. 

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