The USS Hancock (CV-19) was an Essex-class aircraft carrier serving in the US Navy from World War II through Vietnam. The vessel was commissioned in April 1944 under the command of Captain Fred C. Dickey. The name was chosen when the John Hancock Insurance Company offered to conduct a war bond drive to finance the construction of the vessel in 1943. Public response was so enthusiastic that enough money was raised to not only complete the vessel but cover its operating costs for the first twelve months.
Hancock was built at the Bethlehem Steel Company Shipyards in Quincy, Massachusetts. Construction began in January 1943; the completed vessel was launched almost one year later to the day.
The Essex class was the mainstay of US naval aviation throughout WWII and into the Vietnam Era. They were developed as an evolution of the previous Yorktown class. Essex type carriers had a longer, wider flight deck as well as a deck-edge elevator, allowing for aircraft storage in a hangar deck below. With more efficient machinery placement and heavier armor in addition to additional anti-aircraft armament, Essex-class carriers became the Navy's counterpart to the Army Air Force's beloved B-17, able to take a great deal of punishment and survive. In fact, all twenty-four Essex-class carriers survived the war, and even the two that sustained serious battle damage were able to return to port and undergo repairs.
The Hancock was of a "long hull" design, measuring 888 feet in length and 93 feet across the beam. Displacing just under 37,000 tons when fully laden, she was powered by four Westinghouse geared turbines and eight Babcock & Wilcox boilers. Crew compliment consisted of 160 officers, 2,170 seamen and 870 aviators and aircraft support personnel.
Repairs and Upgrades
Hancock's final fittings before her maiden voyage were installed at the Boston Navy Yard in June of 1943. Following her shakedown trials off the northeastern coast of South America, the Hancock underwent post-shakedown availability at the same facility.
Hancock underwent repairs for weather damage between battle damage following "Halsey's Typhoon" in December 1944 and again between 25 January and 10 February 1945. Maintenance and repairs were carried out at the naval base on Ulithi Atoll in the Carolines.
She returned to Pearl Harbor to undergo extensive repairs from April through mid-June 1945. After several years in reserve status at NS Kitsap in Bremerton, Washington, Hancock underwent an SCB-27C modernization at the nearby Puget Sound Naval Yard. The work commenced in mid-December 1951 and was completed by February 1954. During this time, she was fitted with the first steam-powered catapult capable of launching high-powered jet aircraft.
In March 1956, Hancock put into San Diego for an SCB-125 modernization, during which she received an angled flight deck. She returned to service six months later.
In October 1958, the carrier underwent an overhaul at the San Francisco Naval Shipyard. Another overhaul was performed at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard between March 1961 and February 1962, during which she received upgrades to her electronic equipment.
Hancock went into the Hunter's Point Naval Shipyard near San Francisco in mid-January 1964 for another modernization; this time a new ordnance system was installed in addition to an aluminum flight deck and repairs to the hull.
Hancock returned to Hunter's Point in the spring of 1968 for maintenance and repairs.
The Hancock served in several campaigns in the Pacific during WWII. Initially part of Task Force 38, she participated in raids on Japanese bases from Saigon, Indochina (present-day Vietnam) to the Japanese mainland and played a pivotal role in the reconquest of the Philippines.
Laid up for modernization during Korea, Hancock spent the 1950s with the 7th Fleet, showing the flag in the Far East and carrying out routine peacetime operations and preparedness exercises.
Hancock was involved in several operations off the coast of Vietnam between 1965 and 1975, taking part in the evacuation of Phnom Penh and Saigon as the war came to an end.
By 1975, Hancock was considered obsolete and she was decommissioned in 1976.
Asbestos Risk on the USS Hancock (CV-19)
Battle and weather-related damage was liable to knock loose asbestos insulation that was used extensively throughout vessel construction, causing it to become friable and release fibers into the environment. On 12 October 1944, a bomb struck a gun platform during an attack on Japanese bases on Formosa (present-day Taiwan). It failed to detonate until hitting the water, however.
On 24 November 1944, Hancock was the target of a kamikaze attack. Although the vessel's gunners managed to knock it out of the sky before it could hit the ship, part of the aircraft hit the flight deck, causing a fire. On 17 December 1944, Hancock was caught in a typhoon ("Cobra," or "Halsey's Typhoon"), sustaining moderate damage as the result of heavy seas. On 20 March 1945, fragments of an attacking aircraft struck the flight deck, causing minor damage. Ten days later, a kamikaze pilot scored a direct hit, rolling across the flight deck as its bomb took out the port catapult.
The installation of asbestos in the construction of oceangoing ships was ordered by the US Congress in the 1930s, after a deadly fire aboard the SS Morro Castle killed 137 passengers and crew. If asbestos is damaged it becomes friable, meaning that individual asbestos fibers can break off and enter the atmosphere, and then can be breathed in by sailors or dockworkers, increasing the chances of contracting mesothelioma.
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Friedman, Norman. US Aircraft Carriers: An Illustrated Design History (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1983)
Mooney, James. Dictionary of American Fighting Ships. (Washington DC; Department of the Navy, 1991).