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|Awarded:||14 June 1943|
|Laid down:||10 July 1944|
|Launched:||2 April 1946|
|Commissioned:||1 October 1947|
|Fate:||Disposed of by scrapping, cannibalization|
|Stricken:||30 April 1990|
|Beam:||113 feet waterline, 136 feet flight deck|
|Complement:||4104 officers and men|
|Armament:||18 five-inch guns|
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.
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.
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; Valparaiso, 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 enlarged flight deck, an angled deck, relocation of her elevators, more powerful catapults, an enclosed "hurricane" bow, greater beam, 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.
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 Seventh Fleet. On 7 February 1965, aircraft from Coral Sea, along with those from Ranger (CVA-61) and 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 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 (CV-63) and 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 Stratofortess 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. 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 0900 local time to coincide with President of the United States 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. 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 naval 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 naval mine was dropped at 0859 and the last of the field of 36 naval mines at 0901. Twelve naval mines were placed in the inner harbor and the remaining 24 in the outer. All Mk52-2 naval 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 Mk52-2 naval 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 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 (CVA-41), Hancock, Enterprise (CVAN-65), and 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 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 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'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 identification symbol CV-43, on 30 June 1975.
Coral Sea relieved 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 US 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 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 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. F/A-18 Hornets from Coral Sea and A-7E Corsairs from America (CV-66) conducted air-to-surface Shrike missile and HARM missile strikes against Libyan surface-to-air missile sites at Benghazi and Tripoli on 14 April 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 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 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 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, but scrapping was delayed by numerous financial, legal and environmental issues until finally completed on 8 September 2000.
This article includes information collected from the
Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships and ''United States
Naval Aviation, 1910-1995, both public domain documents published by
the Naval Historical Center and from http://www.usscoralsea.net/