The USS Hancock ("Hannah")


USS Hancock underway - Dec. 1944
Official U.S. Navy Photograph courtesy National Archives (NARA)

The USS Hancock (CV-19) was an Essex class aircraft carrier built during World War II by the Bethlehem Steel Co., Quincy, Massachusetts.  It was the fourth US ship to bear the name Hancock but was originally named the Ticonderoga when the keel was laid on January 26, 1943.  It was renamed Hancock on May 1st of the same year and launched on January 24, 1944.1


USS Hancock casualties buried at sea - April 1945
Official U.S. Navy Photograph courtesy National Archives (NARA)

After out fitting in the Boston Navy Yard she was commissioned on April 15, 1944 and saw action serving in the South Pacific theater.  Almost a year later, on April 7, a suicide plane cart wheeled across her flight deck and crashed into a group of planes while its bomb hit the port catapult causing a tremendous explosion.  Although 62 men were killed and 71 wounded, heroic efforts doused the fires within half an hour enabling her to be back in action before an hour had passed.1

When the formal surrender of the Japanese Imperial Government was signed on board the battleship USS Missouri, Hancock's planes flew overhead.  On April 29, 1946 she steamed to Seattle, WA to await inactivation and was decommissioned and entered the reserve fleet at Bremerton, WA.1


Launching of the first aircraft by the C11 steam catapult - June 17, 1954
Official U.S. Navy Photograph courtesy National Archives (NARA)

On December 15, 1951 the Hancock commenced conversion and modernization to an attack aircraft carrier in Puget Sound and was reclassified CVA-19 on October 1, 1952.  She was re-commissioned on February 15, 1954 and was off San Diego in May of 1954 for operations along the coast of California. She was the first carrier of the United States Fleet with steam catapults capable of launching high performance jets. Commander Henry J. Jackson piloted the first aircraft, an S2F-1, launched by the C-11 steam catapult off the deck of the USS Hancock.1


San Diego Concert Poster /Flyer
Courtesy FECC/E-Cat and eBay

After a year of operations along the Pacific coast that included testing of Sparrow I and Regulus missiles and Cutlass jet aircraft, she sailed 10 August 1955 for 7th Fleet operations ranging from the shores of Japan to the Philippines and Okinawa. She returned to San Diego March 15, 1956.1


ad for show - April 3, 1956
courtesy Robert Gordon's "The King on the Road"


Elvis with fans at p.a. in San Diego - Apr. 3, 1956
 Photo by Gerald Smith courtesy Ger Rijff


Elvis with fans in San Diego - Apr. 3, 1956
 Photo by Gerald Smith courtesy FECC

On April 3,1956 the Milton Berle Show, one of the most popular programs of the Golden Age of Television was broadcast live from the deck of the USS Hancock on NBC while docked at the Naval Air Base in San Diego, California.  The show starred Esther Williams, Berle's comedy sidekick Arnold Stang and the Harry James Orchestra featuring Buddy Rich and featured Elvis, Scotty, Bill and DJ.  Elvis Presley Fan Club members were sent a 12" x 18 1/2"  TV/Concert double-sided announcement / promotional handbill from the Colonel  to publicly thank Milton Berle for having Elvis perform on his program and to promote the upcoming concerts in San Diego.


Rehearses for the broadcast aboard the Hancock - Apr. 3, 1956
Photo courtesy FECC


San Diego Concert Poster /Flyer
Courtesy FECC/E-Cat and eBay


The band rehearses for the broadcast - Apr. 3, 1956
Photo by Gerald Smith courtesy FECC

Elvis was now being managed by Colonel Parker since Bob Neal's contract expired on March 14, 1956, the day after the release of Elvis' first LP.  They had already appeared on television six times by then, on the Dorsey Brothers show.  They performed three songs including "Heartbreak Hotel" and "Blue Suede Shoes".  Elvis also performed a comedy sketch with Milton Berle acting as Elvis twin brother Melvin.  It was the first time that they had performed to an all military audience.2


View of the flight deck aside conning tower - Apr. 3, 1956
Scan courtesy Elvis - The Great Perfornances


The military audience for the Milton Berle show - Apr. 3, 1956
Scan courtesy Elvis - The Great Perfornances


Milton Berle introduces the band - Apr. 3, 1956
Scan courtesy Elvis - The Great Perfornances

Scotty felt right at home on the carrier deck.  He was the only member of the entourage who had been on a ship.  "We had a ball," he said.  "Uncle Miltie was great.  He did the wig thing with Elvis and busted up a guitar.  He did all kinds of goofy stuff.  It was funny."2


Service personnel aboard the Hancock watch the show - Apr. 3, 1956
Scan courtesy Elvis - The Great Perfornances


The boys perform on the Milton Berle show - Apr. 3, 1956
Scan courtesy Elvis - The Great Perfornances

The boys performed the next two nights at the San Diego arena drawing 11,250 screaming fans.  Back in San Diego for the first time since his release from the Navy, Scotty tracked down John Bankson, a former Navy buddy and member of one of his first bands.  Bankson's wife Analee, recalled Scotty phoning when he got to town. "He invited my husband down to see the first performance," she said.  "He was backstage with Elvis and Scotty.  When he got home, he told me he had helped Elvis tune his guitar.  I said, 'Oh, you did.' Of course, we didn't know who Elvis was at that time."2

The Hancock was decommissioned ten days later, on April 13, 1956 for conversion that included the installation of an angled flight deck and then re-commissioned November 15 1956.  By 1959 she was seeing service in Southeast Asia and in early 1960 participated in a new demonstration of communications by reflecting ultra-high-frequency waves off the moon.1


USS Hancock in the Gulf on Tonkin and an F-8C Crusader flies by - Mar 17, 1971
Official U.S. Navy Photograph courtesy National Archives (NARA)

The Hancock returned to San Francisco in March 1961, then entered the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard for an overhaul that gave her new electronics gear and many other improvements.  During most of the '60s and '70s she saw action in the Vietnam conflict participating in many deployments in the South China sea.1


USS Hancock off San Diego, CA - Feb. 1975
Official U.S. Navy Photograph courtesy National Archives (NARA)

After over thirty years of service The USS Hancock was decommissioned on January 30, 1976, stricken from the Navy list the following day, and sold for scrap by the Defense Reutilization and Marketing Service (DRMS) on September 1, 1976.1
 


The USS Hancock in San Francisco Bay

The USS Hancock was awarded the Navy Unit Commendation and received four battle stars for service in World War II.

length: 888 feet
beam: 93 feet; extreme width at flight deck: 147˝ feet
draft: 28 feet 7 inches
speed: 33 knots
complement: 3,448 crew
armament: 12 5-inch guns, 44 40mm.guns, 59 20mm guns
aircraft: 80+
class: Essex 

page added January 21, 2008

1 excerpt from Dictionary of American Fighting Ships and United States Naval Aviation, courtesy "A Brief History of Aircraft Carriers"
2 excerpt from "That's Alright Elvis" by Scotty Moore and James Dickinson


More Pix
Rehearsals for the Broadcast


The Milton Berle show, when broadcast from the deck of the USS Hancock in San Diego - Apr. 3, 1956
Photo courtesy NBCUniversal Archives


The Milton Berle show, when broadcast from the deck of the USS Hancock in San Diego - Apr. 3, 1956
Photo courtesy Cristi


The Milton Berle show, when broadcast from the deck of the USS Hancock in San Diego - Apr. 3, 1956
Photo courtesy Cristi


The Milton Berle Show, when broadcast from the deck of the USS Hancock in San Diego - Apr. 3, 1956
Photo courtesy NBCUniversal Archives


The Milton Berle Show, when broadcast from the deck of the USS Hancock in San Diego - Apr. 3, 1956
8mm frame grab courtesy FECC, David English and ebay


The Milton Berle Show, when broadcast from the deck of the USS Hancock in San Diego - Apr. 3, 1956
Photo courtesy NBCUniversal Archives


The Milton Berle Show, when broadcast from the deck of the USS Hancock in San Diego - Apr. 3, 1956
8mm frame grab courtesy FECC, David English and ebay


The Milton Berle Show, when broadcast from the deck of the USS Hancock in San Diego - Apr. 3, 1956
Photo courtesy NBCUniversal Archives


The Milton Berle Show, when broadcast from the deck of the USS Hancock in San Diego - Apr. 3, 1956
Photo courtesy Cristi


The Milton Berle Show, when broadcast from the deck of the USS Hancock in San Diego - Apr. 3, 1956
Photo courtesy NBCUniversal Archives


The Milton Berle Show, when broadcast from the deck of the USS Hancock in San Diego - Apr. 3, 1956
Photo courtesy NBCUniversal Archives


The Milton Berle Show, when broadcast from the deck of the USS Hancock in San Diego - Apr. 3, 1956
Photo courtesy NBCUniversal Archives


The Milton Berle Show, when broadcast from the deck of the USS Hancock in San Diego - Apr. 3, 1956
Photo courtesy NBCUniversal Archives


The Milton Berle Show, when broadcast from the deck of the USS Hancock in San Diego - Apr. 3, 1956
Photo courtesy NBCUniversal Archives and AEK/mrt


The Milton Berle Show, when broadcast from the deck of the USS Hancock in San Diego - Apr. 3, 1956
Photo courtesy NBCUniversal Archives


The Milton Berle Show, when broadcast from the deck of the USS Hancock in San Diego - Apr. 3, 1956
Photo courtesy Cristi


The Milton Berle Show, when broadcast from the deck of the USS Hancock in San Diego - Apr. 3, 1956
Photo courtesy Cristi


The Milton Berle Show, when broadcast from the deck of the USS Hancock in San Diego - Apr. 3, 1956
Photo courtesy FECC


The Milton Berle Show, (closing?) from the deck of the USS Hancock in San Diego - Apr. 3, 1956
Photo courtesy NBCUniversal Archives

section added April 4, 2013
 

This collection of pictures collected over time from various sources and appended today for posterity.


Naval Air Station North Island


The USS Hancock (Hannah) at a berth at the Naval Air Station North Island in Coronado - Apr. 3, 1956
Photo courtesy NBCUniversal Archives

Having visited San Diego and the piers several times in the last twenty years I had often wondered exactly where the Hancock was berthed at the time of the Milton Berle show broadcast in 1956. One of the NBC Archive photos I posted recently showed some visible landmarks so I consulted with Worth Camp, who is a retired Captain of the USN and former flight officer that was assigned to a squadron aboard the USS Midway (CVA-41) in that era. The photo confirms the location as North Island so I've taken this opportunity to cover some significant history of the area that I didn't on the page for the The Venues section.


1883 map of San Diego and bay
courtesy Linda A. Canada's Sitting On The Dock Of The Bay

The Coronado peninsula in San Diego Bay was named "Los Coronados" by the conquistador Sebastián Vizcaino in 1602. Originally it was essentially two islands, North and South, connected by what's referred to as the "Silver Strand" and separated by an inlet called the "Spanish Bight." In 1885 it was purchased by developers Elisha Babcock and H. Story who sold lots to finance construction of a residential resort and the Hotel del Coronado on South Island, eventually becoming the City of Coronado while North Island remained an undeveloped and uninhabited sand flat.


USN Lt. Theodore G. Ellyson and C.C. Witmer at North Island - ca. 1911
Photo © Glenn Curtiss Historical Society

Glenn Curtiss, considered the father of Naval Aviation, obtained a lease to the property in 1910 as a location for flight training during the winter and to develop a sea plane. The isolation of North Island was ideal for the secrecy it afforded for his developmental work. In 1911 he successfully launched the first seaplane there, on the Spanish Bight, and offered to train Army and Navy pilots at no charge in order to interest the services in airplanes. The Army sent three people, Lt. George E. M. Kelly, Lt. John C. Walker, Jr. and Lt. Paul M. Beck and the Navy sent one, Lt. Theodore Gordon Ellyson. Ironically, Curtiss also trained the first group of Japanese aviators there which included Lt. C. Yamada who would later head Japan's Naval aviation forces in World War II.


The San Diego Gas Works operation on the bay, with its storage tanks and plume of smoke was another landmark. This view shows train tracks along a berm near Tenth Avenue. Harbor improvements eventually eliminated the mudflats in the foreground - 1914

Photo #5550 © SDHS courtesy Linda A. Canada's Sitting On The Dock Of The Bay

Congress appropriated North Island in 1917 and commissioned two airfields, Naval Air Station (NAS) San Diego and the Army Signal Corps' Rockwell Field. The NAS officially began on November 8th when Lieutenant Earl W. Spencer, USN, the base's first commander reported to San Diego. Coincidentally, his wife was Wallis Warfield, who would later become the woman that King Edward of England gave up his throne for in 1936.


The USS Langley (CV-1) moored at North Pier, North Island Naval Station - 1927
Photo #80:7714 © SDHS courtesy Linda A. Canada's Sitting On The Dock Of The Bay

The Navy got its first aircraft carrier, the USS LANGLEY (CV-1), a converted cargo ship, in 1920. By 1924 it was homeported at North Island and by 1935 North Island was home to all four of the Navy's carriers: the USS LANGLEY, USS LEXINGTON, USS SARATOGA and USS RANGER. In 1937 the Army left and the Navy expanded its operations to cover the whole island.


The Entire San Diego Bay over Otay Mesa. The curve of the Strand portion of the Coronado Peninsula on the left ends at the large flat area of North Island Naval Air Station. White areas are sand and rock that have been dredged from the bay to enlarge the base. Dark areas that appear to be fenced in the bottom part of this image are evaporation ponds for producing salt from sea water - 1936

Photo #16315-10 © SDHS OP courtesy Linda A. Canada's Sitting On The Dock Of The Bay


U.S. Naval Air Station, San Diego on North Island showing causeway from Coronado across the Spanish Bight - ca. 1940
Photo courtesy John Wright

Land access to the Naval Air Station's main entrance was originally across a causeway built across the Spanish Bight but during WWII the Bight was filled with dredgings from the bay combining the North and South Island land masses into a single body. During the war, North Island was a major continental U.S. base supporting the operating forces in the Pacific. Those forces included over a dozen aircraft carriers, the Coast Guard, Army, Marines and Seabees.


Wartime aerial view showing new runways on North Island and the new site for the SEAL base to the right of Coronado. Dredging to fill in the Spanish Bight at Coronado has begun - 1943

Photo #15098 © SDHS courtesy Linda A. Canada's Sitting On The Dock Of The Bay


View North of the San Diego Gas Works and Industrial area across Harbor Drive and bottom of 8th Ave. - ca.1945
Photo courtesy San Diego: Views of Past and Present

In 1948, the base moved into the jet age when Fighter Squadron 52 (VF-52), based at North Island was designated as the Navy’s first jet training squadron and in 1955 Naval Air Station San Diego was renamed as Naval Air Station North Island (NASNI).


High aerial view of San Diego and Coronado with North and South Islands connected - 1983
Photo © SDHS courtesy Linda A. Canada's
Sitting On The Dock Of The Bay

According to Worth, the Hancock was a newly built WWII straight deck attack carrier, very effective at the end of the war in the Western Pacific, including the fall of Japan. The best of the remaining 1945 WWII aircraft carriers (CVAs) were redesigned into angle deck attack carriers circa 1955-56 for the latest jet fighter bombers. They were launched with the new high powered steam catapults.


A carrier at North Island Pier where the Hannah would have been in 1956 - April 1, 2000
Photo courtesy Google Earth

The Hancock arrived in San Diego on March 15, 1956 and while there was used for the Milton Berle show broadcast.  The NBC photo shows it to have been berthed at the time along the newer pier(s) created with the filling of the Spanish Bight. The gas works in the industrial area around the bottom of Eight Avenue are visible on the left across the bay. 


1956 NBC Photo comparison to contemporary (2000) Google Earth Satellite photo

According to Worth, the flight deck has the aircraft of the era on the flight deck indicating that the ship was still an active ship for pilot training. The size of the crowd indicates these men are the “ship’s company.” If the air group was aboard, I would expect a larger crowd. The air group only comes aboard when getting ready for deployment. Our Midway would have had 3,000 enlisted men, and just over 300 officers with both the ship’s company and the air group. The Hancock’s total should have been at least 2600 men and 230 officers.


The USS Midway, CVA- 41 - 1958
Photo courtesy Worth Camp

The Hancock was decommissioned ten days after the show and according to Worth the shipyard at Hunter’s Point (San Francisco) was likely its next stop for conversion before re-commissioning in November.  After the Hancock’s conversion to an angle deck carrier she sailed for West Pac with over 60 planes, 4 of which were a detachment of A3Ds from NAS Whidbey. The Hancock was on station with the USS Midway 1958-59.


North Island Pier as it is today where the Hannah would have been - Aug. 23, 2010
Photo courtesy Google Earth

NASNI was granted official recognition as the "Birthplace of Naval Aviation" by a resolution of the House Armed Services Committee on August 15, 1963.  It is now one of two large Naval bases remaining on the West Coast. Though the Hancock was decommissioned and sold for scrap in 1976, in 2004 the USS Midway became a permanent museum on display at the former Navy Pier in San Diego across the bay from where the Hancock was docked in 1956.


The USS Midway, CVA 41, on display in San Diego across the bay from NASNI - Jan. 17, 2011
Photo © James V. Roy

section added April 23, 2013
 

The history of the Naval Air Station North Island and Coronado presented here was compiled from various sources, including Linda A. Canada and The San Diego History Society, the Glenn Curtiss Historical Society and the CNIC // Naval Base Coronado.

Special thanks to Worth Camp for his assistance with this. In addition to being a retired Navy Captain, is a friend and fan of Scotty's site and an alumni of El Dorado HS where the band played in 1955. While still in college he and his future bride-to-be had seen them perform in Newport, AR. Worth was the same age as Elvis and entered the Navy in Memphis the week before Elvis reported for his draft physical in January of 1957.

 

All photos on this site (that we didn't borrow) unless otherwise indicated are the property of either Scotty Moore or James V. Roy and unauthorized use or reproduction is prohibited.
 
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