USS Franklin (CV-13)
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USS Franklin underway
near the Marianas, 1 August 1944
|Namesake:||USS Franklin (1775), named for Benjamin Franklin|
|Builder:||Newport News Shipbuilding|
|Laid down:||7 December 1942|
|Launched:||14 October 1943|
|Commissioned:||31 January 1944|
|Decommissioned:||17 February 1947|
|Struck:||1 October 1964|
|Fate:||Sold for scrap in 1966|
|Class & type:||Essex-class aircraft carrier|
|Speed:||33 knots (61 km/h)|
|Range:||20,000 nautical miles (37,000 km) at 15 knots (28 km/h)|
The USS Franklin (CV/CVA/CVS-13, AVT-8), nicknamed "Big Ben," was one of 24 Essex-class aircraft carriers built during World War II for the United States Navy, and the fifth US Navy ship to bear the name. Commissioned in January 1944, she served in several campaigns in the Pacific War, earning four battle stars. She was badly damaged by a Japanese air attack in March 1945, with the loss of over 800 of her crew, becoming the most heavily damaged United States carrier to survive the war. Movie footage of the actual attack was included in the 1949 film Task Force starring Gary Cooper.
After the attack, she returned to the U.S. mainland for repairs, missing the rest of the war; she was decommissioned in 1947. While in reserve, she was reclassified as an attack carrier (CVA), then an antisubmarine carrier (CVS), and finally an aircraft transport (AVT), but was never modernized and never saw active service again. Franklin and Bunker Hill (damaged by a kamikaze) were the only Essex-class carriers not to see active service as aircraft carriers after World War II. The Franklin was sold for scrap in 1966.
Construction and commissioning
The keel of Franklin was laid down on 7 December 1942, the first anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, and she was launched by the Newport News Shipbuilding Company, in Virginia, on 14 October 1943, sponsored by Lieutenant Commander Mildred H. McAfee, an American naval officer who was the Director of the WAVES. This warship was named in honor of the founding father Benjamin Franklin and for the previous warships that had been named for him; it was not named for the Battle of Franklin, Tennessee, that was fought during the American Civil War, as is sometimes erroneously reported, although a footnote in The Franklin Comes Home does attribute the naming to the Battle of Franklin. (Franklin, Tennessee was also named after Benjamin Franklin.) Franklin was commissioned on 31 January 1944, with Captain James M. Shoemaker in command. Among the plankowners was a ship's band made up of several enlisted men who were professional musicians at the time, including Saxie Dowell and Deane Kincaide, assigned to Franklin by a lottery.
World War II
Franklin steamed south to Trinidad for a shakedown and soon thereafter, she departed in Task Group 27.7 (TG 27.7) for San Diego, to engage in intensive training exercises preliminary to combat duty. In June, she steamed via Pearl Harbor for Eniwetok Island where she joined TG 58.2.
The Bonin and Mariana Islands
On the last day of June 1944, she sortied for carrier strikes on the Bonin Islands in support of the subsequent Mariana Islands assault. Her planes destroyed aircraft on the ground and in the air, gun installations, airfield and enemy shipping. On 4 July, strikes were launched against Iwo Jima, Chichi Jima, and Haha Jima hitting ground targets, sinking a large cargo vessel in the harbor and setting three smaller ships on fire.
On 6 July, Franklin began strikes on Guam and Rota Island to soften them up for the invasion forces that were going to land on Guam, and those strikes continued until 21 July, when she lent direct support to enable safe landing of the first assault waves. Two days of replenishment at Saipan permitted her to steam in Task Force 58 (TF 58) for photographic reconnaissance and air strikes against the islands of the Palau Islands group. On 25 and 26 July, her planes struck enemy planes, ships, and ground installations. The Franklin departed on 28 July and headed for Saipan, and the following day she was shifted to TG 58.1.
Although high seas prevented taking on a needed load of bombs and rockets, Franklin steamed for another raid against the Bonins. On 4 August, her fighters attacked Chichi Jima and her dive bombers and torpedo planes attacked a ship convoy north of Ototo Jima. Targets included radio stations, a seaplane base, airstrips, and ships.
A period of upkeep and recreation from 9–28 August ensued at Eniwetok before she departed with Enterprise, Belleau Wood and San Jacinto for neutralization and diversionary attacks against the Bonins. From 31 August to 2 September, strikes from Franklin inflicted ground damage, sank two cargo ships, destroyed enemy planes in flight, and undertook photographic surveys.
On 4 September, Franklin took on supplies at Saipan, and then she steamed in TG 38.1 for an attack against Yap Island (3–6 September) which included direct air coverage of the Peleliu invasion on the 15th. The Task Group took on supplies at Manus Island from 21 to 25 September.
Franklin, now the flagship of TG 38.4, returned to the Palau area where she launched daily patrols and night fighters. On 9 October, she rendezvoused with carrier groups cooperating in air strikes in support of the coming occupation of Leyte Island. At twilight on the 13th, the task group came under attack by four bombers, and Franklin twice was narrowly missed by torpedoes. An enemy plane, a harbinger of the coming kamikaze campaign, crashed on Franklin's deck abaft the aircraft carrier's island, sliding across the deck and into the water on her starboard beam.
Early on the 14th, a fighter sweep was made against Aparri, Luzon, following which she steamed to the east of Luzon to neutralize installations to the east prior to invasion landings on Leyte. On the 15th, Franklin was attacked by three enemy planes, one of which scored with a bomb that hit the after outboard corner of the deck edge elevator, killing three men and wounding 22. The carrier's aircraft hit Manila Bay on 19 October when her planes sank and damaged ships and boats, destroyed a floating drydock, and claimed 11 Japanese aircraft.
During the initial landings on Leyte (20 October) Franklin's aircraft attacked surrounding airstrips and launched search patrols in anticipation of the approach of a reported enemy attack force. On the morning of 24 October, in the Battle of the Sibuyan Sea, her planes formed part of the waves that attacked the Japanese First Raiding Force (under Vice Admiral Takeo Kurita), in so doing helping to sink Musashi south of Luzon, damage Fusō and Yamashiro, and sink Wakaba. As further enemy threats seemed to materialize in another quarter, Franklin – with TGs 38.4, 38.3, and 38.2 – sped to intercept the advancing Japanese carrier force and attack at dawn. The distant carrier force was actually a sacrificial feint, as by that time the Japanese were almost out of serviceable airplanes and, even more importantly, very short on trained pilots, but the admiral in charge, William Halsey, took the bait and steamed furiously off after them without communicating his intentions clearly, leading to the infamous "the world wonders" communications debacle. Franklin's strike groups combined with those from the other carriers on 25 October in the Battle off Cape Engaño to damage Chiyoda (she would be sunk by American cruiser gunfire subsequently) and sink Zuihō.
Retiring in her task group to refuel, she returned to the Leyte action on 27 October, her planes concentrating on a heavy cruiser and two destroyers south of Mindoro. She was underway about 100 miles (160 km) off Samar on 30 October, when enemy bombers appeared bent on a suicide mission. Three doggedly pursued Franklin, the first plummeting off her starboard side, the second hitting the flight deck and crashing through to the gallery deck, killing 56 men and wounding 60; the third discharging another near miss by Franklin, before diving into the flight deck of Belleau Wood.
Both carriers retired to Ulithi Atoll for temporary repairs, and then Franklin proceeded to the Puget Sound Navy Yard, arriving on 28 November 1944 for repairs of her battle damage. In the meantime, on 7 November, Captain Shoemaker was relieved by Captain Leslie E. Gehres as the carrier's commanding officer.
Franklin departed from Bremerton on 2 February 1945, and after training exercises and pilot qualification operations, she joined the TG 58.2 for strikes on the Japanese homeland in support of the Okinawa landings. On 15 March, she rendezvoused with TF 58 units, and 3 days later launched sweeps and strikes against Kagoshima and Izumi on southern Kyūshū.
19 March 1945
Before dawn on 19 March 1945, Franklin, which had maneuvered to within 50 miles (80 km) of the Japanese mainland, closer than any other U.S. carrier during the war, launched a fighter sweep against Honshū and later a strike against shipping in Kobe Harbor. The Franklin crew aboard had been called to battle stations 12 times within six hours that night and Gehres downgraded the alert status to Condition III, allowing his men freedom to eat or sleep, although gunnery crews remained at their stations. Suddenly, a single aircraft – possibly a Yokosuka D4Y "Judy" dive bomber, though other accounts suggest an Aichi D3A "Val", also a dive bomber – pierced the cloud cover and made a low level run on the ship to drop two semi-armor-piercing bombs. The damage analysis came to the conclusion that the bombs were 550 pounds (250 kg), though neither the "Val" nor "Judy" had the attachment points to carry two such weapons, nor did the Japanese single-engine torpedo bombers in horizontal bomber mode. (The accounts also differ as to whether the attacking aircraft escaped or was shot down.) However, the Aichi B7A "Grace" had this capability. One bomb struck the flight deck centerline, penetrating to the hangar deck, effecting destruction and igniting fires through the second and third decks, and knocking out the Combat Information Center and air plot. The second hit aft, tearing through two decks.
At the time she was struck, Franklin had 31 armed and fueled aircraft warming up on her flight deck. The hangar deck contained 22 additional planes, of which 16 were fueled and five were armed. The forward gasoline system had been secured, but the aft system was operating. The explosion on the hangar deck ignited the fuel tanks on the aircraft, and gasoline vapor explosion devastated the deck. Only two crewmen survived the fire on the hangar deck. The explosion also jumbled aircraft together on the flight deck above, causing further fires and explosions, including the detonation of 12 "Tiny Tim" air-to-surface rockets.
Franklin lay dead in the water, took a 13° starboard list, lost all radio communications, and broiled under the heat from enveloping fires. Many of the crew were blown overboard, driven off by fire, killed or wounded, but the hundreds of officers and enlisted who voluntarily remained saved their ship. Official Navy casualty figures for the 19 March 1945 fire totaled 724 killed and 265 wounded. Nevertheless, casualty numbers have been updated as new records are discovered. A recent count by Franklin historian and researcher Joseph A. Springer brings total 19 March 1945 casualty figures to 807 killed and more than 487 wounded. Among the dead was one of the ship's surgeons, LCDR George W. Fox, M.D., who was killed while tending to wounded sailors; he was awarded the Navy Cross posthumously.  When totaling casualty figures for both Franklin cruises numbers increase to 924 killed in action, the worst for any surviving U.S. warship and second only to that of battleship USS Arizona. Certainly, the casualty figures would have far exceeded this number, but for the work of many survivors. Among these were the Medal of Honor recipients Lieutenant Commander Joseph T. O'Callahan, the warship's Catholic chaplain, who administered the last rites, organized and directed firefighting and rescue parties, and led men below to wet down magazines that threatened to explode; and also Lieutenant JG Donald A. Gary, who discovered 300 men trapped in a blackened mess compartment and, finding an exit, returned repeatedly to lead groups to safety. Gary later organized and led fire-fighting parties to battle fires on the hangar deck and entered the No. 3 fireroom to raise steam in one boiler. The Santa Fe rescued crewmen from the sea and approached Franklin to take off the numerous wounded and nonessential personnel.
Franklin, like many other wartime ships, had been modified with additional armament, requiring larger crews and substantial ammunition stocks. Aircraft were both more numerous and heavier than originally planned for, and thus the flight deck had been strengthened. The aircraft carrier, therefore, displaced more than originally planned, her freeboard was reduced, and her stability characteristics had been altered. The enormous quantities of water poured aboard her to fight the fires further reduced freeboard (exacerbated, on her starboard side, by the list), and her stability was seriously impaired, such that her survival was in jeopardy. Franklin had suffered the most severe damage experienced by any U.S. fleet carrier that survived World War II.
Franklin was taken in tow by the heavy cruiser Pittsburgh until she was able to raise enough steam to reach a speed of 14 kts (26 km/h), and then she proceeded to Ulithi Atoll under her own power for emergency repairs. Next she headed to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, for temporary repairs. As per Pearl Harbor procedures, a civilian harbor pilot came aboard to help navigate the carrier to the dock; Captain Gehres, however, refused, and said he would "take her in" himself. He maneuvered the Franklin into the dock area too fast, crashing her into the dock; embarrassed, Gehres blamed the mooring details for the incident.
Upon Franklin's arrival, a long-brewing controversy over the ship's crew's conduct during her struggles finally came to a head. Captain Gehres had accused many of those who had left the ship on 19 March 1945 of desertion, despite the fact that those who had jumped into the water to escape had done so to prevent a likely death by fire, or had been led to believe that "abandon ship" had been ordered. While en route from Ulithi Atoll to Hawaii, Gehres had proclaimed 704 members of the crew to be members of the "Big Ben 704 Club" for having stayed with the heavily damaged warship, but investigators in New York discovered that only about 400 were actually onboard Franklin continuously. The others had been brought back on board either before and during the stop at Ulithi. All of the charges against the men of her crew were quietly dropped. Captain Gehres retired as a Rear Admiral, never taking an overseas assignment or command of another US Navy ship again.
Despite severe damage, Franklin was eventually restored to good condition. She had to steam to the East Coast of the United States for repairs in New York because all of the repair shipyards on the West Coast were heavily overloaded with American warships that had been damaged by Japanese kamikazes.
The story of this aircraft carrier's near-destruction and salvage was chronicled in a wartime documentary, the Saga of the Franklin and the 2011 documentary, USS Franklin: Honor Restored.
While Franklin lay mothballed at Bayonne, she was redesignated as an attack aircraft carrier CVA-13 on 1 October 1952, an antisubmarine warfare support carrier CVS-13 on 8 August 1953 and, ultimately, as an aircraft transport AVT-8 on 15 May 1959. However, she never went to sea again, and was stricken from the Naval Vessel Register on 1 October 1964. She and Bunker Hill – which also had sustained severe damage from aerial attack – were the only carriers in their class that never saw any active-duty postwar service, though their wartime damage had been successfully repaired. In fact it was their like-new condition which kept them out of commission, as the Navy for many years envisioned an "ultimate reconfiguration" for them which never took place.
The Navy initially sold Franklin to the Peck Iron and Metal Company of Portsmouth, Virginia, but reclaimed her due to an urgent Bureau of Ships requirement for her four turbo generators. She was again sold for scrap to the Portsmouth Salvage Company of Chesapeake, Virginia on 27 July 1966. She departed naval custody under tow (by the Red Star Towing Company) on the evening of 1 August 1966.
- List of aircraft carriers
- List of aircraft carriers of the United States Navy
- List of World War II ships
- Friedman, p. 232
- Friedman, p. 156
- U.S. Naval Historical Center
- Hoehling, A. A. (1974). The Franklin Comes Home. New York: Hawthorn Books. p. 3.
- "Franklin V". Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. Navy Department, Naval History & Heritage Command. 15 April 2004.
- Shea, Michael R. (31 July 2009). "Red Sky at Morning: Horror and Heroism Aboard the USS Franklin".
- Springer, Joseph A. (2007). Inferno: The Epic Life and Death Struggle of the USS Franklin in World War II. Zenith Press. p. 317. ISBN 0-7603-2982-6. OCLC 76820924.
- Friedman, pp. 153–56, 232
- "World War II Database - Leslie Gehres". 31 July 2015.
- "Davis-Monthan Aviation Field Register - Leslie E. Gehres". 3 February 2012.
- World Aircraft carriers: US Fleet Carriers, WWII Era
- Friedman, Norman (1983). U.S. Aircraft Carriers: An Illustrated Design History. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 0-87021-739-9. OCLC 8763586.
- This article incorporates text from the public domain Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. The entry can be found here.
- Big Ben, the Flat Top: The Story of the U.S.S. Franklin. Atlanta, GA: Albert Love Enterprises. 1946. OCLC 18477191.
- Jackson, Steve (2002). Lucky Lady: The World War II Heroics of the USS Santa Fe and Franklin. New York: Carroll & Graf. ISBN 0-7867-1310-0. OCLC 54493284.
- Nilo, James R.; St. Peters, Robert E. (1989). USS Franklin (CV-13): The Ship That Wouldn't Die. Paducah, KY: Turner Publishing. OCLC 26127930.
- Prato, Peter J. (2001). Saving Big Ben: The Saga of the U.S.S. Franklin and the Most Decorated Crew In Naval History. 1st Books Library. ISBN 1-58820-183-X. OCLC 47170707.
- Satterfield, John R. (2011). Saving Big Ben: The USS Franklin and Father Joseph T. O'Callahan. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 1-59114-808-1. OCLC 670481779.
- USS Franklin [S.l.] Book On Demand. 2012. ISBN 5-511-10424-8. OCLC 855756404.
- USS Franklin (CV-13): Original Documents 1943–1946. Paducah, KY: Turner Publishing. 1994. ISBN 1-56311-145-4. OCLC 1563111454.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to:|
- history.navy.mil: USS Franklin
- navsource.org: USS Franklin
- USS Franklin website
- USS Franklin Kamikaze War Damage Report – 1944 Kamikaze attack
- USS Franklin wartime damage report – Postwar Navy report on multiple incidents
- USS Franklin article
- IMDB link to 'Task Force'
- YouTube copy of 1945 newsreel, Bombing of U.S.S. Franklin!
- USS Franklin Honor Restored on Amazon
- The short film "Saga of the Franklin" is available for free download at the Internet Archive
- Navy Department Library USS Franklin CV-13 War Damage Report No. 56