USS Franklin (CV-13)

USS Franklin (CV-13)

The fifth USS "Franklin" (CV-13) (also CVA-13, CVS-13, and AVT-8), nicknamed "Big Ben", was an Sclass|Essex|aircraft carrier of the United States Navy. The name bestowed on America's thirteenth aircraft carrier in World War II was christened for the legacy of the four previous U.S. Navy ships to honor founding father Benjamin Franklin. (The "Franklin" was not named after the Civil War battle in Tennessee as is sometimes reported. Reference "Naval Historical Center", Washington Navy Yard, Washington, D.C.) As her sister "Essex"-class ship the "Bon Homme Richard" was also named in honor of Benjamin Franklin, he was therefore the only person ever to have two commissioned US Navy warships named in his honor at the same time. CV-13 was notable as the hardest-hit carrier to survive World War II. Actual footage of the attacks on the ship were included in the 1949 film "Task Force" starring Gary Cooper.

Launch and commissioning; initial cruise

She was laid down on 7 December 1942 and launched by Newport News Shipbuilding, Newport News, Virginia, on 14 October 1943, sponsored by Lieutenant Commander Mildred H. McAfee, USNR, Director of the WAVES, and commissioned on 31 January 1944, with Captain James M. Shoemaker in command. Among the plankowners was a ship's band made up of drafted and enlisted professional musicians of the era, including Saxie Dowell and Deane Kincaide, assigned to Shoemaker by lottery.

"Franklin" cruised to Trinidad for shakedown and soon thereafter 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 sailed via Pearl Harbor for Eniwetok where she joined TG 58.2.

Operations in the Bonins and the Marianas

On the last day of June 1944 she sortied for carrier strikes on the Bonins in support of the subsequent Marianas assault. Her planes scored well against aircraft on the ground and in the air as well as against gun installations, airfield and enemy shipping. On 4 July strikes were launched against Iwo Jima, Chichi Jima and Ha Ha Jima with her planes battering the land, sinking a large cargo vessel in the harbor and setting three smaller ships on fire.

On 6 July she began strikes on Guam and Rota to soften up for the invasion forces, and continued until the 21st 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 group. Her planes effected their mission on the 25th and 26th, exacting a heavy toll in enemy planes, ground installations, and shipping. She departed on 28 July en route to Saipan and the following day shifted to TG 58.1.

Although high seas prevented taking on needed bombs and rockets, "Franklin" steamed for another raid against the Bonins. 4 August bode well, for her fighters launched against Chichi Jima and her dive bombers and torpedo planes against a convoy north of Ototo Jima were very effective against the radio stations, seaplane base, airstrips and ships.

A period of upkeep and recreation from 9 August to 28 August ensued at Eniwetok before she departed with the veteran fleet carrier "Enterprise" (CV-6) and the light carriers "Belleau Wood" (CVL-24) and "San Jacinto" (CVL-30) for neutralization and diversionary attacks against the Bonins. From 31 August to 2 September, spirited and productive strikes from "Franklin" inflicted much ground damage, sank two cargo ships, bagged numerous enemy planes in flight, and accomplished photographic survey.

upport of Peleliu operations

On 4 September she onloaded supplies at Saipan and steamed in TG 38.1 for an attack against Yap (3 September6 September) which included direct air coverage of the Peleliu invasion on the 15th. The group took on supplies at Manus Island from 21 September25 September.

"Franklin", now 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. 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 island structure, and slid across the deck and into the water on her starboard beam.

upport of Leyte operations

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 16th she 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 3 and wounding 22. The tenacious carrier continued her daily operations, hitting hard at Manila Bay on 19 October when her planes sank a number of ships, damaged many, destroyed a floating drydock, and bagged 11 planes.

During the initial landings on Leyte (20 October) her aircraft hit 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 (Vice Admiral Takeo Kurita), in so doing helping to sink Japanese battleship "Musashi" south of Luzon, damage battleships "Fusō" and "Yamashiro", and sink destroyer "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 the carrier "Chiyoda" (she would be sunk by American cruiser gunfire subsequently) and sink the small carrier "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 1,000 miles (1,600 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, showering destruction, killing 56 and wounding 60; the third discharging another near miss at "Franklin" before diving into the flight deck of the "Belleau Wood".

Both carriers retired to Ulithi for temporary repairs, and "Franklin" proceeded to Puget Sound Navy Yard arriving 28 November 1944 for battle damage repairs. In the meantime, on 7 November, Captain Leslie H. Gehres had relieved Shoemaker as commander.

She departed Bremerton on 2 February 1945, and after training exercises and pilot qualification joined 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.

The attack of 19 March 1945

Before dawn on 19 March 1945, "Franklin" – which had maneuvered to within 50 miles of the Japanese mainland, closer than had any other U.S. carrier during the war – launched a fighter sweep against Honshū and later a strike against shipping in Kobe Harbor. 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 250 kg/550 lb., 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. In any case, 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 airplot. The second hit aft, tearing through two decks and fanning fires which triggered ammunition, bombs and 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 through sheer valor and tenacity. The casualties totaled 724 killed and 265 wounded, and would have far exceeded this number except for the heroic work of many survivors. Among these were Medal of Honor recipients Lieutenant Commander Joseph T. O'Callahan, S.J., USNR, the ship's 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 Lieutenant (junior grade) 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 number three fireroom to raise steam in one boiler, braving extreme hazards in so doing. "Santa Fe" (CL-60) similarly rendered vital assistance in rescuing crewmen from the sea and closing "Franklin" to take off the numerous wounded and nonessential personnel.

Return to the United States for repairs

"Franklin" was taken in tow by "Pittsburgh" (CA-72) until she managed to churn up speed to 14 knots (26 km/h) and proceed to Ulithi and then to Pearl Harbor where a cleanup job permitted her to sail under her own power to the Brooklyn Navy Yard, arriving on 28 April.

Upon the ship's arrival, a brewing controversy over the crew's conduct during the ship's struggles finally came to a head; Captain Gehres had accused many of those who had left the ship on 19 March of desertion, even those who had jumped into the water to escape certain death by fire, or had been led to believe that "abandon ship" had been ordered. While en route from Ulithi, Gehres had proclaimed 704 of the crew to be members of the "Big Ben 704 Club" for having stayed with the stricken ship, but investigators in New York discovered that only about 400 were actually on the "Franklin" continuously, the others having been brought back before and during the stop at Ulithi. All charges were quietly dropped.

Despite severe damage, she had been successfully restored to good condition.

The story of the vessel's near-destruction and salvage was chronicled in the wartime documentary "Saga of the Franklin".

Post-war status

Following the end of the war, "Franklin" was opened to the public for Navy Day celebrations. On 17 February 1947, she was placed out of commission at Bayonne, New Jersey.

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. In the end, the ship never went to sea again and was struck from the Naval Vessel Register on 1 October 1964. She and her sister USS "Bunker Hill", which also had sustained severe damage from aerial attack, were the only carriers in their class that saw no active-duty postwar service though their wartime damage had been successfully repaired.

Although the Navy initially sold the ship to Peck Iron and Metal Company, Portsmouth, Virginia, it re-possessed her due to an urgent Bureau of Ships requirement for the use of her four turbogenerators. Ultimately, however, she was sold, for scrapping, to Portsmouth Salvage Company, Chesapeake, Virginia, on 27 July 1966. She departed naval custody under tow (Red Star Towing Company) on the evening of 1 August 1966.

"Franklin" received four battle stars for World War II service.

ee also

*List of aircraft carriers
*List of aircraft carriers of the United States Navy
*List of World War II ships


*Steve Jackson, "Lucky Lady: The World War II Heroics of the USS "Santa Fe" and "Franklin (New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, 2003) ISBN 0-7867-1061-6
*Joseph A Springer, "INFERNO: The Epic Life and Death Struggle of the USS Franklin in World War II (Zenith Press, 2007) ISBN 0-7603-2982-6
* Peter J. Prato, "Saving Big Ben: The Saga of the USS Franklin and the Most Decorated Crew in Naval History," (First Books Library, 2001) ISBN-13: 978-1588201836

External links

* [ USS "Franklin"]
* [ USS "Franklin"]
* [ USS "Franklin" website]
* [ USS "Franklin" Kamikaze War Damage Report]
* [ USS "Franklin" article]
* [ IMDB link to 'Task Force']
* [ YouTube copy of 1945 newsreel, "Bombing of U.S.S. Franklin!"] (starting at 2:50)
* [ CV-13 Personnel Roster at]

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