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The USS Franklin (CV/CVA/CVS-13, AVT-8), nicknamed "Big Ben", was one of 24 s built during World War II for the United States Navy, the fifth US Navy ship to bear the name. Commissioned in January 1944, she served in several campaigns in the Pacific Theater of Operations, earning four battle stars. She was badly damaged by a Japanese air attack in March 1945, with the loss of hundreds of her crew, becoming the most heavily damaged carrier to survive the war. Movie footage of the actual attacks 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 (damaged by a kamikaze) were the only ships not to see active service as aircraft carriers after World War II.

She 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 sneak Attack on Pearl Harbormarker, and she was launched by the Newport News Shipbuilding Companymarker, in Virginiamarker, 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, and not for the Civil War Battle of Franklin, Tennesseemarker that was fought during the American Civil War, as is sometimes erroneously reported (ref: the U.S. Naval Historical Center), although a footnote in The Franklin Comes Home (A. A. Hoehling, 1974, Hawthorn Books, New York, p.3) does attribute the naming to the Battle of 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 then, including Saxie Dowell and Deane Kincaide, assigned to Franklin by a lottery.

Service history

World War II

Franklin steamed south to Trinidadmarker for a shakedown and soon thereafter, she departed in Task Group 27.7 (TG 27.7) for San Diego, Californiamarker, to engage in intensive training exercises preliminary to combat duty. In June, she steamed via Pearl Harbormarker 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 Islandsmarker in support of the subsequent Mariana Islandsmarker 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 Jimamarker, Chichi Jimamarker, and Ha Ha Jimamarker with her planes battering the land, sinking a large cargo vessel in the harbor and setting three smaller ships on fire.

On 6 July, Franklin began strikes on Guammarker and Rota Islandmarker to soften them up for the invasion forces that were going to land on Guam, and those strikes continued until the 21st when she lent direct support to enable safe landing of the first assault waves. Two days of replenishment at Saipanmarker permitted her to steam in Task Force 58 (TF 58) for photographic reconnaissance and air strikes against the islands of the Palau Islandsmarker group. Her planes effected their mission on the 25th and 26th, exacting a heavy toll in 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 rocket, Franklin steamed for another raid against the Bonins. 4 August bode well, for her fighters launched against Chichi Jimamarker and her dive bombers and torpedo planes against a ship convoy north of Ototo Jima were very effective against the radio stations, seaplane base, airstrips, and ships.

A period of upkeep and recreation from 9-28 August ensued at Eniwetok before she departed with , and 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.


On 4 September, Franklin took on supplies at Saipan, and then she steamed in TG 38.1 for an attack against Yapmarker Isalnd (3–6 September) which included direct air coverage of the Peleliu invasion on the 15th. The Task Group took on supplies at Manus Islandmarker 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 occupationmarker of Leyte Islandmarker. 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, and it slid across the deck and into the water on her starboard beam.


Early on the 14th, a fighter sweep was made against Aparrimarker, Luzonmarker, following which she steamed to the east of Luzon to neutralize installations to the east prior to invasion landings on Leytemarker. 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 tenacious carrier continued her daily operations, hitting hard at Manila Baymarker on 19 October when her planes sank a number of ships, damaged many ships and boats, and destroyed a floating drydock, and shot down 11 Japanese warplanes.

During the initial landings on Leytemarker (20 October) the aircraft of Franklin 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 (under Vice Admiral Takeo Kurita), in so doing helping to sink south of Luzon, damage and , and sink . 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 (she would be sunk by American cruiser gunfire subsequently) and sink .

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 Mindoromarker. She was underway about 1,000 mi (1,600 km) off Samarmarker 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 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 Ulithimarker Atoll for temporary repairs, and then Franklin proceeded to the Puget Sound Navy Yardmarker, 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 Bremertonmarker on 2 February 1945, and after training exercises and pilot qualification operations, she joined the TG 58.2 for strikes on the Japanesemarker 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 Kyūshūmarker.

19 March 1945

The burning Franklin with alongside.
Franklin listing, with crew on deck, 19 March 1945.
Aft 5-inch gun turrets on fire, 19 March 1945.

Before dawn on 19 March 1945, Franklin, which had maneuvered to within 50 mi of the Japanese mainland, closer than had any other U.S. carrier during the war, launched a fighter sweep against Honshūmarker 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 550 lb (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 airplot. 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 missiles. ¾ in of armor had been installed on the hangar deck after the 30 October 1944 damage; this contained the explosion and fire and prevented spread of the fire below.

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. The casualties totaled 724 killed and 265 wounded, and 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 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, 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 the No. 3 fireroom to raise steam in one boiler. The 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.


The Franklin approaching New York, 26 April 1945.
The USS Franklin, anchored in New York harbor, 28 April 1945.

Franklin was taken in tow by the heavy cruiser until she was able to raise enough steam to reach a speed of 14 kn (26 km/h), and then she proceed to Ulithimarker Atoll under her own power for emergency repairs. Next, she steamed to Pearl Harbormarker, Hawaiimarker, where a repair permitted her to steam under her own power all the way to the Brooklyn Navy Yardmarker, New Yorkmarker, via the Panama Canalmarker, where she arrived on 28 April 1945.

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, even those who had jumped into the water to escape 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.

Despite severe damage, Franklin was eventually successfully restored to good condition. She had to steam all the way 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 the wartime documentary, the Saga of the Franklin.


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 Jerseymarker.

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, this warship never went to sea again, and she was struck 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.

Although the Navy initially sold Franklin to the Peck Iron and Metal Company of Portsmouth, Virginiamarker, they reclaimed her due to an urgent Bureau of Ships requirement for the use of her four steam turbines. Ultimately, however, this warship was sold for scrapping to the Portsmouth Salvage Company of Chesapeake, Virginiamarker on 27 July 1966. She departed naval custody under tow (by the Red Star Towing Company) on the evening of 1 August 1966.


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

See also



  1. Friedman, p. 232
  2. Friedman, p. 156
  3. Friedman, p. 232.
  4. Friedman, pp. 153–56, 232


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