USS Franklin (CV 13 / CVA 13 / CVS 13):
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.
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 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 Islands group. On the 25th and 26th,
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
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 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,
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
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 (author of INFERNO: The Epic Life and Death Struggle of the
USS Franklin in World War II) brings total 19 March 1945 casualty figures to
807 killed and more than 487 wounded. 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
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 steamed to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, where repairs permitted her to steam to
the Brooklyn Navy Yard, New York, via the Panama Canal, 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, 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.
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
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.
After the war, Franklin was opened to the public for Navy Day celebrations.
On 17 February 1947, she was decommissioned 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. 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
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.
- - -
The fifth Franklin (CV-13) was laid down on 7
December 1942 at Newport News, Virginia, by Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry
Dock Company; launched on 14 October 1943; sponsored by Lieutenant Commander
Mildred A. McAfee, USNR, Director of the WAVES; and commissioned at the
Norfolk Navy Yard, Portsmouth, Virginia, on 31 January 1944, Captain James M.
Shoemaker in command.
Franklin cruised to Trinidad, British West Indies, for shakedown and soon
thereafter departed in Task Group (TG) 27.7 for San Diego, California, to
engage in intensive training. In June, she sailed via Pearl Harbor, Territory
of Hawaii, for Eniwetok, in the Marshall Islands, where she joined TG 58.2,
part of the fast carrier striking force.
On the last day of June 1944, she sortiied for carrier strikes on the Bonins
in support of the subsequent assault on the Marianas. Her planes destroyed
aircraft on the ground and in the air, as well as pounded gun installations,
airfields and enemy shipping. On 4 July, she hurled strikes against Iwo Jima,
Chichi Jima and Ha Ha Jima with her planes not only battering shore
installations but sinking a large cargo vessel in the harbor and setting
three smaller ships afire.
On 6 July she began strikes on Guam and Rota to soften them up for the
invasion forces, and continued them until the 21st when she lent direct
support to enable the safe landing of the first assault waves. Two days of
replenishment at Saipan permitted her to steam in Task Force 58 for
photographic reconnaissance and air strikes against the islands of the Palau
group. Her planes completed 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
proceeded to carry out another raid against the Bonins. The 4th of August
bode well, for her fighters launched against Chichi Jima and her dive bombers
and torpedo planes against a convoy north of Ototo Jima; they rained
destruction against the radio stations, seaplane base, airstrips and ships.
A period of upkeep and recreation from 9 to 28 August ensued at Eniwetok
before she departed in company with carriers Enterprise (CV-6), 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
On 4 September she replenished at Saipan and steamed in TG 38.4 for an attack
against Yap (3-6 September) which included direct air coverage of the Peleliu
invasion on the 15th. The group resupplied at Manus Island, in the Admiralty
Islands, from 21-25 September.
Franklin, as flagship of TG 38.4, returned to the Palaus 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; torpedoes narrowly missed Franklin twice. An enemy plane attempted
to crash Franklin, but only succeeded in glancing off the flight deck abaft
the island structure; the unsuccessful suicider slid across the deck and into
the water on the carrier’s starboard beam, the pilot failing in his attempt
to destroy his larger adversary.
Early on the 14th, the fast carriers sent a fighter sweep against Aparri,
Luzon, following which Franklin steamed to the east of Luzon to neutralize
installations to the east prior to invasion landings on Leyte. On the 15th
she came under attack by three enemy planes, one of which scored a bomb hit
on the after outboard corner of the deck edge elevator, killing 3 and
wounding 22. The tenacious carrier continued her daily operations, however,
striking 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 superbattleship Musashi south of Luzon, and
damage battleships Fuso and Yamashiro, and sink destroyer Wakaba. As further
enemy threats materialized 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. Franklin's strike groups combined with those from the other carriers on
25 October in the Battle off Cape Engano to damage the carrier Chiyoda (she
would be sunk by American cruiser gunfire subsequently) and sink the small
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 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 small carrier Belleau
Wood. Both carriers retired to Ulithi for temporary repairs and Franklin
proceeded to Puget Sound Navy Yard, Bremerton, Washington, arriving 28
November 1944 for repairs to her battle damage.
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 Task Force
58 units and three days later launched sweeps and strikes against Kagoshima
and Izumi on southern Kyushu.
Before dawn on 19 March 1945, Franklin, Captain Leslie E. Gehres, commanding,
launched a fighter sweep against Honshu and later a strike against shipping
in Kobe Harbor. Suddenly, a single enemy plane pierced the cloud cover and
made a low level run on the gallant ship to drop two semi-armor piercing
bombs. One 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 and fanning fires that triggered ammunition,
bombs, and rockets. Franklin, within 50 miles of the Japanese mainland, 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 had been blown overboard, driven off by fire, or had been
killed or wounded, but the 106 officers and 604 enlisted who voluntarily
remained on board 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
Lieutenant Commander Joseph T. O'Callahan, ChC (SJ) USNR, the ship's Roman
Catholic chaplain, who emerged “as a soul-stirring sight. He seemed to be
everywhere,” an eyewitness recounted later, “giving Extreme Unction to the
dead and dying, urging the men on and himself handling hoses, jettisoning
ammunition and doing everything he could to help save our ship. He was so
conspicuous not only because of the cross daubed with paint across his helmet
but because of his seemingly detached air as he went from place to place with
head slightly bowed as if in meditation or prayer.” Lieutenant (junior grade)
Donald A. Gary also emerged a hero, calming anxious men seemingly trapped in
a smoke-filled compartment. After finding an exit after repeated attempts, he
led some 300 of his shipmates to safety. He later organized and led
fire-fighting parties to battle the blazing inferno on the hangar deck, and
entered number three fireroom to raise steam in one boiler, braving extreme
hazards in so doing. Both men subsequently received Medals of Honor for their
bravery; ships were also named for them. Light cruiser Santa Fe (CL-60)
similarly rendered vital assistance in rescuing crewmen from the sea and
closing Franklin to take off the numerous wounded.
Franklin was taken in tow by heavy cruiser Pittsburgh (CA-72) but she managed
to work up to 14 knots and ultimately reach Pearl Harbor, where a cleanup job
permitted her to proceed under her own power to the United States, ultimately
reaching Brooklyn, New York, on 28 April. Following the end of the war,
Franklin was opened to the public for Navy Day celebrations in October 1945,
and on 17 February 1947 was placed out of commission at Bayonne, New Jersey.
While Franklin lay “mothballed” at Bayonne, never returning to active
service, she was redesignated to an attack aircraft carrier (CVA-13) on 1
October 1952, to an antisubmarine warfare support carrier (CVS-13) on 8
August 1953 and, ultimately, to an aircraft transport (AVT-8) on 15 May 1959.
She was struck from the Naval Vessel Register on 1 October 1964.
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 turbo-generators. 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 her World War II service.
source: US Naval History & Heritage Command