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World War II: USS Franklin

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World War II: USS Franklin

USS Franklin afire and listing after she was hit by a Japanese air attack while operating off the coast of Japan, 19 March 1945.

Photograph Courtesy of the US Naval Historical Center

USS Franklin Overview:

  • Nation: United States
  • Type: Aircraft Carrier
  • Shipyard: Newport News Shipbuilding
  • Laid Down: December 7, 1942
  • Launched: October 14, 1943
  • Commissioned: January 31, 1944
  • Fate: Scrapped in 1966

USS Franlklin - Specifications:

  • Displacement: 36,380 tons
  • Length: 872 ft.
  • Beam: 147 ft. 6 in.
  • Draft: 34 ft. 2 in.
  • Propulsion: 8 × boilers 565 psi, 4 × Westinghouse geared steam turbines, 4 × shafts, 150,000 shp (110 MW)
  • Speed: 33 knots
  • Range: 20,000 nautical miles at 15 knots
  • Complement: 2,600 men

USS Franklink - Armament:

Guns

  • 4 × twin 5 inch (127 mm) 38 caliber guns
  • 4 × single 5 inch (127 mm) 38 caliber guns
  • 8 × quadruple 40 mm 56 caliber guns
  • 46 × single 20 mm 78 caliber guns

Aircraft

  • 90-100 aircraft

USS Franklin - Operational History:

An Essex-class carrier, USS Franklin was laid down at Newport News Shipbuilding on December 7, 1942. Named for founding father Benjamin Franklin, the ship entered the water October 14, 1943, after being christened by the director of the WAVES, Lieutenant Commander Mildred H. McAfee, USNR. With World War II raging and the need for new carriers pressing, work on Franklin moved at a swift pace and the ship was commissioned on January 31, 1944, with Captain James M. Shoemaker in command. Departing Norfolk, the new carrier conducted sea trials off Trinidad before transiting the Panama Canal and arriving at San Diego.

Operating off the West Coast, Franklin spent much of spring 1944, conducting intensive training to prepare its crew and pilots for combat against the Japanese. Completing these efforts in June, the carrier stopped at Pearl Harbor before continuing on to Eniwetok where it joined Task Group 58.2. Commencing combat operations on June 30, Franklin's planes stuck targets in the Bonin Islands in preparation for the invasion of the Marianas. On July 4, raids were launched against Iwo Jima, Chichi Jima, and Ha Ha Jima with aircraft sinking a large cargo vessel and badly damaging three more.

Two days later, Franklin's planes began hitting targets on Guam and Rota in preparation for landings on the islands. The carrier remained in the area for most of July lending support to the troops on the ground. After replenishment at Saipan, Franklin moved south to conduct photographic reconnaissance and raids on Palau. This was accomplished over July 25-26, and the carrier returned to Saipan where it was reassigned to TG 58.1.

Though short on rockets and bombs, Franklin returned to the Bonins on August 4 and the carrier's fighters struck Chichi Jima while its dive and torpedo bombers attacked Ototo Jima. Both attacks were successful with significant damage inflicted to Japanese forces and installations. Sailing for Eniwetok, Franklin spent nineteen days conducting upkeep and giving the crew rest and relaxation. Returning to action on August 28, Franklin conducted a sweep of the Bonins in company with USS Enterprise (CV-6), USS Belleau Wood (CVL-24), and USS San Jacinto (CVL-30).

This done, Franklin joined TG 38.1 for an attack on Yap on September 3-6. After hammering Japanese targets, Franklin's aircraft shifted to supporting the invasion of Peleliu on September 15. Taking on supplies later that month, the carrier became the flagship of TG 38.4 and led a raid through the Palau group. Returning, Franklin began strikes in preparation for the invasion of Leyte in the Philippines. While conducting this mission, the carrier narrowly missed being hit by two torpedoes during a Japanese attack on the evening of October 13.

During the attack, a Japanese plane crashed into the ship and skidded across the flight deck before plummeting into the water. Three days later a Japanese bomb hit the outboard corner of Franklin's deck edge elevator inflicting minor damage. With the opening of the Battle of Leyte Gulf on October 23, Franklin's aircraft aided in the Allied victory in the Sibuyan Sea and pounded Japanese ships during the action off Cape Engaño (October 24). On October 30, while operating off Samar, Franklin was struck by a Japanese kamikaze. The suicide plane plunged through the flight deck and into the hanger deck killing 56.

Retiring to Ulithi with the similarly damaged Belleau Wood, Franklin underwent temporary repairs before sailing for Puget Sound Navy Yard. Arriving on November 28, the carrier spent two months in the yard as the battle damage was repaired. Sailing on February 2, 1945, with Captain Leslie Gehres in command, Franklin took part in training exercises before joining TG 58.2 for raids against the Japanese mainland and Okinawa.

March 19 found the carrier operating fifty miles off the Japanese mainland with its fighters conducting a fighter sweep over Honshu and its bombers striking shipping at Kobe. Shortly before dawn, a single Japanese plane appeared through the cloud cover and hit Franklin with two 550 lb. bombs. The first penetrated to the hangar deck and set off fires through the second and third decks as well as destroyed the ship's Combat Information Center. Further aft, the second bomb exploded on the hangar deck causing fires which led to ammunition and rockets detonating. The double hit killed 724 and wounded 265.

Quickly taking on a 13-degree starboard list, Franklin's remaining crew valiantly battled to save their ship. They were aided by USS Santa Fe (CL-60) which took off wounded and nonessential personnel. After several hours of fighting fires, the situation was stabilized and the carrier was taken under tow by USS Pittsburgh (CA-72). For their actions in the crisis, Chaplain Lieutenant Commander Joseph T. O'Callahan and Lieutenant (junior grade) Donald A. Gary were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Limping to Ulithi, Franklin sailed to Pearl Harbor where sufficient repairs were made to allow the stricken ship to reach the Brooklyn Navy Yard. En route, Gehres angered many of the crew by levying desertion charges against those who had left he ship during the crisis. After a brief investigation, these were quietly dropped. Arriving at New York, the ship was fully repaired, but not in time to rejoin the war.

Decommissioned on February 17, 1947, Franklin moved through several designations before being stricken from the Naval Vessel Register on October 1, 1964, and sold for scrap. Franklin was one of only two (the other was USS Bunker Hill) Essex-class carriers to be fully repaired but not see subsequent postwar service.

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