The Crucible: USS Franklin – 19 March 1945

Fifth ship of the Essex-class CVs.   Fifth ship named for Benjamin Franklin…

The date – 19 March 1945.   Area of operations – fifty miles off the coast of Japan.   Flight ops have been underway since before dawn, beginning with a strike against Honshu and another against shipping in Kobe harbor.   On the flight deck, aircraft of CVG-5 are being turned around, serviced and armed for another launch and strike; in the ready rooms, the crews are briefing…

It never takes much — it happens so fast, in the blink of an eye the world turns upside down…

Out of the low-hanging scud-layer a single Japanese aircraft suddenly appears and drops two armor-piercing bombs on the laden flightdeck….


Mayhem erupts.   A proud ship is mortally wounded, her crew decimated…


Severed AVGAS lines pour fuel into fires fed from broken aircraft and exploding ordnance on the flightdeck generating rivers of fire…


Secondary explosions from deep within the ship begin to tear it apart.   Fire has spread to the second and third deck.   CIC has been knocked out and all communications lost.   The ship assumes a 13 degree list as her boilers go off line and fifty miles off the coast of Japan, the USS Franklin goes DIW…


Yet in the darkest hour of despair heroes emerge.   The light cruiser Santa Fe rushes alongside to aid in rescuing crewmembers and fighting the fires, despite the continuing detonations…


On board Franklin 803 officers and men of ship’s company, flag staff, embarked Marines and CVG-5 and her squadrons are dead.   Many are grievously burned and wounded.   They fought to save their ship.   Some fought to save others souls.

Lieutenant Commander Joseph T. O’Callahan, ChC (SJ) USNR, the ship’s Roman Catholic chaplain —

“… a soul-stirring sight. He seemed to be everywhere, 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.” – CDR Joe Taylor, XO

Awarded the Medal of Honor…


Lieutenant (Junior Grade) Donald A. Gary 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.

Awarded the Medal of Honor…


Saving a ship is brutally hard and physically and mentally debilitating…but its your ship and with your shipmates and sailors from your battle group you begin to prevail…


Eventually the fires are out, the list righted, the plant back online and making steam and you begin the long, long journey home to repair your wounds…


The skyline of Manhattan hoves into view as you make your way to the Brooklyn shipyard and enter drydock…

… bent, broken, bloodied – but unbowed…

… You remember your fallen…

… and then turn to rebuilding for there still is a war on…

… and reborn, you rejoin the fleet.


The USS Franklin was the most heavily damaged carrier of any action in WW2 – that she survived is testimony to the bravery, determination and damage control skills of her crew.   One hundred six officers and 604 enlisted were all that remained to save the ship – the rest were killed or wounded.   In the blink of an eye – will it be another aircraft delivering a bomb? A cruise missile? An anti-ship ballistic missile – or an explosive packed boat driven by a suicidal bomber? Maybe a mine — are you ready?   Do you “game” your GQ and damage control drills?   Do the minimum to get by?   Think a 2 hour battle problem is “hard”?   Doesn’t have to come from enemy fire — just ask the crews of the





How ’bout it DivO?   Chief? LPO?   Are you ready?


  1. sid

    Woe be to those who buy into the dangersouly specious logic that since no carrier has suffered battle damage since 1945, there is no way it can happen now or in the forseeable future.

    There were over 20 other decks in the AOR to take up the Franklin’s “kill”. What has changed as well is that attrition in aircraft or manpower cannot nearly be as quickly absorbed now as then.

    Today, if a commander were to peer out and face this sobering view, he won’t have near the options Davison had.

    Indeed, the only option available may be to retire…

  2. Steeljawscribe

    And here’s the rub — would he also have the forward deployed facilities to fix the damage to the CVN and get it back into the fight as fast as the Franklin was post October ’44? Yeah – I didn’t think so either…
    – SJS

  3. sid

    Given the demise of afloat repair capabilities then present at Ulithi, seems that bulking up infrastructure at Guam and Hawaii is a no brainer.

    Found a good, contemporary Time article here

  4. sid

    Trivial side note…RAdm Davison’s son-“Dave” Davison-was XO of one of the F-4 squadrons aboard the FID when she had her fire…

  5. And when all things around you are chaotic, the body responds as it has been trained, without thought. If there has been no associated training, it does nothing.

    Hint: Train, train, train, then train some more. “This is a drill” is tedious, but has a greater purpose, to meet a need on days such as this.

    I heard a testimony of one seemingly overzealous CHENG, who, after he detached, had his men board a ship you may have heard of: USS STARK. They later told him some of his seemingly ridiculous scenarios where just what they needed to do to save that ship, as they went to spell the exhausted sailors. The story is on the blog in detail. Bill was a fine officer who had foresight, which did serve the STARK, the Navy and the Nation well, despite him having moved to his next duty station.

  6. It seems Joseph Springer has written the entire tale: “Inferno: The Epic Battle of the USS FRANKLIN in WWII”. I found that (recently published) via the article in Spring 2008 MHQ in the magazine rack and the local “pay for” library. Quite a story, to include a big question of the men who went to the SANTA FE when she went alongside.

    Heroes all around, many more than you and I have space for on our blogs combined.

  7. sid

    Coming alongside to help those stricken can carry some significant hazards as well…

  8. sid

    Pasted the link to this over at Cdr. Phibian’s place.

    Seems that I remember reading somewhere that much of the carnage on the hangar deck was due to Tiny Tim rockets cooking off…

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