History

The unbelievable survival of the USS Franklin

The Essex-class aircraft carrier is arguably one of the most successful carrier designs in the history of the world. None of these vessels were lost in combat, and the United States built 24 of these ships. Eight more were cancelled at the end of World War II, including two, USS Reprisal (CV 35) and USS Iwo Jima (CV 47) that had been partially completed.


Some of these ships had close calls. None more so than USS Franklin (CV 13). Even though she had the fifth hull number in the class, GlobalSecurity.org notes that she was the eighth to be commissioned.

USS Franklin (CV-13), at right, and USS Belleau Wood (CVL-24) afire after being hit by Japanese "Kamikaze" suicide planes, while operating off the Philippines on 30 October 1944. (US Navy photo)

According to the Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, the Franklin just missed the Battle of the Philippine Sea, arriving to join the Pacific Fleet on the last day of June. During the Battle of Leyte Gulf, she helped to sink the Japanese super-battleship Musashi, the destroyer Wakaba, and the carriers Chitose and Zuiho.

Shortly after that battle, Franklin was hit by a kamikaze, killing 56 of her crew and wounding 60. She ended up sailing back to Bremerton, Washington, for repairs. By February, she was ready to rejoin the fleet in time for the invasion of Okinawa. She arrived on March 15, 1945.

The U.S. aircraft carrier USS Franklin (CV-13) pictured burning in the waters off Japan after being hit during an air attack on March 19, 1945. The light cruiser USS Santa Fe (CL-60) is alongside. (US Navy photo)

Four days later, the Franklin was hit again. This time, it would create a catastrophic inferno. Two semi-armor piercing bombs went deep into the ship, one detonating in the hangar deck, the other causing ammunition, bombs, and rockets to explode. Of the ship's crew, 724 were killed, 256 were wounded. Many survivors were either forced to abandon the ship or were blown overboard.

But the 106 officers and 604 men who were left followed the Navy's famous admonition: Don't Give Up the Ship. Numerous acts of individual heroism by many individuals, including Lieutenant Commander Joseph T. O'Callahan, ChC (SJ) USNR, the ship's chaplain, and Lieutenant (junior grade) Donald A. Gary, got the ship back to New York, where she was repaired and remained in reserve until 1964.

USS Franklin (CV 13) being moved while in reserve. (US Navy photo)

You can see a newsreel about this gallant carrier's epic tale of survival below.

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