USS Franklin: Struck by a Japanese Dive Bomber During World War II

USS Franklin: Struck by a Japanese Dive Bomber During World War II

6/12/2006 • World War II

‘Sea calm, Commander Stephen Jurika wrote in USS Franklin‘s deck log that morning, with a 12-knot wind from about 060 true, sky overcast with occasional breaks…horizontal visibility excellent. March 19, 1945, thus began in routine fashion for the 26,000-ton aircraft carrier. It would end in disaster.

USS Franklin, nicknamed Big Ben, was one of 24 Essex-class carriers, home to 3,500 crewmen and 100 aircraft, bristling with 5-inch and 40mm anti-aircraft guns and topped by a Douglas fir flight deck. Franklin was commanded by Captain Leslie E. Gehres, a former enlisted man and veteran aviator.

Franklin was part of Task Force 58, the cutting edge of Vice Adm. Raymond A. Spruance’s Fifth Fleet, headed for Japan. Franklin and 16 other carriers were to launch the first naval air strikes on Japan, hitting the southern home island of Kyushu.

The carrier was loaded with ordnance and men, among them Lt. Cmdr. Joseph O’Callahan, one of Franklin‘s two chaplains. O’Callahan cut an impressive figure behind his altar-boy face and spectacles. He was a collegiate track star, a poet, a writer, a mathematics professor at the College of the Holy Cross, and formerly the Catholic chaplain of the carrier Ranger in the Atlantic. Another passenger was the strict, reticent Rear Adm. Ralph E. Davison, who led Task Group 58.2 from Franklin.

By Sunday, March 18, Task Force 58 had begun its attacks. On Franklin, O’Callahan and his Protestant counterpart, Commander Grimes Gatlin, held separate services on the hangar deck. Lieutenant Budd Fought and his VMF-214 shipmates flew off Franklin to attack Kagoshima Bay. VMF-214 was a famed outfit — the Black Sheep Squadron, once led by Major Gregory Pappy Boyington.

After VMF-214 bombed Kagoshima, the Japanese counterattacked that night. Franklin went to general quarters 12 times, exhausting everyone aboard. No hits, but one Franklin sailor died from drinking torpedo fluid. The dead sailor was to be buried at sea on the morning of March 19. A half-hour before dawn, Franklin prepared for the burial ritual; Marines mustered on the fantail with Gatlin and the executive officer, Commander Joe Taylor. Meanwhile, flight deck crews readied Air Group 5 to pulverize Kure naval base with 12-inch-wide Tiny Tim rockets. At 6 a.m., the Chance Vought F4U Corsairs rumbled off the flight deck.

Franklin secured its dawn action stations. All over Big Ben, crewmen headed for breakfast. Chow lines snaked through the cavernous hangar deck between the Tiny Tims on their ordnance carts. Messmen slapped powdered eggs, tomato juice, coffee, toast and apples on steel trays.

In the pilothouse, Ensign Dick Jortberg was junior officer of the deck. He watched the Corsairs and the Curtiss SB-2C Helldivers warm up while aviation ordnancemen loaded the Tiny Tims.

But the Kure strike was delayed. A snooper plane had just picked out two Japanese ships, the battleship Yamato and the carrier Amagi, in the Inland Sea. Crewmen were ordered to remove the contact bombs and load armor-piercing ordnance.

Up on the bridge, navigator Jurika started scribbling in his log. Franklin turned into the wind and cranked up to 24 knots, ready for launch. At 6:57 a.m. the first Corsair was airborne. At 7:05, Jurika heard a scratchy message on the TBS (talk between ships) radio from the carrier Hancock: Enemy plane closing on you…one coming toward you!

Franklin‘s Combat Information Center (CIC) reported at 7:06, Bogey orbiting on port beam, range about 12 miles. Firing Director One picked up a moving target bearing 10 degrees but then lost it in the clutter of Task Force 58’s launching her planes.

Down in damage control, Yeoman 2nd Class Joe Lafferty, the captain’s yeoman, was on his way to chow. He decided to stop at his office, where he found a Navy journalist who had been sent out with Franklin to write human interest stories. The journalist said to Lafferty, It was great standing on the bridge seeing the gun flashes and the enemy planes splashing into the dark Pacific.
U.S. Naval Historical Center
Feeling helpless, crewmen aboard USS Sante Fe watch as Franklin burns and takes on a starboard list. Personnel about the stricken carrier sought the safety of the forward flight deck, some wrapping themselves in blankets for added protection.

Lafferty answered, Don’t ever go topside without your helmet and Mae West on.

At that moment, logged at 7:07, Commander Jurika saw an enemy plane sweep over his head. It was a Japanese Yokosuka D4Y Judy dive bomber, and it dropped two 500-pound bombs on Franklin. The twin blasts hurled Jurika into the air, and he hit the steel overhead.

The first bomb ripped through 3-inch armor to the hangar deck. The second bomb detonated two decks below that, near the chief petty officers’ quarters. The explosions knocked Captain Gehres off his feet. He saw great sheets of flame envelope the flight deck, the anti-aircraft batteries and catwalks. The forward elevator — weighing 32 tons — rose in the air and then disappeared in a great column of flame and black smoke.

Commander Taylor, heading for the bridge, was hurled into lifelines on the starboard side. He staggered up and made his way into the island.

Five bombers, 14 torpedo bombers and 12 fighters were on the flight and hangar decks, carrying 36,000 gallons of gas and 30 tons of bombs and rockets between them. They became an inferno.

Joe Lafferty had just finished telling his journalist friend to don his helmet. The blast created a flash of light — and the journalist was gone. Lafferty himself was badly burned and covered with blood.

Down in the wardroom, O’Callahan and other officers dived under tables as smoke filled the room. Lieutenant Commander Thomas Jethro Greene, the chief engineer, headed for his beloved engines, but passageways were either clogged or blocked. Dr. James L. Fuelling found himself trapped in a galley, surrounded by compartments full of loose bombs and rockets. They could only wait for help.

Franklin was listing at 13 degrees. Her radar was out, her CIC and communications gone. Gehres thought his ship was damaged on the starboard side and turned Franklin in that direction to put the wind on the port bow. That move instead fanned flames near the fueled aircraft.

Franklin presented a terrifying sight to the rest of Task Force 58. On a battleship 1,000 yards off, crewmen stared in horror at the carrier covered in smoke and flame. Marine Corporal Bill Clinger saw the Judy that had bombed Franklin whiz over his head. Lieutenant Scotty Campbell saw Franklin‘s bombs and rockets exploding in all directions.

One observer reacted immediately to the situation. A Corsair orbiting Franklin swooped down on the Judy and shot it down. In Franklin‘s engine room, the black gang (stokers, so-called from the grime of coal soot) were able to keep the boilers running. To Ensign William B. Hayler, the bomb impacts were like a giant sledgehammer had been cut loose on the deck above us. As the ship heeled over, Seaman 2nd Class S. Aaron Gill slid down oily grates and somehow managed to cut back the superheat-1,200 pounds per square inch-to reduce the oil supply to the fires. The engine crew was trapped.

Things were much worse above. Taylor finally scrambled onto the bridge. He and Gehres were relieved to see neither of them had been injured. Gehres broke the tension by quipping: Joe, I’ll have to say the same thing the admiral told me when you were last bombed. Your face is dirty as hell!

Taylor replied, This time it is a bit worse, though, captain.

It is, indeed, Gehres rejoined soberly. Then to business. Jurika suggested Gehres turn Franklin into the wind. Gehres put Franklin on course 355, due north, which put relative wind on the starboard bow and allowed firefighters to work fore to aft. It also put Franklin on a 24-knot course directly toward Japan.

But there was no time to think about that. A 3-inch gasoline line aft had ruptured. Bombs, rockets, and .50-caliber ammunition were still exploding. Then a 40mm ready-service magazine exploded.

This new blast lifted Franklin and spun her to starboard. A sheet of flame rose 400 feet over the carrier, rupturing the flight deck in a dozen places.

Up on Fly One, everyone wondered where Lt. Cmdr. MacGregor Mac Kilpatrick, who commanded Fighter Squadron 5, was. He had ridden down a supply hoist elevator by mistake just before the bomb blast. It was not like the veteran aviator to miss a battle.

But Kilpatrick turned up. He told everyone that when the bomb hit he figured Franklin was a goner. If I was going swimming, I might as well have some cash, he explained. He had stopped in his compartment on the way back.

Other pilots were less lucky. Eleven out of 12 Black Sheep aviators in ready room No. 51 perished. Somehow Budd Faught had survived. He had been studying a map when he was flung to the deck, breaking both legs.

In O’Callahan’s wardroom, Lt. j.g. Lindsay Red Morgan turned up, telling everyone to head for the forecastle. The priest and his shipmates moved out, battling smoke, explosions and twisted decks.

Another determined officer was Lt. j.g. Donald A. Gary, a 30-year veteran and former enlisted man. When the bombs hit, he grabbed an oxygen breathing apparatus (OBA), which had a 60-minute air supply, and searched for trapped shipmates. He found plenty, including Dr. Fuelling and 300 others. Now that Gary had located them, he tried to figure out what to do. Up on the bridge, Gehres watched Corsair engines flying into the air. Taylor said: Violent explosions were rocking the ship, and debris was showering all around. Flames 100 feet high were shooting up past the island; the roar of exploding shells was deafening. A column of smoke rose a mile above the clouds.

Tiny Tims were flying in all directions. As Commander Taylor later recalled: Some screamed by to starboard…some to port and some straight up the flight deck. The weird aspect of this weapon whooshing by so close is one of the most awful spectacles a human has ever been privileged to see. Some went straight and some tumbled end over end. Each time one went off, the firefighting crews forward would instinctively hit the deck…their heroism was the greatest thing I have ever seen.

At the bow, Lieutenant Stanley Steamship Graham, the fire marshal, inspired sailors by yelling: Boys, we got pressure on the lines, we got hoses. Let’s get in there and save her.

Commander Hale, the air officer, led firefighters on the flight deck. He saw one eager sailor playing a hose on a steaming bomb. The water was spinning the bomb’s arming valve, and it was ready to detonate. Hale and his men hurled the bomb over the side.

The heroes were not all on Franklin. The destroyers Miller and Hickox moved within several hundred feet of Franklin and played hoses on the damaged ship. At 7:41, a Japanese Mitsubishi Zero fighter was reported diving on the carrier. Determined flak brought her into the sea.

Up on Franklin‘s forecastle, O’Callahan and his party were in the clear. O’Callahan detoured to his own room for a life jacket, his tin hat, and a vial containing holy oil to administer last rites. Then he went to the junior aviators bunk room to care for 30 badly burned men. Gatlin was already there, so O’Callahan, after working with some of the most seriously hurt patients, left to find other injured men.

O’Callahan found Dr. Sam Sherman on the forward part of the flight deck, tending a large number of wounded men. The chaplain ordered seamen to go below and bring them mattresses.

Kilpatrick, meanwhile, organized a party to jettison shells from a 5-inch gun. The projectiles alone weighted 50 pounds each. Kilpatrick’s party also hurled two hot 1,000-pound bombs into the sea.

At 7:47 a.m., the light cruiser Santa Fe, a new ship bristling with anti-aircraft guns, moved up to take charge of emergency operations. Her skipper, Captain Harold Fitz, conned Santa Fe efficiently and had his men hurl life jackets, life rings, rafts and floater nets into the water to help swimmers.

Gehres cut speed to 8 knots, so Rear Adm. Davison could transfer to the destroyer Miller. Before departing, Davison told Gehres: Captain, I think there’s no hope. I think you should consider abandoning ship — those fires seem to be out of control.

Gehres said nothing. Davison and Gehres shook hands, and Davison transferred by breeches buoy to Miller. Fluttering Davison’s pennant, Miller sailed away around 9 a.m.

Davison could not order Gehres to abandon ship. Gehres’ authority on Franklin was supreme, and the tough ex-aviator was not going to give up.

But Davison radioed his ships: Am afraid we will have to abandon her. Please render all possible assistance. He then ordered the heavy cruiser Pittsburgh to assist Franklin. Her skipper, John Gingrich, did not know what the admiral had in mind but readied his ship to accommodate survivors. He, too, thought Franklin could not last long.

That view seemed accurate. As Taylor walked around the battered carrier, explosions still rocked Franklin. Ammunition was still exploding, and aviation fuel streamed out of Big Ben into the water. The ship settled, forcing more water into gasoline reservoirs, shoving the fuel to the top, near the fires. At 9:11, Franklin‘s signalmen blinkered a message to Santa Fe: We have lost steering control. Can you send fire hoses? Can you send for sea tugs?

While Captain Fitz on Santa Fe mulled that over, Lieutenant Gary and Dr. Fuelling grew tired of waiting in their compartment. Gary snapped, Damn it! We’re not dead yet!
U. S. Naval Historical Center
Lieutenant Commander Joseph O’Callahan administers last rites to crewman Robert C. Blanchard about Franklin. Blanchard would miraculously recover from his wounds.

Fuelling and Gary opened a door and found smoke all around. Gary figured he had 10 minutes of oxygen in his OBA and went along the third deck to a hatch going to the fourth deck. That in turn led to an engine room uptake. He found the uptake’s end and a fresh oxygen canister and went back to his trapped shipmates. Gary estimated he could take 10 men out if they moved as fast as possible.

Gary and his men traveled 600 feet through the uptakes to one of the 40mm gun sponsons, six decks above. Then Gary returned and pulled out 50 more men-and 200 after that.

The injured Budd Faught was struggling to live, too. He managed to crawl away from the fires. Despite two broken legs and a fractured arm, he propelled himself off the gallery deck and fell 50 feet into the water, using his good arm to push himself away from the ship.

Belowdecks, an engine room thermometer hit 200 degrees, then cracked. Firemen, water tenders and boiler technicians passed out. There were not enough gas masks to go around. Seaman Holbrook Davis phoned the bridge, asking permission to secure Fireroom No. 2.

Gehres told Davis to have the black gang leave the throttles at 8 knots and make their way topside without securing station. That would give the ship 40 minutes of power.

Exhausted, fainting engine crewmen groped past boilers, turbines and switch panels and struggled up ladders. Fireman Roy Treadway’s escape was temporarily foiled by a burning 1,000-pound bomb. He tried another route, a third deck gallery, then the aviation engine ready shop, and he finally came out onto the hangar deck.

Hayler reached the hangar deck, too, and found it full of smoke. I was not sure whether I was entering Dante’s Inferno or crossing the River Styx, he said later. The forward elevator had been blown out of its well and settled back to form a ramp between the hangar and flight decks. Airplane engines were still burning fiercely and in many cases were all that remained of what once had been a complete machine capable of flight and bearing men aloft. Strewn all around was the evidence that there had been no escape for many of those who were trapped in the inferno. Worse than the hangar deck was the gallery deck between them…after two bomb hits, this area was like the oven of a gigantic stove.

Other witnesses were equally stunned. Mac Kilpatrick saw the remnants of the gallery deck as resembling oatmeal or irregular cinders. O’Callahan saw one solid mass of fire.

At about 9:20, Santa Fe blinkered Franklin to ask if the carrier’s magazines were flooded.

We believe the magazines are flooded, Big Ben answered. Am not sure. The water valves were on, but the pipes had split. No water had reached the hundreds of tons of explosives stored in the after magazines. Nobody knew that.

Santa Fe cut speed to stay alongside the crippled carrier and aimed hoses at Franklin‘s fires. Heavy lines transferred Big Ben’s wounded to the cruiser. Santa Fe logged a report regarding Franklin, stating that the stricken carrier had about 11 degree list to starboard, was burning fiercely aft, and a flaming gasoline fire was pouring out of the hangar deck on the starboard quarter. There were explosions from time to time.

At 9:52 one of those explosions, reported as immense, hurled hangar deck sections and debris all over Santa Fe. Nobody was injured, but Jurika felt as though Franklin was a rat being shaken by an angry cat. Santa Fe backed off. Jurika figured the blast was an exploding 5-inch ready-service magazine. Whole aircraft engines with propellers attached, debris of all descriptions including pieces of bodies, were flung back into the air and descended on the general area like hail on a roof, recalled the commander. One engine and prop struck the navigation bridge a glancing blow about three feet from my head and for a couple moments I will admit to ducking under the overhang of the masthead light.

Fireman Treadway, still on the hangar deck, was flung into the water, and Santa Fe threw him life jackets. Then the cruiser moved away from the burning carrier, leaving some wounded men still on board.

On Franklin, O’Callahan took time out from firefighting to administer last rites to dying men. One recipient was Joe Lafferty, who was not dying and objected strenuously. Then O’Callahan returned to his hoses.

By now, Franklin‘s plight had attracted the attention of Vice Adm. Marc A. Mitscher, who led Task Force 58 from his flagship, the carrier Bunker Hill. He blinkered Gehres permission to abandon ship.

Gehres, infuriated, ordered his own signalman to flash back Abandon? Hell, we’re still afloat! But moments later Franklin lost all steam pressure in her turbines.

Just after 10 a.m., Santa Fe signaled Bunker Hill: Franklin now dead in water. Fires causing explosions. Have got a few men off. Fires still blazing badly…whether Franklin can be saved or not is still doubtful.

Captain Fitz, on Santa Fe, raced back at 25 knots to resume taking on wounded men. He hit the carrier bow on, knocking over Franklin‘s toppled radio mast…and stayed close alongside. Gehres thought it was the most daring piece of seamanship I ever saw.

Boards and aluminum ladders were stretched from cruiser to carrier, and wounded men were moved to Santa Fe in large mail pouches. Gehres ordered all airmen off Franklin. Dr. Sam Sherman, of Air Group Five, objected and stayed on, but Mac Kilpatrick lost the battle. You are an aviator, not a firefighter, Gehres barked. Take your pilots and get moving! Kilpatrick, still clutching his cash, gloomily joined 800 others ordered aboard Santa Fe.

By 11 a.m. Gehres managed to get a pump started and shifted fuel to port. He blinkered Fitz: Can you take us in tow? We have lost all power. Our towing gear is ready.

Actually it was not. There was no power in Big Ben’s winches, but Santa Fe could not have towed her anyway. Fitz called up Pittsburgh, and Skipper John Gingrich did not hesitate. Seconds later, Pittsburgh‘s public-address system blared: Rigging party lay aft. Break out the tow gear!

Pittsburgh cut flank speed to get in position while Santa Fe crewmen tossed OBAs, medical cases, blankets, loaves of bread and water beakers onto Franklin‘s slanting decks. Santa Fe men came aboard with fire hoses to battle the flames.

Gary brought out his last group of trapped men, including a pale and exhausted Dr. Fuelling. We’d be dead if it wasn’t for Gary, Fuelling said later. But Gary didn’t wait for compliments. He headed below to see to his engines.

Seaman George S. Smith crawled over the side to splice a burst hose together, risking being crushed to death. Joe Taylor led 30 sailors to hack away the starboard anchor with files, steel cutters and acetylene torches. The idea was to dump the anchor and use the 540-foot chain as the towline.

That tow was vital. At 11 a.m., Jurika checked winds and calculated that Franklin was drifting right for Japan. At 11:28, Pittsburgh signaled she was ready to take Big Ben in tow.

In one of the 5-inch-gun turrets, O’Callahan ignored his claustrophobia to help pass hot shells outside so they could be dumped into the sea. He stayed in the turret until the last shell was heaved overboard. After O’Callahan was finished, Steamship Graham sought a party to clear bombs from the gallery deck, where the fires were subsiding. O’Callahan joined the party and was soon squeezing through dark, smoky passageways.

Taylor called O’Callahan’s work 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 dabbed 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.

Gradually, determined firefighting paid off. Any still-unexploded ammunition had been thrown overboard. Around noon, Santa Fe blinkered Bunker Hill: Franklin says fire practically under control, skeleton crew aboard, list stabilized at 13 degrees. If you save us from the Japanese, we will save the ship.

Astonished, Mitscher replied, Tell Franklin we appreciate his message and will do all we can.

Pittsburgh tossed an 8-inch messenger line to Franklin, and raw muscle power hooked it around Big Ben’s inert capstan. Among the wire handlers were sailors who had been trapped earlier.

But the battle was not over yet. At 12:54 p.m., radar picked up a bogey four miles out. It was another Judy, and it attacked Franklin. Gill saw it release a bomb and ducked behind a winch, knowing it was coming for me. The bomb looked unreal, several times bigger than the plane that released it! But the bomb missed, splashing 200 yards to starboard and detonating in the water, shaking Franklin. There were a few 40mm guns still operable on Franklin, and a motley crew scrambled to man them — yeomen, laundrymen, two buglers from Big Ben’s band, and Gehres’ Marine orderly, Wallace Klimiewicz of Jersey City. They splashed the Judy.

Between 1 and 2 p.m., the anchor was cut through and a steel cable attached to the anchor chain. Pittsburgh managed to tow Franklin away from Japan at 3 knots.

The sight of Big Ben under tow cheered most of the men but scared others. Budd Faught, having been hurled into the water, had managed to grab hold of a seat cushion that kept him afloat. Then he looked up to see Franklin heading right for him, towering like a house. Faught was afraid the ship would run him down. But Big Ben passed by, listing and smoking.

Faught floated awhile by himself, in a haze, until a destroyer came by. The injured pilot yelled and shouted, and finally a seaman peered over the side and yelled, Climb on up! I can’t, Faught replied. Both my legs and an arm are broken. The sailor looked puzzled, but finally a bunch of sailors in a life raft turned up to load Faught on Marshall, which already had 210 survivors aboard.

Miller picked up Treadway and 49 more, while Santa Fe embarked 832 Franklin officers and men. Santa Fe‘s medical team spent the next 48 hours in continuous surgery. Among those tended was Lafferty, who had suffered burns and a compound fracture of the right foot.

At 3:45 p.m., Franklin was being towed away at 7 knots, her fires out. Gehres had time to call muster and take stock. His ship had 832 dead and nearly 300 wounded, one-third of the crew. No ship in history had suffered such losses and remained afloat. Gehres had only 600 men and 103 officers left aboard. Jurika described his flight deck as a mud shambles of burned, warped, and broken wood and steel, with bodies, debris, and wreckage littering the area. Holes were cut in the flight deck with axes, and hoses were poked through in an attempt to quell flames still raging on the gallery deck.

But Franklin‘s crew worked on. The list was steadied at 13 degrees to starboard, with the ship down 3 feet at the stern; the fires forward were extinguished, and the fires abaft were gradually coming under control.

For the first time, things looked hopeful. Gary said the firerooms had cooled sufficiently to permit habitability, and the boilers could probably be lit off. The cooks produced canned pork sausage and orange juice to feed the crew. Best damn meal I ever tasted, Taylor proclaimed.

At 6:13 p.m., Franklin‘s log recorded sunset, adding, Ship darkened except for small glow from fire, frame 200. Now it was time to rescue Seaman Brookie Davis and his four pals in the steering compartment aft. The men had been trapped there for 17 hours, linked by phone to the bridge, handling Franklin‘s rudder through the crisis.

Lieutenant j.g. Bob Wassman led a party down twisted ladders, over hot metal and through darkened passageways, finally reaching the compartment. The men were inside, soaked through by a foot of water but unharmed. When Davis stumbled out onto the gallery deck, he saw for the first time the swath of destruction and blurted out, What the hell happened? That night, Greene and Gary returned to their firerooms with enginemen. Just before midnight, fires were lit off in boiler No 5. Exhausted engineers worked far into the night to bring engine power up to 1,200 pounds per square inch. Above them, officers turned over their rooms to enlisted men who had been burned out of their berthing spaces. Sailors collapsed into racks, two or three to a bunk. Other sailors worked on, battling fires in Franklin‘s gasoline reservoirs. Fires broke out periodically, and nearby destroyers continued to play their hoses on Big Ben.

The starboard list made steering difficult, and Gehres ordered counterflooding at 10 p.m. Most hydraulic controls were useless, so the work was done by hand at the valves. The counterflooding worked too well. At 2 a.m., Franklin rolled over and developed a 10-degree list to port. Gehres stopped counterflooding after that.

At dawn on the 20th, the battlecruisers Alaska and Guam arrived to take the wounded from the destroyers, Budd Faught among them. He considered himself lucky to be alive, though he would lose his left leg below the knee.

Aboard Franklin, crewmen pulled bodies out of the blasted hangar deck. O’Callahan and Gatlin said prayers over the dead, O’Callahan working until he fell sound asleep, utterly exhausted, halfway down a ladder.

Gehres had his men hurl wreckage overboard. The crew found four hangar deck jeeps intact, and these were used to haul away debris.

By 12:30 Franklin had four boilers on line, and Gehres cast aside his tow, steaming along at 15 knots. Fire marshal Steamship Graham staggered into the pilothouse to report that he had finally reached the ammunition magazines. They were flooded, weren’t they? asked Gehres. Bone dry, Graham answered. My God, Gehres gasped. If the fires had gone a little lower, Franklin would have exploded and sunk.

Someone found cases of beer on Franklin, which were distributed to the crew. The men were also given bread, bacon and Spam for dinner. During the night, Big Ben worked up to 18 knots on course 135. Fires still blazed on the gallery deck and in Gehres’ own cabin, but the gyrocompasses, search radar, sound-powered phones and some of the carrier’s guns were working again.

All day on the 21st, Franklin‘s crew continued to clear away wreckage, fight fires, search for bodies and fend off sporadic air attacks. Taylor found a typewriter and wrote a plan of the day, which he gave a highly alliterative but accurate headline, Big Ben Bombed, Battered, Bruised and Bent But Not Broken.

Upon reaching the Ulithi atoll, Franklin and the faithful Santa Fe were sent to New York for repairs and a major press conference. With only 400 men aboard, Franklin‘s crew had a lot of work to do, including shoveling away huge quantities of water-soaked beans that had been stored for the ship’s galley.

Ahead lay a shower of awards for Franklin‘s men. It led off with two awards of the Medal of Honor, one to Lt. Cmdr. Joseph O’Callahan — the only Medal of Honor awarded to a chaplain during World War II — and the other to Lt. j.g. Donald A. Gary. The Navy Cross went to 19 of Franklin‘s men, including Gehres, Taylor, Hale, Jurika, Fuelling, Fox and Kilpatrick. Twenty-two men were awarded the Silver Star, Gatlin, Graham, Wassman and Davis among them; there were also 115 recipients of the Bronze Star, which included Jortberg and Klimiewicz, and 234 Letters of Commendation.

But this parade of glittering metal lay in the future for Franklin‘s crew, once the battered, bruised and bent carrier had arrived at Gravesend Bay just off Brooklyn’s Coney Island on the cool and windy afternoon of April 26. She reached New York under her own power after a 12,000-mile journey.

Precisely at 2:23 p.m. that day, Franklin‘s officer of the deck hit the carrier’s public-address system and barked, Mooring. Shift colors. As Old Glory shot over Franklin‘s badly damaged flight deck, her port anchor shot down into the mud, racing past her blackened decks and the commissioning number on her hull-No. 13.

This article was written by David H. Lippman and originally appeared in the March 1995 issue of World War II. For more great articles subscribe to World War II magazine today!

48 Responses to USS Franklin: Struck by a Japanese Dive Bomber During World War II

  1. Janet Oberndorfer says:

    For 14 years until his untimely death to cancers on 6/20/91, I shared a home with a man named Robert A. Kennedy (no relation to THEM) who was an 18-year old crew member on the Franklin. For all of his life he regaled us with stories of the Franklin’s finest hours and the assistance he rendered to Joseph O’Callahan as he dealt with the crew’s wounded and dying. Earlier in my life (circa 1965) I had arranged a blind date for a college classmate. The man was a naval officer whose duty was on board a ‘new’ ship christened the O’Callahan. It’s a small world. God Bless you all.

  2. James R. Marlow PR 1 says:

    Was VFO-3 with SBD’s on the USS FRANKLIN CV13 from June 44 to Aug 45 ? How can I find a list of there personal ?

  3. Randal L Durbin says:

    I was priviledge to know Lt. Stan Graham. He lived in Winfield, Kansas and farmed just outside of town. It was always a pleasure to visit with him and hear the history first hand.

  4. James Collins says:

    What Marine Corps Detachment was assigned and onboard on 19 March 1945.

    Thank you

  5. James Collins says:

    What division or regimental Marine Corps Detachment was aboard the USS Franklin on 19 March 1945.

    Thank you

  6. Wade Schritter says:

    I have a 1940 edition “Bluejackets Manual” with the name “Stanley Severance Graham” written all over it. I am active duty U.S. Navy and my father saw it at a garage sale a few years ago and thought that i would want it. I was looking through some of the old books i have and i came across it, and thought i would do an internet search on WWII Stanley Graham. I’m assuming this is his book. Is there a museum or someone that would want this book. I’m not looking for money, i would just like to know that this book is in a place that would fully appreciate it’s historical significance. My email is

  7. Wade Schritter says:

    Just to add to my comment….

    On the bottom, “S.S.G. #83” is written. On the inside front cover, it says “Stanley Severance Graham 83-126”. Then on the back cover it says “Stanley Graham Company 42-83”. There is a sketch glued to the inside front of a woman clasping a book and written in pen below is a name that i can’t read, but the last word is “Graham”.

  8. Bill Halpin says:

    This article reports:

    “At 7:05, Jurika heard a scratchy message on the TBS (talk between ships) radio from the carrier Hancock: Enemy plane closing on you…one coming toward you!”

    My uncle, Dave, was killed on Franklin during this attack. Years later, I served on Hancock in the Tonkin Gulf, 1968-70.

  9. Betty Trudell says:

    I read a book when I was in high school in the 1960’s that was a story about the USS Franklin. I do not remember the name of the book. Do you have any idea what the name of the book would be. I would like to read it again. Dr. James Fuelling who was on the Franklin, operated on my eyes when I was a little girl.

    • John clifford says:

      I remember a short story about Fr. O’Callahan called, “Chaplains Courageous.” He was stationed at a Jesuit high school in Boston for a while in the early 60s.

  10. Joe Durick says:

    Frank R. Sepesy, 84 passed away Monday, June 15, 2009. I knew Frank well and he was one of he survivors of the Franklin. He was a cook on the ship. He was working in the mess hall when one of the bombs hit the side of the ship right where his bunk was located. Lived in Struthers, Ohio after leaving the service. Good man.

  11. Kyle Copeland says:

    I just wanted to say thank you for printing the story of The Franklin. It is one of the greatest examples of Military Resilience
    in our nations history. The Franklin’s story has always served me as a benchmark of how to react in the face of Catastrophe and Eminent Peril.

    The Franklin was struck while she was serving a just and noble cause. Calamity fell upon her and on many of her honorable men
    as they struggled to fix her ills. Their efforts were thwarted
    with many setbacks as ordanance and gasoline fought against
    the Franklin’s ability to recover.

    I have known just and honorable people who have faced the
    same things in their lives. Shelled and battered by events unbecoming of their noble lives.

    On that far away sea years ago the Men of the Franklin lit a
    great beacon of hope and lived a great example that all should
    aspire to when looking into the face of devastation and uncertainty.

    My thanks to those brave men and to the authors for sharing
    their story.

  12. Richard Don Simms says:

    Thank you, U.S.S. Franklin veterans. My Dad joined the crew May 22,1944. When the ship got hit October 30,1944 and went to Bremerton for repairs Dad came home to Ft. Worth,Texas. Dad went back to the Franklin Jan 5,1945. Omer Dee Simms,my Dad was 33. When the ship was hit 3-19-45 Dad was trapped with 12 men. He was able to open a stuck hatch which allowed 12 men to go free. The only survivor of the group,Mr. George F. Black , gives my Dad credit for saving his life. What an honor to know Mr. George Black. RDS

  13. Sam Conant says:

    My uncle, Roger Conant of Greenfield Mass, was a Marine pilot aboard the Franklin and was killed by one of the initial bomb blasts. He left behind a wonderful wife and a brand new baby girl. His brothers and sister are now gone and lay next to him in Greeenfield, but thanks to their stories our generation will always remember Uncle Roger’s sacrifice. I served in the Tonkin Gulf aboard the USS Coral Sea and USS Constellation !966-1968.

  14. Daniel w Morris says:

    My Dad Robert wm Morris was on the ussfranklin on march 19 and was a firemen I did’nt know that he went throught what he did and what happen in world war two. I read newspaper clips he had in a book.My dad died on nov 10 2010. The day he died I found those newspaper clipsand now I know he never talked about it. Post tramadtic stress is what he had.I got to talk about my dad at his funeral service and I told my family our dad was a war hero. his oldst son Daniel W.Morris

  15. debbie deem says:

    There is a reunion of those aboard the Franklin and their descendants. it will be May 12-15, 2011 in Naperville Illinois. Go to for more information. Please help support this group, and honor those still with us who served so bravely.
    debbie deem

    • Corryn Shaw says:

      MY BROTHER AMOS N SHIELDS WAS ON THE USS FRANKLIN HE JOINED THE NAVY AT 17 YRS HIS ONLY SHIP WAS THE FRANKLIN HE WAS ONE OF THE 600 RETUIRNED TO BROOKLYN . If you look at the vdio about the uss franklin that LLoyd Bridges narraited you will see his picture and a little of his story He is 85 now and in poor health Ps my picture is on Facebook with my brother.what a story of these men and there ship that they loved Corryn Shaw

  16. Kaye Coller says:

    My father, Walter D. Moore was a communications officer on the Franklin when it was hit. He had to jump to the Santa Fe from the listing deck of the Franklin. It’s amazing that the Franklin was able to make it back unter her own power. I was really fortunate that my dad only suffered hearing damage as a result of this attack. So many others weren’t so lucky.

  17. William R Brown Jr. says:

    Thank you very much for your right up on the USS Franklin. My Uncle Eugene Wilbur Burroughs was killed upon the Franklin at that time of the first hit. He was upon deck at the time. Iwrite this upon Veterans Day 11/11/2011 in his honor & sacrifice to his country.

  18. William R Brown Jr. says:

    I would like to correct my #17 statement. My Uncle was killed near Samar on the Franklin when it was hit by a Kamikazie that skidded across the deck on 30, Oct 1944. He was 1 of 56 killed during that hit.

  19. Donellan La Vigne says:

    My grandfather Joseph Franklin Taylor was the executive officer on the Franklin. I have read every account of the day of the bombing and I have been trying to have my grandfather awarded, all these years later The Congressional Medal of Honor.The record is clear,with the utmost disregard for his own safety and well being he not only visited every section of the carrier, it was he who was responsible for getting the towing operation under way.I have given my e-mail address, and my family and I would appreciate any help in securing this much deserved award for my grandpa Joe. Thank you all and God bless The Franklin and her brave crew.

    • Georgi (Taylor) Baird says:

      Hi, what are some of your other family tree descendants? My maiden name is Taylor. Joseph F Taylor is my great Uncle. I have a cousin and an Uncle who were both named after Joe.

      I just finished reading “Inferno” a couple of months ago.

      I believe his brothers are Buford, Pratt jr., Richard (my Grandfather), and sister Helen Marie. His father is Pratt Taylor senior who was a u.s. Marshall and a farmer.

  20. Maureen says:

    My dad John F Deegan joined the naval service at age 17. He never talked bout it ever until a few months before he died in 1996. Found out he was on the USS Franklinand jumped overboard to survive. It was too traumatic for him to talk about what he experienced at such a young age. No I understand why he never did!

    • WJRose says:

      My father WH Rose was a VF-24 Night Fighter pilot on the Franklin. He was the last pilot to land on ship before the attack. This was the last ‘trap’ the Franklin would see.

      He usually went to breakfast before catching some zz’s after flight, but on this morning, he felt tired and just decided to go to his bunk. It saved his life…Most pilots in the ready rooms and mess hall were killed when the Jap Betty dropped her bombs.

      He helped fight the fire and was eventually wounded and evacuated to the Santa Fe. His burns were not significant and he refused to apply for the Purple Heart. He once told my mother it would be an embarrassment after what happened to so many of his mates.

      My father survived the ordeal, but would not willingly talk about it. He lost many friends; including his crew that maintained his Hellcat. I really don’t think he ever got over it.

      After reading Maureens comments above, I saw that same similarity in my Dad. In the last 10 years of his life, he finally began participating in some of the organizations for both Franklin and Intrepid. He finished the war serving on Intrepid as Night Fighter with VF-10.

  21. John Boles says:

    Served aboard USS Valley Forge CVS-45 from 58 to 60. Ship experinced heavy damage from a nor’easter storm which tore away forward portside catwallks, radio shacks, sponsons and guntubs requiring a month long yard period at Brooklyn Navy Yard. Repaires which included a 30′ x 60′ section of flightdeck cut from the Franklin and fitted in place on the Valley Forge. That strip of flightdeck had a small plaque honoring the men and the ship inscribed on it for all to see. Franklin was moored at Bayonne, NJ in the winter of 1959 and we tied up aft of the Franklin for two weeks while waiting for a berth at the yard in Brooklyn.

  22. Carol (thibodeaux) Broussard says:

    My dad Dallas Thibodeaux was a gunner on the USS Franklin in WWII. He had just gotten off duty on one of the 40mm guns when the first bombs hit the same gun he had just been relieved of. He was in the mess hall when all hell broke loose and was thrown across the room like the rest of the guys there. He and several other men had to make their way up to the deck. While they were trying to climb out of one of the hatches, someone was about to close that hatch and secure it , but he and another guy managed to push up before they secured the hatch on them. My dad was a very lucky man that day. He is still living and is 85years old, but still remembers that day like it was yesterday.
    He is also one of the members of the “Big Ben 704 Club”, if I remember correctly. Which is the number of men who stayed with the ship to bring it back to the United States. He was given a card that he carried for years, but im not sure what happened to it.

    • Louis Van Vleet says:

      Ask your father if he remembers a PFC William Ellis “Buddy” Van Vleet, with the Marine Unit that on the 40mm guns also. He was blown off the ship and never found. I am his brother and would like to know more about what happened to him.

  23. […] Rear Admiral (Admiral of the Fleet) Ralph E. Davidson’s personal communication officer aboard the USS Franklin.  Both the Admiral and Bennis survived each of the two devastating kamikaze attacks. Effectively, […]

  24. gdurrance says:

    my deceased husbands father died on the ben franklin his name was benjamin myron durrance; anyone out there remember him?

  25. Maya Elashi (aka Kathryn Butler) says:

    My mother’s twin brother—A.A. Poat, Jr. from Berkeley, CA—was killed on the Ben Franklin on March 19, 1945.
    Is anyone out there who remembers him? If so, please contact me.

  26. Wesley Cottle says:

    My father was a Marine, assigned to The Franklin, he survived, was cast overboard. He never spoke much of the war.

  27. Gary graham says:

    My dad was Charlie J. Graham. He was a gunners mate on the Franklin. He never spoke about that day either until one day when I was 18 he called me in to watch a documentary on the Franklin. Told me that he was there at that time and told me how he saw his best friend fall into one of the elevator shafts. If he had of gone and been in the mess line instead of taking a smoke on the deck he wouldn’t be here today. He was blown off the ship and severely burned. Received the Purple Heart. Was in the VA hospital for a year. He never talked about it again. Any information on how to get a roster would be appreciated.

  28. Jeff says:

    Its veterans day 2012
    Met a man today at Foxwoods casino where I work
    He was wearing a USS Franklin hat and told me he was 91 and had been a gunners mate I thanked him for his service and he told me
    We lost a lot of men
    Looked up the Franklin
    We can not thank them enough

  29. Jim Martin says:

    My uncle, Raymond “Mickey” Belmore from Marlboro Mass was aboard when she was hit. He was an enlistee at age 34 when the war boke out. Never spoke of it except to say he was one of the oldest guys on that ship and never got a scratch. This hero lived until he was 80. HooRah the greatest generation,

    JJM US Navy enlisted

  30. Steve Kirk says:

    My Grandmother’ brother was killed on Big Ben. His name was Kenneth Hanson. Her husband, my grandfather, served on LST 225 which saw action at Tinian, Solomon Islands, and Saipan.

  31. Steve Scott says:

    My dad MMCS 1944-1966.USS constellation CVA 64 Gulf of tonkin 1965-66.My dad had a Division officer who should have been murdered fragged) along with the suicidal idiot named Gehres. From what I have learned on this day the C.O of USS Franklin caused all this harm and then had the gall to point the finger at others.I was in the Navy from 1974 -1980 HT2 and we called men like this \zero’s\ not a good term.god bless the courageous men who lost their lives because of this Jap spy.I mostly have good memories of my service during the cold war taking care of SSBN’s but I hate officers like these.i think it is a sailors duty to kill people like this if the opportunity arises.Obviously I find this story enraging.God bless the US Navy forever!.Hooyah!.

  32. Brooks Rowlett says:

    One of the puzzles about FRANKLIN is what REALLY attacked the ship. This story gives the version that a D4Y Judy attacked her and dropped two 500 lb (they would really have been 200kg or 550 pound) bombs. The problem is that they Judy couldn’t carry two such weapons as there was only one centerline suspension point for a bomb (even though it could carry more weight, there was only one set of hooks). The wing pylons coudn’t carry 200 kg. So it seems that if FRANKLIN was really hit by two bombs, they couldn’t have been dropped by a Judy. Other versions suggested a D3A2 Val, a B6N Jill torpedo bomber, or something else. There are two other possibilities. A recent book on the FRANKLIN claims that it was actually only one bomb. The other possibility is that the attacking aircraft was an Aichi B7A “Grace”, a somewhat obscure late-war Japanese aircraft, and the only single-engine aircraft that could actually carry two 200kg bombs in an internal bomb bay. This is supported by Admiral Matome Ugaki’s diary which mentions a strike by a squadron of the “Grace” aircraft on the day of the attack. If so it would be the only known successful attack by a B7A., of which only 124 (including prototypes) were built.

  33. Daurice Williams Malina says:

    My uncle, Corporal Windell Williams, a marine from
    Temple, Texas, died on March 19, 1945 on the
    Franklin. I was six years old and and remember
    the telegram telling of Windell’s death being delivered to my grandparents. I have the telegram in my possession now.

  34. Eugene Dennen says:

    I was on the Franklin and rescued from the Sea of Japan. I don’t remember the name of the ship that rescued me. Thank you for any information. I was a gunner. I remember releasing life savers and that there wasn’t any water to fight the fire.

  35. David Schutz says:

    My mother’s maiden name was Taylor. Your grandfather was my great uncle. Georgi Beard is my cousin who also responded to your post. Like you, I have also read everything I could get my hands on about uncle Joe. He was a great American hero and a true inspiration to a lot of people. I have a few photos of him, one aboard a ship and the other one standing beside a airplane with his flying gear on. One book that I have that tells a lot about him is \Blue Skies and Blood \ by Edwin P. Hoyt.

  36. Joseph A Springer says:

    Mr. Rowlett – My name is Joe Springer, author of the book INFERNO: The Epic Life and Death Struggle of the USS Franklin in WWII. I spent three years interviewing 200 officers and men that served aboard Franklin. A senior officer on the bridge reported seeing what he believed to be a second bomb. This officer assisted Captain Gehres with his report, and the Navy accepted the report. In addition, I located no less than eight officers and men supposedly at the point of impact for the second bomb. These men state that Franklin was hit by a single bomb. The attacker was a D4Y Judy, one of eight attackers from 701 Ku K103 at Kokubu #1 airfield (Kagoshima, Kyushu). According to the Japanese frag report the aircraft carried a single 500 kg (1,102 lbs) bomb. Ultimately, and despite the Japanese frag report, I believe Franklin was struck by a single 250 kg SAP bomb. Indeed, a D4Y Judy struck USS WASP just two minutes later. The bomb that struck WASP was a 250 kg bomb (confirmed). The eight D4Y Judy dive-bombers from K103 were the only Judy D4Y aircraft airborne that morning. Moreover, I found the Marine pilot (Linder) that shotdown the attacker. This is all told in detail in the book and subsequent film titled USS Franklin: HONOR RESTORED.

  37. Steven Herron says:

    My father, Robert Francis Herron, was a signalman on the USS Franklin when she was hit. He never said much about it other than,\I saw men jumping from the signalmen’s deck which is high above the main deck where I was. I looked over the side and thought to myself, ‘there is no way in hell I’m jumping off of this ship.\

    This story is one of many of heroism and duty yet it somehow rises above the rest through its miraculous saving of the ship.

    Thank you to all veterans!

  38. Michael Adornetto says:

    My grandfather Charles Adornetto was on the Franklin and manned one of the 40mm on the tail of the ship. as many here have stated he did not talk much about his time on the franklin even when asked. He did say that the things he saw Father O’Callahan do were miraculous. I believe him to be a member of the 704 group He said he was awarded medals, but he threw them into,the Hudson River, stating why did he need these medals when men lost there lives and limbs.
    My grandfather passed away 10/24/14, I miss him very much already. I wish I pressed him more on his experiences in the service. I have found his discharge certificate for the navy but not much else so. If anyone has any info on my grandfather please share. Thank you for this wonderful article. May God Bless All who served.

  39. Melissa Hyberger says:

    My Mother’s double first cousin was killed on the 19 MAR 1945 on the flight deck of the FRANKLIN. His name was Charles Venable, (Charlie). What makes Charlie’s death so hard is the fact that his death was captured on US Navy news reel and his Mother my Aunt Bertie was able to see her Son die in action. GOD bless all the fine men who fought and died for our freedom. You are still loved, honored and remembered.

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