The USS Franklin (CV-13) was an Essex-class aircraft carrier that played a pivotal role in the Pacific Theater during World War II. Noted for her resilience, she survived two devastating attacks in 1944 and 1945.

Decommissioned in 1947, the USS Franklin’s storied legacy stands as a testament to American naval prowess and the spirit of her sailors.

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Design And Specification

Constructed at the Newport News Shipbuilding Company in Virginia, the ship’s keel was laid down in December 1942. In January 1944, she was officially commissioned.

The Franklin stretched to an overall length of about 872 feet, with its length at the waterline measuring approximately 820 feet. Its flight deck boasted an expansive width of 147.5 feet, while at the waterline, the beam was about 93 feet. When it came to its draft, when fully loaded, the Franklin plunged to a depth of approximately 28.5 feet.

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When discussing displacement, the Franklin’s standard measurement hovered around 27,100 tons. However, when the ship was brimming with combat essentials, this figure surged to over 36,380 tons.

Powering this naval behemoth was no small feat. The ship employed eight Babcock & Wilcox boilers, driving the four Westinghouse geared steam turbines that generated an impressive 150,000 shaft horsepower. This impressive machinery enabled the Franklin to cruise through waters at a top speed of approximately 33 knots.

USS Franklin in Virginia, 21 February 1944.

In terms of its armament, the ship was armed with twelve 5-inch/38 caliber guns to fend off airborne adversaries. In addition, the Franklin was studded with a myriad of 40mm and 20mm anti-aircraft guns. As the war progressed and threats evolved, especially with the rise of kamikaze attacks, the ship augmented its anti-aircraft arsenal.

Unlike earlier U.S. carriers, this Essex-class carrier boasted an armored flight deck with thickness varying between 1.5 to 4 inches. Additionally, the ship was girded with an armored belt, approximately 4 inches thick.

As an aircraft carrier, the Franklin’s primary function was to house and deploy aircraft. Depending on the mission and wartime period, it could typically accommodate between 90 to 100 aircraft. This ensemble included the formidable Grumman F6F Hellcat, the nimble Douglas SBD Dauntless, and the versatile Grumman TBF Avenger.

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Further enhancing its aircraft operations, the ship featured two deck-edge elevators and a centerline elevator. These facilitated the smooth movement of aircraft between the hangar deck and the flight deck. The ship’s island superstructure, a hallmark of its design, contained the bridge, flight control, and funnels.

Early Combat Operations

After she was commissioned, USS Franklin was thrust into the heart of the Pacific Theater’s operations, supporting and leading assaults that furthered the Allied campaign against the Japanese Empire.

1. Marianas Campaign (June 1944):
Background: The Marianas Islands, strategically located in the western Pacific, were crucial for both the Allies and Japan. Seizing these islands would give the U.S. a platform for heavy bombers to strike the Japanese homeland, effectively placing Japan within the range of the devastating B-29 Superfortress bombers.

Franklin’s Role: Within months of its commissioning, the Franklin found itself at the forefront of this vital campaign. Tasked with providing air support, aircraft from the Franklin executed precise and destructive strikes on key Japanese defenses on Saipan and Tinian.

These raids not only crippled enemy defenses but also paved the way for ground troops to establish a foothold on the islands.

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Furthermore, the Marianas campaign saw the pivotal Battle of the Philippine Sea, often referred to as the “Great Marianas Turkey Shoot” due to the disproportionate losses suffered by Japanese naval aviation. The Franklin, as part of the larger Task Force 58, played a decisive role in this confrontation.

Aircraft from the Franklin contributed to the overwhelming air superiority that the U.S. forces enjoyed, decimating the aerial strength of the Japanese fleet.

USS Franklin departing Norfolk, 1944.

2. Western Pacific Raids (November 1944 – January 1945):
Background: As the grip of the Allies tightened around Japan, it became increasingly essential to weaken the Japanese defense perimeter in the Western Pacific. These series of raids aimed to disrupt supply lines, destroy airfields, and pave the way for subsequent landings.

Franklin’s Role: Flexing its muscles as an Essex-class aircraft carrier, the Franklin spearheaded numerous raids during this phase. Targets spanned a wide geographic area.

In the Manila Bay area, aircraft from the Franklin unleashed their firepower, decimating Japanese naval and ground assets. Simultaneously, other sorties targeted central and southern Luzon, weakening Japanese military strength in the Philippines.

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The island of Formosa (present-day Taiwan) was not spared either. The Franklin was instrumental in launching assaults that targeted airfields, transportation infrastructure, and military installations on the island. These strikes played a dual role: diminishing the immediate threat posed by Japanese forces stationed on Formosa and hampering the ability of these forces to reinforce other imperiled regions.

USS Franklin’s Tragedy And Recovery

The saga of the USS Franklin during World War II was not only one of combat successes but also of tragic events that tested the mettle of both the ship and her crew.

First Major Attack (October 30, 1944):
Background: As the Allies pressed their offensive in the Pacific, naval units, including the USS Franklin, supported ground operations, including the critical Battle of Leyte Gulf in the Philippines. This naval engagement aimed to repel Japanese forces and solidify the U.S. position in the region.

The Attack: The carrier, while operating near Leyte, fell prey to a surprise attack by a Japanese aircraft. The aircraft managed to evade the Franklin’s defensive systems and struck the carrier with a devastating blow.

The resultant explosion from the bomb was magnified by the volatile mixture of aviation fuel and munitions present on the deck.

USS Belleau Wood (left) and USS Franklin after being hit by Kamikazes.

The immediate aftermath painted a grim picture. Flames engulfed parts of the ship, causing a conflagration that claimed the lives of 56 crew members. Many more were injured, some severely, facing burns and shrapnel wounds. The ship’s internal systems were compromised, with critical functionalities being impaired.

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Aftermath and Repairs: Following the attack, the Franklin, battered but still seaworthy, made her way to Ulithi Atoll for emergency repairs. This facility, though equipped for such contingencies, could only offer temporary solutions. For a comprehensive repair job, the Franklin would have to journey back to the mainland U.S. And so, she did, arriving on the West Coast to undergo a complete rehabilitation that would prepare her for subsequent operations.

USS Franklin’s Return To Combat

Return to Active Duty:
By February 1945, World War II in the Pacific had reached a crucial juncture. The Allies were making significant headway, pressing the Japanese forces on multiple fronts. Against this backdrop, the repaired and revitalized USS Franklin made her way back into the theater of operations, eager to contribute to the Allied cause.

Strikes Against the Japanese Mainland:
One of the Franklin’s primary missions upon her return was to weaken the Japanese military’s core. Aircraft launched from her decks carried out several aggressive raids against the Japanese homeland, targeting industrial hubs, transportation networks, and military installations.

Cities such as Tokyo, the heart of Japan and a symbol of its imperial might, faced the wrath of Franklin’s air wing. These raids played a dual role: they diminished the Japanese military’s capacity while simultaneously exerting psychological pressure on the Japanese leadership and civilian population.

Supporting the Iwo Jima Invasion:
In addition to her strikes against the Japanese mainland, the USS Franklin played a role in the invasion of Iwo Jima, a strategically located island that the Allies aimed to capture.

The island, situated roughly halfway between Japan and the Mariana Islands, would provide a vital base for further operations against Japan, particularly for B-29 bombers that could now be escorted by fighters. Aircraft from the Franklin offered vital air support to the ground troops, providing cover, executing bombing raids, and scouting for enemy positions. Their efforts greatly aided the Marines on the ground, who faced a fierce and entrenched enemy.

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Disrupting Japanese Operations:
While the direct assaults on military targets were pivotal, the USS Franklin’s air wing also carried out operations aimed at disrupting Japanese logistics and troop movements. These missions targeted railways, shipping routes, and other infrastructure, hampering the enemy’s ability to reinforce their positions or retreat effectively.

The Second Attack

On March 19, 1945, USS Franklin was operating approximately 50 miles off the Japanese coast. As the dawn was breaking and the ship’s crew was preparing for a day of intensive airstrikes against the Japanese homeland, a sudden and unexpected attack shook the vessel to its core.

A Japanese aircraft, believed to be a Yokosuka D4Y ‘Judy’ dive bomber, emerged stealthily from the cloud cover, taking advantage of early morning light and the ship’s focus on launching its own aircraft. The surprise was total. Before the ship’s defenses could react, the enemy plane managed to drop two armor-piercing bombs.

The ship after the attack.

The impact of these explosives was devastating. They struck the flight deck, penetrating deep into the hangar below. This area, loaded with fueled and armed aircraft preparing for the day’s missions, became an inferno. The ensuing explosions were nothing short of catastrophic.

Within moments, the Franklin was engulfed in flames. Fires raged, fueled by aviation gasoline and munitions. Thick, acrid black smoke billowed, making visibility almost impossible and suffocating crew members trapped below decks. The explosions wreaked havoc on the ship’s internal systems, causing a power outage and leaving the Franklin motionless in enemy waters.

The human toll was immense. Over 800 crew members lost their lives that day, and many more sustained severe injuries.

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After the attack, the Franklin sailed back to the U.S. under her own power. She reached New York in April 1945 for repairs.

After The War

Immediately after World War II, the massive task of bringing American servicemen and women home began. Named ‘Operation Magic Carpet’, this mammoth repatriation effort was integral in reuniting thousands with their families.

USS Franklin was repurposed for this noble mission, trading its fighter planes for throngs of soldiers, sailors, and marines eager to touch American soil once again.

USS Franklin approaching New York, 1945.

In 1947, just a few years after its intense combat operations, the Franklin was decommissioned. Though no longer active, the ship continued to serve as a powerful reminder of the sacrifices made and the valor displayed during the Second World War.

For many years, she was part of the Atlantic Reserve Fleet. However, like many vessels of her age, she eventually met her end at the scrapyard in 1966.