Afire and listing after she was hit by a Japanese air attack while operating off the coast of Japan, 19 March 1945. Photographed from USS Santa Fe (CL-60), which was alongside assisting with firefighting and rescue work. Official U.S. Navy Photograph.

65 years ago today:

Before dawn on 19 March 1945 the U.S.S. Franklin, who had maneuvered closer to the Japanese mainland than had any other U.S. carrier during the war, launched a fighter sweep against Honshu and later a strike against shipping in Kobe Harbor.

Suddenly, a single enemy plane pierced the cloud cover and made a low level run on the gallant ship to drop two semi-armor piercing bombs. One struck the flight deck centerline, penetrating to the hangar deck, effecting destruction and igniting fires through the second and third decks, and knocking out the combat information center and airplot.

The second hit aft, tearing through two decks and fanning fires, which triggered ammunition, bombs and rockets. The Franklin, within 50 miles of the Japanese mainland, lay dead in the water, took a 13° starboard list, lost all radio communications, and broiled under the heat from enveloping fires. Many of the crew were blown overboard, driven off by fire, killed or wounded, but the 106 officers and 604 enlisted who voluntarily remained saved their ship through sheer valor and tenacity. The casualties totaled 724 killed and 265 wounded, and would have far exceeded this number except for the heroic work of many survivors.

Among these were Medal of Honor winners, Lieutenant Commander Joseph T. O’Callahan, S. J., USNR, the ship’s chaplain, who administered the last rites, organized and directed firefighting and rescue parties, and led men below to wet down magazines that threatened to explode, and Lieutenant (junior grade) Donald Gary who discovered 300 men trapped in a blackened mess compartment, and finding an exit, returned repeatedly to lead groups to safety. The U.S.S. Santa Fe (CL-60) similarly rendered vital assistance in rescuing crewmen from the sea and closing the Franklin to take off the numerous wounded.

The Franklin was taken in tow by the U.S.S. Pittsburgh until she managed to churn up speed to 14 knots and proceed to Pearl Harbor where a cleanup job permitted her to sail under her own power to Brooklyn, N.Y., arriving on 28 April.

The crew of the USS Franklin are having their reunion this week in Branson, MO. Please feel free to leave them a note in the comments section.

For more images of that fateful day, click here.

Posted by Jim Dolbow in History, Navy

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  • YNSN

    “I represent the fighting spirit of the Navy, and those who have gone before me to defend freedom and democracy around the World”

    The FRANKLIN is but one example of why those words mean something.
    I’ll never forget the legacy those Sailors left for me.

  • Ed Conant

    My uncle, RD2 James Walter Conant of Jackson Michigan was killed on the Franklin. Given that CIC was wiped out, he may have been on watch when the forward bomb hit. My brother was named after him, and served as a Marine in Viet Nam, and then became a policeman, fireman, and owned a small business. If any of the crew knew my Uncle Jim, I’d be interested in hearing about him.


    Ed Conant, CDR, USN (RET)
    5 Stargrass Retreat
    Savannah GA 31411

  • Elizabeth Hagan Gove

    My Dad was on the USS Franklin he was a gunner on the plane his name is Thomas Joseph Hagan. If anyone knew of him I would love to hear of any information that you could pass on. He was a survivor, but has now died due to cancer.

  • Paul Warbington

    My great uncle John Thomas Sutton was a survivor as well. He passed away in 1995. I would love to hear if anyone knew of him.