Benjamin Franklin (1706-90) was born in Boston but moved at an early age to Philadelphia where his countless talents and unlimited energies found expression in successful contributions as a statesman, diplomat, scientist, editor-author, and philosopher. During the Revolution he was appointed American Minister Plenipotentiary to the French Court enabling him to function also as the Navy's representative in Europe. He promoted the plan to bring the war to British shores, supporting Lambert Wickes' spectacular raids and enabling John Paul Jones to perform his daring feats by providing funds, attending to purchases and repairs, and determining questions of authority and discipline. His astute and visionary policies merit for him deserved recognition in the annals of the infant Navy as well as esteem as a founder of the United States. (The first four ships of the name honor Benjamin Franklin; CV-13 perpetuates the names of these ships.)
(CV-13: displacement 27,100 tons; length 872'; beam 93'; extreme width at flight deck 147'6"; draft 28'7"; speed 33 knots; complement 3,448; armament 12 5", 48 40 mm., 57 20 mm.; aircraft 80 plus; catapults 2; class Essex)
The fifth Franklin (CV-13) was laid down on 7 December 1942 at Newport News, Virginia, by Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company; launched on 14 October 1943; sponsored by Lieutenant Commander Mildred A. McAfee, USNR, Director of the WAVES; and commissioned at the Norfolk Navy Yard, Portsmouth, Virginia, on 31 January 1944, Captain James M. Shoemaker in command.
Franklin cruised to Trinidad, British West Indies, for shakedown and soon thereafter departed in Task Group (TG) 27.7 for San Diego, California, to engage in intensive training. In June, she sailed via Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii, for Eniwetok, in the Marshall Islands, where she joined TG 58.2, part of the fast carrier striking force.
On the last day of June 1944, she sortiied for carrier strikes on the Bonins in support of the subsequent assault on the Marianas. Her planes destroyed aircraft on the ground and in the air, as well as pounded gun installations, airfields and enemy shipping. On 4 July, she hurled strikes against Iwo Jima, Chichi Jima and Ha Ha Jima with her planes not only battering shore installations but sinking a large cargo vessel in the harbor and setting three smaller ships afire.
On 6 July she began strikes on Guam and Rota to soften them up for the invasion forces, and continued them until the 21st when she lent direct support to enable the safe landing of the first assault waves. Two days of replenishment at Saipan permitted her to steam in Task Force 58 for photographic reconnaissance and air strikes against the islands of the Palau group. Her planes completed their mission on the 25th and 26th, exacting a heavy toll in enemy planes, ground installations, and shipping. She departed on 28 July en route to Saipan and the following day shifted to TG 58.1.
Although high seas prevented taking on needed bombs and rockets, Franklin proceeded to carry out another raid against the Bonins. The 4th of August bode well, for her fighters launched against Chichi Jima and her dive bombers and torpedo planes against a convoy north of Ototo Jima; they rained destruction against the radio stations, seaplane base, airstrips and ships.
A period of upkeep and recreation from 9 to 28 August ensued at Eniwetok before she departed in company with carriers Enterprise (CV-6), Belleau Wood (CVL-24) and San Jacinto (CVL-30) for neutralization and diversionary attacks against the Bonins. From 31 August to 2 September spirited and productive strikes from Franklin inflicted much ground damage, sank two cargo ships, bagged numerous enemy planes in flight, and accomplished photographic surveys.
On 4 September she replenished at Saipan and steamed in TG 38.4 for an attack against Yap (3-6 September) which included direct air coverage of the Peleliu invasion on the 15th. The group resupplied at Manus Island, in the Admiralty Islands, from 21-25 September.
Franklin, as flagship of TG 38.4, returned to the Palaus where she launched daily patrols and night fighters. On 9 October, she rendezvoused with carrier groups cooperating in air strikes in support of the coming occupation of Leyte. At twilight on the 13th, the Task Group came under attack by four bombers; torpedoes narrowly missed Franklin twice. An enemy plane attempted to crash Franklin, but only succeeded in glancing off the flight deck abaft the island structure; the unsuccessful suicider slid across the deck and into the water on the carrier’s starboard beam, the pilot failing in his attempt to destroy his larger adversary.
Early on the 14th, the fast carriers sent a fighter sweep against Aparri, Luzon, following which Franklin steamed to the east of Luzon to neutralize installations to the east prior to invasion landings on Leyte. On the 15th she came under attack by three enemy planes, one of which scored a bomb hit on the after outboard corner of the deck edge elevator, killing 3 and wounding 22. The tenacious carrier continued her daily operations, however, striking hard at Manila Bay on 19 October when her planes sank a number of ships, damaged many, destroyed a floating drydock, and bagged 11 planes.
During the initial landings on Leyte (20 October) her aircraft hit surrounding airstrips, and launched search patrols in anticipation of the approach of a reported enemy attack force. On the morning of 24 October, in the Battle of the Sibuyan Sea, her planes formed part of the waves that attacked the Japanese “First Raiding Force” (Vice Admiral Takeo Kurita), in so doing helping to sink Japanese superbattleship Musashi south of Luzon, and damage battleships Fuso and Yamashiro, and sink destroyer Wakaba. As further enemy threats materialized in another quarter, Franklin, with TGs 38.4, 38.3, and 38.2 sped to intercept the advancing Japanese carrier force and attack at dawn. Franklin's strike groups combined with those from the other carriers on 25 October in the Battle off Cape Engano to damage the carrier Chiyoda (she would be sunk by American cruiser gunfire subsequently) and sink the small carrier Zuiho.
Retiring in her task group to refuel, she returned to the Leyte action on 27 October, her planes concentrating on a heavy cruiser and two destroyers south of Mindoro. She was underway about 1,000 miles off Samar on 30 October when enemy bombers appeared, bent on a suicide mission. Three doggedly pursued Franklin, the first plummeting off her starboard side; the second hitting the flight deck and crashing through to the gallery deck, showering destruction, killing 56 and wounding 60; the third discharging another near miss at Franklin before diving into the flight deck of the small carrier Belleau Wood. Both carriers retired to Ulithi for temporary repairs and Franklin proceeded to Puget Sound Navy Yard, Bremerton, Washington, arriving 28 November 1944 for repairs to her battle damage.
She departed Bremerton on 2 February 1945 and after training exercises and pilot qualification joined TG 58.2 for strikes on the Japanese homeland in support of the Okinawa landings. On 15 March she rendezvoused with Task Force 58 units and three days later launched sweeps and strikes against Kagoshima and Izumi on southern Kyushu.
Before dawn on 19 March 1945, Franklin, Captain Leslie E. Gehres, commanding, 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 air plot. The second hit aft, tearing through two decks and fanning fires that triggered ammunition, bombs, and rockets. 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 had been blown overboard, driven off by fire, or had been killed or wounded, but the 106 officers and 604 enlisted who voluntarily remained on board 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 Lieutenant Commander Joseph T. O'Callahan, ChC (SJ) USNR, the ship's Roman Catholic chaplain, who emerged “as a soul-stirring sight. He seemed to be everywhere,” an eyewitness recounted later, “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.” Lieutenant (junior grade) Donald A. Gary also emerged a hero, calming anxious men seemingly trapped in a smoke-filled compartment. After finding an exit after repeated attempts, he 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. Both men subsequently received Medals of Honor for their bravery; ships were also named for them. Light cruiser Santa Fe (CL-60) similarly rendered vital assistance in rescuing crewmen from the sea and closing Franklin to take off the numerous wounded.
Franklin was taken in tow by heavy cruiser Pittsburgh (CA-72) but she managed to work up to 14 knots and ultimately reach Pearl Harbor, where a cleanup job permitted her to proceed under her own power to the United States, ultimately reaching Brooklyn, New York, on 28 April. Following the end of the war, Franklin was opened to the public for Navy Day celebrations in October 1945, and on 17 February 1947 was placed out of commission at Bayonne, New Jersey.
While Franklin lay “mothballed” at Bayonne, never returning to active service, she was redesignated to an attack aircraft carrier (CVA-13) on 1 October 1952, to an antisubmarine warfare support carrier (CVS-13) on 8 August 1953 and, ultimately, to an aircraft transport (AVT-8) on 15 May 1959. She was struck from the Naval Vessel Register on 1 October 1964.
Although the Navy initially sold the ship to Peck Iron and Metal Company, Portsmouth, Virginia, it re-possessed her due to an urgent Bureau of Ships requirement for the use of her four turbo-generators. Ultimately, however, she was sold, for scrapping, to Portsmouth Salvage Company, Chesapeake, Virginia, on 27 July 1966. She departed naval custody under tow (Red Star Towing Company) on the evening of 1 August 1966.
Franklin received four battle stars for her World War II service.
15 April 2004