The Essex-class carrier Franklin has the dubious distinction of being the most severely damaged carrier to survive the damage.
Franklin was commisioned in 1944 and became part of Admiral Marc Mitscher's fast carrier task forces. She participated in the operations winning or neutralizing Eniwetok, the Bonins, the Marianas, off the Palaus and finally, Leyte. On 30 October 1944, days only after her planes had assisted in destroying the Musashi in the Sibuyan Sea and Ozawa's carriers off Cape Engaño, she suffered a bomb hit killing 56 and wounding 60. Her 1944 career was over, and she returned via Ulithi to a ten-weeks refit in the states.
She returned in 1945 to Mitscher's fleet, and participated in the Okinawa campaign and the attacks on the Japanese airfields on Kyushu. It was during this operation that she suffered her grave damage.
It was shortly after 0700 on March 14th that the Japanese caught Mitscher's task forces. With Wasp burning from a single bomb hit, one of the IJN bombers elected Franklin his target. The flattop had just commenced flying off planes for a second attack wave against coastal targets, but only seven planes had succeeded in leaving the deck when two bombs dropped by the Japanese dive-bomber tumbled into the fueled and armed planes on the after portion of Franklin's deck. The same situation had killed four Japanese carriers at Midway, and Franklin looked unsalvageable.
The detonation of the two bombs destroyed both central plane elevators. A fierce fire was ignited aft and on the hangar deck. From deep in the ship, men that had been off-duty and resting barely escaped through the maze of corridors to arrive safely on the bow portion of the flight deck, were heat and smoke were far less intense. Others, especially the engine and steering room gangs, were locked tight in their compartements by fire and safety proceedures. Only with the help of the Second Engineer, who led three hundred of them through ventilation shafts to safety, did they survive.
parties desperately tried to get the fires on the flight and hangar decks
under control, but the loaded armament of the planes, especially rockets,
made it hazardous. Heavy "Tiny Tim" rockets, supposed to be as powerful
as a heavy bomb dropped from a dive-bomber, were ignited by the heat and
streaked across the deck.
Explosions of armament on the hangar deck and the flight deck rocked the ship at a regular basis, and the large amount of fire-fighting water caused a thirteen-degree list to starboard.
The carrier attracted more planes, which were fought off, but Admiral Mitscher did not want undue losses to save a carrier which seemed doomed. He gave permission to abandon ship via blinker, but Captain Leslie Gehres replied: "Hell, we're still swimming!"
The gallantry of Gehres and his men paid dividends. Heavy cruiser Pittsburgh came in front of the stopped carrier at 1400, and lend a tow on the fortunately clear bow of the carrier. Slowly, with the assistance of destroyers, the fires were brough under control. By sundown, most heavy fires had been smothered, and shortly after midnight, the engine room gang had the carrier back at 14 knots and headed for Ulithi. In the burned-out hangar deck and other areas of the ship, 724 men had died. 265 wounded and 1700 unwounded men had been taken on board by other ships, but many of those were transfered back to the carrier, which, together with the damaged Wasp and Enterprise, now formed TG 58.2 for the voyage to safety. Franklin was repaired, with the entire after portion of the hangar and flight deck cut-off and replaced, and would have seen service had the war progressed after the atomic bomb drops.
Pictures to illustrate Franklin's
plight (click to enlarge):