- Historic Sites
Captain Of The Franklin
April 1969 | Volume 20, Issue 3
One of the worst ha/ards, from where I was on tlie bridge, was the Tiny Tim rockets. These tilings were ten feet long, with a warhead capable of penetrating a battleship. There was a supply of Tiny Tims on the fantail and also loaded on five Corsairs, and as the fires spread, the rockets torched oil and came straight up the (light deck. Men were trying to dig foxholes in the deck with their noses. The Tiny Tims took oil in all directions, shot out all over. Those on the hangar deck cut our power and made us dead in the water. They knocked out the forward boilers. One went down to the third deck and stuck in a bulkhead, rocking back and forth. I gave an order: “Leave it alone, don’t touch it.”
Gehres ordered the ship’s ammunition magazines flooded. The valves were opened, but the lines had been severed by explosions and none of the magazines was actually flooded. The ship’s inter-communiciilions system had also been wrecked. The damage-control reports had Io be delivered orally to the bridge: the situation was bleak. Only the water main on the flight (let k was still operating; wounded and dying were everywhere; the Franklin’ s list was approaching fifteen degrees; and she was losing headway every minute. By 10 A.M. she had become a drifting, smoking target, a mere fifty-two miles from the Japanese coast .
Some time during the morning, I’m not quite sure of the time, when the worst of the explosions seemed to have subsided, the Admiral [Davison] came up on the bridge, along with his chief of stall and some other stall officers, and asked if I could get a destroyer alongside to take them off, so he could transfer his flag to the Hancock . The Admiral said he was sorry to leave me under such conditions, but he had to get along with his part in the war. We called in a destroyer and rigged a highline and started sending them off.
Just before he left, the Admiral said he thought it was about time that I abandon ship, and his chief of staff, who had been with me in another command, said to me, “I suggest you abandon her over the starboard bow.” Well, I didn’t think this was any of their damned business, really, because I was in command of the ship. It didn’t seem to me it was necessary at that point to even think of abandoning the ship. She wasn’t sinking, and we were still trying to put the fires out, so I told the Admiral that if he would see to it that we had antisubmarine protection and a combat air patrol, that we’d get the ship out of this as soon as he got off the ship and we could go back to work.
Furthermore, I knew that if we abandoned the ship, the next thing the destroyers with us would be ordered to sock her with torpedoes and sink her. And it was always in my mind what had happened, or was reported to have happened, on the Yorktown , that there were some men down below, trapped in compartments way down in the ship and in communication actually when they hit her with a torpedo to sink her.∗
∗ This version of the sinking of the Yorktown at Midway circulated in the U.S. fleet during World War II, probably for security reasons. Later it was revealed that a Japanese submarine had slipped past the abandoned carrier’s protective screen of destroyers on June 6, 1942, and fired two torpedoes into her already crippled hull. A third torpedo sank the destroyer Hammann , which was alongside supplying power to the salvage party that had rcboarded the ship in an attempt to save her. As a result, the Yorktown was abandoned a second time and sixteen hours later rolled over and sank.
I knew we had a great number of men clown in the spaces below that we hadn’t been able to get out yet, and I was just not about to have them all sent to the bottom with the ship when we still had what seemed a reasonable chance of getting her out of there.
It was still a pretty desperate situation. The Japanese could have gotten us at most any time. My principal concern was to get the wounded off, then get the fires out, and get the remainder of the men up from below and taken care of, and get organized and sec if we couldn’t get out of there.
In the steering compartment aft, far below the water line, five enlisted men had stayed at their posts to steer the ship manually and keep open the sound-powered line to the bridge. They were soon trapped by burning debris. They were finally rescued after .seventeen hours by an assistant navigation officer, Lieutenant (j.g.) Robert Wassman, who spent five hours probing the smoke and fire and flood to find a way to the isolated compartment.
On the third deck, three hundred men had sought a cramped refuge in the crew’s mess, which was surrounded by stores of shells and air bombs. The one source of air was an overboard discharge—an opening in the skin of the ship about the size of a baseball. They were advised to do their praying in silence in order to conserve oxygen.