Inferno: The Epic Life And Death Struggle Of The Uss Franklin In World War Ii

  • ISBN13: 9780760329825
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  • Manufacturer: Zenith Press
Known throughout the fleet as "Big Ben," the USS Franklin was christened for the legacy of the four prior U.S. Navy ships named after Benjamin Franklin. The Franklin was a creation of World War II, one of twenty-four Essex-class fast carriers built during the conflict, forming the backbone of the U.S. Navy's war against Japan. By the time the war had moved to Okinawa in the spring of 1945, "Big Ben" had already seen substantial combat, having participated in the island campaigns of the central and western Pacific and the Battle for Leyte Gulf in the Philippines, where she sustained heavy damage from the new and deadly Japanese kamikaze.

On March 19, 1945, the Franklin was launching her aircraft against Honshu, the Japanese mainland, including the shipping industry in Kobe Harbor. Suddenly, a single enemy aircraft pierced the cloud cover and made a low level run on the ship, striking it with a 250kg bomb which pierced the deck and set off a chain reaction of exploding ordnance and aviation fuel. The aircraft carrier, now on fire, listing heavily to starboard, and with over 1,000 casualties, appeared to be mortally wounded. Inferno tells the heroic tale of the efforts that saved "Big Ben." It is a tremendous story of endurance and seamanship, told in harrowing detail in the survivors' own words. Inferno makes for gripping reading.

Customer Reviews

The Harrowing True Story of "Big Ben", January 4, 2008
By Jeffrey T. Munson

In this exciting book, author Joseph A. Springer tells the tale of the USS Franklin and her fight to survive against the Japanese.

"Big Ben" was one of over twenty Essex-class aircraft carriers built during World War II. Measuring over 800 feet long and carrying 90+ aircraft, Big Ben and her sister ships had brought the war right to Japan's doorstep by the early spring of 1945. The Franklin had served in numerous campaigns since her commissioning, earning a remarkable battle record along the way.

In March, 1945, the Franklin and the rest of the Big Blue Fleet were poised less than 60 miles from Japan. Franklin's planes were assigned to bomb airfields suspected of housing kamikaze aircraft. The Franklin had a run-in with a kamikaze the previous fall which resulted in the loss of many men and necessitated her return to the mainland for repairs. While undergoing refit, the Franklin received a new captain, Leslie Edward Gehres. He was a by-the-book captain who regularly belittled his crew. The crew members took an immediate dislike to Gehres, and this only grew worse as time went on.

On March 19, 1945, a single Japanese Judy dive bomber weaved through the intense flak put up by the Americans and dropped a single bomb square on the deck of the Franklin. During the next twenty-eight hours, the Franklin fought for her life as huge explosions racked the ship. Hundreds of men were killed and many were blown off the ship due to the raging fires. There were numerous acts of heroism and gallantry as the crew fought to save the ship. The light cruiser USS Santa Fe moved alongside the Franklin to assist with the firefighting as well as evacuating the wounded.

Finally, the ship's fires were brought under control and a tow line was rigged between the Franklin and the heavy cruiser USS Pittsburgh. The Franklin was towed out of harm's way until she could steam on her own. In the end, the Franklin was able to steam all the way back to New York for repairs. But, 798 men were killed and 487 wounded in this terrible attack. Captain Gehres threatened to court-martial the men who had left the ship, including the ones who were blown over the side. He made up little cards and distributed them to the men who had remained on the ship. He also refused to let the survivors who left the ship sail back to the United States aboard the Franklin.

This is an excellent book. What makes the book so good is the oral histories provided by the surviving crew members. These brave men give the reader a vivid picture of what it was like to serve on the Franklin. They also pulled no punches in describing their dislike of captain Gehres. The best part was the survivors' description of the dive bombing attack and how they banded together to save the ship.

I give this book my highest recommendation. Oral histories are the best way to really learn about an event, and Joseph Springer has used the oral histories contained in this book to paint a picture of what it was really like to serve on a fleet carrier in World War II. The interwoven text provided by Springer is informative as well. World War II history fans will definitely enjoy this fine book.

Big Ben Lives On., November 8, 2007
By Dennis Thomas

You watched the PBS documentary, The War, from Ken Burns which purportedly was an oral history depicting WWII from the soldier-level point of view. It was a fine attempt but fell short of the goal in comparison to Joseph A. Springer's Inferno as he takes us on board the USS Franklin (a.k.a Big Ben) and into battle with the sailors and airmen who fought for our freedom. The reader benefits from a reduction in scope from global conflict to one in which a sailor blown overboard cannot see beyond the next ocean swell. From this perspective, one can begin to understand the war in a personal way.

A well-crafted book, we are taken "from the keel, up" as Inferno begins with Big Ben's specifications and construction as well as crew training and shake down. After laying the proper groundwork, the book quickly moves the reader into naval operations as a fast fleet carrier, dealing death and destruction along a vast swath of the South Pacific including many famous battlegrounds; Iwo Jima, Peleliu, Luzon, Manila, Leyte, and Honshu. In carefully organized interviews, we are taken into the cockpits and gun turrets of dive-bombers, torpedo planes and fighter aircraft in the words of the men who were actually there. Riveting action reports, aircrew survival stories and eyewitness bomb damage assessments make it seem as if we are inside the minds of the frightened, but brave young men risking their lives to do their duty.

Inferno notes that aircraft carriers were high-value targets commanding the special attention of Japanese aviators who flew through the Battle Group to zero in on flattops. Big Ben's size and importance led to one of the the Navy's first encounters with Japan's Divine Wind - their suicide Kamikaze attack planes - where they delivered a severe blow to the Franklin off of the Philippines in October 1944. This first successful attack by the Kamikaze forced Big Ben back to Bremerton, WA for repairs. Call it fate or bad luck, but this was not to be the last time that she would taste the sting of battle and catastrophic damage. A few short months later in March 1945, she would experience the near-fatal bomb attack off of Honshu that would define her crews' courage and valor as they saved the ship and brought her back to New York where she was nearly rebuilt - but never the same.

The book strives to restore honor to the entire crew as the vindictive actions of a misguided captain attempted to segregate the crew into the Big Ben 704 Club - those sailors and airmen that remained on board during the entire ordeal - and those who did not; even if they were blown overboard by exploding ordnance, forced off due to flames and heat, removed to a rescue vessel as a result of injury or simply because they were ordered to abandon ship. Springer's Inferno makes it clear that All Hands of the U.S.S. Franklin, and those on the rescue vessels, were the real heroes of this heart-rending struggle.

First class photos, maps, illustrations and an information-packed Addendum lend clarity to the story and help to hold the many details together in a concise and compelling manner. If you are ready for a hard-to-put-down book, Inferno: The Epic Life and Death Struggle of the USS Franklin in WWII should be on your Christmas list.

So you think you know about WWII..., October 17, 2007
By Mary Roach "Lady Bug"

Okay, Boomers, you saw Saving Private Ryan, and you think you know just how bad WWII could be? That was war in Europe, that was the Army. There was also the war in the Pacific and the BlueJackets. The boys in the Navy, you know, the ones that had the cushy assignments: 3 hots and a bunk.

This book is a must read for anyone who fancies themselves WWII history buff, but really it's a great read for anyone, it's so well written and so compelling. It's an oral history, so a great deal of the material is told in the words of the men who were there. Springer has a perfect ear for capturing just the right material from his interviews to move his story forward and yet still capture the flavor of the real deal. He's also not afraid to put conflicting accounts justaposed, which ironically gives it more credibility (fog of war). He also puts in just the right amount of his own prose to give the reader the historical context. There are also excellent diagrams, maps and appendices to provide more detail.

The other thing any reader needs to know before purchasing is that this is a very specific account of life (and death) aboard the USS Franklin, it's not and does not try to be a history of the war in the Pacific. I have no clue why Amazon is suggesting patton, italy or eisenhower as tags.

It's a wonderful account of the truly astounding acts of bravery of the younger members of "the Greatest Generation" in their own words, captured thankfully before we lose these precious people to the winds of time. It's also an account of the incredible and intractable ego of their commander, which led to the devastation of the Franklin in the first place. Ego can be a great thing in a leader but it can also lead to stupidly irrational 'reasoning', and truly disastrous results, as demonstrated here.

A minor regret: I wish someone (anyone) who thought Gehres was a good leader (Springer states there were many) would have gone on the record with some detail as to why they felt that way. It would have made the story more complete in my mind. Who were these people and why did they feel that way? I can accept that somebody would be a good leader in peace but not in war, or that a commander would be a good leader on a cruiser or a battleship but not on a carrier, or that he had managed to control his ego previously, but as he got older, it raged out of control. I just wish I knew what the case was here. In any case, Springer certainly makes his case that Gehres was a catastrophe leading the Franklin.

Most of all, the book truly proves at all levels, large and small, that individuals matter, even (or perhaps especially) in the military. I can't wait to get Springer's The Black Devil Brigade: The True Story of the First Special Service Force in World War II

A welcome addition to naval and World War II history shelves., November 3, 2007
By Midwest Book Review

Retired Aircraft Weapons Specialist of the United States Air Force Joseph A. Springer presents Inferno: The Epic Life and Death Struggle of the USS Franklin in World War II, the true story of the aircraft carrier USS Franklin (CV-13), known throughout the fleet as "Big Ben". One of twenty-four Essex-class fast carriers built during World War II and formed the backbone of the U.S. Navy during the war against Japan, Big Ben participated in island campaigns of the central and western Pacific, the Battle for Leyte Gulf in the Philippines, and strikes against Honshu and Kobe Harbor. Big Ben suffered casualties from the dreaded Japanese kamikaze, and was nearly sunk by a 250-kilogram bomb that set off a chain reaction of exploding aviation fuel and ordnance. Though Big Ben appeared mortally wounded and endured severe loss of life - a loss that would have been even greater if not for the heroism of the remaining crewmembers and the efforts of the USS Santa Fe to take the wounded to safety. A gripping true story of bravery and sacrifice, featuring the words of men who served aboard "Big Ben" as well as a handful of black-and-white photographs. A welcome addition to naval and World War II history shelves.

A Great Story, not to be forgotten., April 13, 2008
By craig brammer

For 5 years, I served as a Docent on the U.S.S. Hornet, CV 12 in Alameda, California. This museum ship, sister of CV 13 Franklin, is open to visitors who care to see what these ships were about. In my Engine Room tour, taking 20 visitors down to bottom of the ship for an hour, I would spend some 10 minutes telling the story of the Franklin. As often as not, there would be tears. In the Forward Engine Room, at the bottom of the main control panel, there is mounted a control box with the brass label CV13, originally from the Franklin.

A.A. Hoehling had written The Franklin Comes Home, a good book that earned it BlueJacket Navy. Inferno was much richer in its read and the human elements. Highly recomended.

With all of the WW2 men rapidly dying off, it is not likely that we'll get the stories of most of the other Essex Carriers. Each fought the war from its own unique perspective and accomplishments. Thank you Mr. Springer for telling this story. As a high school teacher, our students have no sense of reality or proportionality about war, gallantry, and 1,000 men dying in less than an hour. It's here, in this book.

A splendid story well told, October 1, 2008
By Barrett Tillman

Joseph Springer has emerged as an accomplished WW II historian. Following his Special Service Force history with the gripping story of USS Franklin, he demonstrates an impressive mastery of the field.

Two aspects of Inferno that particularly impress me are the excellent integration of multiple oral histories in describing the same event(s), and the historiography inherent to the CV-13 story. For decades the incomplete accounting of "Big Ben's" casualties was accepted as final, but Springer clearly demonstrates how the erroneous figure of 724 KIAs was compiled and not re-examined. (In truth, nearly 800 Franklin men lost their lives in the conflagration of 19 March 45.)

There's also the intensely human story of the wretched relationship between new skipper Captain Gehres and his mostly veteran crew--a genuine HMS Bounty tale moved forward to mid 20th century. For that reason alone, Inferno serves as a study in command failure. Even a cursory reading of the multiple accounts leaves no doubt: Big Ben was saved by the efforts of numerous small teams of sailors devoted to their shipmates, who received almost no constructive leadership from the CO.

How Gehres rose to so important a command--he was the only non-Annapolis officer to conn a fast carrier in WW II--would make interesting reading. The behind-the-scenes maneuverings in the Navy Department may be unknowable at this late date, but Adm. Nimitz had been dissatisfied with Gehres' performance in the Aleutians 1942-44. However, other than that, and a few minor errors, Inferno delivers a comprehensive "black gang" to aviator look at the men who lived one of the most dramatic events of WW II at sea.

From a FRANKLIN relative, October 18, 2007

As a relative of a survivor of the FRANKLIN, I would say this is a fantastic book. I think I have just about everything written on the FRANKLIN except the battle reports as well as over 300 volumns on the Pacific champaigh having studied it for twenty years. I have also met many of the crewman qouted in the book. The coverage of the first cruise is unique not having been covered previously. This gives such a realistic and personnal touch. The details are forthright and reflect the actual conditions. As to a "Pro-Gehers" opinion, there is a man from Capt.Gehers' home town who is suppose to be writing the captain's biography. I agree holdhartedly with the previous review.

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