DIVE BOMBER HITS THE FRANKLIN
Okinawa Operation March 18-20, 1945
Although we were supposed not to keep a diary during those war times, Joe Meredith (Lt. Meredith) secretly jotted down these recollections from time to time and put them away in his desk safe. Yea later he was happy he did and shared them with the rest of us. Here are some of them:
I came out on the bridge this morning to take the deck for the 8‑12 watch, feeling tired because of last night's GQ, but wonderfully relaxed too. The sky, all creamy‑colored, and the sea, were quiet, almost like some of those mornings off New Guinea. The breeze was light, and in order to launch aircraft the task group had to make high speed toward the rising sun. Bathed in the warm air, hatless, I said to Campau, to Sweeney, to myself, "What a beautiful morning!"
One would never know that we were in waters sacred to Imperial Japan, a half‑day's sail from the Inland Sea, sixty minutes from sixty airfields. Since dawn, the snoopers had gone away, but we were still steaming in a tight anti‑aircraft formation, with a cruiser slicing superbly along a stone's throw off our bow, and a can on our port quarter.
Suddenly the voice on the radio squawked, "Hello Albert, this is Casey (a carrier). Lookouts report a twin engine bomber zero nine zero, over." There was no amplification. I told out lookouts to be doubly alert. About three minutes later, as I watched the sky near Casey, l heard the captain run into the pilot house and yell over the transmitter, 'Plane diving on Delaware! (The Franklin). Delaware, and another carrier, was just then launching planes. I reached into the other side of the bridge in time to see her guns spitting, and a solitary puff of black smoke up against the belly of a large cloud overhead. The twisting and turning‑‑the plane.
"There he comes," yelled Sweeney. I passed the word to the guns but knew there were not enough precious seconds for them to get on target, even ignoring the rule for firing safe bearings. All of the guns of the carrier couldn't stop him, coming down. With cool detachment, the air crews launched two more planes. Then it hit, and a silence of horror lasted the full eight seconds it took for the sound of the explosion to reach us, while during that time a gray‑black balloon of solid smoke billowed from the flight deck, encompassing the island, swelling beyond and above, with the guns still flashing through it, and now and then even more flashes.
The sound, when it came, cracked and roared like thunder.
I had pulled the general alarm, and by the time Underhill came up to relieve me and I had told him what I knew, the big ship had swung to starboard. The hangar deck was solid with flame from stem to stern like a hot furnace.
I ran down the ladder to my station in CIC but there was nothing to do down there. No bogies. Nothing to shoot at. The incredible had been done by one silly yellow man, and now our own men were dying as I stood there and we all stood there. The carrier started blowing up. I went out after a half hour and watched her on the horizon astern of us. Orange fire making black smoke, incredible hunks of debris ripped from the floating carcass spiraling through the air. The detonation of her biggest bombs. The agonies of trapped sailors.
I didn't know whether to cry or vomit, but I went back to my station and hung on and after a while I got control of myself, but I couldn't say anything to the men except to let them go out and look too.
I would never have thought I would look upon a carrier as a beautiful ship. But in the past months, seeing them cast their birds into the wind, cities of ocean might, with bow waves sculptured smooth as broken glass‑‑and now seeing one tortured and dying‑‑I know they are beautiful.
I didn't think I could get all this down before the Japs came out again.
Delaware (code name for FRANKLIN) still floats! Yesterday afternoon we spent blocking raids headed for her. One other task group and ours took the brunt, and I understand another ship has been hit, but not badly. We have stemmed back and forth through miles of smoke‑hazed air between the cripple and the Jap, and now we're all headed south at eighteen knots, and I mean the Delaware too. I don't know by what miracle it was accomplished; the word came that she had reduced list and got under way about 7600. She's still out of sight, pushing on ahead of us.
So far the raids haven't been bad. What a miserable air force the Japs have!"
More Meredith Recollections:
The raids never did get up to snuff. They came in on us one, two, three at a time, and we kept batting them down. The POTTER got two, one of them a Frances, about an hour ago. Since we're at their extreme bomber range now, that should be the last.
This Frances horsed around at fifty miles for some time without being intercepted. Suddenly he started pouring in at about 250 knots, straight as a homing pigeon. We opened fire with the five‑inch at about ten thousand yards, but our shots were to the left, for some reason. He kept coming, and the cruiser next to us opened up. No good. We have a little indicator in CIC which shows the range and bearing of the target according to gun‑control, and for the benefit of the radar boys I read this out loud. If ever there was a good target this was it. "Eight thousand, coming right in, seven thousand," I said. One of the men started jumping up and down with excitement. "Six thousand, lets go! Five thousand!" We had done our job and now all we had to do was wait for the cry. "We got him!"
But the indicator keeps reeling down‑‑four thousand, three thousand. The 40 millimeters were pounding their little hearts out now, and the 20s joined in with a defiant staccato. The sound of exploding five‑inch shells from the other ships was dangerously close. And the Frances kept coming.
I looked at the indicator again. It was jerking at the one thousand mark. "Where is he now, bridge?" I couldn't help asking.
"Hell, he's flying right over us, Mr. Meredith," said the talker. A rush of men in the passageway told me the damage control team was taking shelter. Then an explosion jarred the ship, fueling almost but not quite the same as a salvo from guns 4 and S.
Missed us!" said a lookout. Meanwhile the 40s still pumped away, the Frances began to wobble, and failing to hit the small carrier on our other side, fell into the sea.
Everybody by now has made the rounds of the ship to look at the shrapnel holes, and kidded the snipe who had his leg creased by a little hunk. They say the plane looked as big as a B‑52 and had a beautiful paint job. Oh, well.‑‑‑
The task groups have been sufficiently shuffled around, and we are able to escort Delaware into Ulithi. Everybody fueled today; the sea and the air are serene.
This morning we had to go alongside Delaware to deliver a short‑wave radio. She still lists a little, and probably steers crankily, so our skipper was more cautious than usual coming up astern. Among the terrible blacked ruins that became more clear as we approached were spots in the steel which had been white hot but were now the color of ashes. The air drifting down toward us reeked of stale smoke and burned human flesh. I think our whole crew turned out topside to greet the few men on the carrier. Just as we got alongside, a tiny band in a still intact spot of the hangar deck broke into a Sousa march. We all waved and smiled, and after they had finished, by God the Potter turned out some real cheers.
Captain Pancoast said, "Ask 'em if they need anything else." A signalman, using his hands for semaphores, relayed the message. The skipper of the flat‑top, who had been beaming down on us from his bridge, yelled over a megaphone, "Can you spare us a piano and a couple of Waves?"
We couldn't but were able to supply some odds and ends of tackle they needed. We then pulled away, the crews yelling inanities at each other as long as the sound would carry.