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Inferno: The Epic Life and Death Struggle of the USS Franklin in World War II

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March 19, 1945 – Off the coast of Japan, the USS Franklin had just launched its aircraft in an attack of the shipping industry in Kobe Harbor when a single enemy aircraft pierced the cloud cover and made a low level run on the ship known as “Big Ben.”

In a matter of seconds, the aircraft’s 250kg bomb would strike the Franklin, piercing the deck and setting off a chain reaction of exploding ordnance and aviation fuel. Afire, listing heavily to starboard, and with over 1,000 killed or wounded, it appeared as if the USS Franklin would find her end among the waters of the Pacific. The events that followed, however, would make the story of Big Ben one of the most dramatic and inspiring in naval history.

Now available in paperback from historian Joseph Springer, Inferno: The Epic Life and Death Struggle of the USS Franklin in World War II tells the heroic tale of the near-miraculous efforts that went into saving the USS Franklin—from the selfless contributions of the hundreds of officers and enlisted men who voluntarily remained onboard to the assistance of the USS Santa Fe in rescuing crewmen from the sea, fighting the fires, and closing in alongside the Franklin to take off the numerous wounded and nonessential personnel.

Told in the survivors’ words, the story of the legendary ship’s arduous journey from Okinawa to the Brooklyn Navy Yard unfolds in harrowing detail. It is a tremendous tale of endurance and seamanship, and unlike any in the proud history of the U.S. Navy.

352 pages, Paperback

First published September 15, 2007

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Joseph A. Springer

2 books4 followers

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Displaying 1 - 13 of 13 reviews
Profile Image for Matt.
197 reviews10 followers
January 11, 2017
Joseph A Springer's Inferno is an oral history of the USS Franklin. His focus is not on the events of March 19th, 1945 exclusively but rather the entire history of the ship. It has a nice pace and the interviews he selected complement each other nicely and reinforce that no two people see an event the same way. Springer takes on the controversy over Captain Leslie Gehres' decision not to call general quarters before the bombing. There was time and it is unclear why Ghres did not call general quarters, many of the crew died while waiting for breakfast. What was refreshing was that Springer focused on crew members for his oral history whose stories may not have been known.

If a reader were to read this book they would be best served by reading Father O'Callahan's I was the Chaplin on the Franklin then Hoehling's The Franklin Comes Home, then Jackson's Lucky Lady with Inferno being the last book. With these four books the reader would get a full picture of the events on the Franklin.
Profile Image for Wurmo.
11 reviews1 follower
August 22, 2011
Throughout my previous Pacific War reading, I had encountered bits and pieces of the USS Franklin's story. The carrier, its crew, and the airmen who took the air from its decks were similar to many other fleet craft in the Pacific during World War II. That is, until tragedy struck "Big Ben" and transformed the massive ship into the scene of one of the most riveting stories of the entire war. Joseph Springer does an wonderful job setting up the story of the Franklin, before letting those who were there tell it. With dozens of interviews from surviving veterans aboard the Franklin, the life-and-death struggle for survival amidst the burning ship comes so vividly to mind. Reading the accounts from these scarred survivors transports you back in time to the fateful day when the rogue Japanese pilot took aim on the Franklin, dropping two armor-piercing bombs perfectly through the ships deck, killing hundreds instantly and setting off a series of explosions and fires that would kill hundreds more and nearly take the ship to the bottom of the ocean. What follows is an edge-of-your-seat account of heroism, betrayal, selflessness, and determination. It truly is one of those stories that can bring a tear to the eye and lift the spirit at the same time.
Profile Image for Jim.
2,736 reviews55 followers
June 3, 2022
An impressive mix of naval history/oral history that chronicles the exploits and horrifying experience of the USS Franklin, which suffered horrendous death and destruction off the coast of Japan in 1944. If I had served in WWII I probably would have wanted to be aboard a ship for the most part, but when things turn bad they could be devastating, and the realities of combat are well detailed herein, both by the author and survivors. I have always been a fan of good oral history. I had to go through inter-library loan to get this, but it was well worth it.
2 reviews
September 20, 2021
I have a family copy of this signed by my late great grandfather who has an excerpt in this book
Profile Image for Jimmie Aaron Kepler.
Author 10 books18 followers
January 2, 2013
Joseph A. Springer sets the standard for how oral histories should be written with "Inferno: The Epic Life and Death Struggle of the USS Franklin in World War II”. You feel as if you are on-board as the story of "Big Ben", the USS Franklin, in World War II unfolds. It is necessary read for anyone who claims to be a World War II history buff.

The book divides into two parts. The ship's change of commanders is the dividing point - Captain Shoemaker's command and Captain Gehres' command. It is a well-structured book. It starts with the specs and construction of "Big Ben". It takes us through the training of the crew and shakedown voyages. We travel through the Panama Canal to San Diego and on to Pearl Harbor laying all the appropriate groundwork along the way.

The author rapidly moves us into naval carrier operations. You are there in the South Pacific for many of the famous battles. You experience Iwo Jima, Peleliu, Luzon, Manila, Leyte, and Honshu.

Mr. Springer takes great care in organizing and selecting interviews. You are in the aircraft cockpits experiencing the words and emotions of the men who lived through the survived the events. The stories are breath taking eyewitness accounts and survival stories. He manages to get you inside the heads of the pilots and ship's crew. You feel the fear and experience the heroism.

The USS Franklin's size and importance led to one of the Navy's first encounters with Japan's Kamikaze attack planes. The suicide pilots delivered terrible damage to "Big Ben" in October 1944 off the Philippines. The damage forced Big Ben back to Bremerton, WA for repairs and a change of command.

In March 1945, "Big Ben" experienced the devastating bomb attack off Honshu, Japan. That attack defined her crews' extraordinary valor. Somehow, they saved the ship. "Big Ben" traveled back to New York. She was rebuilt, but would never be the same.

Mr. Springer makes good arguments to restore the entire crew of the USS Franklin's honor. You learn how the spiteful and hateful actions of her second captain attempted to segregate the crew into two groups. Group one was the sailors and airmen that remained on board during the entire ordeal. Group two was the person who did not stay onboard for the entire ordeal. Unfortunately, Captain Gehres made no differentiation for those who may have been 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. Joseph A. Springer wins the argument that All Hands of the USS Franklin were the real heroes of this gut-wrenching ordeal and fight for survival. This includes those on the rescue vessels.

The book gets my highest rating. It has excellent photographs, maps, illustrations. The reference material at the end of the book will make ever the most critical historian smile. Buy the book. "Inferno: The Epic Life and Death Struggle of the USS Franklin in WWII" is an excellent book.
Profile Image for Greg Frederick.
186 reviews2 followers
October 16, 2015
I must preface this by stating that I am not a history buff, and am not into military stuff. I do have a desire to read some history in the future, as I've learned that the history we were taught in public school is one-sided at best, and completely revisionist at its worst. Also, I'm not anti-military. I'm just anti-pointless wars. U.S. involvement in World War II was right, and so I'm more open to delving into the stories of that era. The reason I read this book is because my dad was born on the day of the disastrous events of March 19, 1945, so I found this book and got it for him. He then told me I should read it because, like me, even though it wasn't really his thing, he found it enthralling.

I can't say enough good things about this book. The author was raised with a strong love for military history, and cares deeply about getting the story straight. This coupled with his writing style of narratives weaving together first-hand accounts from dozens of surviving soldiers makes for an absorbing fast paced read. These men are true heroes, full of courage and humility.

I also have to add that the author, instead of aiming for sensationalism to draw the reader in, focused more on the story of the military men. These guys are on this boat for weeks and months at a time. Of course war is a terrible and heavy thing, but the soldiers need to stay focused on anything else to distract them from the terrible thoughts of what war is and their part in it. Thus, the author seems to have made a conscious choice to focus on these stories, without forcing the soldiers to recount things differently than they prefer to. This makes for a rather lighthearted read even though the subject matter is darkly intense. I believe this made for a more enjoyable read, and stayed true to the story of the soldiers, and what was going on in their lives and in their minds.

I can't recommend this book highly enough, and look forward to reading more works by Springer in the future.
Profile Image for Jo-Ann Murphy.
601 reviews20 followers
November 8, 2011
I won this book through the Goodreads giveaways.

This is a billiant book. I love the arrangement. It is well written and easy to read. The book covers every detail of the USS Benjamin Franklin aircraft carrier from the time it was built to the time it was dismantled. Interspersed with the telling of the overall story are the recollections of surviving crew who served on the ship.

It gives a clear picture of daily ship life and the experiencs of the air squadrons. There are so many details of the minor and major hardships the common citizen does not think about being a part of military life.

I was surrounded by Navy men growing up. I now wish I had asked them about their service in World War II. This book gave me a whole new appreciation for what our service people face and opened my eyes to some of the horrors of one of the worst battles of WWII.

It also made me aware of the abuse we heap upon our own military. While this crew is the most decorated in Naval history, it was also vicim of one of the greatest injustices. Men who were trapped and escaped death or were blown off the ship by the concussion of the blasts that tore through it were labeled deserters, denied combat leave and recognition of their acts of heroism that saved other lives. It was truly a disgraceful end to an inspiring and heroic series of events.

I wish everyone would read this book.
Profile Image for Jim.
4 reviews1 follower
April 23, 2013
A straightforward and sometimes too restrained history of the USS Franklin, a World War II aircraft carrier that was devastated by a kamikaze and then, after lengthy repairs, once again nearly sunk, this time by a single Japanese bomb. Given the inherent drama in the fact that the captain who took command after the first attack first criticized the crew he inherited and then tried to have men under his command court-martialed for jumping overboard during the second successful attack, the narrative could have been – should have been – more riveting. Still, it's a solid exploration of a mostly forgotten story from WWII.
19 reviews
July 1, 2008
I read this book because my Uncle Pat died aboard this ship. I wanted to learn more about him. I now understand a lot more about WWII and its impact on the lives of my parents.
I like the way the book is written, with a lot of background and interspersed with eye witness accounts of the tragedy. The worst tragedy of all is that the captain court martialled all who went overboard and the shame that brought on them for the rest of their lives.
Profile Image for Darren Sapp.
Author 8 books19 followers
June 17, 2014
A massive fire on the flight deck caused by kamikaze attack spreads to other areas of the aircraft carrier USS Franklin. Springer brings to life this account of the third largest naval tragedy of WWII, behind the Arizona and Indianapolis. The format is unusual with insertions of personal accounts sprinkled through each section. It’s similar to Facebook posts with comments underneath.
Profile Image for Mhorg.
Author 8 books9 followers
December 29, 2015
An excellent book

This is the latest in a series of books I've read about carriers in the Pacific. It's also one of the most amazing exhibitions of bravery and savage control ever seen.
3 reviews
Want to read
January 25, 2008
This book contains the story of a gentleman who is our family friend--naturally, it is on my read list.
Displaying 1 - 13 of 13 reviews

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