Davison's flagship was a proven warrior. On March 18, 1945, Big Ben's planes once again roared down her teak wood flight deck into the skies of the Japanese home islands.Franklin had a new airgroup on board, air group five - the famed Black Sheep Squadron of Gregory "Pappy" Boyington. During the day the air group struck numerous strategic targets and downed eighteen enemy planes.
The Japanese defenders reacted immediately, sending out scores of planes at the task group. Throughout the rest of the day and night Gehres sent men to their battle stations during numerous trumpetings of the general quarters alarms. Hot meals were not prepared during the state of heightened alert; cold sandwiches were passed out to the crew. Throughout the early morning hours of March 19, 1945, the alarms continued to sound. Gunner's mates helping the airgroup break out bombs and rockets on the hangar deck were constantly running back out to their gun posts at the sound of the alarm.
Essex Class Carrier Hangar Deck
Showing Plane Storage and Ordinance Loading
Finally, at 6:10 AM on the 19th, battle stations were secured. Gunner's mate, Floyd Smith, recounted the events of that morning: "Before 7:00 AM we went back up to our berthing compartment. I was already in my bunk, when Ray Milner, who had the bunk right below me came in and asked me to go down to the chow line on the hangar deck with him," the seventy five year old veteran, my father, continued, "I looked up at him and said Ray, I've been breaking out bombs all night. I'm tired. Why don't you just get into your bunk and Joe and I will go down with you later to get something to eat?"
This was unusual for Smith; normally he wouldn't miss a meal for anyone or anything. Milner continued to plead with him to stand in the chow line. Finally, Smith said,"Damn it Ray, if you're that hungry go get yourself something to eat. I'm staying here." Milner left the berthing compartment with two other men. They went down to the hangar deck to stand in the meal line.
A few minutes later Smith was drifting off to sleep, when the shock of a large explosion tore through the ship. He jumped out of his bunk. The gun crew leader, Joe Dodson, jumped out of his bunk at the same time. They thought that one of Big Ben's five inch guns had just fired. They ran to the compartment hatch leading to the hangar deck. The gunners opened the hatch and were met by a solid wall of flame and smoke. Smith slammed the hatch shut and yelled, "God damn, Joe, we can't go that way. The men left by another hatch leading out onto the bow of the ship where their 40 millimeter gunmount was located.
40 Millimeter Bow Mount Shown Above