I have to start this review with a gripe! The USS Franklin has always been an honorable vessel, at no point did it need to prove it’s honor! The USS Franklin is a story that alas most people, particularly young people have never heard of! I couldn’t wait to watch this DVD. What angle would the film makers take? However before I discuss the DVD, let me give you a very brief introduction to the story.

That well known repository of information, Wikipedia has this to say about the USS Franklin:

The USS Franklin (CV/CVA/CVS-13, AVT-8), nicknamed “Big Ben,” was one of 24 Essex-class aircraft carriers built during World War II for the United States Navy, and the fifth US Navy ship to bear the name. Commissioned in January 1944, she served in several campaigns in the Pacific Theater of Operations, earning four battle stars. She was badly damaged by a Japanese air attack in March 1945, with the loss of over 800 of her crew, becoming the most heavily damaged United States carrier to survive the war. Movie footage of the actual attack was included in the 1949 film Task Force starring Gary Cooper.

While I might grudgingly agree with the broad definition, I will fight tooth and nail that the story is far larger.

The new DVD release from Janson Media, USS Franklin: Honor Restored is a must watch. This documentary is a little different from most. I have a friend involved in the publishing business, he uses the term ‘living history’. He only publishes books written by people that had a firsthand knowledge of an event.  Obviously the film makers behind this DVD share those same convictions.

USS Franklin: Honor Restored is a superb marriage of vintage footage and modern interviews with some of the seamen who lived through the gruesome events of March 1945. There have been many documentaries and books written about the USS Franklin, but this is by far the best one I have encountered.

The story of Big Ben as the Franklin was nicknamed is a contentious one. At the time, and indeed decades later ‘finger pointing’ goes on as to exactly what went wrong. How could a single Japanese dive bomber cripple a ‘state of the art’ Aircraft Carrier? Some argue the fault was in the failure to sound General Quarters when radar picked up the intruder. Had they done so, they might have been able to get most of the fuel heavy planes of the flight deck, thus minimizing the effect of the Japanese dive bomber.

There are many twists and turns in the Big Ben story. One of the strangest being sailors accused of ‘desertion’ because they jumped into the cold ocean water to avoid almost certain death from the Fireball that had engulfed the deck.

USS Franklin: Honor Restored is a very unique piece of work. Yes, I am a fan of History, but this DVD goes far beyond just appealing to history buffs. The story of Big Ben and what became known as The Big Ben 704 Club is one that transcends anything out of Hollywood!

You can order your copy of this excellent documentary by using the Amazon link above. USS Franklin: Honor Restored is on the Janson Media label (well worth a browse).

Simon Barrett

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