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March 19th, 1945 (MONDAY)

GERMANY: Hitler orders a total scorched earth policy on all fronts. This is the "Nero Command", ordering the destruction of all industry, transport links, food supplies and agriculture.

"If the war is lost, the nation will also perish". 

US 7th Army captures Saarlouis. The US 3rd Army reaches Worms.

U-2368 launched. (Dave Shirlaw)

JAPAN: Beginning at 0545 hours, aircraft from the carriers of Task Force 58 begin an attack on Japanese warships in the Kobe and Kure areas. These attacks are in support of the upcoming Okinawa invasion. At least 16 Japanese ships are damaged including the battleship Yamato, aircraft carriers Amagi and Katsuragi and the light aircraft carrier Ryuho. 

At 0708 hours, one hour and 23 minutes after launching a strike force, the aircraft carrier USS Franklin (CV-13, Captain Leslie E, Gehres) had 31 aircraft on her flight deck, five bombers, 14 torpedo planes and 12 fighters. All were loaded with ammunition, fuel, GP bombs and Tiny Tim rockets. A Japanese Yokosuka D4Y Navy Carrier Bomber Suisei (Comet), Allied Code Name "Judy," dove out of the 2,000-foot (610 meter) clouds and drops two 250-kilo (550 pound) semiarmor piercing bombs; one struck the flight deck centreline penetrating to the hangar deck, effecting destruction and igniting fires through the second and third decks and knocking out the combat information centre (CIC). The second hit aft tearing through two decks and fanning fires which triggered ammunition, bombs and rockets. The ship lay dead in the water, took on a 13 degree list to starboard, lost all radio communications, and continued to burn. All interior communications are lost creating confusion among the crew. Some junior officers pass out officers' clothing to enlisted crewmen to help them but this causes additional confusion when these "pseudo" officers begin abandoning ship without orders. Other sailors were blown overboard or forced to abandon ship due to the raging fires. A total of 103 officers and 604 enlisted men voluntarily remained on the ship to fight the fires.

The Franklin lay dead in the water for four hours only 55 miles (89 km) from the coast of Japan. Franklin was taken in tow by the heavy cruiser USS Pittsburgh (CA-72) until she managed to churn up 14 knots and reach Ulithi Atoll in the Caroline Islands. Casualties aboard the ship were 724 killed and 265 wounded.

Two officers were awarded Medal of Honors for their actions on this day. 

The first was the ship's chaplain, Lieutenant Commander Joseph T. O'Callahan, USNR, a Jesuit Priest. According to the citation accompanying the medal, Father O'Callahan "ministered to the wounded and dying, comforting and encouraging men of all faiths; he organized and led fire fighting crews into the blazing inferno on the flight deck; he directed the jettisoning of live ammunition and the flooding of the magazine; he manned a hose to cool hot, armed bombs rolling dangerously on the listing deck, continuing his efforts, despite searing, suffocating smoke which forced men to fall back gasping and imperiled others who replaced them." The second officer was an engineering officer, Lieutenant (jg) Donald Gary. His citation reads, "Stationed on the third deck when the ship was rocked by a series of violent explosions set off in her own ready bombs, rockets, and ammunition by the hostile attack, Lt. (j.g.) Gary unhesitatingly risked his life to assist several hundred men trapped in a messing compartment filled with smoke, and with no apparent egress. As the imperiled men below decks became increasingly panic stricken under the raging fury of incessant explosions, he confidently assured them he would find a means of effecting their release and, groping through the dark, debris-filled corridors, ultimately discovered an escapeway. Staunchly determined, he struggled back to the messing compartment three times despite menacing flames, flooding water, and the ominous threat of sudden additional explosions, on each occasion calmly leading his men through the blanketing pall of smoke until the last one had been saved. Selfless in his concern for his ship and his fellows, he constantly rallied others about him, repeatedly organized and led fire-fighting parties into the blazing inferno on the flight deck and, when firerooms 1 and 2 were found to be inoperable, entered the No. 3 fireroom and directed the raising of steam in one boiler in the face of extreme difficulty and hazard."

(Jack McKillop)

Aircraft carrier USS Enterprise was slightly damaged by Kamikaze aircraft. (Dave Shirlaw)

TERRITORY OF ALASKA: The US Navy commissions a training area at Cold Bay, Aleutian Islands, to train Soviet Naval personnel how to operate surface vessels being transferred to the Soviet Union under Lend-Lease. A total of 138 vessels are transferred and eventually, 15,000 Soviet sailors will be trained to operate them.

U.S.A.: Submarine USS Catfish commissioned. (Dave Shirlaw)

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