Above, USS Randolph under construction in Newport News

USS Randolph: The most famous aircraft carrier nobody heard of

From the carnage of Pearl Harbor aircraft carriers rose to rule the sea. US Presidents, in time of foreign crisis ask, "where are the carriers?" These great warships stand ready to assert American might in times of war, peace, and humanitarian relief.

The names of aircraft carriers are etched in naval history; Enterprise, Yorktown, America, Lexington, Essex, Independence, Hornet, Nimitz, Saratoga, etc. However, USS Randolph is forgotten. In fact, the name has not been passed to another warship. Even the Randolph's namesake lies in virtual obscurity. Four aircraft carriers were christened after founding fathers; USS Franklin, USS Hancock, USS George Washington, and USS Randolph. Three of the four founders are titular figures in American history, while Peyton Randolph has faded from the national consciousnesses -- much like the ship that bears his name.

USS Randolph plowed the seven seas for a quarter of a century, quietly intersecting with history throughout. I have a biased interest with Randolph. You see, my father, Eugene Santos, called this ship home during World War II.

 

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Below, USS Randolph commissioning on October 9, 1944

The Pacific Ocean covers 30 percent of the Earth's surface, approximately 60 million square miles. From late 1941 to 1945, the Empire of Japan and the United States savagely fought for control of the Pacific. To project American power, in the world's largest arena, the US Navy employed aircraft carriers, specifically the Essex-class -- easily the greatest class of naval warship ever built. For the first time opposing fleets would not come in sight of each other. Airplanes roamed the Pacific raining destruction on enemy shipping, planes, troop concentrations, and supplies. These planes launched from, and returned to floating airbases which moved throughout the Pacific. Twenty-four Essex carriers were built. Of these, fourteen saw combat in World War II. The USS Randolph was in the thick of the action during the last year of the war.

A ship is an inanimate object forged out of cold steel. When a crew is placed on-board, the ship, maliciously, becomes a living thing. Eugene Santos (working in the supply department) was one of the sailors who brought the Randolph to life. This, forever, made him a "plank-owner" of the ship.

Aircraft carriers are given the designation of "CV" by the US Navy. The Randolph was the fifteenth carrier ordered. Consequently her hull number was CV-15. She was built by the Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company in Virginia, and commissioned on October 9, 1944. Randolph became the first US warship sailing directly into combat, after shakedown, without returning to the yard for refitting.

The first pages of Randolph's glorious history preserved in the ship's log. On October 9, 1944 Randolph is officially commissioned into the US Navy

 
 

JAMBOREE:Going to War

Operation Jamboree was the first carrier airstrike on the Japanese homeland since the famed Doolittle raid, three years earlier. It was also Randolph's inaugural combat action. On February 16, 1945, a detachment of Task Force 58, concealed by poor weather, raced to within 60 miles of Japan. The distinctly striped tails of Randolph's Hellcats, Avengers, and Helldivers  attacked aircraft factories, airfields and naval bases. It's less than seven months since the ship's launching -- a feat thought impossible. After two days Randolph and the detachment joined the fleet at Iwo Jima to support US Marines during the invasion.

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Upper left: F6F Hellcats catapulting from Randolph. Upper right: Randolph in a hard port turn. Lower left: A battle damaged TBM Avenger ditches alongside Randolph. The crew scurries out of the sinking bomber. Lower right: Randolph with fleet off Iwo Jima, Feb 28, 1945.

 

The Flag Ship

Since the days of sail, crews coveted the distinction of serving as the flag ship. Admiral Marc Mitscher raised his flag on the Randolph on May 15, 1945. The Pacific war was now being prosecuted from the Randolph's bridge. However, rather than pride, the crew succumbed to another age-old naval tradition: superstition. In the previous three days the flag ships, Bunker Hill and Enterprise, were blown up from under Mitscher's feet. The Randolph seafarers saw the Admiral as jinxed. Their worries proved for naught. While other carriers off Okinawa were torpedoed, bombed, and kamikazed, Randolph was unscathed despite being under daily attack.

From April 4 to May 31, Randolph's engines were constantly running as the ship amassed an amazing 25,000 miles of travel -- the equivalent of sailing around the Earth.

 
 

The Final Push to Japan

Attacking Japan in June. Randolph's aircraft raided airfields, and naval bases. Remaining active off Japan until receiving word of the Japanese surrender on August 15. Randolph's gunners and aircraft destroyed 143 Japanese airplanes in the air, another 160 on the ground, and 87,000 tons of shipping.

 

Steel Diplomat

Since the age of wooden vessels, the US Navy served as a quasi-diplomat, bringing American values and aid to distant shores. After the conflagration of World War II, the fleet returned to its diplomatic mission. There was a genuine concern of Communism spreading from Eastern Europe to the rim of the Mediterranean. The Navy concluded that 'show the flag' exercises and humanitarian aid would bolster governments in the region. Randolph's first post-war cruise, in 1946, sent the ship into the Mediterranean, visiting Italy, Greece, Turkey, and Lebanon. The war ravaged people came out in droves to get a glimpse of the carrier. Deployments like these by Randolph and other capital ships reaffirmed America's leadership in global dynamics, and peacefully prevented a Communist takeover of the Mediterranean. However, in the post-war era a 6,700-ship navy is unaffordable. On February 25, 1948, Randolph was decommissioned, but sleeps lightly because a troubled world will call her back.

Map from Randolph's 1946 cruise book

The reception to Randolph in Turkey was overwhelming. Hordes crowded the waterfront, while the media reported widely on the carrier's visit.

USS Randolph in Portsmouth, England, during 1947 call. Essex-class carriers were normally the most prestigious vessels in port. However, during this visit, Randolph relinquished that honor to the small wooden sailing ship at left, which is non other than HMS Victory -- flagship of the Battle of Trafalgar.

The Japanese signed the surrender on September 2 aboard the Battleship Missouri in Tokyo Bay. While some 250 allied warships participated in the surrender ceremony, Randolph steamed in open waters to provide an umbrella over the fleet in case of a sneak attack. At right, British destroyer HMS Urchin crosses the bow of Randolph in August of 1945, off Japan.

Randolph returned to Norfolk, VA on October 15. The carrier traded her airplanes for bunk beds in the hangar deck. The "Magic Carpet" missions sent the ship twice to Naples, Italy to bring back troops. For the first time the crew of the Randolph saw the ravages of war up close. The Italians were homeless, starving, and dispirited. The landscape was apocalyptic -- the images would haunt my father. At right, Randolph at Naples November, 23-24, 1945.

August 15, 1945, Captain Jackson Tate, who replaced Felix Baker as Randolph's commander weeks earlier, reads the announcement of the Japanese surrender. The war which killed 60 million was over. The crew of the Randolph reacts jubilantly.

Not Again

Above, USS Randolph burns after P-38 crash -- seen from USS Texas

June 7, 1945: the fleet temporarily retires from the war zone -- off the Philippines for replenishment. Randolph peaceful rides anchor as tank landing craft LCT-832 loads ammunition into her cargo hold. Seaman Santos is on deck watching a US Air Force Lockheed P-38 Lightning stunt flying over the fleet. Overcome by a sense of foreboding, he retreats below deck. The P-38 loses control and slams into Randolph's forward deck, killing thirteen sailors and destroying 10 of Randolph's aircraft.

As fortunate as Randolph was in the combat action, she was marked by misfortune in non-combat areas. However, luck was abound; none of the airplanes on deck were fueled nor was the ammunition on LCT-832 ignited. Either would have led to a catastrophic explosion. Again, the USS Jason repairs the Randolph.

Above, Black dot below burning Randolph is probably LCT-832 clearing the area

At left, damage control parties extinguish fires on Randolph's deck

Deck log records June 7th USAF P-38 crash into Randolph

At 1636 hours on May 15, 1945, the Admiral's flag is transferred to Randolph

point moses

By 1956 Randolph underwent a SCB-125 modification. This added an angled flight deck and an enclosed hurricane bow​. This Randolph was unrecognizable from her angular appearance from World War II. This was a much sexier ship, more capable, almost doubling her displacement to 47,000 tons.

On 29 October 1956, Israel, Britain, and France invaded and captured the Suez Canal in Egypt. Randolph and Coral Sea were steaming nearby. Later joined by the carriers Forrestal and Franklin Roosevelt. Randolph's jets flew cover while US Marines evacuated American citizens from the Egyptian city of Alexandria. Her aircraft also flew reconnaissance over the war zone.

The Soviet Union threatened to intervene in Egypt and attack London and Paris with atomic bombs. Soviet forces deployed to Syria for an invasion of Israel. Randolph's Captain advised the crew that war with the Russians could break out at any moment. Consequently the fleet was on a war footing. Randolph's operating area was euphemistically called 'Point Moses'.

The four aircraft carriers in the Mediterranean, including Randolph, gave President Dwight Eisenhower the upper hand. Tensions eventually defused, allowing diplomacy to prevail.

Banshees of VF-102 over Randolph during the Suez Crisis

Randolph sporting her new enclosed hurricane bow in June 1957. This prevents heavy seas from entering her hangar deck and pounding the flight deck. Compare to USS Valley Forge in background, which still has open bow.

 

Recommissioning and messing with mother nature

A permanent peace after World War II was impossible. By 1950 China had fallen to Communism, and US forces became embroiled in Korea, fighting a Communist invasion. USS Randolph was pulled out of mothball and underwent a 30-month overhaul. Known as a SCB-27A modification, the flight deck and elevators were strengthen to handle the heavier jets. The 5" gun turrets were removed and the island shorten to clear deck space. Randolph emerged from the yard a new ship. She was recommissioned on July 1, 1953 as CVA-15. The "A" designates the ship as an attack carrier. A special guest at the recommissioning was Edward Fairfax Randolph, descendant of the ship's namesake Peyton Randolph.

Top: Randolph alongside legendary ocean liner SS United States at Newport News during SCS-27A modification.

Middle left: Randolph's new streamlined island during recommissioning.

Middle right: Randolph at Norfolk shortly after launching.

Left: Peyton Randolph's descendant Edward Fairfax Randolph with Captain Quackerbush during recommissioning.

Randolph's log from the recommissioning

Randolph sailed straight into a category 3 hurricane in the early morning hours of September 11, 1954. Hurricane Edna battered the carrier. Off Cape Hatteras, Randolph rode nearly 100-foot waves, rolling side to side as much as 35 degrees. The ship's expansion joints stretched wildly appearing as though the vessel would snap in half. Waves crashed over the bow, washing through the open hangar deck, pulverizing everything in its path. Hitting the bottom of swells, Randolph would come to an abrupt stop, shuddering violently. The fantail rising out of the water with the screws whining in the air. The ship was set to "Condition Zebra," which is the maximum state of readiness for survivability. For hours Randolph withstood the fury of Edna. She exited the hurricane with heavy damage. The flight deck at the bow was twisted and raised 11 inches. Structure was damaged or demolished. Radio rooms were flooded. Topside, catwalks, antennas, guns, and lights were ripped off. Yet, there were no serious injuries or fatalities. Randolph did what she always did; brought the crew back home.

 

Once at Norfolk Naval Shipyard, a new method had to be developed to repair the ship and rapidly return her to sea. Instead of removing the flight deck, the dock worker jacked the flight deck and replaced structural supports below. While in the shipyard, mother nature took another swipe at Randolph as Hurricane Hazel struck. However, the homesick ship couldn't be kept from the sea. The carrier was floated out of drydock on November 1, 1954, months earlier than expected.

Randolph's deck logs from Edna. Second page details the extensive damage

Cartoonists' Homage

 

A Very special visitor

One of the most influential figures of the 20th century boarded the USS Randolph on October 26, 1958. Sir Winston Churchill, who led Britain during its darkest hours, came aboard at Cannes, France. This was the only time Churchill visited a US warship after World War II and in the attached telegram referred to the trip as a "delightful and exciting experience." This was also Churchill's first helicopter ride, which the former Prime Minister described as "exhilarating."

 

Goblin at the Doorstep

With 400 Soviet submarines posing a threat to the world's sea lanes, many Essex-class carriers traded their attack missions for anti-submarine roles. In 1959, Randolph underwent such a conversion and redesignated CVS-15. Her air group consisted of a mix of sub hunting helicopters and twin-engine airplanes.

Legendary CBS news man, Walter Cronkite, filmed a documentary on-board Randolph -- aptly named: "Sub-Killers." The show aired on November 13, 1960, and featured the wide ranging capabilities of the carrier to hunt and attack submarines.

In 1963, Grumman Aircraft produced its own anti-submarine film. "Goblin at the Doorstep" highlighted the company's S2F Trackers flying off the deck of the USS Randolph. By this time, Randolph was the premiere sub hunter in the fleet.

"Standby for Collision on Port Side!!!"

 

On October 16, 1961, USS Randolph was conducting sonar sweeps off the coast of Charleston, SC. As the sun set, the destroyer USS Stormes (DD-780) came alongside for fuel. The carrier began fueling the destroyer at 5:48pm. Randolph's radar detected a ship approaching fast on a collision course. Tethered to the destroyer by a fuel line, Randolph couldn't maneuver. Instead, she ordered the approaching vessel to alter coarse on the radio. The ship kept coming. Randolph's whistle sounded 6 blasts to no avail. Randolph directed the destroyer Stormes to execute an "emergency breakaway." Within a minute the speedy Stormes clears out. Randolph sounds 3 more blasts. Captain Harry Cook reverses the carrier; "all engines back full." The collision horn is rung with the announcement: "standby for collision on port side!" At 6:19pm Liberian-registered oil tanker Atlantic Viscountess gorged into the Randolph's port (left) bow. The tanker's prow buried into the carrier. To free itself, Randolph lunges ahead with Atlantic Viscountess scrapping the carrier's port side. Randolph had a 25-foot rupture in the hull and a torching fire, which was quickly brought under control. There were no serious injuries on the carrier. Randolph sent a medical staff to the Atlantic Viscountess to tend to the injured. Randolph returned to Newport News for repairs.

Video taken of the collision damage by Randolph sailor Rudi Markl

Log entries are usually mundane but the accounts of the Oct 16, 1961 collision are quite dramatic

The right stuff

In July 1961 Randolph sailed into the Caribbean as the recover ship for astronaut Gus Grissom on America's second manned space flight, which lasted a mere 15 minutes. Upon splashdown, the spacecraft's hatch prematurely blew off. With seawater entering the capsule, named Liberty Bell 7, Grissom's life was endangered. The Randolph's helicopters were expecting to perform a routine recovery now had to rescue a drowning astronaut. Grissom's suit filled with water and downwash from the helicopter's rotors was pushing the astronaut below the surface. For three perilous minutes Grissom struggled to stay afloat. Finally, a helicopter plucked Grissom, while another wrestled with the sinking capsule. Liberty Bell 7 was fully submerged and pulling the helicopter into the water. The pilot had to release the capsule to the murky depths of the Caribbean. Liberty Bell 7 was discovered and raised from the sea floor 38 years later in 1999.

 

In February 1962, Randolph was standing-by as the command ship of a flotilla to recover astronaut John Glenn. Glenn was the first American to orbit the Earth. Determining the splashdown area from a orbit was exponentially harder than a 15-minute vertical flight into space and back. To complicate matters, Glenn's capsule, Friendship 7, developed a malfunction on the third orbit, precipitating its early return. A sonic boom was heard over the fleet as the spacecraft reentered the atmosphere. The capsule floated in the Caribbean for 20 minutes before the destroyer USS Noa retrieved Friendship 7. Glenn and Friendship 7 were transferred to Randolph.

Randolph's log from Grissom recovery

Randolph's log from Glenn recovery

Minutes from nuclear war

The Cuban Missile Crisis broke out in October of 1962. The Soviet Union placed ballistic missiles in Cuba which could strike New York and Washington, DC. President John F Kennedy was given three military options; (1) invade Cuba, (2) bomb the missile sites, or (3) a naval blockade of Cuba. The US President chose the naval blockade. To further complicate global dynamics, four Soviet submarines were traversing into the Caribbean as a prelude to a larger Russian naval presence. President Kennedy made it a priority to locate the submarines.

 

The USS Randolph was training off the Virginia Cape with her Task Group when orders came to join the fleet quarantining Cuba. Entering the Sargasso Sea on October 27th, the Randolph Task Group immediately cornered a submerged Russian submarine, the B-59. Destroyers of the Task Group began dropping practice grenades to force B-59 to the surface. The Russian crew believed they were under attack. The captain and political officer consented to using a nuclear tip torpedo against the Task Group but were reversed by the overall commander, who was not going to start World War III. B-59 was subjected to nearly 24 hours of sonar pinging from the destroyers and aircraft. With batteries low and crew fatigued, B-59 surfaced amongst the Task Group at 8:53pm. The submariners wondered which carrier doggedly pursued them. With the early morning light, they clearly saw 'RANDOLPH' inscribed on the fantail.  This day has been referred to as Black Saturday as any miscalculations from the Randolph or B-59 might have led to nuclear war.

Faced with an impenetrable naval blockade and nuclear Armageddon, the Soviet Union pulled their missiles from Cuba.

The Smithsonian Channel's submarine docu-drama 'Hell Below' on August 5, 2018 recounted the apocalyptic cat and mouse game between B-59 and the Randolph group in an episode titled 'Cuban Crisis'.

Headlines from the Arizona Republic on October 23, 1962 heralds the naval blockade of Cuba and escalating tensions.

Russian submarine B-59 forced to the surface with a Randolph Sikorsky Seabat helicopter hovering above.

The crew of the Randolph displays two Battle Efficiency "E" awards, one awarded to the best anti-submarine carrier, and the other the sixth consecutive Efficiency Award presented to the Engineering Department.

Russian painting by Valentin Pechatin depicting the surfacing of B-59 by the Randolph Task Group.

Randolph's log for the 27th simply reads; "2053 Submerged contact being kept under surveillance during the day surfaced at this time."

 

Randolph's Elevator Falls into the Sea

During the night of April 1st 1964, off the coast of Virginia, while launching and recovering planes, a fire broke out on the ship's Number 3 deck elevator. Elevators raise and lower aircraft between the flight deck and hangar deck. The elevator broke off dropping into the sea taking with it five sailors, a Grumman Tracker, and a vehicle. Randolph sounded fire quarters and man overboard alarms -- then came to a stop and turned on the man overboard lights. The destroyer USS Holder (DD-814), trailing the carrier as the "lifeguard," retrieved three sailors from the water. Despite searches through the next day, two men were lost at sea. Randolph pulled into Norfolk for repairs.

Left, Randolph returning to Norfolk after loss of elevator.

Bottom left, Randolph's #3 elevator seen from USS Great Sitken in 1961 picture.

 

Bottom right, Grumman Tracker on Randolph's #3 elevator circa 1962.

Randolph's logbook from April 1, 1964

 

1966

By 1966 Randolph was no longer the behemoth of the 1940s. She had been dwarfed by the modern super carriers. Yet, Randolph's port calls in Europe of that year was record breaking. The ship was visited by 82,000 wide-eyed Europeans -- the largest number of foreign tourists boarding a US warship. Four Scots visited involuntarily after their sailboat capsized within sight of the Randolph. The Randolph immediately launched the duty lifeboat and within 10 minutes rescued the four sailors floundering in the water. They were brought aboard and taken to sickbay for medical evaluation. Randolph was also able to retrieve the capsized sailboat.

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goodbye, randolph

The last cast off

In October 1968, the Navy announced Randolph would be retired. At right, Randolph prepares to depart Norfolk for decommissioning at Boston on February 13, 1969.

The Final log entry

Randolph's last log book entry. The ship is mothballed and moved out of drydock at Boston. The crew is gone, electricity powered down, combustible fluids drained, weapons and essential equipment removed, while the ship is sealed for humidity control. Randolph was lifeless for the first time since 1944. In May 1975, the Navy sold Randolph to Union Material and Alloys for $1.5 million. The ship was moved to Bayonne, NJ for demolition.

Sleeping Giants

Mothballed fleet at Bayonne, NJ. Left to right: USS Shangri-La, USS Yorktown, USS Essex, and USS Randolph. Yorktown was spared demolition and is now a museum at Charleston, SC Patriot's Point. The other vessels weren't as fortunate.

 
 

It is the Randolph !!!

Growing up in New York City, my father, Eugene Santos, relished taking his two boys out on the weekends. One weekend he took us on a boat ride around Manhattan. He pointed to the handsome figure of a Essex-Class carrier in the distance and stated it was the same type he served on. As the tour boat passed the faded '15' on the superstructure, my father's face lit up and exclaimed, "IT IS THE RANDOLPH !!!" CV-15 (on left) tied up in Bayonne at about the time my dad was reunited with her.

anchors aweigh

Although USS Randolph is long gone, both her 15-ton anchors have been preserved. One anchor is at the Sullivan North High School in Kingsport, TN. The other at scenic Toms River, NJ.

During my father's lifetime, I never knew one of the Randolph's anchors was a mere 60 miles away in New Jersey. He would have been consumed with emotion. I encourage surviving Randolph sailors to make the pilgrimage to Toms River or Kingsport.

inglorious death

At right; scraps of Randolph and Essex littering the property of Union Materials and Alloys in Keary, NJ. No enemy could defeat the Randolph, but the welder's torch reduced her to rumble.

 

Thank you, toms river

On August 30, 2017, the city of Toms River installed a memorial paver, with dad's name, steps away from the Randolph's anchor. Dad spent two years on the Randolph but that ship remained in his heart for the rest of his life. He was a simple man. To him, this tribute would have been like winning both the Noble Peace Prize and the Heisman Trophy.

 

The Santos family visited the anchor and paver on September 2, 2017. Toms River's Noelle Carino (2nd from left) met the family and described the four month process to install dad's paver. The Santos family is indebted to Ms Corino and Toms River for honoring Eugene Santos with such reverence.

New Splendor for an old anchor:
June 27, 2018

Boy Scout Nic LaMana, of Troop 29 in Toms River, restored the Randolph Anchor as his Eagle Scout project. The anchor now looks as it did in 1944, when the Randolph was commissioned with my dad on board. This selfless act will keep alive the memory of the 1,000s who called Randolph home in the calm and troubled seas.

Yesterday's wings

In 2004 Microsoft founder Paul Allen opened the Flying Heritage and Combat Armor Museum in Seattle. Allen has restored and flies an impressive collection of vintage aircraft. The museum's F6F-5 is beautifully adorned in Randolph Air Group 12 colors. in Seattle

BuNo 133242 is owed by the Collings Foundation and currently housed in Houston. This S2F Tracker is in the markings of Randolph's VS-34. Unfortunately, Collings has expressed interest in selling the Tracker. Hopefully, the buyer will keep as a Randolph bird.

The Piaseki HUP Retriever BuNo 147607 in the National Naval Aviation Museum at Pensacola is identified as operating off USS Randolph in the early 1960s.

for dad

. . . and all the sailors and marines who called Randolph home

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