Above, USS Randolph floated out of drydock 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 ask, in time of foreign crisis, "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. 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 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 like chess pieces. 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 capital ship 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
US Navy footage of firefighting and damage assesment
the greatest air sea rescue
Crash site of VB-12 Helldiver
The Okinawa campaign was the peak period for Kamikazes, and were fast becoming problematic for the fleet. The Navy was accruing more battle deaths at sea than the Marines and Army ashore. To preempt attacks, the fleet sporadically struck Kamikaze bases in Japan.
During the morning of May 14, 1945, 60 planes of Randolph's Group 12 were streaking over Japan's southern most island, Kyushu -- bombing, strafing, and rocketing Usa Airfield. One VB-12 Helldiver was damaged attacking a hangar. Ens John Morris piloted the burning bomber to a water landing on the Inland Sea within sight of land. He and his gunner Cletis Phegley scurried onto the survival raft.
Eight Hellcats of VF-12 and VBF-12 circled overhead. The roar of the cats kept small boats away, but a large tanker was moving toward the downed air crew. The Hellcats pounced and the ship fled the area burning.
The fleet off Okinawa just finished dodging a Kamikaze raid as the cruiser USS Astoria received the most unlikeliest of orders; launch two Kingfisher seaplanes deep into Japanese territory for a rescue mission. Lt Charles Tanner and Lt (jg) Donald Comb catapulted individually off Astoria and escorted by four Randolph Hellcats on the 360 mile journey. Another four Hellcats from Randolph raced ahead to relieve the fighters already onsite.
The situation in the Inland Sea was becoming perilous. The patrolling Hellcats had already shot down a snooping Japanese airplane when they observed two enemy destroyers racing toward the raft. The original eight Hellcats were joined by four of their squadron mates which diverted from a photo reconnaissance sortie. The Hellcats relentlessly tore into the destroyers, forcing them to retreat.
After four hours, the two lumbering Kingfishers were traversing the Bunga Straits in the heart of Japan, through the haze, and onward to the Inland Sea. Both seaplanes landed and plucked the stranded sailors. In a scene out of a Hollywood action movie, the Kingfisher piloted by Comb, picked up Phegley, just as his engine sputtered to a stop. Comb used all three of his cartridge starters one by one before the final starter fired up the engine. As the formation exited through the Bunga Strait, they flew through withering anti aircraft fire, fortunately, both Kingfishers and all Hellcats made it back to the fleet. Morris and Phegley were returned to Randolph in time for dinner.
On this day, Randolph set a record with 199 launches and 197 recoveries. This was before the advent of the angle-deck carrier. Landing aircraft couldn't be spotted on the side but, rather, lowered in the forward elevator, fueled and armed in the hangar deck, then raised in the aft elevator for launch. This choreography was flawlessly maintained all day.
OS2U Kingfisher catapulting from USS Astoria in 1944
Action report from USS Astoria May, 14, 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 -- as she darted around Okinawa.
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.
At 1636 hours on May 15, 1945, the Admiral's flag is transferred to Randolph
Those who never returned from the sea
From Randolph's WWII cruise book: The Gangway
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 thought '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. The Soviets found the Randolph's trip especially galling but were helpless to restrict her movements. 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 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.
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 World War II angular appearance. 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. The carriers Randolph and Coral Sea were participating in amphibious exercises in nearby Crete and were ideally suited for evacuating Americans from the war zone. The Air Force airlifted 1,200 Americans from Israel, but couldn't evacuate those beyond the reaches of airports. Furthermore, the Cairo airport was under daily attack. Sixth Fleet ships withdrew US citizens from the ports of Haifa, Israel and Alexandria, Egypt as Randolph's jets flew overhead. The Navy successfully evacuated 3,000 Americans without injuries.
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. USS Franklin Roosevelt and USS Forrestal reinforced the 6th Fleet. 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 during the night of September 10-11, 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 heavily damaged. 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 service. Instead of removing the flight deck, the dock workers improvised and jacked the flight deck to access and replace structural supports. 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
A Very Special Visitor
One of the most influential figures of the 20th century toured 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 boarded a US warship after World War II. 'Randolph' was an old family name and one of the reasons precipitating the visit, Sir Winston explained to Randolph's Captain Strean. In the attached telegram, he recounted the trip as a "delightful and exciting experience." This was also Churchill's first helicopter ride, which the former Prime Minister described as "exhilarating."
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. She was fitted with a bow sonar and 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.
However, nothing can top CVS-15 appearance in the opening credits of the 1963 movie "Follow the Boys." Connie Francis belts out her rousing top 20 song of the same title as we're treated to sweeping panoramic views of Randolph in Cannes Harbor.
"Standby for Collision on Port Side!!!"
Fleet oiler USS Pawcatuck refuels Randolph and destroyer USS Waller Simultaneously
USS Stormes steaming in late 1960s
Damaged bow of Atlantic Viscountess
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 did send a medical team to Atlantic Viscountess to render aid for an injured man, who was later bought on the carrier for treatment. Randolph returned to Norfolk for repairs. In 1966, the tanker operator settled with the US Government for $277,000 in damages for Randolph.
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 Glenn recovery
Randolph's log from Grissom recovery
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 position while pursuing B-59, 3 hours before surfacing
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.
Top, 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
IN THE NATION'S SERVICE TIED UP TO A PIER
While docked in Norfolk on June 17, 1967, Randolph hosted the Change in Command ceremony of the Atlantic Fleet. Admiral Thomas Moorer, a WWII hero, passed command of the fleet to another WWII hero, Admiral Ephraim Holmes. Moorer, who was becoming Chief of Naval Operation, outlined the groundbreaking creation of a multi-national naval force by NATO allies to counter Russian seaborne threats in the Atlantic. This would set NATO policies for decades afterwards. The attached video shows all the pomp and pageantry of the ceremony.
September 14, 1967, USS Randolph awaits the arrival of USS Forrestal. Forrestal had incurred the largest loss of life on a US warship during the Vietnam War. An accidental rocket launch on deck detonated a fully loaded A-4 Skyhawk, manned by future Senator, John McCain. The resulting inferno engulfed the stern for 17 hours; killing 134. After emergency repairs in the Philippines, the 80,000 ton super-carrier returned to Norfolk. Families are reunited with Forrestal sailors on Randolph. Rando hung banners from her side; the first read "Welcome Home VF-11, World Famous Red Rippers." the small-knit VF-11 was hit hard by the disaster, losing 47 men. The other banner displayed: "USS Forrestal Welcome Home." Below, Randolph's crew 'mans the rail' as Forrestal is maneuvered onto Pier 12.
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 the ship with the priceless history to Union Material and Alloys, of Bayonne, NJ, for $1.5 million for the expressed purpose of scrapping.
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.
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 the equivalent of winning both the Noble Peace Prize and the Heisman Trophy.
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.
RANDOLPH'S BLOOD IN THE ASHES OF HIROSHIMA
Atomic-bomb survivor and Japanese historian Shigeaki Mori spent 30 years researching the American POWs killed in Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, and persuading his government to add their names to the Hiroshima Memorial. The twelfth and final name added in 2009 was that of Ensign John Hantschel, a Randolph Hellcat pilot.
Hantschel was flying a mission over the Sea of Japan when his plane crashed into the water on July 25, 1945. Squadron mates spotted the downed aviator in his rubber raft. However, a seaplane arriving seven hours later couldn't find him. Floating at sea for four days, a Japanese fishing boat finally picked up the pilot and delivered Hantschel to the Hiroshima jail, where he was killed by the 15-kiloton atomic blast that help end the war.
Ensign John Hantschel of Appleton, Wisconsin
. . . and all the sailors and marines calling Randolph home
I would love to hear from Randolph sailors
Feel free to leave a Message in the Bottle on any Randolph related subject, or, if you prefer, honor a sailor.