Gehres file photo

Leslie Gehres

Born1898
Died15 May 1975
CountryUnited States
CategorySea

Contributor: C. Peter Chen

Leslie Edward Gehres joined the naval militia in New York, United States in 1914 and fought in WW1. In 1918, he was commissioned the rank of ensign in the United States Navy. In 1927, he became a naval aviator and became a stunt pilot while serving aboard carrier Langley. In 1932, he served with Fighting Squadron 5 aboard carrier Saratoga, followed immediately with a transfer to Fighting Squadron 6 aboard Lexington. After some time with Yorktown and Enterprise, he was commissioned a commander and became the air officer aboard carrier Ranger. In Nov 1941, he was named the commanding officer of Fleet Air Wing 4 which operated from the Aleutian Islands in Alaska to northern California border. Between May 1942 and Sep 1944, he commanded aircraft of the Fleet Air Wing 4 against Japanese targets in the Aleutian Islands and the Kurile Islands. In Jul 1943, he was promoted to the rank of commodore. In Sep 1944, he was given the rank of captain and was given command of the carrier Franklin.

Gehres was a known disciplinarian, and many of his subordinates consider him someone who dished out harsh punishments too easily. Many veterans of Franklin thought his autocracy was counter-productive. Over time, the crew of Franklin grew to dislike him. Technical Sergeant Ray Larson, an United States Marine who served aboard Franklin, noted that Gehres kept the ship in top order, but "the guys hated the captain. They despised him. They didn't like Gehres at all." George Black, a radioman who served on the island, therefore close to Gehres, recalled incidents where Gehres "degraded and screamed at my commanding officer in front of his own men.... No man [should have] to take a cussing like that in front of his own men."

On 19 Mar 1945, Franklin was struck by one or two bombs by a Japanese aircraft, and it soon turned into one of the greatest naval disasters sustained by an US Navy vessel during the war. The first bomb hit the flight deck on the center line, penetrating into the hangar deck before detonating, killing many men immediately, and then detonated the many fully fueled and armed aircraft on the carrier. It became an inferno. Nick Turcic, who was at Franklin's bridge after the explosion out of circumstance, observed Gehres running around rather uselessly. "How dare those guys screw up my ship!" Turcic recalled Gehres screaming, but making only few useful orders to control the damage. "The captain was running around the bridge like a chicken with his head cut off", said Bob Mallgraf, who stood beside Turcic on the bridge. The two men's observations probably were at least slightly biased, however, for records show that by 0725 Gehres had already evaluated the situation and ordered the magazines flooded to reduce fire hazards. What he did not know, though, was that the water mains of Franklin were destroyed, and the flooding was never carried out. Soon after, Admiral Ralph Davison, whose flag was aboard Franklin, decided to transfer his flag to the nearby destroyer USS Miller, and suggested Gehres to abandon ship. Gehres, knowing there were still men belowdecks, refused, citing that he would not stand for the possibility that his men would be killed by torpedoes from an American ship. At 1200, about 6 hours after the attack, cruiser Santa Fe sent a message to Davison on behalf of Gehres:

CAPTAIN OF FRANKLIN SAYS FIRES PRACTICALLY UNDER CONTROL. SKELETON CREW ABOARD. LIST STABLIZED. IF YOU SAVE US FROM THE JAPANESE, WE WILL SAVE YOU THE SHIP.

Davison replied "[W]e will do whatever we can." Davison guarded the wounded carrier with all the escorts he could gather, while dispatching five Fletcher-class destroyers from Destroyer Division 104 to search for the over one thousand crewmen floating in the cold Pacific Ocean. When the damage was brought totally under control, instead of being glad that so many men were saved by the destroyers Davison had sent, Gehres immediately looked for scape goats. During the ordeal, many men were forced to jump ship, while others were simply blown overboard by the force of the explosions. Gehres accused them as cowards. "Disregarding one of the most superb and ongoing rescue actions in the history of the U.S. Navy, the gallant story of the Franklin was nearly tainted", said historian Joseph Springer. "How many captains would say something like that about his own crew... even if it was true?" Lamented Seaman 2nd Class George Sippel years later. To further add insult to injury, Gehres created the "704 Club", granting membership to the 704 who remained on board, and later, deny the honor of medals to those without membership.

Franklin eventually sailed to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, United States for temporary repairs. Per Pearl Harbor procedures, a civilian harbor pilot came onboard to help navigate the carrier to the dock; Gehres, however, refused, and responded that he would "take her in" himself. He ended up moving the ship into the dock area too fast, crashing her into the dock, sending timber and concrete flying; embarrassed of the situation, he blamed the mooring details for the incident.

Source: Inferno.

Leslie Gehres Timeline

1 Jan 1898 Leslie Gehres was born.
15 May 1975 Leslie Gehres passed away.

Photographs

US Navy Lieutenant William Thies and Captain Leslie Gehres standing in front of their PBY Catalina aircraft, Aleutian Islands, US Territory of Alaska, 1942




Share this article with your friends:

 Facebook  Reddit
 Twitter  Digg
 Google+  Delicious
 StumbleUpon  


Stay updated with WW2DB:

 RSS Feeds
Advertisement                    Close





Visitor Submitted Comments

  1. Anonymous says:
    24 Feb 2013 05:34:10 PM

    77 years too long.If these great sailors were one of my relatives I would consider it my DUTY to hunt down and execute this piece of dog **** !.US Navy frogs 1974-1980.
  2. Anonymous says:
    9 Aug 2013 08:21:12 AM

    Never knew all that stuff. Wonder if there were any other men with a better opinion of the captain. Confused by one detail in the article. If Gehres was a commodore in 1943, could he really be a captain in 1944. Was "captain simply the title of his position on U.S.S. Benjamin Franklin?
    Always thought Gehres was an heroic figure for remaining aboard the ship and directing the damage control.Interesting
  3. Herb says:
    11 Sep 2013 11:12:18 PM

    I recommend the documentary film USS Franklin, which I saw a couple days ago, free via Amazon Prime. He was a full blown martinet,an inept ship handler with super ego who ignored warnings of closing kamikaze bombers. Sitting at mess , no GQ ordered, ship wide open as if on a coastal cruise? A command misfit at best and the cause of hundreds of deaths of very experienced crew members who he insulted constantly. Navy finally dumped him in San Diego.
  4. Anonymous says:
    29 Mar 2014 02:44:30 AM

    That is a crazy skipper.... If it is true he has been warn about the enemies been picked up by the radar or informations coining from other command that japanese plane are coming,he should been court martial for negligence
  5. David Stubblebine says:
    29 Mar 2014 10:11:30 PM

    To Comment #2:
    You ask “If Gehres was a commodore in 1943, could he really be a captain in 1944?” I wondered the same thing but then found surprisingly little about his him on the internet beyond the several accounts of his dreadful treatment of the Franklin crew after the March 1945 attack. What is clear from the photographic record is that he wore the insignia of a Commodore while in Alaska in 1943 and the insignia of a Captain while aboard the Franklin in 1945. One possibility (but I am only guessing) is that he held the temporary rank of acting-Commodore while he commanded Fleet Air Wing 4 in the Aleutians, an appropriate rank for that position, and then resumed his regular rank of Captain when he moved on from that assignment. Temporary acting ranks were common in the Army in forward areas so there is some precedent, but I have never heard of it in the Navy.
    A disciplinary demotion is always another possibility, but I found no mention of it on the internet. Given the scandal that followed the Franklin fires, I would think a disciplinary demotion, had there been one, would have played prominently in the accounts by his many critics.
  6. TAK says:
    6 Apr 2014 02:16:23 PM

    Just finished watching the documentary about the Franklin on Hulu Plus. My feelings about the captain are not good - after he castigated the crew for doing everything that they did they did it wrong when he first took command, even after they had just lost 55 crewmen, he continued to blame others for his failings. He didn't communicate with his crew other than to tell them he was always right and they were always wrong. After the attack he later ostracized the crewmen who jumped overboard to save themselves from a fiery death and filed charges of desertion, which were later dropped, but the survivors are still bitter about it, and understandably so. The documentary is excellent, highly recommend.
  7. Sean Van says:
    14 Apr 2014 04:51:51 PM

    In response regarding the rank of Commodore; today the rank of Commodore in the U.S. Navy is a title only, not a rank. It denotes someone of Captain (or in rarer instances, Commander) rank who commands a squadron or mixed combination of vessels/equipment/crew, i.e. Destroyed Squadron Commodores, Submarine Squadron Commodores, Task Force or Working Group commanders, etc. It's a holdover from WWII, where command-level officers were frequently finding themselves in charge of mixed forces, squadrons, and task forces, despite holding rank commensurate with single command. The rank of Commodore- effectively between Captain and Rear Admiral- was reinstated from the past to reflect this. It would not be uncommon for a Captain to be promoted to Commodore in charge of a Squadron or Task Force, and either be promoted to Read Admiral, or administrative reduced in rank to Captain when taking over a different command; this reduction in rank would normally not carry with it any negative connotation- it would simply be a reflection of their current command responsibilities. To further confuse things, back then a Commodore could be a temporary appointment to a task force/squadron commander, allowing him to display the rank of one-star, and some of the priveliges of a Rear Admiral, but not the pay, OR it could be a permanent rank one advanced to. After dithering back and forth in the intervening years post-war, the U.S. Navy finally agreed upon one-star rank being Rear Admiral (Lower Half) and two-star being Rear Admiral (Upper Half) in the early 1980s, with Commodore being a command-level title only thereafter. Crazy, right?

    It makes sense that Gehres could have been a Commodore, and then a carrier Captain, without disciplinary action.
  8. Anon says:
    16 Aug 2014 10:29:53 AM

    My grandfather served under commodore Gehres in the Aleutians. To this day he still has nothing but fond memories of him. Today he remarked how if you needed anything the commodore would get it for you.
  9. Boyer says:
    8 Sep 2014 09:25:16 AM

    I read things along this line in the book "Lucky Lady." A pretty sad commentary all in all, applied to a ship that suffered so terribly and survived only due to heroic efforts of her crew.
  10. Joseph A Springer says:
    16 Sep 2014 07:14:10 PM

    re: Gehres rank -- Leslie Gehres accepted a reduction in rank (Commodore to Captain) for the opportunity to command Franklin.

    As author of "INFERNO: The Epic Life and Death Struggle of the USS Franklin in WWII" I spent two years interviewing roughly 200 Franklin crewmen. Approximately 140 served aboard Franklin on her second cruise, with Leslie Gehres. Of these, only two - an officer and one enlisted Marine - defended Leslie Gehres' actions. As sailor Ray Bailey remarked, "Many of the guys credit him for saving their lives when he wouldn't scuttle the ship. They were trapped below decks. The thing is... Gehres killed a lot more guys than he saved." Furthermore, Gehres inane and bizarre actions and behavior as CO of Fleet Air Wing 4 is largely unknown and too numerous to go into detail here. He was known as "Custer of the Aleutians."

    In the end, I in fact pulled my punches on Gehres. Perhaps the record should be told by those who suffered seven decades of mental torment when Gehres accused more than 1,000 officers and men with desertion and cowardice, simply because they found themselves in the wrong place, and at the wrong time. Literally hundreds went to their graves with mental wounds that I have rarely seen in my forty years of interviewing veterans. Ultimately for anyone interested in this remarkable account, I suggest picking up my book, or screening the film titled "USS FRANKLIN: HONOR RESTORED", which can be viewed free of charge on HULU.com or available on Amazon. Indeed, many of the sailors and marines I interviewed for the book are on the film, relating the horrors of March 19, 1945 - in their own words. ~Joe Springer~ (Sep 16, 2014)

All visitor submitted comments are opinions of those making the submissions and do not reflect views of WW2DB.

Posting Your Comments on this Topic

Your Name
Your Email
 Your email will not be published
Your Comments
Security Code
 

 

Note: Please refrain from using strong language. HTML tags are not allowed. Your IP address will be tracked even if you remain anonymous. WW2DB site administrators reserve the right to moderate, censor, and/or remove any comment.

Search WW2DB & Partner Sites
More on Leslie Gehres
Ship(s) Served:
» Franklin


Leslie Gehres Photo Gallery
US Navy Lieutenant William Thies and Captain Leslie Gehres standing in front of their PBY Catalina aircraft, Aleutian Islands, US Territory of Alaska, 1942




Current Site Statistics

Famous WW2 Quote
"Since peace is now beyond hope, we can but fight to the end."

Chiang Kaishek, 31 Jul 1937