My novel, Trial by Fire, is based on the true story of the aircraft carrier USS Ben Franklin (CV-13) and the brave sailors who were able to save their ship after she was nearly destroyed off the coasts of the Japanese home islands in March 1945. The big blue fleet, as it was called in Navy public affairs circles, had come to Japan itself to demonstrate that the war was approaching its climax. Task Force 58, Adm. Raymond Spruance, victor of Midway, commanding, consisted of 65 ships, including 18 heavy (big deck) carriers and 9 light carriers. The task force closed to within 100 miles of Honshu Island and began conducting strikes against airfields, weapons factories, and railroads.
After three years of relentless war, the Imperial Japanese Navy had been ground down to a shadow of its former strength. Her few remaining battleships and carriers were languishing in port for want of fuel and crew. Naval Intelligence estimated that the Japanese were down to 2000 to 3000 effective combat aircraft and even fewer qualified pilots, especially after the so-called Marianas turkey shoot, where over 645 planes and their pilots had been swept from the skies of the Philippine Sea during the Marianas campaign. Now Army Air Force B-29 heavy bombers were laying waste to Japan’s big cities, launching from airfields on Tinian and Guam.