The Frigate Bonhomme Richard
In 1765 a 900-ton merchant vessel, DUC DE DURAS, was built in France for the East India Company for trading between France and the Orient. In nearly ten years, that ship would play a historic role in America's fight for independence.
As the Revolutionary War raged on in the Colonies, the newly founded Continental Congress began gathering a small navy and immediately realized huge privateer successes at cutting down the English war efforts in North America. Those successes prompted the Continental Congress to send Benjamin Franklin as an Ambassador in 1777 to advise the French Court and garner more European support for the American war effort. The King of France obliged in 1779 by donating the DUC DE DURAS to the American cause.
On February 4, 1779, the Continental Congress placed this fleet under the command of the 33 year old, Captain John Paul Jones. Swiftly, Jones refitted the DUC DE DURAS increasing her firepower to 20 guns a side, and renamed her BONHOMME RICHARD. Jones sought an honorable ship's name that would be equally important to America and France.
Captain John Paul Jones chose the Pen Name of Benjamin Franklin, the Ambassador to France, and author of "Poor Richard's Almanack." This early 18th century journal urged common men to seek out roles in the public sphere and shape their own destinies. Clearly, his journal helped forge the will that resulted in the American Revolution.
The Battle against HMS Serapis
On June 19, 1779, Jones sailed BONHOMME RICHARD from L' Orient, France accompanied by ALLIANCE, PALLAS, VEGEANCE, and CERF. Their mission: to escort troop transports and merchant vessels under convoy to Bordeaux, France and cruise against the British in the Bay of Biscay. Forced to return to port for repairs, Jones' squadron sailed again August 14, 1779. Going northwest around the British Isles into the North Sea and down the eastern seaboard of Great Britain, the squadron swiftly took 16 merchant vessels as prizes. On the evening of September 23, 1779, they encountered the Baltic Fleet of 41 near the English shore of Flamborough Head. Sailing for England, the Fleet was under convoy of the newly built frigate HMS SERAPIS (50 guns) and the small sloop COUNTESS OF SCARBOROUGH (20 GUNS).
Before the British fleet could respond, BONHOMME RICHARD lashed out at SERAPIS igniting a bitter struggle that would last the entire night. Early in the battle, the guns of Jones' main battery exploded, temporarily disabling his ship. Under gunned, Jones' relied on decisive naval strategies and the might of his crew to out-fight the more powerful SERAPIS. To offset the SERAPIS' speed, Jones lashed his flagship alongside and continued the fight long after his subordinates regarded the situation as hopeless.
Burning, sinking, and scattered with the dead and wounded, BONHOMME RICHARD lit up the darkness with a constant barrage. Jones struggled to keep his vessel afloat and, in one instance, an overwhelming number of prisoners in hold threatened to rush the deck to save from drowning. Jones defied all odds and continued the fight against Captain Pearson's SERAPIS.
In the final hour, BONHOMME RICHARD'S mast was hit above the top-sail. Along with her Colors, a large section of the mast came crashing to the deck near Jones, feet. In response to the downfallen colors, SERAPIS called out, "Have you struck your Colors?" Resoundingly, John Paul Jones exclaimed, "Struck Sir? I have not yet begun to fight!" And fight they did. With newfound will, his crew delivered decisive blows from all sides and aloft. Jones' sent 40 Marines and Sailors into the rigging with grenades and muskets.
Decimated, SERAPIS could not avoid defeat and at 2230 she struck her Colors. Victorious, John Paul Jones commandeered SERAPIS and sailed her to Holland for repairs. Sadly, BONHOMME RICHARD sank at 1100 on September 24, 1779, never to rise from her watery grave. This epic battle was the American Navy's first-ever defeat of an English ship in English waters! Rallying colonial hope for freedom, Jones' victory established him to many as "The Father of the American Navy."
The second Bon Homme Richard (CV-31) w as launched April 29, 1944 by the New York Navy Yard and was sponsored by Mrs. J. S. McCain, wife of Vice Adm. McCain. USS Bon Homme Richard (CV-31) was commissioned November 26, 1944 with Captain A. O. Rule, Jr., in command.
Bon Homme Richard departed Norfolk 19 March 1945 to join the Pacific Fleet and arrived at Pearl Harbor April 5, 1945. Following additional training in Hawaiian waters, the carrier joined TF 38 off Okinawa on June 6, 1945.
From June 7-10, she joined in the attacks on Okino Daito Jima and then served with the 3rd Fleet during air strikes against Japan (July 2 - August 15). She remained off Japan until September 16 and after a short training period off Guam, proceeded to San Francisco, arriving October 20. She left San Francisco October 29, 1945 and steamed to Pearl Harbor to undergo conversion for troop transport duty.
From November 8, 1945 to January 16, 1946 she made trans-Pacific voyages, returning servicemen to the United States . Bon Homme Richard then reported to Puget Sound Naval Shipyard for inactivation and was placed out of commission in reserve on January 9, 1947.
Bon Homme Richard was recommissioned January 15, 1951 and on May 10, departed San Diego for the Far East . She joined TF 77 off Korea on May 29 and launched her first air strikes May 31. Bon Homme Richard continued operations with TF 77 until November 20, 1951. The carrier reached San Diego in mid-December and on May 20, 1952 was off again to the Far East. She joined TF 77 once more on June 23, 1952 and took part in the heavy strikes against a North Korean power complex from June 24 -25 and the amphibious feint at Kojo from October 12 - 16. She continued operations against North Korean targets until December 18, 1952 and then steamed to San Francisco where she arrived January 8, 1953.
Her classification was changed from CV-31 to CVA-31 on October 1, 1952. Bon Homme Richard went out of commission May 15, 1953 preparatory to modernization. When recommissioned September 6, 1955, she had CV/CVA-31 she had an angled and strengthened flight deck, enclosed bow, enlarged elevators, and steam catapults. She completed her conversion period October 31, 1955 and commenced sea trials in the Alameda-San Diego area.
Recommissioned in September 1955, she began the first of a long series of Seventh Fleet deployments. The initial west coast deployment of a squadron equipped with the new Sidewinder missile was with Fighter Squadron 211, equipped with FJ-3s, aboard Bon Homme Richard in September 1956. On June 6, 1957, two F8U Crusaders and two A3D Skywarriors flew non-stop from Bon Homme Richard off the California coast to USS Saratoga (CVA 60) of the east coast of Florida. This, the first carrier-to-carrier transcontinental flight, was completed by the F8Us in 3 hours 28 minutes and by the A3Ds in 4 hours 1 minute.
Bon Homme Richard made additional western Pacific cruises in 1957, 1958-1959, 1959-60, 1961, 1962-63, and 1964, with the last including a voyage into the Indian Ocean. The ship entered the Indian Ocean on April 4, 1964 with the "Concord Squadron," composed of Bon Homme Richard, USS Shelton (DD 790), USS Blue (DD 744), USS Frank Knox (DD 742), and the fleet oiler USS Hassayampa (AO 145). The cruise lasted six weeks and went near Iran, the Arabian peninsula, down the African coast and into many ports along the way for goodwill visits.
The Vietnam war escalation in early 1965 brought Bon Homme Richard into a third armed conflict, and she deployed on five Southeast Asia combat tours over the next six years. Her aircraft battled North Vietnamese MiGs on many occasions, downing several, as well as striking transportation and infrastructure targets. Occasional excursions to other Asian areas provided some variety to her operations.
Bon Homme Richard was ordered inactivated at the end of her 1970 deployment. She decommissioned in July 1971, becoming part of the Reserve Fleet at Bremerton, Washington. The ship was stricken from the Navy List in 1989 and was sold for scrapping February 4, 1992.
Bon Homme Richard received one battle star for her World War II service and five battle stars for participation in the Korean conflict.
Other Bonhomme Richards
In 1864, Congress authorized the 3,700-ton AMMONOOSUC class screw frigate to take the renowned name BONHOMME RICHARD, but the vessel was never built.
On September 26, 1942, while still under construction, the name of CV 10 was changed from BONHOMME RICHARD to YORKTOWN (the previous YORKTOWN was lost three months earlier at the Battle of Midway).