SS GABRIELE FRANCHERE (note spelling) was one of approximately 2,700 Liberty ships constructed before, during and immediately after World War II. She was built by the Oregon Shipbuilding Company, Portland, Oregon, in 32 days in November-December 1943. Her keel was laid November 27, she was launched December 12, and she was completed and delivered for service on December 29. I can find nothing significant about the ship online so she must have had an uneventful wartime career. See http://shipbuildinghistory.com/history/shipyards/4emergencylarge/wwtwo/koregon.htm and scroll to hull number 816, and http://www.mariners-l.co.uk/LibShipsG.html and scroll to the name of the ship. After the war she was sold in 1946 to the French government, renamed ARGENTAN, and continued operating as a cargo ship until she was scrapped in Spain in 1971. A website dedicated to GABRIELE FRANCHERE and owned by the grandson of a former crew member is at http://ssgabrielfranchere.tripod.com. She was named after Gabriele Franchere (1786-1863), a fur trader in the Pacific Northwest, who was one of the founders of the city of Astoria, Oregon.
SS FRANKLIN P. MALL was also a Liberty ship, built by the Bethlehem-Fairfield shipyard in Baltimore in the spring of 1943. Her keel was laid February 13, she was launched March 26, and she was completed and delivered for service on April 7, 53 days after keel-laying. She too must have had an uneventful wartime career. She was scrapped in Philadelphia in 1965. See http://shipbuildinghistory.com/history/shipyards/4emergencylarge/wwtwo/bethfairfield.htm and scroll to hull number 2107, and http://www.mariners-l.co.uk/LibShipsF.html and scroll to the name of the ship. The ship was named after Franklin P. Mall (1862-1917), one-time head of the Department of Medicine at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.
If you wish to obtain photographs of the two ships, see this list of sources of photographs of World War II-era merchant vessels: http://www.usmm.org/photosource.html. Mr. Hultgren is a particularly promising source in that his specialty is Liberty ships. I know enough about his collection to know that he apparently has a photo of both ships. Mr. Hultgren is quite elderly but at last report was still actively managing his collection.
As to the whereabouts of the two ships during the war, you can do a "Ship Search" at the excellent website ConvoyWeb (http://www.convoyweb.org.uk/hague/index.html). This website has information on wartime convoys by convoy number, ports of departure and destination, applicable dates, names of ship and limited information on each ship and, in some cases, its cargo. There is no information on the ship's crew. For each individual ship you should be able to obtain a list of her movements by date and location, whether in convoy or sailing independently (i.e., without escort or convoy). You can also do a search for the ships by name on the website War Sailors (http://www.warsailors.com/search.html), which has similar information, in some cases more detailed than that on ConvoyWeb. Both websites seem to concentrate on ships' movements in the Atlantic, Caribbean and Mediterranean, but less so for the Pacific. I believe GABRIEL FRANCHERE may have operated primarily in the Pacific.
I'm going to guess that your father's name was Henry E. Wittkamp, for whom I found records of his service as a member of the Armed Guard contingent in FRANKLIN P. MALL for four voyages in 1944-1945. The voyages were:
Departed Houston, TX, approximately October 5, 1944, destination unspecified; departed Manchester, England, November 13, 1944; arrived New York December 3, 1944.
Departed New York December 18, 1944; arrived Cherbourg, France, January 3, 1945; departed Cherbourg January 11, 1945; arrived New York February 5, 1945.
Departed New York February 21, 1945; arrived Antwerp, Belgium, unspecified date in March 1945; departed Antwerp March 31, 1945; arrived New York April 20, 1945.
Departed New York approximately April 27, 1945; arrived Naples, Italy, unspecified date in May 1945; departed Naples May 27, 1945; arrived New York July 3, 1945.
In each case Henry Wittkamp is listed as a seaman 1st class, and in two records his serial number (military ID number) is identified as 570-36-47. Aside from name, rank and serial number, there is no other identifying information in the records I found. I did not find any record of his service aboard GABRIELE FRANCHERE, which probably means nothing more than that the records available to me simply have no information on this ship or its crew.
Henry Wittkamp's Armed Guard shipmates for at least one of the above voyages were as follows (most men were on all the voyages, others on only one, two or three):
Alonza Anderson Jr.
Clifford L Batson
Paul E Beach
William R Benson
Clifford G Brady
Timothy M Cooney
Ellis F Corah
Robert I Cox
Charles W Cronin, LT(j.g.), Armed Guard commanding officer (4th voyage only)
Michael A Debella
Anthony DellAquilla (or DelAquilla)
James W Denehy
Richard P Grow (or Groh)
Berrion W Henderson
Donald L Hazen
Curtis F Kelly
Harry E Mallett
James H Mallett, LT, Armed Guard commanding officer (voyages 1-3)
Peter Mecannic (or Meccanic)
James D Niehoff
Kenneth L Peer
Francis P Riley
James R Roberts
Louis H Rubsam
Delmar C Watson
Jack W Wood
I have no idea whether any of these men are still living, nor do I have contact information on any of them who may be living. You may wish to search for the more uncommon names in the Social Security Death Index (http://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=3693) to identify those who are likely deceased. You might then search any remaining names on an online telephone directory such as White Pages (http://www.whitepages.com/). Searches for more common names would be meaningless since so many individuals share the same name.
Finally, you should be able to obtain a complete copy of your father's military service record, which may provide additional details on his military service. See this page from the Armed Guard / Merchant Marine website: http://armed-guard.com/searchmil.html, in particular section II.A.1. - Records of Individuals - U.S. Military. You will have to contact the National Personnel Records Center, a records facility operated by the U.S. National Archives in St. Louis, MO. Provide as much identifying information as you have. There may be a charge for research time, photocopying and mailing, but the Records Center staff will provide an estimate on the cost before beginning work.
Ron Carlson, Webmaster
Armed Guard / Merchant Marine website