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TYPHOON COBRA

http://www.typhooncobra1944.org

LIST OF SURVIVORS AND THOSE LOST  

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Halsey's Typhoon - Last Act

A video featuring shipmates Archie DeRychere and Pat Douhan

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XRWM99PLfG0&feature=related

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1Typhoon Cobra vs. USS HULL (DD-350)


Rescue Article and Captain Plage Memorandum compliments of Darren Belanger, Grandson of Typhoon Cobra survivor Francis Belanger, CWT

 


2Houston Chronicle, 14 January 1945


Last Rest

3The above chart shows the final resting place, in the Philippine Sea, of the USS HULL (DD-350): #11, USS MONAGHAN (DD-354): #18 and USS SPENCE (DD-512): #25


Typhoon Cobra Hammers Halsey, Three Destroyers Lost

On 17 and 18 December 1944 as Admiral William Halsey's Third Fleet was operating in support of General MacArthur's invasion of the Philippines, the Third Fleet encountered Typhoon Cobra, a tropical cyclone more powerful than any western Pacific encounter with the Japanese. Three Destroyers are lost as the Third Fleet ducks into the storm's punch. Nearly 800 sailors perished and dozens of ships are damaged. "Admiral Halsey fought a battle with the sea, and it cannot be said that he emerged a winner", Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz said, "Halsey suffered in a typhoon that battered his fleet, the greatest loss that we have taken in the Pacific without compensatory return since the First Battle of Savo."

Halsey himself described it best. "No one who has not been through a typhoon can conceive its fury," he wrote in his autobiography. "The 70 foot seas smash you. The rain blinds you. The battleship New Jersey (BB-62) once was hit by a 5 inch shell and I did not even feel the impact. The MISSOURI (BB-63) had kamikaze crash on her main deck and repaired the only damage with a paint brush. But the typhoon tossed our enormous ship the MISSOURI as if she were only a canoe." One eyewitness account speaks to the conditions the destroyers found themselves facing. "These destroyers were escorting the carriers. We were trying to fuel them, and the seas are choppy; I mean, when I say choppy, they're twenty, twenty-five feet waves. They were going to move to another location and commence fueling in the morning again. Well, instead of taking us out of the typhoon they took us back into it. I'm talking about waves that were fifty and sixty feet high. Sometimes you'd see a destroyer, he'd be sitting up on top of a wave and the next time he would be down so low that you couldn't even see the mast. That's how deep the troughs were. There's no way those destroyers could fuel from the tankers."

Former President Gerald R. Ford in May 1943 served on the precommissioning crew for a new light aircraft carrier, USS Monterey (CVL-26). This was one of the ships in Halsey's force. Lieutenant Ford served as the assistant navigator, Athletic Officer, and antiaircraft battery officer on board Monterey. Monterey was damaged by a fire which was started by several of the ship's aircraft tearing loose from their cables and colliding during the storm. During the storm, Ford narrowly missed being a casualty himself. After Ford left his battle station on the bridge of the ship in the early morning of 18 December, the ship rolled twenty-five degrees which caused Ford to lose his footing and slide toward the edge of the deck. The two inch steel ridge around the edge of the carrier slowed him enough so he could roll and twist into the catwalk below the deck. "I was lucky", he later stated, "I could have easily gone overboard."


The Loss

Three destroyers capsized and sank with hundreds of lives lost. The sea claimed 765 Third Fleet sailors in all. Four light carriers were badly damaged, along with another four escort carriers. A light cruiser was mauled; as were seven fortunate destroyers, that weathered the storm; two destroyer escorts; a fleet oiler; and a fleet tug. More than 200 planes were lost from the decks of Third Fleet carriers. Of the tragedy, Admiral Nimitz said, "it represented a more crippling blow to the 3rd Fleet than it might be expected to suffer in anything less than a major action."


The Cause

Cobra, a typhoon that made up near Ulithi, gained strength rapidly and proceeded on a west by northwest course to Luzon in the Philippines, a distance of more than 1,250 nautical miles, at a speed of eight or nine knots. A question that has never been answered is why didn't Halsey get his ships out of the way of the storm? That doesn't mean he didn't try, he was bobbing and weaving like a slick middle-weight, but he was ducking into punches thrown by Joe Louis. In the end, following an inquiry, the typhoon very nearly cost Halsey his career. On 17 December, the Third Fleet stood off the Philippines; providing air support for the invasion of Mindoro, begun two days earlier, and softening up Luzon for the planned invasion at Lingayen Gulf in early January. Halsey, his flag on USS New Jersey, had planned to refuel his ships this day and the next, then send his planes against targets in the Manila area for three days beginning on the 19th. The fueling was begun during the forenoon watch on the l7th and became increasingly difficult because of a rising swell and winds approaching 30 knots. Refueling from New Jersey, right under Halsey's nose, the destroyer USS Spence (DD-512) was tossed about like a cork. Both fore and aft fueling hoses parted and the attempt was given up. Her fuel down to 15 percent of capacity and her tanks pumped dry of ballast in anticipation of taking fuel, Spence rode the sea like a ping pong ball. Awaiting refueling with bunkers unballasted with seawater courted trouble, but who would chance the problems caused if water polluted the oil supply.


 

 

USS Langley (CVL -28) on a roll to starboard.

"Even the largest and most seaworthy vessels

become virtually unmanageable and may

sustain heavy damage."

 

 

 

Nathaniel Bowditch, in American Practical Navigator, a mariner's reference in continuous publication since 1802; published by the U.S. Navy hydro-graphic Office; and certainly available in many copies throughout the third Fleet, notes that the first warning is the "presence of a long swell... the crests passing at the rate of perhaps four per minute". "The barometer falls, and as the fall becomes more rapid, wind speed reaches a value of perhaps 22 to 40 knots". "Even the largest and most seaworthy vessels become virtually unmanageable, and may sustain heavy damage". Bowditch says, "Less sturdy vessels do not survive." The symptoms were there, but went unrecognized, possibly because of increasing reliance on reports from Fleet Weather Central at Pearl Harbor and on weathermen in the fleet. Halsey had a staff aerologist on board New Jersey, and each of the carriers had its own. Weather Central had begun tracking a disturbance near Ulithi at 0300 on the 16th, but had it moving north, never approaching within 400 miles of the Third Fleet. Halsey's aerologist was closer, but at 0900 on the 17th, had the storm 100 miles north of its actual path. The problem with these reports was they were based on pilots' observations, made after the planes landed because of the need for radio silence. They were often hours late. Bowditch notes that "the bulletins and forecasts are an excellent guide, but they are not infallible and may be sufficiently in error to induce a mariner in a critical position to alter course so as to unwittingly increase the danger to his vessel."


The green dots are where Weather Central said the storm was. The black dots are where Halsey's aerologist said it was. The red dots represent the storm's actual center at those times and the red and black dots numbered 5 mark the position of Cobra and of the Third Fleet respectively at 0900 on 18 December. The route of the typhoon was almost exactly that of an Area III storm depicted in Bowditch, Figure 3902, "Areas in which tropical cyclones occur, and their approximate tracks."

Halsey knew the weather was getting worse rather than better so he suspended refueling and took the fleet on a north westerly course, which would take him away from a storm advancing from the east. Subsequent reports showed the storm to have changed course, so the commander did likewise. Throughout the afternoon watch and the dog watch, the storm, now fully developed into a typhoon, persisted on its route, drawing ever closer to the Third Fleet. Through most of the night, Halsey ran due west, and was actually moving farther ahead of the typhoon, outrunning it by about six knots. The glass was rising and the seas were moderating slightly. The fleet aerologist still placed the center of the storm hundreds of miles to the northeast. At midnight, the fleet turned due south, hoping to find smooth seas for refueling in the morning. The ships were to cross the path of the typhoon. As the fleet and the typhoon moved toward each other in the early hours of 18 December, the weather worsened precipitously.

Halsey told the Court of Inquiry that, at 0400, he was aware "for the first time" that the Third Fleet "was confronted with serious storm conditions". At around 0430, Halsey asked Vice Admiral John S. McCain in USS Yorktown (CV-10) and Rear Admiral G. F. Bogan in USS Lexington (CV-16) for their estimates of where the center of the storm was. Together with a new plot from his own aerologist, he had three guesses. All wrong. According to a plot made of the path of the typhoon, after the fact, its center was at that moment about 90 miles east southeast from New Jersey, and moving at around 8.6 knots in a west northwest direction. The Third fleet was dead in the path of the storm, which was ten and one half hours distant. Shortly thereafter, Halsey ordered a course change to 180° at a fleet speed of 15 knots. At daybreak, a final attempt to fuel was made, but high seas and gale winds prevented it. At about the same time, the storm dropped its nose and was bearing almost due west. It seemed to be chasing the Third Fleet.

At 0830, Halsey finally gave up on refueling, Shortly before noon, the admiral ordered some elements of his fleet to "take most comfortable courses" consistent with the generally southerly course of the fleet. The ships were now widely spread and the course chosen by fleet oiler USS Mascoma (AO-83) took her through the eye of the typhoon. Her barometer fell to 27.02. This malevolent storm, to employ a pathetic fallacy, not only changed direction to take aim at Halsey, it had been gathering its violent strength along its path from Ulithi and reached full fury as it reached the Third Fleet. At 1345, Halsey now realized what he had considered "serious storm conditions" at 0400 were something more. He issued a typhoon warning, the first time he had used that word and the first that Fleet Weather Central in Pearl Harbor knew of the gravity of the situation. It was worse even than what Halsey or anyone else thought. Three destroyers had already been swallowed by the sea. Halsey's heavy ships more or less kept station but the rest of the fleet had become scattered over a 3,000 square mile patch of the Pacific. Some bore more of the brunt of the storm than others, but none fared well.

Most of their commanders chose to fight the sea, and the sea wins those fights. The skipper of USS Buchanan (DD-484), Commander R. W. Curtis, understood this, and observed in his report of the typhoon that the best way to deal with a tropical cyclone is to heave to, bow on to the sea if to the right of the center or stern on to the sea if to its left. Doing so affords the greatest amount of headway away from the storm center and the least amount of leeway toward it. In his endorsement of Buchanan's report, Halsey wrote "This basic fact of seamanship is not well understood among naval officers." Captain R. C. Warrack of USS Kwajalein (CVE-98) understood that basic fact of seamanship. His ship was part of the At Sea Logistics Group of Captain J. T. Acuff and was closer to the storm's center than most. Warrack hove to, bow to the sea, and maintained his stationary position with both engines ahead full. In his report, he noted that "The battle ensign was reduced to a small scrap showing two stars." Lieutenant Commander J. H. Wesson, captain of USS Hickox (DD-673), also understood the rule, and saved his battered ship. He reported that his steering motors were lost, the main switchboards and the emergency Diesel electric generation boards battered out of commission, his motor whaleboat ripped from the ship, the searchlight and radar antenna blown over the side, green water poured down a stack and flooded a boiler, much of the superstructure aft of the funnels was damaged and the depth charge racks were crushed.

Hickox survived, three destroyers didn't. The Three Destroyers USS Hull (DD-350); USS Monaghan (DD-354); both old Farragut Class ships, and Spence; a modem Fletcher Class destroyer, were battered under by mountainous seas. Their few survivors tell similar tales. Hull and Monaghan were part of the screen for Acff's replenishment unit while Spence was part of the screen for Halsey's flagship group.

On the morning of 18 December, Hull had 70 percent of her fuel capacity aboard and Monaghan was even better situated with 75 percent. Spence had something less than the 15 percent as she had reported a day earlier during her failed attempt to refuel from New Jersey. The constant promise of refueling had led the destroyers' commanders to leave their tanks empty of ballast. All three were last heard from between 1007 and 1117 on the l8th.

USS Spence cuts through a moderate sea at speed. Spence was in terrible shape to confront heavy seas. A Fletcher Class destroyer can steam for a week at 8 knots on full tanks, but Spence had less than a seventh of that. At around 1000, ballasting was belatedly begun, but it was too late. Seas were mountainous at 50 to 60 feet and what one of Spence's officers called a "gale" was blowing at 115 knots, though anything more than 75 knots is commonly thought of as being "hurricane" force winds. Reports over TBS of other ships losing men overboard prompted Lieutenant Commander J. P. Andrea to suggest his crew seek shelter below decks. At about 1100 everything happened at once. Spence rolled heavily to port, taking water down her ventilators and probably a funnel. The circuit boards were shorted out and one fire put out. The ship's rudder was jammed full right and one more roll put her under. Only one officer and 23 men survived.

Lieutenant Commander J. A. Marks, skipper of Hull, may have been the first in the fleet to recognize the storm as a typhoon. He had served in destroyers in the Atlantic where they were called hurricanes, but the conclusion he reached at around 0900 on the 18th failed to save his ship. Though his fuel tanks were 70 percent full, three of them were only half full, and those were side-by-side, across the ship, forward of the machinery spaces. The surging liquid would amplify the force of a roll. Hull was pummeled with winds in excess of 90 knots as tons of green water broke over her forecastle. Lookouts reported staring up at wave crests mounting over the bridge level. Tragically, HULL was trapped in the troughs of a raging sea, her steering lost, she was unable to bring her bow into the threatening ocean. Crewmen reported rolls in excess of eighty degrees as DD-350 struggled to right herself. Finally, one last monstrous wall of water proved too much for the valiant tin can. Marks, who was one of Hull's seven officers and fifty five enlisted men to survive, told of his ship's last moments. "The seas were monstrous, the winds having reached well over 100 knots," he wrote, adding "he believed that no wind or sea could have been worse." All the battering that occurred to Hickox, happened to Hull, as well, and more." At times, I felt the bridge, which was taking such extreme punishment from the tons of water bashing the whole structure, would be torn off the ship," Marks said, "the end came shortly before 1200. The enormous force of the wind was laying Hull on her starboard side and holding her down. The sea was beginning to surge in torrents into the ship's upper structure. I continued to remain on the bridge until the water flooded up to me, before stepping into the sea as she rolled over. Within minutes, Hull was gone" Marks and the other survivors were picked up three days later by USS Tabberer (DE-418).

The actual time of Monaghan's loss has never been determined, nor is the exact location of her sinking known. She was last heard from at 1007 on the 18th. Watertender Second Class Joseph C. McCrane spoke of sounding the fuel tanks at sometime between 1000 and 1030, in preparation for ballasting. The ship was rolling too heavily to continue that operation so he sought shelter in the after five-inch mount, which he found crowded, but not too crowded. "We must have taken at least seven or eight heavy rolls to starboard when the ship finally rolled over on her side," McCrane said, "the weight of the gun mount door and the wind blowing against it made it difficult to open, but eventually, we did get it open and managed to crawl out." Thankfully, none of the men had panicked, nor was there any confusion among them. They did the best they could to help their shipmates. They were all thrown into the sea and eventually McCrane found himself on a life raft with nine others. One, Gunner's Mate Joe Guio, who had stood outside the gun mount hatch pulling sailors out, died from exhaustion. During the next three days, two more died from exposure. Another thought he saw land and houses and swam off into the night. On the third day, the raft was spotted by search planes and, within an hour, USS Brown (DD-546) came to their rescue. There were six of them, all that was left of Monaghan and her crew.

Members of the Naval Order's San Francisco Commandery will remember that it was Monaghan that plucked Aviation Radioman Gunner Lloyd F. Childers of Walnut Creek and his pilot, Warrant Machinist Harry L. Corl, from the water during the Battle of Midway, after they had returned to their carrier only to find a gaping hole in her flight deck. Their Douglas Dauntless dive bomber had been damaged and was not up to the task of finding another carrier and Childers was badly wounded, so Corl ditched parallel to Monaghan. A doctor aboard the destroyer told Childers that he would not have lasted another thirty minutes.

The smaller destroyer escorts had a rough time of it and, though none foundered, none was pluckier than Tabberer, the ship that rescued the survivors of Hull and Spence. At one point, while trying to rescue an exhausted swimmer, the ship rolled nearly on her beam ends and almost brought the swimmer on board. But not quite, and when a huge shark approached, Tabberer's sailors drove it off with rifle fire. The swimmer was incapable of reaching a life ring thrown to him, so the ship's executive officer, reserve Lieutenant Robert M. Surdam, dove into the sea and carried a line to him. Another Tabberer over the side rescuer, Bosun's Mate L. A. Purvis, was bending a line to a half drowned swimmer when the ship rolled violently. Purvis' own lifeline was snagged by her underwater sonar dome and he was dragged under the ship as she righted herself. He tore his kapok life jacket off , the line was attached to it. Then swam under the ship, coming up on her other side. He and the swimmer both survived. In his report on the rescue of Hull's survivors, Lieutenant Commander Henry L. Plage, Tabberer's skipper, made note of the kapok life jacket. "Out of the 55 men rescued, 54 had kapok jackets. It is believed many were drowned during the storm because of the inadequate support given by the belt-type life jacket."

Survivors USS HULL and USS SPENCE


The Aftermath

Admiral Halsey first learned at 0225 on 19 December that ships had been lost and immediately detached USS Blue (DD-387), USS Gatling (DD-671) and Brown to join Tabberer in the search for survivors. They were later joined by Rudyerd Bay (CVE-81) and her escorts USS Robert F. Keller (DE-419) and USS Swearer (DE-186), and still later by USS Nehanta Bay (CVE-74). Brown found Monaghan's six survivors, as well as a dozen from Hull. The six Monaghan survivors, rescued after drifting on a raft 3 days, reported that their ship took roll after roll to starboard, finally going over. Of the 6 hands that survived the sinking, 3 perished after rescue. Swearer recovered nine from Spence.

A court of inquiry was convened aboard a destroyer tender, USS Dixie (AD-14) in Ulithi Lagoon on 26 December and placed responsibility for damage resulting from the typhoon squarely on The Bull who, it should be noted, bore the burden well. As endorsed by Fleet Admirals Nimitz and Ernest J. King, chief of naval operations, the court's report cleared Admiral Halsey of negligence, but not errors. Halsey was found to be principally responsible for failing to get the ships out of the typhoons path. The report stated his mistakes were "errors of judgment resulting from insufficient information, committed under stress of war operations, and stemming from firm determination to meet military requirements." The court also recommended improvements in ship construction to prevent entry of the sea under hurricane conditions and improvements in weather reporting. Nimitz flew to Ulithi where he spent Christmas and talked about the typhoon to many officers of the Third Fleet which had returned to the lagoon for repairs. After the Court of Inquiry had issued its report, he issued a commentary of his own. In a long Fleet Letter that could have been written by a descendent of Nathaniel Bowditch, he reminded his officers of the timeless responsibility of sailing masters for the safety of their ships, and with indirect reference to the commander of the Third Fleet said "It is most definitely part of the senior officer's responsibility to think in terms of the smallest ship and most inexperienced commanding officer under him." He concluded, "The time for taking all measures for a ship's safety is while still able to do so. Nothing is more dangerous than for a seaman to be grudging in taking precautions lest they turn out to be unnecessary. Safety at sea for a thousand years has depended on exactly the opposite philosophy."

On 12 January 1945 the Navy announced the loss of Hull (DD-350), Monaghan (DD-354) and Spence (DD-512).


USS Tabberer (DE-418)

4In the great typhoon of December, 1944, TABBERER, radio and radar knocked out, was thought lost. Actually, she was busy at the unbelievable feat of picking up 55 survivors from the HULL.

The high winds and seas continued to batter her on the 18th. By 18:30 her mast and radio antennae were gone. At 2130, a signalman trying to rig an emergency antenna, sighted a man in the water, and then sounded the "man overboard" alarm. Tabberer rushed to the rescue. Once on board, the sailor reported that he was from the Hull, and that his ship had sunk at about noon that same day. Thus, the Tabberer was the first ship of the 3rd Fleet to learn of the tragedy of 18 December 1944. Though unable to call for help, she immediately embarked upon a search for survivors. Her rescue efforts continued throughout the night, all day on the 19th, and into the 20th. In all, the Tabberer saved the lives of 55 officers and men, both from the Hull and also the Spence. Later, Tabberer was relieved by other units of the fleet. An additional 36 men, a few of whom belonged to the crew of the typhoon's third victim, the Monaghan, were also rescued by the Tabberer. The outstanding rescue efforts during the storm resulted in the awarding of Navy and Marine Corps medals for several crew members, Lieutenant Plage was awarded the Legion of Merit, and the Tabberer, received the Navy Unit Commendation.

NUCNMC

 

1Roscoe, 1953, p 458

2Houston Chronicle, 1945

3Parkin, 1995, p X

4Roscoe, 1953, p 455


Another account of the storm and its aftermath

Typhoon Cobra - Disaster at Sea

5THE LAW OF STORMS

Mr. Baldwin, The New York Times military editor, analyzed records of the Naval Court of Inquiry, log books of the ships concerned, and other accounts of the storm for this article, which is reprinted here...

It was the greatest fleet that had ever sailed the seas, and it was fresh from its greatest triumph. But, the hand of God was laid upon it and a great wind blew, and it was scattered and broken upon the ocean. The inexorable Law of Storms -- the Bible of all seamen since the days of astrolabe and sail -- was neglected, and the US Third Fleet, proud in its might, paid the penalty -- more men lost, more ships sunk and damaged than in many of the engagements of the Pacific war. Storms have intervened before in history and nature has adjudicated the small affairs of man. A great wind, as well as Drake of Devon, saved England from the Spanish Armada. But, in 500 years of naval history, there had been no wind the like of that which struck the Third Fleet, Admiral William F. Halsey commanding, and humbled it in an hour of victory 17-18 December 1944.

The battle for Leyte Gulf was history; the Japanese Empire only a few weeks before had been dealt a fatal blow. The invasion of Mindoro started 15 December and the Third Fleet was weary from three days of wide ranging strikes against the island of Luzon. As the fleet retired to the east to refuel, the beginning of the end was in sight; enemy land-based air power in the Philippines had been neutralized or destroyed, and MacArthur's "I have returned" was already loud upon the lips of the world. Admiral Halsey, flying his flag in the battleship NEW JERSEY, dispatched the refueling rendezvous -- 14° 50' north, 129° 57' east, about 500 miles east of Luzon -- to the oilers and to Task Force 38, the carriers, under Vice-Admiral John S. McCain. But, on the night of 16-17 December the sea made up and there was the queasiness of impending storm.

Sunday, 17 December, dawns dark and brooding, the sea choppy, the wind brisk but fickle, the ships fretful. Across hundreds of miles of ocean the Third Fleet steams, the masts, the flight decks bowing and dipping, swinging in wide arcs across the horizon. Here in all its majesty is the fleet that has humbled Japan -- a score of carriers, big and little; eight battlewagons, numerous cruisers, dozens of destroyers.

The refueling rendezvous is changed three times in search of calmer seas; the Third Fleet makes contact with the 24 big fleet oilers and their escort and, despite the querulous swells, refueling starts. The compulsion of combat, the support needed by those soldiers back on Mindoro , permits no concession to nature. The destroyers -- the little ships that dance in any sea, the ships with empty maws from their days of high speed steaming -- come alongside the tankers and battleships in the morning. But, the ocean will have none of it; this is a job for super seamen. There's nothing but a mad swath of white water between oilers and tin cans as the hungry little ships try to gulp their food through hoses leading from the oilers' tanks. Some get aboard hundreds of gallons before the lines break and the ships swing wildly apart, but most part line after line as boatswains curse and the water boils aboard the well decks and the steel plates run with oil. Wind force, 26 knots. Barometer 29.74. Temperature 82°. Visibility five miles.

In early afternoon Commander Third Fleet orders fueling suspended, sets course to the northwest, then later to the southwest to escape the center of the approaching storm which is not clearly located. The barometer drops, the winds moan; there's the uneasy leaden feeling of a hand across the heavens, but the Third Fleet steams on in cruising formation -- the destroyers screening the "big boys," the antiaircraft guns alert, the sonar's pinging, the radars searching, searching. The night is haggard.

Aboard the destroyers the "fiddles" are on the wardroom tables, the sleepers are braced in their bunks, but the sharp motion of the aroused ocean makes sleep fitful and despairing. Barometers fall steadily. Rain squalls and flung spray and spume reduce visibility; station-keeping is difficult -- at times almost impossible. The seas make up; the winds beat and buffet, "but no estimates of the storm center were in agreement," and not until dawn does the Third Fleet realize it is in the path of the granddaddy of all typhoons. And, the fleet oilers and their escorting destroyers and escort carriers -- somewhat to the north and east of the main body -- are directly athwart the eye of the approaching typhoon. Fleet course is ordered changed to 180° due south -- but it is too late; the fury is upon them. NANTAHALA (oiler) … "this ship pitching deeply and heavily." ALTAMAHA (escort carrier)… "heavy weather making station keeping only approximate."

Morning fuel reports from many of the destroyers are ominous. All were low the day before; some had de-ballasted (pumped salt water out of their tanks) to prepare to refuel. They are riding light and high; stability is reduced. And, their crews know that topside weight has been greatly increased since commissioning by more antiaircraft guns, fire control gear and radar. YARNALL reports 20% of fuel remaining; WEDDERBURN, 15%; MADDOX, HICKOX and SPENCE, 10-15%. The forenoon watch opens, in the words of an old seagoing term, "with the devil to pay and no pitch hot." The violence of the wind is terrible; it shrieks and whinnies, roars and shudders, beats and clutches. The sea is convulsed, diabolic; the ships are laboring -- laid over by the wind, rolling rapidly through tremendous arcs with sharp violent jerks, pounding and pitching, buried deep beneath tons of water, rising heavily, streaming foam and salt from gunwales and hawse pipes. Violent rain gusts, spin drift blown with the sting of hail, a rack of scud blot out visibility.

The Third Fleet is scattered; few ships see others. Only on the radarscopes do the pips of light loom up to show in wild confusion man's panoply of power. The deeply laden oilers, the heavy battleships, the larger carriers roll and plunge deeply and violently, but not dangerously, through the towering seas, but for the escort carriers, the light carriers and the destroyers, the struggle is to live. The war now is against nature, not the Japanese; no man in all the fleet had ever felt before the full fury of such a howling, demonic wind.

Some of the fleet is in the dangerous semicircle of the typhoon, where stronger winds drive them toward the storm's center, and at least one task unit is directly in the center, where the funnel of wind and the boiling ocean leap to climax. At 0820 destroyer DEWEY loses bridge steering control; at 0825 the radar, short-circuited by the flying scud, is out of operation. At 0845 escort carrier ALTAMAHA records in her deck log: "Mobile crane on hangar deck tore loose from moorings and damaged three aircraft." The barometer drops as no seaman there had ever seen it fall before; the wind is up.

Aboard COWPENS an F6F airplane, triple-lashed on the flight deck, breaks loose on a 45° roll and smashes into the catwalk, starting a fire. Men fight it as a bomb handling truck breaks free on the hangar deck and smashes the belly tank of a fighter. Men fight it as a wall of solid green water rips open, like a can opener, the steel roller curtains on the port side of the hangar deck. Men fight it as the anemometer, with one of its cups gone, registers a wind velocity of more than 100 knots; men fight it as the wind and sea pull out of its steel roots the forward 20mm gun sponson. Men fight it as the motor whaleboat is carried away by a wall of water, as bombs break their battens in the magazine and skitter about the deck, as jeeps and tractors, a kerry crane and seven planes are flung and blown off the flight deck into the writhing sea. But, in the end it is the sea which extinguishes the fire, as it was the sea which started it; the F6F breaks clear of the catwalk and falls into the tumult of water.

As the day wears on, the log books run out of the language of nautical superlatives. Several ships record the barometer at a flat 28 inches; DEWEY reads hers at 27.30 -- possibly the world's lowest recorded reading. Oiler NANTAHALA, with other ships of a fueling unit to the northeast of the main body near the storm center, records a wind velocity of 124 knots. The wind shifts rapidly in direction as the typhoon curves, blowing from north and south and east and west -- backing and filling as do all circular storms -- and increasing in intensity to Force 17, far beyond that ancient nautical measuring stick of mariners, the Beaufort scale -- which defines Force 12, its maximum -- "that which no canvas could withstand" -- as a "hurricane above 65 knots." The voice of the storm drowns all other voices; the wind has a thousand notes -- the bass of growling menace, the soprano of stays so tautly strained they hum like bowstrings. The tops of the waves -- 70 feet from trough to crest -- are flattened off by the wind and buried straight before its violence; rain and spin drift mix in a horizontal sheet of water; one cannot tell where ocean stops and sky begins.

Over all is the cacophony of the ships -- the racked and groaning ships, the creaking of the bulkheads, the working of the stanchions, the play of rivets, the hum of blowers, the slide and tear and roar of chairs and books adrift, of wreckage slipping from bulkhead to bulkhead. Low fuel, attempts to keep station or to change course to ease pounding spell havoc -- for some. The seas are so great, the wind so strong that some of the lighter destroyers are derelicts; all possible combinations of rudders and screws fail to take them out of the troughs; they are sloughed and rolled and roughed far on their sides by wind and water, and drift out of control downwind.

The light and escort carriers fare little better; aboard SAN JACINTO, MONTEREY, ALTAMAHA and others, planes slide and slip, wreckage crashes groaning back and forth; the hangar decks are infernos of flame and crashing metal, of fire and wind and sea. Light carrier SAN JACINTO tries to "swing to new course to ease her." The skipper backs the starboard engines, goes ahead 20 knots on the port, but the howling wind will have none of it; SAN JACINTO falls off into the trough, rolls 42°. A plane breaks loose on the hangar deck, skids into other planes -- each lashed to steel deck pad eyes with 14 turns of wire and rope -- tears them loose. The whole deck load crashes from side to side with each roll, "rupturing and tearing away all air intakes and vent ducts passing through the hangar decks." Aboard ALTAMAHA -- all 14,000 tons of her planning like a surfboard on the tremendous rollers -- the planes she mothers turn against her; fire mains burst; wreckage litters the elevator pit; heavy seas break over the fantail; damage repair parties shore the bulkheads.

1145 - The wind estimated to be more than 110 knots. But, DEWEY, as the morning dies, still lives. Not so destroyers MONAGHAN and SPENCE.

MONAGHAN, with 12 battle stars on her bridge and a veteran of combat from Pearl Harbor to Leyte, lunges to her doom -- the fleet unknowing -- late in that wild and wind-swept morning. She's last heard and dimly seen when the morning is but half spent:

0936 - MONAGHAN to Com. TG 30.8 -- "I am unable to come to the base course. Have tried full speed, but it will not work."

1006 - MONAGHAN to unknown ship -- "You are 1,200 yards off my port quarter. Am dead in water. Sheer off if possible." MONAGHAN to HOBBY -- "Bearing is 225°, 1,400 yards…"

MONAGHAN's 1,500 tons of steel are racked and strained; her starboard whaleboat drinks the sea as the davits dip into the green water. But, there's little intimation of disaster. About eight bells, as the Wagnerian dirge of the typhoon drowns the lesser noises of the laboring ship, the wind pushes MONAGHAN far on her starboard side. She struggles to rise again -- and makes it, but sluggishly. In the after deck house, 40-50 men cling to stanchions and pray silently or aloud. Slowly the ship recovers. But, the lights go out; again the deep roll to starboard, again and again she struggles back, shuddering, from disaster. Then, about noon, the wind brutalizes her; heavily, MONAGHAN rolls to starboard -- 30°, 40°, 60°, 70° -- tiredly, she settles down flat on her side to die amid a welter of white waters and the screaming Valkyries of the 0storm. And, there go with her 18 officers and 238 men. SPENCE goes about the same time, but again the fleet unknowing. SPENCE is de-ballasted, light in fuel; she rides like a cork and is flung like a cork in the terrible canyon-like troughs. Power fails; the electrical board is shorted from the driven spray; the ship goes over 72° to port -- and stays there. The lights are out; the pumps are stopped -- the ship's heart dead before the body dies; she drifts derelict.

Sometime before noon , the supply officer -- Lieutenant Alphonso Stephen Krauchunas, USNR -- destined to be SPENCE's only officer survivor, sits on the edge of the bunk in the captain's cabin talking tensely with the ship's doctor. An awful roll throws Krauchunas on his back against the bulkhead "in a shower of books and whatnot." Crawling on hands and knees on the bulkheads of the passageway, Krauchunas gets topside just before the entering ocean seeks him out. He fights clear along with 70 others -- but SPENCE -- 2,000 tons of steel with the power of 60,000 horses -- is done. The afternoon watch brings some slight surcease to some ships, climax and desperation to others.

The fleet is widely dispersed across a raging ocean -- some ships have felt the full fury of the storm; others are still to feel it. Between 1100 and 1400 of that day the peak is reached; "mountainous seas …confused by backing winds made the vessels roll to unprecedented angles." For destroyer HULL, with much of the mail of the fleet aboard, the afternoon watch is her last. Small and old as destroyers go, HULL made heavy weather of it in the morning; the driven spray had shorted everything; in the Combat Information Center leaky seams admitted the sea and "sparks were jumping back and forth among the electrical cables."HULL's tanks are 70% full of fuel oil; she's better off than her lighter sisters though she has no water ballast.

But, the storm brooks no objections; gradually, HULL loses the fight. Her radar is out; the whale boat smashed and torn loose; depth charges wrenched away and to "every possible combination of rudder and engines" the ship will not respond, and is blown "bodily, before wind and sea, yawing between headings of 100° and 080° true" -- toward the east. But, the wind increases to an estimated 110 knots; "the force of the wind lays the ship over on her starboard side and holds her down in the water until the seas come flowing into the pilot house." Early in the afternoon, the leaping sea hurtles up into the port wing of the bridge and young Commander Marks steps off his capsized ship, his first command, into a sea "whipped to a froth," a sea so wildly angry, so ravening for life that lifejackets are torn from the backs of the few survivors. Destroyer DEWEY, battered and racked in the morning watch, makes it, though hurt almost mortally. At 1230 No. 1 stack carries away and falls over the side in a clutter of wreckage, leaving a gaping wound in the main deck and 400 pounds of steam escaping from the ruptured whistle line in a shuddering roar that mingles with the berserk voice of the typhoon. The falling funnel carries away the whaleboat davits; this easing of the topside weight -- and the skipper's prescience in the morning watch in counter-ballasting the high port side with most of his fuel probably saved the ship. Nevertheless, green water slops over the starboard wing of the bridge as the ship lies over an estimated 80° to starboard -- and lives to tell about it -- perhaps the first vessel in the history of the sea to survive such a roll. At 1300 the barometer hits bottom -- an estimated 27.30". But the typhoon has done its worst; at 1340 the barometer registers a slight rise, and at 1439 the wind slackens to about 80 knots. The storm curves on into the wide open spaces of the Pacific the rest of that day -

Monday. The winds still howl; the ships still heave, the ocean is confused, and even on Tuesday the seas are huge, but the great typhoon is over. Behind, it leaves the fleet scattered and broken, with more unrequited damage, as Admiral Halsey later noted, than at any time since the first battle of Savo Island . Survivors of MONAGHAN, HULL and SPENCE are pitifully few; destroyer escort TABBERER, herself de-masted, picks up the first survivors from HULL at 2200 that night, and others, including Commander Marks, the next day. TABBERER also rescues ten survivors from SPENCE aboard a life raft on the 20th; other ships, scouring the ocean now that news of the sinkings is widely disseminated, find a handful of spent and injured sailors, who will forever comprehend more fully than any living men the meaning of the fury of the sea. The great typhoon of 17-18 December 1944 cost 790 dead or missing -- 202 from HULL, about 256 from MONAGHAN, 317 from SPENCE.

© Copyright All rights reserved, The Patriots Defenders Network

5Baldwin, 1953


6On completion of her shakedown trials, during which time she paid goodwill visits to ports in the British Isles, Portugal and the Azores, the USS HULL (DD-350) reported to the Commandant of the Pacific Fleet. Home ported at the destroyer base, San Diego, she participated in fleet maneuvers with the battle force and conducted her training operations along the California coast and in Hawaiian and Alaskan waters. On 12 October 1941, HULL's home port was shifted to Pearl Harbor and, at the time of the Japanese attack, she was moored alongside the destroyer tender USS DOBBIN (AD-3).

During the raid, HULL contributed her share of firepower against the attackers while her engineers labored to raise steam in an effort to get underway. Escaping from the cataclysmic raid unscathed, the destroyer joined up with several ships outside the harbor hoping to engage with submarines that had been reported trying to enter the harbor.

During the grim weeks that followed the attack, HULL took part in the hit-and-run strikes against the Japanese-held islands of Jaluit and Makin. Upon her return to Pearl Harbor in March, she was allocated to escorting shipping between Hawaii and West Coast ports for a period of three months.

On 7 August 1942, HULL covered the landings on Guadalcanal and Tulagi. On the following day, the Japanese retaliated with an all-out air assault against the invasion forces, but the fierce AA fire thrown up by the warships took its toll in aircraft, of which several were splashed by HULL's well-trained gunners. However, during one of the raids, the transport GEORGE F. ELLIOT was seriously bomb-damaged and crashed by a suicide plane. Her repair parties being unable to contain the fires or effect repairs, HULL was compelled to sink the fiery wreck later that evening.

HULL was then consigned to escort duty, screening re-supply convoys between Espiritu Santo and Guadalcanal prior to returning to Pearl on 20 October. Returning to the South Pacific in mid-November, HULL spent the remainder of the year operating with the battleship COLORADO (BB-45), safeguarding the vital supply lines between the United States, Australia and New Zealand. In early January 1943, she escorted a convoy to San Francisco, and upon her arrival entered the Mare Island Navy Yard, Vallejo, California, for alterations and repairs.

At the completion of her yard overhaul and battle-readiness exercises, HULL went to conduct her operations in the North Pacific. Arriving at Adak on 16 April 1943, she and her division operated with battleships and cruisers in these northern waters and took part in several bombardments on Attu and Kiska islands. On 15 August, she covered the landings at Kiska, which were met without resistance from the Japanese. Upon "taking" the island, the landing force was astonished to discover that the enemy had successfully evacuated their troops two weeks earlier by submarines.

Following this assignment, HULL's operations were shifted to the South and Central Pacific, at which time she participated in the bombardments and landings on the Gilbert, Caroline and Marshall islands. On 20 November, after taking part in covering the landings on Makin, HULL escorted the empty cargo and troop ships to Pearl Harbor and from there stood out for San Francisco, arriving on 21 December.

Throughout the remainder of December and into Mid-January 1943, HULL participated in amphibious training exercises out of San Diego prior to returning to Pearl Harbor and then to the Central Pacific. On 18 March, she bombarded the Mille Atoll, Truk, on 29-30 April, and took part in the famous "Marianas Turkey Shoot" on 19 June.

On 25 August, HULL entered the Bremerton Navy Yard in Washington State for repairs and went on to carry out her training operations off the West Coast before returning to Pearl Harbor on 23 October. From there, she covered a convoy to the Philippines, later joining up with Rear Admiral Halsey's Third Fleet, which was carrying out air strikes against Japanese air fields and military concentrations in the northern Philippines.

HULL was one of the destroyers consumed by the ferocious typhoon Cobra of 17-18 December, along with USS SPENCE (DD- 512) and USS MONAGHAN (DD- 354). After sustaining a savage battering from the demonic sea and fierce winds, the doomed HULL, having lost steering control, became "locked in irons" in a monstrous trough. Despite every attempt by her captain, Lieutenant Commander James E. Marks, to keep her afloat, a strong gust of wind, recorded at 110 knots, finally leaned her well over on her beams end to 80 degrees. She never recovered.

Here, in part, HULL's captain, J.E. Marks, describes the terrifying situation that her and his crew had to contend with: "The seas were monstrous, the winds having reached well over 100 knots. I had served on several destroyers during my naval career and had witnessed many severe storms, primarily while on convoy duty in the North Atlantic, and believe that no wind or sea could have been worse than what I was now experiencing."

"As the seas grew worse, the motor whaleboat's bow was stove in and, later, was ripped from its davits and tossed into the sea. Several depth charges were yanked from the 'K' guns and were rolling across the deck, eventually dropping overboard. Because of the velocity of the wind, the smokestacks were under a terrific strain. At times, I felt that the bridge, which was taking such extreme punishment from the tons of water bashing the whole structure, would be torn off the ship."

"Shortly before 1200, the ship had withstood what I estimated to be the worst punishment that any storm could offer. She had just rolled over to 70 degrees, but thankfully recovered when a gust momentarily ceased. But now, the wind had reached up to 110 knots, its enormous force laying the HULL steadily on her starboard sided and holding her down. The sea was beginning to surge in torrents into the ship's upper structure. I continued to remain on the bridge until the water flooded up to me, before stepping into the sea as she rolled over."

"Then I heard and could feel the concussion from the ship's boilers exploding, but did not feel any ill effects from the blasting. I then concentrated every effort to survive. What with the wind whipping the sea into a froth and the air full of salt spray and driving rain, I could hardly see but a few feet around me. Actually, I felt like a pea in a pot of boiling water, being thrown and tossed up and down beneath the waves and being smashed about by the turbulence."

Three days later, [Lieutenant] Commander Marks, seven officers and 55 enlisted men were rescued by the USS Tabberer (DE-418). Sadly, the remainder[s] of HULL's crew were never found.

 

6Parkin, 1995, pp282 - 284


7Typhoon [Cobra]!

While the Mindoro invasion was going forward, the Third Fleet stood off the Philippines to send carrier aircraft roaring westward in a series of strikes at targets in the Manila area. Halsey planned to fuel his ships on 17 December and to launch a three-day strike series on the 19th. But the day chosen for fuelling operations proved one of the darkest in Third Fleet history. Trouble began during the forenoon watch of the 17th. When the calendar turned on 19 December, the Third Fleet had lost three ships, 790 men, and about 200 planes. Twenty-eight ships were damaged, and nine of the damaged were so badly battered they had to be sent into port for major overhauls. The enemy was that "Ole Devil Sea".

On the morning of the 17th the ships were about 500 miles east of Luzon. Begun during the forenoon watch, fuelling work was made increasingly difficult by a moderate cross-swell and rising winds which varied from 20 to 30 knots. The destroyers were soon harassed by the jumping seas. Attempting to take on oil from the NEW JERSEY, destroyer SPENCE was hard put to it to avoid collision, and the forward and after hoses snapped. Alongside the WISCONSIN, destroyer COLLETT had similar difficulty, both fuelling hoses carrying away. STEPHEN POTTER, LYMAN K. SWENSON, PRESTON, and THATCHER were unable to fuel. And the MANSFIELD had to give up the attempt.

Upon receiving word that the weather would worsen, Halsey ordered the fueling operation suspended, and headed the Fleet northwestward to evade the storm, which was advancing from the east. Later that afternoon the storm changed course, and so did Halsey in another effort to evade. That night the Third Fleet ran southwest. But the storm, strangely vindictive, refused to take the expected tack, and gradually caught up with the retiring ships. During the morning of 18 December the weather relentlessly deteriorated. An attempt to fuel, begun at 0700, had to be canceled. The glass fell steadily, and by 0830 the storm had grown into a monster typhoon, its center only 150 miles from the ocean-blown Third Fleet.

For the remainder of that morning and most of the afternoon, the Third Fleet fought a battle against an enemy which neither guns nor bombs could quell. Throughout this combat in which marksmanship had no part, only seamanship and leadership were of avail. Buffeted by 70-foot seas, the American battleships rolled like canoes in a rapids. Light carriers MONTEREY and COWPENS, heaving like hammocks, suffered damage when aircraft broke loose, and spurting gasoline started fires. Fire broke out on the flight deck of escort-carrier CAPE ESPERANCE. Escort-carrier KWAJALEIN lost steering control. Escort-carrier RUDYARD BAY went dead in the water. By mid-afternoon the wind was shrieking at 93-knot velocity. At 1358 the typhoon's center was only 35 miles distant, and the sea and sky were berserk.

Rough on battleships and carriers, the typhoon was unmitigated hell for the destroyers, some of which, low on fuel, had pumped out water ballast preparatory to fuelling and were consequently riding high in the water. During the peak of the storm, a number of the DD's were rolled on their beams and pinned down with their stacks almost flat against the sea. In such a roll to leeward, destroyer DEWEY lay over in a cant which registered 75o on the ship's inclinometer. The AYLWIN, another FARRAGUT-class destroyer, rolled 70o. With their beam ends buried and giant waves sweeping over forecastle and superstructure, the destroyers endured excruciating moments of jeopardy. Water plunged into ventilators and intakes. Electrical installations were swamped and short-circuited. With loss of electric power, lights gave out, steering gear failed, and the ships, without means of communication, were left to wallow feebly in deaf-and-dumb desolation.

The destroyermen could only batten down, lash such items of unstable gear as could be captured and hogtied, and cling to handholds and bulkheads. On the pounded decks, life rafts were swept away, lines were snapped, boats were ripped out of their davits, antennas were twisted into bedsprings, and deck gear was uprooted. Typical damage was suffered by the destroyer HICKOX (Commander J.H. Wesson), whose skipper reported her steering motors out of commission, her main switchboard and emergency Diesel boards ruined, power panels wrecked, radar antenna torn away, a searchlight stripped, and a depth-charge rack smashed like a stepped-on tinker toy. Salt water "poisoned" one of the ship's boilers; the overhead of the after deckhouse was buckled; the carpenter shop and another compartment aft were flooded; and the motor whaleboat was whisked overside.

Destroyers BRUSH, FRANKS, CUSHING, MADDOX, COOLAHAN, and MANSFIELD were among the DD's which suffered minor storm damage, while riding out hell and high water. The little DE's with the Third Fleet dug in and hove to as best they could-orphans of the tempest. But one of the destroyer-escorts did more than that-a whole lot more. She was the U.S.S. TABBERER (Lieutenant Commander Henry L. Plage, U.S.N.R.). And she ran to the rescue of the three Third Fleet ships which were lost in the typhoon-three destroyers.

Loss of U.S.S. HULL, U.S.S. SPENCE, and U.S.S. MONAGHAN.

They come under the same heading, for theirs was a common grave.

Hull                     Lt.Comdr   J.A. Mark

Spence              Lt.Comdr   J.P. Andrea

Monahan           Lt.Comdr   F.B. Garrett, Jr

Somewhere in the immediate vicinity of lat. 14-57 N., long. 127-58 E., they were erased by mountainous seas-battered under by a foe more relentless than any human agency

HULL and MONAGHAN were screening vessels for a Third Fleet fuelling unit which was servicing Task Force 38. SPENCE was a screening vessel attached to Halsey's fleet. When the typhoon struck on that morning of the 18th, HULL had 70 per cent of her fuel capacity aboard; MONAGHAN'S tanks contained 76 per cent. Both ships were without water ballast. SPENCE, carrying only 15 per cent of her fuel capacity, and caught with only a little water ballast, was riding like an empty tanker.

The storm came howling down from the north; the ocean surged up to meet the sagging sky; the seascape blurred out in a gray-white opacity of flying spume. And somewhere in that screaming limbo of wind and water the three ships went down. Apparently first to go, SPENCE capsized after her rudder jammed full right shortly after 1100. Only 23 of her crew lived to tell the story of her final hour. Lost with his ship was Lieutenant Commander Andrea.

HULL went down during the noon hour. The wind had driven her over on her starboard side until her inclometer went "out of sight". A sudden gust forced her beyond the point of recovery; a hill of water avalanched across her decks; she rolled over and sank. Fifty-five men and seven officers, among them Lieutenant Commander Marks, managed to escape the vessel and survive the raving ocean.

The exact moment of MONAGHAN'S demise is unknown, but she went down at midday in company with HULL and SPENCE. About 300 officers and men went down with the ship when it capsized. Lost with the destroyer was Lieutenant Commander Garrett. Only six of the crew survived.

About 1400 of that dark day the weather began to mend. By 1600 the wind had decreased to 35 knots and the barometer had climbed to 29.46. Halsey had word of the missing ships, and a search for survivors was begun before darkness set in. After nightfall there were several reports of lights glimpsed and whistles heard, but destroyers dispatched on the hunt were unable to locate the sources of these signals in the blowing dark.

Throughout that night and the ensuing two days, the ships and planes of the Third Fleet conducted what Halsey described as "the most exhaustive search in Navy history". Four ships were believed lost, for the destroyer-escort TABBERER had disappeared and did not answer radio calls. Here and there a few swimmers were picked up, and several rafts were located. Then word came in from the TABBERER. The little DE had lost her foremast. Her radio had been knocked out and her radar ruined. But she was very much afloat, and she was bringing with her 55 destroyermen, survivors she had rescued from the typhoon's wrath. A number of these survivors-men from HULL-said they had never seen such seamanship as that exhibited by TABBERER'S skipper when he jockeyed his ship through giant seas to snatch drowning men from the water. That skipper, Lieutenant Commander Plage, promptly received from Halsey the message, "Well done for a sturdy performance". Recalling the incident in Admiral Halsey's Story, the leader of the Third Fleet remarked that he expected to learn that Plage was a veteran mariner who had "cut his teeth on a marlinspike". Halsey was overwhelmed to discover that Plage was a Reserve Officer at sea for his second cruise-a sailor who had "cut his teeth" in the ROTC at Georgia Tech.

From the survivors rescued by TABBERER, by destroyer-escort SWEARER, destroyer BROWN, and other lifesavers, the Navy learned the details of the HULL, SPENCE, and MONAGHAN sinkings. Typical were the stories told by Lieutenant (jg) A.S. Krauchunas, U.S.N.R., sole surviving officer of SPENCE, and Water Tender Second Class Joseph C. McCrane, U.S.N.R., highest ranking of the six MONAGHAN survivors.

Lieutenant (jg) Krauchunas recalled the ordeal in the following testimony:

The typhoon began its fury on the (18th)...and it was impossible...to fuel. Orders were given to ballast ship at 0900 since the ship had only 12 per cent fuel and was rolling heavily. These rolls exceeded 50 degrees. At 1100 the power was gone due to water seeping into the fireroom through vents. The ship was caught in the huge swells. The first huge swell rolled the ship 75 degrees, from which it recovered, but the next one rolled her over, trapping all those below the main deck, passageways, radio shack, C.I.C., wardroom, and so froth. Fifty to 60 men managed to get off into the water from their stations topside. They clutched to life rafts, floater nets, life jackets or whatever they managed to get ahold of. The wind blew them out of sight of the ship within a few minutes. None saw the ship sink, and it was last seen floating upside down. The gale lasted for another eight hours before it subsided, and during this time many were drowned, being in a shocked and dazed condition. The gale, approximately 115 knots, subsided that evening to about 15 to 20 knots. There were four groups of men floating in the darkness, some in the water, some on a life raft, and some on a floater net.

Krauchunas stated that the nine men on the floater net had many unusual experiences. The men began to suffer from the hot sun that burned any exposed areas of the skin. The floater net had two kegs of water, no flare, no medicine kit, and no food kits, all of which broke off during the vicious typhoon. Water was given out once every three hours in order that it would last longer. A can of vegetable shortening was picked up and spread over the men's sunburned areas. Two search planes flew overhead but did not see us. One of the men became unconscious and slipped from the net several times before he was missed. Of the three men to die, he was first. His name was Ensign George W. Poer. At midnight, 20 December 1944, Lieutenant (jg) John Whalen slipped from the net. The other man had become unconscious some time before, but was held on the net by Charles Wohlleb, Water Tender Third Class, but it became necessary to let him go.

At 0300 on the morning of 20 December, an aircraft carrier slipped into view on the horizon.

The men on the net shouted, whistled, and waved.

The carrier heard us and dropped smoke bombs and flares to mark our approximate position, and it continued on its way. Within a half an hour, a destroyer appeared from the other direction but we were not successful in attracting its attention. Shortly another ship appeared and it found the flares which the carrier had dropped. This ship was the U.S.S. SWEARER, which eventually picked us up.

Another group of men, unknown to us at this time, were drifting some distance away. One man distinguished himself by saving men on five different occasions, but lost his own life when he attempted to save the last man. He was Henry Oliver Tagg, First Class machinist's Mate, and he has been recommended for citation.

Three other men were picked up after having drifted for two days and nights. They were tied together with five life jackets, lines, and floater ring. Two of them had been unconscious for some time but were held by David Moore, Steward First Class, who is credited with saving their lives. U.S.S. TABBERER was the rescue ship.

William Keith, Seaman First, was picked up by the U.S.S. GATLING after he had been floating by himself for two days and nights. He was delirious, and his…experience…was interesting. He claimed that drowning was not his way of dying…and that a Japanese torpedo was floating by, and he chased it for some time. He wanted to set it off and blow up with it.…

Water Tender McCrane of the MONAGHAN tells this stark story:

…I went back to the engineers' compartment and the ship was rolling so heavy that all of us decided to go topside into the after gun shelter.…

I managed to work myself to within about ten feet of the door on the port side. There were about 40 men in the shelter. One of the fellows was praying aloud. Every time the ship would take about a 70 degree roll to starboard, he would cry out, "Please bring her back, dear Lord, don't let us down now." We must have taken about seven or eight rolls to the starboard before she went over on her side. When the ship went over some of the fellows tried to get the door open on the port side. It was a difficult job because the wind was holding and the waves were beating up against it, but they did get it opened and we started out. All the fellows kept their heads and there was no confusion or pushing and everyone was trying to help the other fellow. A Gunner's Mate by the name of Joe Guio, with absolutely no thought of his own safety, was standing outside of the hatch pulling everyone out.…

McCrane, himself, was knocked off the shelter into the churning sea. Swimming through the watery smother, he finally reached a raft. Guio also got to the raft. The Gunner's Mate was injured and shivering-suffering from shock. His clothing had either been discarded or torn from his body, and McCrane held him in his arms to keep him warm. The wounded man lapsed into unconsciousness, while McCrane chafed his wrists and hands. Then--

Guio awoke and asked me if I could see anything, and when I hold him I could see the stars, he said that he couldn't see anything. He then thanked Melroy Harrison, Seaman Second, for pulling him aboard the raft and then he thanked me for trying to keep him warm. He laid his head back on my shoulder and went to sleep. About a half-hour later I had a funny feeling come over me and I tried to wake him up only to find that he was dead. I told the rest of the fellows and we decided to hold him a little longer before we buried him. In about 20 minutes we had our first burial at sea. We all said the Lord's Prayer as he was lowered over the side. …

…We were in shark-infested waters and were completely surrounded by them; we were plenty scared of them, too. Every time we opened a can of Spam, more sharks would appear.

That evening there were two more burials. And by the evening of the 20th most of the men were in delirium. "…they thought they saw land and houses." One man swam away from the raft and disappeared in the dark. He was never seen again. On the raft another man died, and the survivors consigned his body to the deep.

McCranes's testimony goes on:

We saw a large onion floating about 25 feet from us, and we tried to get to it. We almost had it when a shark about eight feet long had the same idea, so we decided to let him have it.

Several ships were sighted, and the little party on the raft cried itself hoarse and gestured madly in an effort to attract the distant vessels. At length the raft was spotted by two search planes.

We were so happy we were almost speechless, so we could think of nothing better to do than to thank God, so we all said a prayer of thanks. …

Not long after the aircraft contact, McCrane and his five companions were picked up by the destroyer BROWN.

In rescuing the survivors of HULL and SPENCE, the TABBERER men risked their own lives in more ways than one. It was not easy to maneuver the little DE in the teeth of the storm. At one point the ship, struggling to make 10 knots, was caught in the deep valley of a trough, and forced over on her beam in a roll of 72 degrees. They almost caught an exhausted swimmer who, unable to reach a life ring, was treading water while TABBERER stood by. Suddenly an enormous shark slid down a wave and glided toward the man. Sighting the deadly fin, TABBERER'S sailors opened fire with rifles. The shark passed within six feet of the swimmer, then was driven off by the sharp-shooting destroyermen. The DE's "Exec", Lieutenant Robert M. Surdam, U.S.N.R., plunged overside to secure a line around the fainting man. The exhausted swimmer was hauled aboard and quickly revived.

Another TABBERER lifesaver, L.A. Purvis, Bos'n's Mate First Class, almost lost his life while struggling in the water with a half-drowned swimmer. Too much slack was left in his line, and a bight caught on the underwater sound dome when the DE rolled. Purvis was dragged under the ship. Realizing what had happened, he wrenched off his kapok jacket, swam under the ship, and came up on the other side. Only his presence of mind and his skill as a swimmer saved him from a fatal keel-hauling.

Concerning kapok jackets, TABBERER'S Commanding Officer noted that "Out of the 55 men rescued, 54 had kapok jackets. It is believed many were drowned during the storm because of the inadequate support given by the belt-type life jacket".

The typhoon of 18 December was one of the worst encountered in the Pacific. During the Okinawa campaign in the spring of 1945, a raging typhoon would again strike the Third Fleet a devastating uppercut. Destroyer MCKEE and a destroyer-escort CONKLIN would be whipped by the backlash of this storm off Formosa. In this same tempest, other ships would receive severe damage; the vessels in mention were only moderately injured. Later in 1945 a typhoon would delay the Japanese surrender. But no Pacific tantrum struck the Navy a harder blow than the one which downed HULL, SPENCE, and MOHAGHAN. Only two other destroyers were storm-sunk during the war; TRUXTUN, driven aground by a North Atlantic, blizzard-blinded gale, and WARRINGTON, swamped by a Caribbean hurricane.

There were contributing factors to the 18 December tragedy. The typhoon was not accurately predicted, the immediate signs of it in the operating area were not heeded early enough, and it traveled a capricious path. One of the stricken ships was low on fuel and the others lacked water ballast. In reviewing the disaster, Admiral Nimitz noted that the three ships lost had been maneuvering to the last in an attempt to maintain station. It might have been better had they disregarded station-keeping in an effort to ride out the storm. "The time for taking all measurers for a ship's safety is while able to do so", wrote Admiral Nimitz. "Nothing is more dangerous than for a seaman to be grudging in taking precautions lest they turn out to be unnecessary. Safety at sea for a thousand years has depended on exactly the opposite philosophy."

As Admiral Nimitz observed, the storm "took charge". And when a typhoon takes charge, the forces of man are all too puny against the forces of Nature. In conclusion, Admiral Nimitz stated that the 18 December typhoon caused "the greatest loss that we have taken in the Pacific without compensatory return since the First Battle of Savo".

 

7Roscoe, 1953, pp 448 - 452

 


References

Baldwin, Hanson W. "The Law of Storms" Crowsnest Magazine(Official publication of the Royal Canadian Navy, November 1948 to June 1965; All black and white inside, it carried articles and pictures of interest to all ranks), October 1953.

Houston Chronicle. Newspaper clipping from collection of Dave Vrooman. Houston, Texas: 14 January 1945.

Parkin, Robert Sinclair. Blood on the Sea. New York, New York: Sarpedon, 1995.

Roscoe, Theodore United States Destroyer Operations in World War II. Annapolis, Maryland: United States Naval Institute, 1953.

Text, grammar, and spelling is as it appears in the Referenced documents, to the best of my proofreading ability.

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