Typhoon Cobra

In mid December 1944, Task Force 38 was still attacking targets in the Philippines (Operation Love III). The Task Force refueled 350 miles East of Luzon on 12/13, and continued airstrikes against Luzon until 12/17, when Halsey ordered a fueling rendezvous about 500 mile east of Luzon.

Each carrier had an onboard meteorologist. Meteorology was an “infant science” back then and forecasting was inexact at best. Halsey consulted with each carrier’s weatherman as well as the Fleet forecasting based on remote radio towers and far away floating weather buoys. There was no consensus on the location or the intensity of the developing storm.

A fierce typhoon quickly flared up in the area of the refueling; suddenly the conditions were so bad the refueling was called off and ships headed back towards Luzon. Some ships, especially destroyers, were low on fuel.

December 17 and 18 caught the Task Force and the service ships of Task Force 30 in a horrific storm, during which many ships, trying to navigate violent seas, went dead in the water. In the ensuing mess, carriers caught fire as their planes slammed into each other, giant battleships bounced around like tub toys, cruisers almost rolled over, and the low-on-fuel destroyers were pummeled. During the night’s utter chaos, sailors were swept off ships, planes disappeared overboard, radar antennas and other equipment were snapped off like dry twigs.

Three destroyers, (DD-512) Spence, (DD-354) Monaghan, and (DD-350) Hull, low on fuel and with insufficient ballast, rolled over and sank. Of the Spence’s crew, only 24 men survived. Only six men survived the sinking of the Monaghan. Sixty-two survived the sinking of the Hull.

The ships spent the next several days looking for survivors. Seven hundred ninety men were lost.

Eyewitness accounts:

from WAR DIARY, USS BOSTON CA69 by Frank Studenski

December 18, 1944:  This morning the weather is really bad. Some of the destroyers are low on fuel and the sea is so bad they cannot fuel from the tankers. The CVE’s are having a lot of problems, planes are breaking loose in the hangar deck and starting fires. The carrier, Independence, reported two men overboard. The carrier, Monterey, has a fire in her hangar deck and can only make five knots*. The sea looks like mountains no one can walk straight. Quite a few men were hurt by the rolling of the ship. Sandwiches and coffee were served for dinner and supper. We made a roll of 46 degrees, which is past the danger point. We lost on of our planes over the side from the force of the wind. No one is allowed on the main deck it is under water every time we roll. The battleship, Massachusetts, is dead in the water. The wind picked up with gusts of 93 knots*. Some of the destroyers report they are in danger of capsizing. Beside the loss of one plane, we also have 20MM gun tub damage. We were pretty lucky. The height of the waves must have been 30 to 40 feet. About thirty-five men were washed over the side, most of them from the carriers. We received some bad news, two destroyers were lost in the storm, Spence and Hull, two other destroyers are missing, some survivors were picked up, the winds picked up by late afternoon to over 100 knots*. The sea is a little calmer and by 2400 hours the winds died down. I did not get to sleep tonight. I want to stay awake tonight in case the ship rolls over.

from Baked Beans Vol 2:

We had other typhoons that we went through, but nothing like the Big One. At one time I started sliding down the deck – this was on the starboard side. The water was coming over the scuppers – in other words the deck was underwater. I’m sliding down and didn’t know what the hell to do. I had my hand up in the air like this. Well, they had put an inside lifeline before it got too rough – just for people to even be able to walk down the deck. As I’m sliding down, the lifeline hit my hand and I grabbed it. If I had missed, I’d’ve gone right over the side. Once I grabbed the line and the ship rolled back to level, the guys formed a hand-line and the last guy grabbed my hand and I was able to get back up. That was just an instant thing that happened, and you don’t think about it then, but you do think about it when you get older and you realize how lucky you were to have gotten out of that one.     Bob Knight

Our sleeping quarters were on the very stern end of the ship. My bunk was over the four screws that propel the ship. You get used to the noise when it’s normal. But when you get into a storm and the ship is pitching, the propellers come out of the water. You talk about vibrating the ship! The ship, during all this floundering around, I’m down below in my bunk and there wasn’t anything for you to do – so you just lay in your bunk and you try and relax. And the goddamn ship turned like this – a 46 degree roll – now fifty would be sideways. It got to 46 degrees and the whole ship started trembling. My whole life flashed before my eyes. I was knocked out of my bunk. I couldn’t get up because the ship is sideway. So I’m holding on and I’m saying ‘oh my God, we’re going!’ and it’s shaking and shaking. Finally, slowly but surely . . . voom . . . she cam back. I got up off that deck and I flew up that ladder and I sent topside and I didn’t go back down below again until we were well out of that typhoon. I thought for sure we were gone. I really did. That was quite a tune, thaty was. And I had put some pretty good duty in the North Atlantic through some pretty tough situations – but boy that typhoon . . . there was nothing like that.  George Pitts

“I was alone on watch at night on Quad #7 standing on the back part of the after-stack as protection from the 100 foot high waves and wind. I was above the water line at least 100 feet when I saw a destroyer off the port side in the distance.   We made a maneuver and did a 40 plus degree roll. I fell face down and was holding onto the cat walk steel mesh and was actually able to see the water as we rolled. I started to pray that we would be safe. The ship rolled back to the starboard side and I called Fire Control and asked where the destroyer was. I was told “Joe, it sank.”  

I thought we were done and our ship would be next as I continued to pray.   The ship was water tight in integrity so all the hatches were closed. I was one of the few guys above deck. I continued my watch (four hours total). I remember some survivors were picked up by our ship.”   Joseph Pulaski