I’ve just finished reading two remarkable books about the tragic WW-II encounter of the US Navy 3’rd fleet with the Pacific Typhoon Cobra. The fleet was operating in support of the US Army liberation of the Philippines, and was on its way back in for further action against the Japanese defenses when it encountered this huge and destructive storm. In those days, there were precious few warnings of such storms in the vast open spaces of the Pacific Ocean, and the fleet was for the most part blindsided by the storm.
I was prompted to read about this episode when I met a fellow at the VA hospital the other day – wish I could remember his name, but he was on the USS Langley, pictured above, one of the many ships of Admiral Halsey’s 3’rd Fleet who found themselves in the midst of the huge and ferocious typhoon Cobra east of the Philippines in December 1944. This fellow was a spry 90 years old and related to me some of his remembrances of that time … this sailor was an aviation support crew member and talked of how they lashed all the planes down as best they could and made it through the storm with no loss of aircraft. Other carriers were not so fortunate and many planes were lost as they broke loose in the hanger decks and caused much aircraft and ship damage.
Below are some graphics on the path of the storm and a radar picture of Cobra.
Three ships were lost to the sea, and 792 sailors on those ships never returned home.
Another small ship the USS Tabberer (pictured below), badly damaged and having lost its mast and thus all communication capability, nevertheless rescued 55 officers and men from both the Hull and Spence … and this in the midst of Cobra. In total 92 men were rescued by other ships of the fleet.
Below are additional pictures of ships in foul weather:
Some of those rescued:
I personally know some of the sailors that were part of that ill-fated 3’rd fleet on board the USS Porterfield DD-682, the ship I served on in 1965-66. You can see them by clicking on the link to my book below.
I talked to one of those sailors the other day … Gene Beckstrom … who remembers quite well his time in that storm and his concern that the ship was going over and down. Gene, along with Sam Thomas and the others, worked down below in the fire rooms and engine rooms and doubtless would have gone down with the ship had it capsized as did the three others.
I’ve been in some pretty rough seas on the Porterfield, and later on the reserve ship USS Shields DD-596, but never in my wildest imaginations had I ever considered how much worse it could have been. I considered the rough seas exhilarating and exciting … little did I know how close to the end of a good life I might have been.
An interesting fact is that future US President Gerald Ford, a pilot, was on one of those 3’rd fleet carriers, the USS Monterey, and came very close to being washed overboard. Ford is the jumper on the left.
Don Johnson – March 2015