Typhoon Cobra

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Typhoon Cobra
Typhoon Cobra, 18 December 1944 east of Luzon.jpg
Eye structure captured on radar
FormedDecember 14, 1944
DissipatedDecember 19, 1944[1]
Lowest pressure≤ 907 hPa (mbar); 26.78 inHg
Fatalities790 U.S., unknown elsewhere
Areas affectedPhilippine Sea
Part of the 1944 Pacific typhoon season

Typhoon Cobra, also known as the Typhoon of 1944 or Halsey's Typhoon (named after Admiral William 'Bull' Halsey), was the United States Navy designation for a powerful tropical cyclone that struck the United States Pacific Fleet in December 1944, during World War II.

Task Force 38 (TF 38) had been operating about 300 mi (260 nmi; 480 km) east of Luzon in the Philippine Sea, conducting air raids against Japanese airfields in the Philippines. The fleet was attempting to refuel its ships, in particular the lighter destroyers, which had small fuel tanks. As the weather worsened, it became increasingly difficult to refuel, and the attempts had to be discontinued. Despite warning signs of worsening conditions, the ships remained on station. Worse, the information given to Halsey about the location and direction of the typhoon was inaccurate. On December 17, Halsey unwittingly sailed the Third Fleet into the centre of the typhoon.

Because of 100 mph (87 kn; 45 m/s; 160 km/h) winds, high seas, and torrential rain, three destroyers capsized and sank with 790 lives lost. Nine other warships were damaged, and over 100 aircraft were wrecked or washed overboard. The aircraft carrier Monterey was forced to battle a serious fire that was caused by a plane hitting a bulkhead.

"Planes went adrift, collided, and burst into flames. Monterey caught fire at 0911 (18 December) and lost steerageway a few minutes later. The fire, miraculously, was brought under control at 0945, and the C.O., Captain Stuart H. Ingersoll, wisely decided to let his ship lie dead in the water until temporary repairs could be effected. She lost 18 aircraft burned in the hangar deck or blown overboard and 16 seriously damaged, together with three 20-mm guns, and suffered extensive rupturing of her ventilation system. Cowpens lost 7 planes overboard and caught fire from one that broke loose at 1051, but the fire was brought under control promptly; Langley rolled through 70 degrees; San Jacinto reported a fighter plane adrift on the hangar deck which wrecked seven other aircraft. She also suffered damage from salt water that entered through punctures in the ventilating ducts.
"Captain [Jasper T.] Acuff's replenishment escort carriers did pretty well. Flames broke out on the flight deck of Cape Esperance at 1228 but were overcome; Kwajalein made a maximum roll of 39 degrees to port when hove-to with wind abeam. Her port catwalks scooped up green water, but she lost only three planes which were jettisoned from the flight deck; it took one hour to get them over the side. Three other escort carriers lost in all 86 aircraft but came through without much material damage."[2]

USS Tabberer – a small John C. Butler-class destroyer escort – lost her mast and radio antennas. Though damaged and unable to radio for help, the ship remained on the scene and recovered 55 of the 93 total sailors who were rescued from capsized ships. Captain Henry Lee Plage earned the Legion of Merit, while the entire crew earned the Navy Unit Commendation Ribbon, which was presented to them by Halsey.

In the words of Admiral Chester Nimitz, the typhoon's impact "...represented a more crippling blow to the Third Fleet than it might be expected to suffer in anything less than a major action." The events surrounding Typhoon Cobra were similar to those the Japanese navy itself faced some nine years earlier in what they termed the "Fourth Fleet Incident."

This typhoon led to the establishment of weather infrastructure of the U.S. Navy, which eventually became the Joint Typhoon Warning Center.

Meteorological history[edit]

Map plotting the track and the intensity of the storm, according to the Saffir–Simpson scale

On December 17, the typhoon was first observed, surprising a fleet of ships in the open western Pacific Ocean. Barometric pressures as low as 26.8 inHg (907 mbar) and wind speeds up to 120 kn (140 mph; 62 m/s; 220 km/h) in gusts were reported by some ships.[citation needed] The storm was last seen on the 18th.

Task Force 38[edit]

An oiler struggles to maintain position, 17 December 1944.

TF 38 consisted of seven fleet carriers, six light carriers, eight battleships, 15 cruisers, and about 50 destroyers. The carriers had been conducting raids against Japanese airfields in the Philippines and ships were being refueled, especially many destroyers running low on fuel. When the storm hit, the procedure had to be aborted.

Damage to the fleet was severe. Some ships rolled more than 70 degrees. Three destroyers, Spence, Hickox, and Maddox, had nearly empty fuel stores (10-15% of capacity) and therefore lacked the stabilizing effect of the extra weight and thus were relatively unstable. Additionally, several other destroyers, including Hull and Monaghan, were of the older Farragut-class and had been refitted with over 500 long tons (510 t) of extra equipment and armament which made them top-heavy.

Spence, Hull, and Monaghan either capsized or were sunk after water flooded down their smokestacks and disabled their engines. Without power, they were unable to control their heading and were at the mercy of the wind and seas. Hickox and Maddox pumped seawater into their empty fuel tanks, adding enough stability to ride out the storm with relatively minor damage.

Many other ships of TF 38 suffered various degrees of damage, especially to radar and radio equipment which crippled communications within the fleet. Several carriers suffered fires on their hangars and 146 aircraft were wrecked or blown overboard. Nine ships – including one light cruiser, three light carriers, and two escort carriers – suffered enough damage to be sent for repairs.

The carrier Monterey was nearly taken down in flames by its own airplanes as they crashed into bulkheads and exploded during violent rolls. One of those fighting the fires aboard Monterey was then Lt. Gerald Ford, later President of the United States. Ford later recalled nearly going overboard when 20° and greater rolling caused aircraft below decks to careen into each other, igniting a fire. Ford, serving as General Quarters Officer of the Deck, was ordered to go below to assess the raging fire. He did so safely, and reported his findings back to the ship's commanding officer, Captain Stuart Ingersoll. The ship's crew was able to contain the fire, and the ship got underway again.[3]

USS Cowpens during Typhoon Cobra
18 December 1944.
USS Langley (CVL-27) rolling heavily during Typhoon Cobra, 18 December 1944.

3rd Fleet damage[edit]

  • USS Hull – with 70% fuel aboard, capsized and sunk with 202 men drowned (62 survivors)[4]
  • USS Monaghan – capsized and sunk with 256 men drowned (six survivors)[4]
  • USS Spence – rudder jammed hard to starboard, capsized and sunk with 317 men drowned (23 survivors) after hoses parted attempting to refuel from New Jersey because they had also disobeyed orders to ballast down directly from Admiral Halsey.[4] The fuel tanks had to be deballasted (empty of sea water) to accept needed fuel. Ship had insufficient fuel to weather the storm. This was the common problem shared by all the so-called "little boys" (DDs, DEs, etc.)
  • USS Cowpens – hangar door torn open and RADAR, 20mm gun sponson, whaleboat, jeeps, tractors, kerry crane, and 8 aircraft lost overboard. One sailor (ship's air officer Robert Price) lost.[4]
  • USS Monterey – hangar deck fire killed three men and caused evacuation of boiler rooms requiring repairs at Bremerton Navy yard[4]
  • USS Langley – damaged[4]
  • USS Cabot – damaged[5]
  • USS San Jacinto – hangar deck planes broke loose and destroyed air intakes, vent ducts and sprinkling system causing widespread flooding.[4] Damage repaired by USS Hector[6]
  • USS Altamaha – hangar deck crane and aircraft broke loose and broke fire mains[4]
  • USS Anzio – required major repair[4]
  • USS Nehenta – damaged[5]
  • USS Cape Esperance – flight deck fire required major repair[4]
  • USS Kwajalein – lost steering control[4]
  • USS Iowa – propeller shaft bent and lost a seaplane
  • USS Baltimore – required major repair[4]
  • USS Miami – required major repair[4]
  • USS Dewey – lost steering control, RADAR, the forward stack, and all power when salt water shorted main electrical switchboard[4]
  • USS Aylwin – required major repair[4]
  • USS Buchanan – required major repair[4]
  • USS Dyson – required major repair[4]
  • USS Hickox – required major repair[4]
  • USS Maddox – damaged[5]
  • USS Benham – required major repair[4]
  • USS Donaldson – required major repair[4]
  • USS Melvin R. Nawman – required major repair[4]
  • USS Tabberer – lost foremast[7]
  • USS Waterman – damaged[5]
  • USS Nantahala – damaged[5]
  • USS Jicarilla – damaged[5]
  • USS Shasta – damaged "one deck collapsed, aircraft engines damaged, depth charges broke loose, damaged "

Rescue efforts[edit]

The fleet was scattered by the storm. One ship, the destroyer escort Tabberer, encountered and rescued a survivor from Hull while itself desperately fighting the typhoon. This was the first survivor from any of the capsized destroyers to be picked up. Shortly thereafter, many more survivors were picked up, in groups or in isolation. Tabberer's skipper – Lieutenant Commander Henry Lee Plage – directed that the ship, despite its own dire condition, begin boxed searches to look for more survivors.

Tabberer eventually rescued 55 survivors in a 51-hour search, despite repeated orders from Admiral Halsey to return all ships to port in Ulithi. She picked up 41 men from Hull and 14 from Spence before finally returning to Ulithi after being directly relieved from the search by two destroyer escorts.

After the fleet had regrouped (without Tabberer), ships and aircraft conducted search and rescue missions. The destroyer Brown rescued the only survivors from Monaghan, six in total. She additionally rescued 13 sailors from Hull. Eighteen other survivors from Hull and Spence were rescued over the three days following Typhoon Cobra by other ships of the 3rd Fleet. The destroyer USS The Sullivans (DD-537) emerged from the storm undamaged and began looking for survivors before returning to Ulithi on Christmas Eve.[8] In all, 93 men were rescued of the over 800 men presumed missing in the three ships, and two others who had been swept overboard from the escort carrier Anzio.

Despite disobeying fleet orders, Plage was awarded the Legion of Merit by Admiral Halsey, and Tabberer's crew each were awarded Navy Unit Commendation ribbons (the first ever awarded).

Investigation[edit]

While conducting refuelling operations off the Philippines, the Third Fleet remained on station rather than breaking up and seeking shelter from the storm. This led to a severe loss of men, ships, and aircraft. A Court of Inquiry was convened on board the USS Cascade at the Naval base at Ulithi, in the Caroline Islands, with Admiral Nimitz, CINCPAC, in attendance at the court.[9] Forty-three-year-old Captain Herbert K. Gates was the Judge Advocate for the court.[10] The Court found that though Halsey had committed an "error of judgement" in sailing the Third Fleet into the heart of the typhoon, it stopped short of unambiguously recommending sanction. In January 1945, Halsey passed command of the Third Fleet to Admiral Spruance.

See also[edit]

In popular culture[edit]

A typhoon plays an important role in the novel The Caine Mutiny, which is thought to be based on the author's own experience surviving Typhoon Cobra.[11]

References[edit]

  1. ^ US Dept of Commerce map (1944)
  2. ^ Morison, Samuel Eliot, "History of United States Naval Operations in World War II - Volume XIII: The Liberation of the Philippines - Luzon, Mindanao, the Visayas 1944-1945", Little, Brown and Company, Boston, 1959, 1989, Library of Congress card number 47-1571, pages 70-71.
  3. ^ US Naval Historical Foundation (2013)
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u Baldwin (1955)
  5. ^ a b c d e f Cressman (2000) p. 282
  6. ^ Pawlowski (1971) p.233
  7. ^ Brown (1990) p.134
  8. ^ USS The Sullivans (DD-537)
  9. ^ Melton Jr. (2007)
  10. ^ Drury (2007)
  11. ^ Roblin, Sebastien (2017-02-26). "During World War II, the U.S. Navy Tried to Beat a Typhoon (and You Can Guess What Happened)". The National Interest. Archived from the original on 2019-03-15. Retrieved 2019-05-17.

Printed media[edit]

External links[edit]