The Great Atlantic
Hurricane of September 1944
Ken Adams, RM2/c
USS EDSALL DE 129 & USS WALTER B. COBB APD 106
I submitted an article to
DESANews in 1986 containing my and a shipmate's eye witness
accounts of the Great Atlantic Hurricane of 13 September 1944.
Since the publishing of my article, four additional eye witness
accounts from DE sailors have been published concerning this
same hurricane. In 2007, I sent these article's to Tim Deegan,
weatherman for Channel 12 in Jacksonville, FL. His initial
response was, "Wow!
As I had lived in Kentucky most my first 19 years of life I
doubt if I could have spelled hurricane at that time (joke), so
I never realized the pending danger I would face while in the
USN. It would be nearly 40 years later before I found out I had
been in the Great Atlantic Hurricane of September 1944.
I enlisted in the USN in May 1943. After completing bootcamp at
Great Lakes Training Center, Chicago, IL., I attended the US
Naval Radio School, Indianapolis. Graduation day arrived
January 3, 1944. Next, I attended Merchant Marine Radio School,
Noroton Heights, CT. The Navy manned the Radio function/gunnery
function on the Marine vessels. However, this school was closed
and in early February I was transferred for sea duty aboard the
USS EDSALL DE 129 as a radioman.
On 13 September 1944, EDSALL was returning to New York from
Taranto, Italy. USS WARRINGTON DD 383 had departed Norfolk Navy
Base two days earlier escorting the USS HYADES AF 28 enroute to
Trinidad. Little did any of the ships in the area know what we
were all about to face.
The hurricane was first detected on 9 September, northeast of
the Lesser Antilles. It likely developed from a tropical wave
several days before. It moved west-northwestward, and steadily
intensified to a 140 mph major hurricane on the 12th, northeast
of the Bahamas. Around this time, the Miami Hurricane Warning
Office designated this storm The Great Atlantic Hurricane to
emphasize its intensity and size(1).
powerful hurricane reached Category 4 as it raced towards the
Eastern Seaboard, her winds blanketing a 600 mile area.
The photo shows the track of the storm.
The hurricane had reached
her maximum fury when encountered by the USS WARRINGTON DD 383
approximately 450 miles east of Vero Beach, FL.
WARRINGTON and HYADES had received word that they were steaming
directly into a hurricane. On the evening of the 12th, the
storm forced the destroyer to heave to while HYADES continued
on her way alone. Keeping wind and sea on her port bow,
WARRINGTON rode relatively well through most of the night. Wind
and seas, however, continued to build during the early morning
hours of the 13th. WARRINGTON began to lose
headway and, as a result, started to ship water through the
vents to her engineering spaces(1).
The water rushing into her vents caused a loss of electrical
power which set off a chain reaction. Her main engines lost
power, and her steering engine and mechanism went out. She
wallowed there in the trough of the swells - continuing to ship
water. She regained headway briefly and turned upwind, while
her radiomen desperately, but fruitlessly, tried to raise
HYADES. Finally, she resorted to a plain-language distress call
ship or shore station. By noon on the 13th, it was apparent
that WARRINGTON'S crewmen could not win the struggle to save
their ship, and the order went out to prepare to abandon ship.
By 1250, her crew had left WARRINGTON and she went down almost
immediately, stern first(1).
As I was a Radioman I copied the distress call from WARRINGTON.
The EDSALL proceeded to be of help. Before we got to the scene,
some five other DE's had arrived and we were informed by radio
contact to proceed to New York. A prolonged search by HYADES,
USS FROST DE 144, USS HUSE DE 145, USS INCH 146, USS SNOWDEN DE
246, USS SWASEY DE 248, USS WOODSON DE 359, and USS JOHNNIE
HUTCHINS DE 360, along with ATR-9 and ATR-62, resulted in the
rescue of only 5 officers and 68 men of the destroyer's 20
officers and 301 men.
My ship, USS EDSALL, survived the hurricane. It is difficult,
at best, to describe this event. Anyone not involved cannot
understand the severity of this storm. Anyone involved can
Prior to submitting my article to DESANews, I researched the
degree of "roll" a DE could/did take before rolling over. 70
degrees is said to be the DEs limit. EDSALL did a 57 degree
roll during the hurricane. The rolls and plunges strew all the
eating utensils about the galley. Crewmembers strapped
themselves in their bunks and prayed our ship would hold
together. I remember the "boom, boom, boom" as the sea pounded
against the ship.
A shipmate and I had a very stressful "watch" (20:00/24:00) in
the radio room. We had to insert the legs of our chairs into
pipe to keep from sliding around the room. Typing was more than
a challenge. We held the typewriter carriage with our left hand
while typing code with the right.
We thought our watch would never end, but it did and we stepped
out on the deck and held on to the pyrotechnics box (used for
storing flares and other emergency equipment). As we held on we
learned a history lesson. The ocean water was furiously
churning and when that happens the phosphorous in the water
shines green. The phosphorous and the "white caps" alternated.
First really low, followed by really high. Waves have
been estimated for this particular hurricane to have reached 70
feet with the 140 MPH winds mentioned above.
The next morning we discovered that the pyrotechnic box we had
held on to had broken loose from the securing welds during the
night and had slipped overboard!! Enough said about that!!
In addition to the WARRINGTON and the Coast Guard Cutters
BEDLOE and JACKSON, this hurricane claimed the 136 foot long
minesweeper USS YMS-409 which foundered and sank with all 33 on
board lost. Further north, it also claimed the Lightship
VINEYARD SOUND (LV-73), which was sunk with the loss of all 12
The hurricane and the sinking of the USS WARRINGTON are
documented in the 1996 book The Dragon's Breath - Hurricane At
Sea, written by Commander Robert A. Dawes, Jr. (a former
Commanding Officer of the Warrington), and published by Naval
Ken Adams RM2/c
224 Blvd Des Pins
St. Augustine, FL 32080-6411