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spacersmall.gif (826 bytes)  On 17 December 1944, the ships of Task Force 38, seven fleet and six light carriers, eight battleships, 15 cruisers, and about 50 destroyers were operating about 300 miles east of Luzon in the Philippine Sea. The carriers had just completed three days of heavy raids against Japanese airfields, suppressing enemy aircraft during the American amphibious operations against Mindoro in the Philippines. Although the sea had been becoming rougher all day, the nearby cyclonic disturbance gave relatively little warning of its approach. On 18 December, the small but violent typhoon overtook the Task Force while many of the ships were attempting to refuel. Many of the ships were caught near the center of the storm and buffeted by extreme seas and hurricane force winds. Three destroyers, USS Hull, USS Spence, and USS Monaghan, capsized and went down with practically all hands, while a cruiser, five aircraft carriers, and three destroyers suffered serious damage. Approximately 790 officers and men were lost or killed, with another 80 injured. Fires occurred in three carriers when planes broke loose in their hangars and some 146 planes on various ships were lost or damaged beyond economical repair by fires, impact damage, or by being swept overboard. This storm inflicted more damage on the Navy than any storm since the hurricane at Apia, Samoa in 1889. In the aftermath of this deadly storm, the Pacific Fleet established new weather stations in the Caroline Islands and, as they were secured, Manila, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa. In addition, new weather central offices (for coordinating data) were established at Guam and Leyte.

The following information is from, "Extracts Relating to the Typhoon from Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet Report."

69. In spite of increasing heavy weather, efforts were made to start fueling on the 17th, but without much success. A different rendezvous, which the Commander Third Fleet estimated would be clear of the approaching storm, was designated for refueling on the 18th. On that date, however, it was discovered that the typhoon was following a path considerably to the southward of the estimated track, and that the northernmost units of the fleet were almost directly in its path. Photographs of the radar PPI scope of the Wasp showed clearly the center of the storm, which passed about 35 miles to the north of that vessel.

70. The average strength of wind reported by various units ranged from 50 to at least 75 knots, with gusts as high as 115 to 120 knots. Mountainous and confused seas built up, and barometric pressures as low as 26.8 inches were recorded.

71. Some of the destroyers caught in the worst part of the storm found themselves unable to change course by use of any combination of engines and rudder, and various units experienced rolls in excess of 70°. Such extreme rolling evidently exceeded the stability range of lightly ballasted destroyers, especially those with considerable free liquid surface in their tanks and bilges. As a result, the Hull, Spence, and Monaghan capsized. At least two others, the Dewey and Aylwin, had narrow escapes from the same fate. The difficulties encountered by units of the force are treated in greater detail in Annex B.

72. The lighter airplane carriers also suffered considerably. A total of 146 airplanes were lost, including eight blown overboard from the battleships, and eleven from the cruisers. The replacement escort carriers lost 86 of this total from their decks. The greater part of the remainder either got adrift, or were destroyed by fires which broke out on the Monterey, Cowpens, and San Jacinto (CLVs) as a result of damage to place gas tanks. These vessels also received considerable structural damage to their hangar decks from planes and other material adrift. A great deal of radar and radio equipment was wrecked on various ships, creating a serious situation in view of impending operations.

73. Extensive searches of the area, conducted by many ships and aircraft on the 19th, 20th and 21st of December resulted in picking up a few survivors from the lost destroyers: 7 officers and 55 men from the Hull, 1 officer and 23 men from the Spence, and 6 men from the Monaghan. A total about 790 men and officers were lost.

74. The Tabberer (DE 418) rescued 5 officers and 36 men of the Hull, and 14 men from the Spence, although herself dismasted by the storm.  A total of 37 other survivors was picked up by the Swearer, Brown, Robert F. Keller, Knapp, and Gatling.

Tabberer (DE 418)

"About 1115 the ship was in the trough, and could not be tuned downwind at all . . . .As much fuel oil as possible was shifted to the port tanks to compensate for the starboard list, when it became apparent that the ship would have to ride out the storm with wind end sea on the port beam . . . .At 1230, it was estimated that the wind had increased to over 100 knots. Visibility was about 30 feet. The ship had been riding quite well at 10 knots, rolling up to 55 degrees . . . .Maximum roll experienced was 72 degrees to starboard, the ship recovering rapidly with no hesitation at 72 degrees . . . .At 1351, the lower insulator on the main port guy to the top of the mast crumbled during a quick 60 degree roll to starboard. The loss of this insulator gave the main guy about three inches slack, and the mast began to sway back and forth slightly . . . .Soon after, the second insulator crumbled. All insulators on the small intermediate guy crumbled. The top of the mast was now swaying about eight feet, and the weld at the step of the mast broke . . . .the mast continued to whip very badly until 1815, when the top insulator of the main port guy crumbled, leaving that stay so slack that the intermediate guy took all the strain and parted immediately. This put all the strain on the main guy attached to the top of the mast, with no support halfway up the mast, which the intermediate guy had formerly given. At 1828, the mast buckled on a 50 degree roll, and the top fell over the starboard aide, crushing the starboard flag bag and the number three floater net basket. The base of the mast rested at the signal bridge level, the bull horn catching on the starboard maindeck bulwark. All engines were stopped. A cutting torch and axes had been kept standing by and the mast was cleared from the side by 1903 . . . .The ship's roll improved immediately . . . .Water entered the air vents to the engine spaces, and fell on the generators and switchboards, causing a few minor electrical shorts and sparking. The generators and switchboard were covered with canvas, and no more trouble was experienced. A canvas cover was attached to the vents taking water, and the water was led away from all electrical equipment . . . .At no time did this vessel lose power.

View a photo of the damage to Tabberer

Nawman (DE 416)

"Headway was impossible, and we were unable to keep ship on any heading except broadside to the wind. Using 1/3 ahead on port engine with right full rudder, ship rode best. We were continuously set to the NW at about 4 or 5 knots . . .All ventilation was shut off. At 0915, due to water coming in vents. Condition Afirm no set. The foremast started bending at about 1000 and broke loose at 1630, carrying away all radar and TBS gear . . . .We rolled 62 degrees, and had to heave loose 20mm ammunition in forward ready lockers overboard. All 5" ammunition was stowed and lashed in the magazines."

Waterman (DE 740)

"This vessel was unable to remain on course 180º T, despite the use of full speed ahead or astern using both engines, or by using one engine against the other full speed. It may conceivably have been possible to bring the ship out of the trough by going ahead flank speed on both engines, but the Commanding Officer considered that the strain set up on the hull might be so severe as to cause the ship to break up. The storm was ridden out in the trough of the sea, with the engines turning over at a speed of 5 knots. Considerable disturbance was caused by shipping seas into natural air intakes on the windward side of the ship, which deluged the engine room spaces, in one case knocking a man down bodily from the forward main propulsion board.  However, the engine room force quickly rigged canvas screens to divert the water into the bilges, where it could be pumped overboard.
In this manner, serious interruptions in main and auxiliary power were averted . . . . At 1300 the barometer reached its minimum reading of 28.15 and then began to rise very fast . . . .The maximum intensity of the storm seemed to have been about 1300, at which time it is estimated that the force of the wind was between 100 and 120 knots. The height of the seas from trough to crest was in the neighborhood of eighty feet. Most of the time, vision was completely obscured by the flying spume and rain. The ship rolled constantly over 45º and at one time the inclinometer registered a roll of 63º. However, this is not felt to be entirely accurate because of the pendulum movement of this type of inclinometer. Although rolling heavily, the ship seemed to ride fairly well, and there was no particular concern regarding the danger of capsizing."

Excerpt From: Rescue of Survivors by Tabberer

10. Since Tabberer was successful in rescuing by far the greater number of survivors, a brief account of her activities is of interest.

11. In the vicinity of the Tabberer, the storm reached its peak at 1230 on the 18th, and by 1930 had died down considerably. At 2130, one of her crew heard a shout and saw a light in the water. The ship maneuvered to pick up the man, who was found to be a survivor from the Hull.

12. Tabberer proceeded to search the area, and succeeded in rescuing nine more men by 2320.  During the rest of the night, 2 men were picked up, and after daylight, 15 additional survivors were located and pulled in by 0950. Further rescues were made at 1406, 1420, and a group of seven at 1530. Men were also taken on board at 1550, 1600, 1630, and 1830, but no further survivors were found during the rest of the night, in spite of thorough search.

13. On the 20th, a raft with ten Spence survivors was picked up it 1057, two more men at 1106, one at 1115, and one at 1127; this being the last rescue by Tabberer. A total of 5 officers and 36 men of the Hull, and 14 men of the Spence had been saved from the sea.

14. In picking up survivors, the usual procedure was to maneuver the ship up-wind from the man in the water, letting the wind blow the ship down toward him. The equipment need was two cargo nets over the side, several life rings with long lines attached, several 21-thread lines with bowline eyes in the end, and several strong swimmers wearing kapok life jackets with lines attached. As survivors neared the side, lines were thrown or taken to them, by which they were hauled up across the cargo nets, being assisted by two men stationed on the nets.

15. Riflemen were stationed to drive off sharks, which were noted near survivors on two occasions, but which did not attack.

16. Whistles and lights, which had been attached to the life jackets, were of great value in helping to locate survivors, especially at night. Nearly all the men rescued were wearing kapok type of life jackets, which had proved more comfortable in the water than other types."

From: Department of the Navy, Navy Historical Center, Washington, DC. For further reading, visit the web page.

Source: Commander in Chief, U.S. Pacific Fleet and Pacific Ocean Areas, "Operations in the Pacific Ocean Areas During the Month of December 1944," pp.12-13, and 72-86. World War II Command File, Operational Archives Branch, Naval Historical Center, Washington, DC. [This document is reproduced identically to the original with the exception that place names and ship names have been changed from all capital letters to first letter capitalization.]

USS Lawrence C. Taylor DE 415 In A Typhoon Off The Philippines - 1944
A First-Hand Account
David J. Woodland, TM2c

We were escorting the Third Fleet oilers. Three destroyers had pumped ballast and were awaiting refueling at sea when the typhoon hit suddenly with great force. All three destroyers, the Hull, Spence, and Monahan capsized within view with tremendous loss of life. We were flag for the division and stationed front of the escort carrier, then called the Coral Sea, and rode out the storm on station. Three of our division got sideways to the wind and lost superstructure and returned to Pearl and were decorated. The last reading on the carrier's anemometer was near three hundred knots, or so we were told. Her planes on deck were blown overboard.

At the height of the storm, I was told one of my depth charges was loose and I was sent on deck. I was stopped going through the hatch and a line was attached around me. When I cleared the lee of the deckhouse the wind smacked me and blew me up and over. The two men who lashed the line yanked me aboard. I would give a lot to learn of these men who saved my life.

The following day we pulled a number of bodies aboard and conducted funerals. This storm is often confused with the one a year later off Okinawa, but was much worse. In a book called "Sea Fights and Shipwrecks", the 1944 storm is described as the worst in recorded history.

David J. Woodland TM2c
USS Lawrence C. Taylor DE 415


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