Contributor: C. Peter Chen
In 1274, Mongol conqueror Kublai Khan sent a great army of 40,000 in a vast fleet of 1,000 transports to Japan. The army returned before the invasion started after a typhoon drowned 13,000 troops. The Khan tried again in 1281, this time with the largest fleet history had ever seen: 4,500 ships and 145,000 troops. Defeating the initial fierce resistance, the Mongol troops retreated to their ships to regroup and rest for the night, only to be met with yet another typhoon, wiping out as many as 100,000 soldiers. Kublai Khan never attempted to conquer Japan again. The Japanese heralded the typhoons as kamikaze, divine wind sent from heaven that saved their homeland.
On 18 Dec 1944, divine intervention interfered with human action again. Admiral William Halsey and his Task Force 38 were caught unaware amidst refueling when Typhoon Cobra struck them to the east of island of Luzon of the Philippines. Halsey's weather experts misread the track of this impending storm, and the admiral sailed right into it. As the heavy swells caused by 60-knot winds tossed his ships like children's toys, Halsey's ships scattered over 3,000 square miles. By the time he issued a typhoon warning to his captains, he had already lost three destroyers Spence, Hull, and Monaghan.
Aboard the carrier Monterey, aircraft in the hangar deck slammed into one another "like pinballs", Gerald Ford recalled. It was inevitable that fires broke out. Captain Stuart H. Ingersoll was ordered by Halsey to abandon ship, but Ingersoll thought that "We can fix this", and Ford, among others were the heroes who battled the bitter fire and eventually put it out, saving the carrier.
Aboard the carrier Cowpens, the scene was similar. A Hellcat fighter, despite being triple-lashed, broke loose and smashed into the catwalk, starting a fire. Even as the firefighters attempted to extinguish the fire, a bomb handling truck rolled across the hangar deck and struck the tank of another fighter. The 100-knot winds even ripped out a 20-mm gun emplacement right out of its mounts. In the end, Cowpens survived, but the Hellcat that smashed into the catwalk did not.
When the fleet emerged from the typhoon, Halsey found seven more ships seriously damaged and 146 aircraft lost or unusable (some were pushed by the wind over edges of flight decks, some were intentionally pushed overboard after running into each other, and some lost to fire and impact damage). Worst of all, 800 lives were lost from this natural disaster. Water Tender Second Class Joseph McCrane, one of only six survivors of the USS Monaghan recalled:
After ship sunk, the sailors held on to whatever they could to stay afloat. McCrane continued:
A court inquiry at Ulithi a week later placed blame squarely on the shoulders of Halsey, though finding no negligence on the part of the admiral due to "stress of war operations" and "a commendable desire to meet military requirements". With 790 officers and sailors lost to this storm, Nimitz submitted a letter to Washington recommending the Navy to improve its weather service, which was promptly started. 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.
Halsey's misfortune with the Divine Wind would not be over just yet. During his support roles of the Okinawa landing, a typhoon developed, and Halsey attempted to steer his ships away from it at the recommendation of his weather experts. He, again, sailed right into it. Fortunately, with this meeting with the storm, he only lost six men.
Even though the Divine Wind interfered with history again, this time, Japan would not be saved by the heavens in this human conflict.
Sources: Naval Historical Center, the New York Times, the Pacific Campaign.
Typhoon Cobra Timeline
|26 Dec 1944||Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz held an official court of inquiry aboard destroyer tender USS Cascade at Ulithi, Caroline Islands over the losses during Typhoon Cobra. No conclusions would be made on this date.|
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Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, 16 Mar 1945