Typhoon Cobra file photo [4329]

Typhoon Cobra

18 Dec 1944


ww2dbaseIn 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.

ww2dbaseOn 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.

ww2dbaseAboard 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.

ww2dbaseAboard 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.

ww2dbaseWhen 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:

"The storm broke in all its fury. We started to roll, heaving to the starboard, and everyone was holding on to something and praying as hard as he could. We knew that we had lost our power and were dead in the water.... We must have taken about seven or eight rolls to the starboard before she went over on her side."

ww2dbaseAfter ship sunk, the sailors held on to whatever they could to stay afloat. McCrane continued:

"Every time we opened a can of Spam more sharks would appear.... Toward evening some of the boys began to crack under the strain.... That (second} night most of the fellows had really lost their heads; they thought they saw land and houses."

ww2dbaseA 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.

ww2dbaseHalsey'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.

ww2dbaseEven though the Divine Wind interfered with history again, this time, Japan would not be saved by the heavens in this human conflict.

ww2dbaseSources: Naval Historical Center, the New York Times, the Pacific Campaign.

Last Major Update: Jan 2007

Typhoon Cobra Interactive Map


TBM Avenger heavily lashed to the deck of escort carrier USS Anzio as the ship rocks with Typhoon Cobra in the Philippine Sea, 17 Dec 1944.USS Anzio rolling in heavy seas, Pacific Ocean, 17 Dec 1944; note Avenger aircraft in foreground and Wildcat aircraft in background; seen in Nov 1945 issue of US Navy publication Naval Aviation NewsCruiser USS Santa Fe rolling heavily during Typhoon Cobra in the Philippine Sea, 18 Dec 1944. Note the forward turret trained to the side so water over the bow would not enter through the gun ports.Destroyer USS Maddox plowing through heavy seas during Typhoon Cobra, 18 Dec 1944.
See all 14 photographs of Typhoon Cobra

Typhoon Cobra Timeline

18 Dec 1944 Many ships from the United States Third Fleet, Task Force 38 sailed into Typhoon Cobra in the Philippine Sea. Three destroyers and 790 men were lost.
20 Dec 1944 After three days and two nights of searching for survivors in the water after Typhoon Cobra, destroyer escort USS Tabberer was relieved of the search by other ships after recovering 55 men from the water.
21 Dec 1944 Destroyer USS Brown picked up the only survivors to be found from the sunken USS Monaghan floating with a life raft. They were Doil Carpenter, Robert Darden, Evan Fenn, William Kramer, Joseph McCrane, and James Story
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.
29 Dec 1944 Admiral William Halsey came aboard destroyer escort USS Tabberer at Ullithi and presented awards to the commanding officer, LtCdr Henry Plage, as well as several crewmembers for their performance in rescuing 55 sailors from ships sunk during Typhoon Cobra. USS Tabberer and all hands were also awarded the Navy Unit Commendation for these same efforts.

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Visitor Submitted Comments

1. Anonymous says:
18 Oct 2017 05:14:23 PM

USS Hickox (DD-673 Fletcher-class) was also in Task Force 38, Third Fleet (survivor of Typhoon Cobra) to add to the list in the right hand column. Another ship's name was the USS Spence, DD 512, which was 1 of the 3 capsized in the storm.
2. Van der Puy says:
5 Nov 2022 01:58:44 AM

My uncle, Jerry Van der Puy was a survivor of either the Spence, Hull, or Monaghan that sunk during this storm. If anyone has any information on Jerry Van der Puy I would really appreciate your help. Thank you.

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More on Typhoon Cobra
» J. J. Clark
» Ford, Gerald
» Halsey, William
» Holden, Carl
» McCain, John
» Plage, Henry
» Vorse, Albert

» Pacific Ocean

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Typhoon Cobra Photo Gallery
TBM Avenger heavily lashed to the deck of escort carrier USS Anzio as the ship rocks with Typhoon Cobra in the Philippine Sea, 17 Dec 1944.
See all 14 photographs of Typhoon Cobra

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