Typhoons and Hurricanes: The Effects of Cyclonic Winds on U.S. Naval Operations
Pacific Typhoon, 18 December 1944
Recollections of Pacific Typhoon on 18 December 1944 by Chief Warrant Officer Steven F. Yorden, USN (RET), in charge of shipfitters (construction and repair division) on board USS Dewey (DD-349).
Interviewer: ...the typhoon... This was on December 18th, 1944.
Interviewer: You were with the Third Fleet.
Interviewer: You were screening a tanker [oiler] group, right?
Interviewer: Captain Calhoun was in command of the vessel. [There was] a lot of debate, a lot of controversy about this storm, this typhoon that passed through. What was the general mood? What was the feeling on the deckplates amongst the men about this storm? What did you know? Did you know this typhoon was coming along?
Yorden: No, we didn't. We were in on the seventeenth. We brought the tankers out to fuel the fleet because the fleet was hitting Luzon, so MacArthur could come back and say, "I have returned." Boy, they made sure that they were saturating the beach with all kinds ofheavy battlewagons, cruisers and destroyers were fighting. The destroyers mostly were screening the carriers.
Now, a destroyer that's chasing a carrier for two or three days at full speed - thirty, thirty- two knots - so they can launch and recover the aircraft. You're always going full speed, and the most fuel a destroyer can carry is about a four days' supply. These destroyers were escorting the carriers, and they came out. We're trying to fuel them, and the seas are choppy; I mean, when I say choppy, they're twenty, twenty-five feet waves. To keep the station underway from a tanker to a destroyer - a destroyer so light compared to the tanker - he has a heck of a job to keep station so that the hoses don't part. Well, that was what was happening. They were parting so many fuel hoses that they were down to the one last section of hose. That's when they decided to call it off. They were going to move to another location and commence fueling in the morning again. Well, instead of taking us out of the typhoon they took us back into it. I'm talking about waves that were fifty and sixty feet high. Sometimes you'd see a destroyer, he'd be sitting up on top of a wave and the next time he would be down so low that you couldn't even see the mast. That's how deep the troughs were. There's no way those destroyers could fuel from the tankers. What had happened, on the seventeenth, when they couldn't fuel, they were told to ballast the ship and ballast their tanks - take on seawater to increase their stability. The next morning, they are going to go alongside the tankers to fuel, so they have to de-ballast so that they can take on fuel. It was when de-ballasted that they upset their center of gravity, capsized and sank. We lost the [USS] Hull [DD-350], the Spence [DD-512] and the [USS] Monaghan [DD-354].
Interviewer: During the typhoon what was your duty station? What were you...
Yorden: I was in charge of the shipfitters--the construction and repair division. And ... I did all the welding, the shipfitting, the plumbing, the firefighting, ventilation systems, salt water systems all come under me.
Interviewer: So you were... for preparations for the typhoon, you were the one that battened down the ship, securing the...
Yorden: Yeah. And I was up in the...all the chiefs and officers were all up in the wardroom because that is the main deck. So if she was going to go over we were going to be able to get off of her. I felt so sorry for the poor guys down below decks. Because now what had happened we had a hatch over the main deck right over the main distribution board. And the hatch sprung a leak and the salt water hit the main board and of course, it blew everything. Now we're dead in the water, we have no generators, we have no power and we're rolling sixty, sixty-five degrees. You know you're holding on for dear life and with no lights on and those guys down in them compartments dogged down--they didn't have a chance. They didn't have a Chinaman's chance to get out of there. So I was up in the wardroom with the chiefs and the officers and I want on up to the bridge to see if the captain wanted me to do anything. So I got up there and he said "What can we do to increase our stability." And I said, "Well," I says, "cut the [Mark 33 gun] director off." I said, "I know it weighs seven tons and then we cut the mast off." He said, "Cut `em off." So our shipfitter shop and acetylene outfit is up in the bow of the ship. I got another set on the main--two sets on the main deck but you couldn't get to them because it was awash, you know. And when the ship goes like this you know you're holding on for dear life. So I went down to the wardroom and I asked for some volunteers to go up and get these oxygen-acetylene bottles. So this electrician and chief gunners mate said they go with me. So I gave them the acetylene bottle because it was the heaviest of the two and there was two of them and just one of me. And I dragged the oxygen bottle. Boy, you talk about a battle. Pitch black and you had to hunch about where you were in a compartment you know when you had to get over a coambing [bottom sill of a watertight door] you know to get back. Finally, got the bottles back to the wardroom and I had enough hose to get them up to the bridge. So I got up and tried to burning the deck only to find out it was made out of aluminum. So I couldn't cut it with acetylene. So I come down and told the captain, I says, "Can't do it," I says, "she['s] made out of aluminum." So I say, "I'll start working on the mast."
So I got over--they tied a line around me you know so I wouldn't get washed overboard. And I got washed over a couple of times and they fished me back up you know. And I get back up there again and I try to light my torch and the wind was so strong it would always blow my flame out. I couldn't keep my torch lit. Finally the captain says, we were rolling about seventy degrees then, I mean we were really going over. And...so there was a liferaft right there off the portside of the bridge and I told the captain. I says, "Captain, if she goes we're going to get this liferaft over here." And be says, "She's not going to go. We're going to make it. We're going to make it." Kept assuring all of us on the bridge. "We're going to make it." Well, we finally made the big roll. We went on over, and the helmsman, the water was up under his arms. That's how deep the water was over the ship. Its stack was already off; it took the stack off. That's what really saved us, I think, was when we lost that stack we lost that big sail [wind-catching surface of the smoke stack acting like a sail] because the number 1 stack was a big stack and a wave just happened to hit us just right. It started to right us. And we quivered; it seemed like for about an hour but I don't think it was much over a couple of minutes that she quivered and she came back up again, you know. And when she came up she went back again but she did[n't] go quite as far because now the stack is off you know and we got less wind laying us over. So after about maybe twenty minutes, the barometer started to come up and we knew we were out of the worst of it. So we looked the next day, we're trying to figure out what we're going to do you know. So I started to finish cutting the stack off because it was laid over on the side and the commodore wanted to have a show place when we got into Ulithi alongside a tanker--a tender so they can take pictures of her. So we thought we were going to go back to the States.
Adapted from: Oral History: Chief Warrant Officer Steven F. Yorden, Service in the Pacific During World War II. Interview by David V. Majeski and Joanne M. Buchanan, 16 November 1998. (Washington: Naval Historical Foundation, 2000): 8-11.
10 April 2001