The Disaster of Typhoon Cobra, World War II.
By December of 1944 it was clear that the Allies were on the brink of winning the war. Allied forces in Europe had driven the Germans back to their borders while at the same time the Japanese were being pushed back to their home islands. While the Axis forces were on the run, another force would prove to the Allies that she was not to be underestimated. On December 17th US Navy Task Force 38 began to sail into high winds and rough seas. The fleet consisted of seven fleet carriers, six light carriers, eight battleships, fifteen cruisers, and fifty destroyers, and was on a mission to conduct air raids on Japanese military bases in the Philippines. To the officers and men of Task Force 38 it was clear that a major typhoon was on the way.
Unfortunately in the area of the Pacific where Task Force 38 was located there were few weather stations, making weather prediction very difficult. In addition the fleet was low on fuel and was in the process of refueling, making the ships of the task force unbalanced and easy to capsize. Based on weather reports, the task force commander, Admiral William “Bull” Halsey ordered the fleet to steam away from the storm, however due to inaccurate weather reporting the task force unwittingly steamed directly into the heart of the typhoon. Facing 220 kph (140 mph) winds, Task Force 38 was tossed by waves so large (up to 21 m or 70 ft) they rocked battleships and swept the decks of aircraft carriers. The typhoon came upon the fleet so quickly that carrier crews didn’t have the time to stow away aircraft, forcing them to tie down the planes on deck as best as they could. The storm caused aircraft to crash into each other on deck, while high winds and pitching waves resulted in entire squadrons of aircraft being blown overboard. On the USS Monterey planes blown adrift crashed into each other causing a large fire on deck which nearly destroyed the aircraft carrier. Eventually the situation became so chaotic that the fleet could no longer maintain formation, causing Task Force 38 to scatter.
If the typhoon was bad enough to rock mighty battleships and aircraft carriers, for the smaller destroyers the storm was especially terrifying as they became as helpless as corks floating in a deadly maelstrom. The USS Hull capsized and sank taking down 202 men with her, the USS Spence sank killing 317 men, while the USS Monaghan sank taking 256 men and only leaving 6 survivors. Overall Typhoon Cobra took the lives of 790 men, destroyed 149 planes, and damaged 26 ships, of which 12 ships had to be taken out of action for major repairs.
The typhoon was so disastrous that it did more damage to Task Force 38 than what the Japanese Navy was capable of in late 1944. Admiral Chester Nimitz commented that the storm, “represented a more crippling blow to the Third Fleet than it might be expected to suffer in anything less than a major action.” In fact Typhoon Cobra was so disastrous that less men died at the Battle of Coral Sea in 1942.
A court of inquiry was held that came to the conclusion that Adm. Halsey had committed an error in judgement by sailing directly into the typhoon, but did not recommend any sanctions being that he was acting upon faulty weather reports.