Dashing along at 28 knots, a bone in her teeth,
and salt spray on the top of Number 3 mount, USS OAKLAND(CL-95) was keeping pace
with the rest of TG 38.2. The Third Fleet, Admiral W. F. "Bull" Halsey was 500 miles
east of Luzon, in the Philippines, headed for a fueling rendezvous on 17 DEC 44
OAKLAND, CAPT Kendall S. Reed, was steaming in the cruiser circle as usual. 500 yards
on her starboard quarter was USS COWPENS (CVL-25). Since the fueling of the "small
boys", in the destroyers, was of primary concern, they started going alongside the
early in the forenoon. However, a moderate cross-swell and rising winds that varied
from 20 - 30 knots made matters so hazardous, several fueling lines aerologists had
reported worsening weather, the Force headed northwestward to evade the typhoon,
coming in from the east.
The typhoon appeared to be very capricious, changing course from that originally
determined, and Halsey ran Southwest, still trying to evade. However, the storm
appeared to be overtaking the Force. On the morning of 18 DEC, another attempt to
fuel at 0700 had to be called off as the glass fell steadily. By 0830, the storm was
a monstrous typhoon, the center only 150 miles from the Third Fleet.
That first day, living in OAKLAND was a little rough, but then, we were used to hanging
on when the weather was foul. After all, my buddies in the big light cruisers (BROOKLYN
class) and the heavies used to say when they saw me coming ashore on an atoll, "Here
comes Rohde from the big destroyer". OAKLAND was a 6,000 ton (std. displacement)
anti-aircraft cruiser. At full load, she was more like 7,500 tons, but she still had the
lines of a destroyer. 541' overall with a 53 beam and a 20' draft doesn't make for too
stable a platform in high wind and seas. With a rather high superstructure forward,
consisting of the forward 3 echeloned 5" 38 cal. twin mounts, the bridge and the forward
stack, a space between, and the after stack and the after 3 echeloned 5" 38 cal. twin
mounts, there was a lot of sail area.
As I remember, we managed some kind of hot meals in the General Mess that first day, although
you may be "hotstuff', rolling as we were. In the Wardroom, we ate food brought up from the
General Mess, as the stewards and cooks found it impossible to work in the Pantry. That night,
we slept wedged in our bunks. I had a night watch, evening or mid, I can't remember. I sat in
the Coding Room, in a chair lashed to the stand of the Coding Machine and typed as best I
could. When I was relieved, getting down three levels of superstructure to my room on the main
deck forward of the Wardroom was like nothing I had experienced to date. Sometimes my foot
landed on the ladder tread hard enough to break an ankle, while with the next step, my foot
might be in "mid-air", as the ship dropped out from under me.
The morning of the 18th dawned, if you could call it that, a dirty grey day, with nothing but
high scudding clouds and the roar of the gale, the pitching and rolling of the ship, and the
inevitable crashing noises below decks, where gear carried away. I remember the Navigator joking
that even the Beaufort Scale didn't provide for this much wind. The air below decks was fetid;
all spaces, not necessary to be manned for ship's operation were secured. The Supply Office, the
Main Issue Room and the Ship's Service Activities, except the Ship's Store, were closed. With my
usual interest in topside operations, I went up to BAT (Battle) I, the navigating bridge, atop
the Pilot House. I spent most of the forenoon there.
The scene from BAT I was spectacular. The seas were 70 feet, and NEW JERSEY was rolling like a
canoe in a rapids. COWPENS, a CVL of the INDEPENDENCE class, was originally laid down as the
cruiser HUNTINGTON(CL-77). While she was 70' longer than our little cruiser, she was only 20'
wider in the hewn, yet she had that big flight deck on top of her. Repeatedly, she stuck her
nose into the seas, and I stood on the wing of the bridge, watching green seas pour over her
sides for what seemed like minutes on end. Suddenly, a smashing sea hit her a quartering blow,
and a 40mm. gun tub which protruded from her port quarter disappeared before our eyes. Hard on
that came the word from CIC that planes in her hanger deck had broken loose from their moorings,
and the damage control crews were fighting aviation gasoline fires from broken fuel tanks.
Needless to say, I had ordered the Commissary Officer to break out GQ rations canned ham, chicken,
and turkey - and to serve cold food, plus coffee, til we ran out of this. Sometime in the late
morning, I got a call from the wardroom (I was still up in BAT 1) that one of the large four
cushion settees in the Wardroom Mess had broken loose, and was madly sliding from one side to
another like an express train. I ran down four decks to find the settee crashing back and forth,
and the steward's mates standing outside the door, slightly less black than usual. I sent
Washington, the senior steward, to get a couple of storekeepers, and I got some heaving line
from the nearby bos'n's locker. With the help of the storekeepers, the heavy settee was corralled
by means of making the heaving line fast to the legs, and thence to the brackets that the port
covers slide on - the only anchors we had. These settees are secured to the deck by means of 5/8"
bolts which run through flanges on the feet of the settee and into tapped holes in the steel deck.
Enough of these bolts had sheared off to cast the settee adrift. It tooksome doing to avoid
getting crushed while getting a line onto each settee. You may better understand the problem when
I tell you that shortly after this episode,the engine room reported 42 degree rolls on the clinometer.
This would have been bad enough in a DD; with our heavy top hamper, it was highly dangerous.
By the early afternoon, the eye of the typhoon was only 35 miles away, and the winds had increased to
a shrieking 93 knots. Up in BAT 1, I stood by the starboard alidade stand, looking over the side, and
watched the sea rush up to meet me, as the rolled to starboard. On the roll to port, I was standing at
the top of an almost 45 degree incline, handing on. It was awesome to look aloft, and see the foremast
whipping madly in an 84 degree arc across the sky.
Thinking back over the years, I can't remember being afraid. Maybe my Norwegian ancestors rode with me
that day, or maybe the stark drama of it was so great as to rule out anything as mundane as fear. I do
know that the thought never occurred to me that we might not make it. Of course, if we had known what
was, at the moment, happening, the demise of HULL, SPENCE and MONOGHAM, we might have been worried!
Now there was no zigzagging, no maneuvering. We stayed on course, slowing a bit to help the "small boys"
maintain station. To port of us, a DD would pitch so badly that you could see her forefoot, and then her
whole bow disappear in a green sea. That night in the Wardroom Mess, with the chairs lashed to the
tables, we tried to eat a cold supper. Somebody let go of a container of catsup for a split second, and
it went flying off the table to crash against the bulkhead. That comer of the Wardroom Mess looked like
it might have been a battle dressing station in the midst of a terrible battle.
I remember no reports of causalities or of any sea sickness aboard. I think everybody was too busy with
their assigned duties or in just hanging on. In the late afternoon of the third day (19 DEC), the storm
seemed to have passed beyond us, and the wind gradually subsided to a bearable 35 knots. In spite of
those 42 degree rolls, our turbines continued to drive us on through the boiling sea, and there were no
power failures. We had a good ship, but we were lucky, too! During the 19th, we heard rumors of lost ships,
of the rescue of survivors,etc. The word was that three DD and 3 DE were lost. Of course, the final score
was 2 DD (HULL and MONOGHAM) and I DE (SPENCE). The DD were screening ships for the fueling unit, and
SPENCE was a Third Fleet Screen ship. While the DD were caught with only 70 76% fuel and no water ballot,
little SPENCE had only 15% fuel and little water ballast.
The talk that went around the ship was that Halsey's aerographers had made a miscalculation, so that we rode
right into, through and out the other side of a typhoon. Years later, I learned according to one authority,
that "the typhoon was not accurately predicted, the immediate signs of it in the operating area were not
heeded early enough, and it traveled a capricious path." Admiral Nimitz remarked, in reviewing the episode,
that "the ston-n took charge."
With the winds abating, Halsey headed the Third Fleet toward Ulithi, and by 22 DEC, we were moored in Ulithi
Atoll. Two days later, my relief, LT R. P. Kypke (SC) USN, came aboard, and that night bedlam broke loose
when the Captain returned from the FLEET FLAG to tell us that we were to leave on 26 DEC for UNCLE SUGAR,
in company with NEW ORLEANS and MOBILE.
NOTE: I relied heavily on "UNITED STATES DESTROYER OPERATIONS IN WORLD WAR II", pp. 448 - 452, since we
were not allowed to keep diaries,and I have no written record of any of these events.
This web page was created by and
is maintained by Paul D. Henriott
Last updated 18 August 2013