December 1944, the Pacific theater. General Douglas MacArthur has vowed to return to the Philippines. He will need the help of Admiral William “Bull” Halsey’s Pacific Fleet. But at the height of the invasion, Halsey’s ships are blindsided by a typhoon of unprecedented strength and scope. Battleships are tossed like toys, fighter planes are blown off carriers, destroyers are capsized, and hundreds of sailors are swept into the roiling, shark-infested sea.
This is the story of World War II’s most unexpected disaster, one of its most devastating tragedies, and a daring rescue mission—a heart- pounding true tale of men clashing against the ruthless forces of war and nature.
In the final days of 1944, Bull Halsey is the Pacific’s most popular and colorful naval hero. After a string of victories, the “Fighting Admiral” and his thirty-thousand-man Third Fleet are charged with protecting General MacArthur’s flank during the invasion of the Philippine island of Mindoro. But in the midst of the landings, Halsey attempts a complicated refueling maneuver and unwittingly drives his 170 ships into the teeth of a massive typhoon.
His men find themselves battling 90-foot waves and 150-mph winds. The destroyer USS Hull is tossed from crest to trough until it eventually turns turtle as panicked sailors belowdecks attempt to claw their way free. The USS Spence absorbs so much punishment that it literally breaks in half, leaving scores of men scrambling for a few undamaged lifeboats. The fabled destroyer USS Monaghan implodes on itself, taking more than 90 percent of its crew to the seabed. And aboard the aircraft carrier USS Monterey, a young Gerald Ford dons a gas mask and leads a rescue team into an exploding hangar deck that is ablaze with the wreckage of loose aircraft slamming together.
Amid the chaos, nearly nine hundred of the fleet’s sailors and officers are swept into the Philippine Sea. For three days, small bands of survivors battle dehydration, exhaustion, sharks, and the elements to await rescue at the hands of the courageous Lieutenant Commander Henry Lee Plage, who, defying orders, sails his tiny destroyer escort, the USS Tabberer, back into the storm to rescue drifting sailors.
The typhoon ultimately inflicts twice as much destruction and loss of life as the Battle of Midway. But stunned Navy brass suppress the scope of the disaster to preserve the American advance on Tokyo—as well as the famed Fighting Admiral’s reputation back home. Following the ensuing Court of Inquiry, a chastened and angry Halsey never speaks of the investigation again.
Only now, thanks to documents that have been declassified after sixty years and scores of firsthand accounts from survivors—including those of President Ford—can the story finally be told. Informed by years of rigorous research and narrated with the immediacy of an action movie, Halsey’s Typhoon is a gripping true tale of courage and survival against impossible odds—and one of the finest untold World War II sagas of our time.
About Tom Clavin
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Published November 10, 2007
by Grove Press.
History, Travel, War, Biographies & Memoirs.