Halsey's Typhoon: The True Story of a Fighting Admiral, an Epic Storm, and an Untold Rescue

By Robert Drury and Tom Clavin

(352 pages)

Reviewer:  Terry Miller

Overall Rating: Four Stars--Highly recommended. An excellent book.

We know the story. The destroyers Hull, Monahan, and Spence were lost in Typhoon Cobra in December of 1944. Now Robert Drury and Tom Clavin show us the truth about those fateful hours. Admiral William “Bull” Halsey’s name has been linked to the disaster but was he guilty of more than being outguessed by Nature? Halsey’s Typhoon analyzes what Halsey and his staff knew, when they learned it, what key pieces of information they lacked, and what errors made by others contributed to one of the worst naval catastrophes of all time.

As we did with James Hornfischer’s The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors, we embark on a story the outcome of which we already know but still we find ourselves turning pages in anticipation as new data is presented in a gripping way. Halsey’s Typhoon is the most important treatment of the subject to come along and readers will continually find themselves reanalyzing what they thought they knew about the loss of three gallant ships and over 700 men. In this time of so many excellent new books about various aspects of naval history, this is one that stands out and deserves attention. This is the book that you will tell your friends and fellow sailors, “You have to read this book!”

Reviewer: Capt. R. N. Adrian, USN (Ret.)

Overall Rating: Five Stars--Every Tin Can Sailor will find this extremely exciting

This is a gripping story of a fighting Admiral and the most devastating natural disaster in the history of the U.S. Navy. It took the lives of over 800 sailors--3 times as many as the Battle of Midway--and caused the loss of 3 destroyers. The Navy had suppressed the scope of this disaster, and it is told here by the authors, probably for the first time, using all of their monumental research of previously unavailable documents and interviews with survivors.
To Pacific WWII veterans and historians, the name of Admiral William "Bull" Halsey is synonymous with "Warrior." But, to some in Washington, he was a brash, profane, tempestuous rogue, smoking 40 cigarettes and drinking 14 cups of coffee a day. However, in his own way, this "Fighting Admiral" amassed one of finest records of naval warfare in U.S. history.
The authors compare Halsey's temperament with his fellow WWII Naval task force stable mate, Commander of the 5th Fleet, Admiral Raymond Spruance. Spruance had a calm, low key personality and is remembered for his victory at the Battle of Midway on June 4, 1942, often referred to in U.S.
Naval history records as our Trafalgar. .
The authors continue to follow Halsey's trade off with Spruance as Fleet Commander from Task Force 54 to 34 (the stagecoach system--change drivers but retain the horses & coach) and again pick up Halsey's Command of the Fleet in August 1944, after Spruance had secured the capture of the Marianas. During this time Spruance's carrier units engaged the Japanese combined carrier fleet in the battle of the Philippine Sea ("The Great Mariana Turkey Shoot"--the largest air battle in history). This battle resulted in the loss of 3 additional irreplaceable Japanese flat-tops and a majority of their seasoned carrier pilots, thus removing the Japanese from any further carrier operations.
This introduced a new equation into the defense of the Japanese homeland as they changed to a Kamikaze strategy. Before the war was over 2,550 Kamikazes would take over 12,000 lives, wound another 36,000 and sink or damage 74 U.S. Navy ships.
In the fall of 1944, Halsey took over from Spruance "The Big Blue Fleet" changing the task force number to 34 and assembled his fleet, comprised of 170 ships, in the Ulithi atoll. His next orders from CINCPAC were to cover and support General ("I shall Return") MacArthur's capture and
occupation of the central Philippines. MacArthur put his 120,000 amphibious troops and 100,000 tons of supplies ashore on LeYte on October 24, 1944, with Halsey's support planes flying 259 sorties.
The authors then review the Japanese actions taken to oppose Macarthur's Philippine return with a complicated 4 prong attack. The Japanese "kicker" in this plan was to draw off Admiral Halsey's main task force to the north of Samar, using 4 Japanese carriers coming from Japan as bait for him to chase, and it worked. Fortunately, Admiral Kinkaid's Task Force 77 of old Battleships CVEs, DDs, DEs and PTs completely decimated two of the groups, while transiting the Surigio Straights. In the battle off Samar, through their outstanding bravery, and heroic action, Kinkaid's task force stood off the Japanese's superior Northern Force, and they surprisingly withdrew.
On December 17, 1944, Halsey again positioned his task force where he considered it was in the most advantageous location for the further support of General MacArthur's Philippine Operations, but unwittingly in the path of a monstrous Typhoon.
In the annals of Navy history, there are few equals to the authors' compelling, gripping and personalized story that puts the reader right in the middle of the next 60 hours of 150mph winds and waves of 90 feet, causing 900 officers and sailors to be swept overboard or trapped in capsized ships. The story follows this epic tragedy, with continuing coverage of the heroic but sometimes sad accounts of sailor survival efforts against impossible odds.


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