World War II


The waves in the Philippine Sea were monstrous, as winds roared at up to 140 miles per hour. Visibility dropped to near zero. On the dark, gray morning of December 18, 1944, Henry Plage, skipper of the destroyer escort USS Tabberer, and Jim Marks, captain of destroyer USS Hull, found themselves fighting for the very survival of their crews and ships. As the sea surged, Tabberer and Hull rolled and bucked, trembled and shook.

To Plage, the 60-foot waves “looked like vertical mountains bearing down on us.” When one wave hit, the ships’ bows would rise high out of the water, then smash down heavily, spume reaching beyond the bridge. Now and then, a wave would strike broadside and push the ships over at an angle—sometimes as far as 72 degrees. Slowly the vessels would right themselves, only to be jolted in the opposite direction by the next wave. Before the week was out, these two 29-year-old officers would be subjected to an ordeal that would have tested the mettle of even the most seasoned, battle-hardened captains in the U.S. Navy.

Tabberer and Hull had drawn the unglamorous task of protecting the 24 oil tankers that were part of the 170-some vessels composing Admiral William F. “Bull” Halsey’s Third Fleet during its air support operations on December 14 off the coast of the Philippines. There the striking arm of Halsey’s fleet had conducted three days of successful raids against Japanese installations on Luzon. The operation had depleted many of the ships’ fuel supplies, especially among the dozens of escort vessels. So on the fourth day, December 17, the force retired to the east for refueling before engaging another round of attacks.

It was on that day when the Philippine Sea began to churn and blow, forcing the suspension of oiling activities. Halsey had unknowingly sailed his armada into the maw of a deadly category-four typhoon the

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