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USS ALTAMAHA (ACV-18)
(later CVE-18 and CVHE-18)
Action Report Extract Relating to the Pacific Typhoon,
Source: US Naval Historical Center
17-18 December 1944
"Between this time and about 0930, every effort was made to hold the ship on the fleet course. This was very difficult, as the sea was making up rapidly the winds increasing, and the ship tended to yaw, roll heavily, and was in some danger of being pooped. The use of full rudder was continually necessary to maintain this heading. The heavy rolling resulted in the cargo shifting in supply storeroom A-403-A, causing breakage of ammonia bottles with consequent intense fumes in this confined area. The work of securing was accomplished only with the use of rescue breathers, and was completed by about 0845. In the meantime considerable water was flooding in over fantail, (caused by the following seas) and resulted in the after elevator well starting progressively to fill up with sea water. Most of this was shipped through the hangar deck curtains adjacent to the fantail.
At 0845 a report was received that the six-ton aircraft crane (Hyster Karry) had broken loose on the hangar deck and, carrying with it a finger lift, had wrecked three aircraft and two jeeps in its vicinity, and was in danger of breaking through the side of the ship. This piece of equipment had been well secured prior to getting underway, with half-inch wire; however, the heavy rolls had caused the deck fittings to pull completely out of the hangar deck, allowing it to get adrift. Excellent work on the part of the damage control party and the air department accomplished the securing of all this equipment again by 0930. During this time, wind and sea had increased. The barometer was now falling very rapidly, and the wind had started to veer counter-clockwise to North by West. The force at this time was estimated at over 70 knots, the starboard anemometer cups having started to carry away at a reading in excess of 60 knots. It was found impossible to maintain the course down wind without imminent danger of the ship being pooped so badly as to risk capsizing. Speed was increased to eleven and then to twelve knots in an effort to maintain control, but this resulted in long surfing runs down the swells with tremendous rolls at the end. Several instances were recorded on the inclinometer of 29º to starboard, and 31º to port, and it is believed that these figures were somewhat exceeded during the unrecorded rolls. As the Bureau of Ships has indicated that the maximum safe roll of this type vessel is 27½º, considerable anxiety was felt for the safety of the vessel, and it was felt that some other course must be taken to ride out the storm. It was found that the ship assumed a rather comfortable condition with the wind on the starboard quarter, with 30º left rudder (to head down wind), and with a low speed of seven to eight knots. Under these conditions, she rode almost in the trough of the sea, but with the wind about 20º abaft the starboard beam . . . .An attempt was made to back the ship into the wind, the engines going first one and then two thirds astern, but this had no effect in getting the ship out of the trough. Later in the afternoon, the ship was headed into the wind for a short time, but so much engine power was required to maintain steerage under these conditions, that it is not believed that the vessel would have survived the pounding which would have resulted. At about 0948, a change of fleet course of 140º was intercepted over the TBS, and it was decided to try to approximate this course by turning to port (down wind), and taking the wind and seas on the port quarter. At 1009, this was accomplished by going ahead at fifteen knots, at which speed the ship answered full rudder very sluggishly. The roll during this maneuver was tremendous, and shortly after steadying on a course of 090º with the winds from 330º, force estimated from seventy to eighty knots, the planes on the flight deck started carrying away.
. . . . Unfortunately the first plane to carry away after the change in course was immediately adjacent to the forward elevator opening, and dropped down onto the lowered elevator, completely jamming it in the down position . . . . Between this time and 1200, the planes on the after part of the flight deck began to part their securing lines, with the result that they were blown over the starboard side, carrying away life rafts, nets, lines and radio antennas, and inflicting major damage to the 20mm and 40mm battery on the whole starboard side. The wind during this period appeared to have arisen to a force or ninety to one hundred knots; its intensity was almost inconceivable. The barometer had fallen steadily throughout this period, and at 1215 reached the low point of 28.20 . . . .At 1130 a report was received on the bridge that there was a large hole in the side of the ship at the after elevator well, and that compartments below were flooding. Immediate investigation discovered that the flooding was caused by the heavy seas coming in over the fantail as previously discussed, plus a large rupture in the after fire main loop . . . .At 1130, a second plane in the vicinity of the forward elevator carried away, and crashed on top of the first on the elevator below. Planes were continually getting adrift on the flight deck, and crashing into the island, stack, or walkways, usually taking several other planes with them. Even those which did not become adrift were rapidly rendered useless and beyond repair by the terrific force of the wind. The commanding officer frequently saw the wings and tail surfaces of planes still otherwise secured, ripping bodily from their fittings and blown over the side . . . .
. . . At 1230, a third plane, which had been partially secured to the searchlight platform after getting adrift, fell over the edge of the elevator well, but was prevented from going all the way down by heavy manila securing lines. By this time most of the deck load of planes had gone over the side, only some ten renaming, and the ship was consequently riding much easier. Serious doubt exists under the conditions experienced during the afternoon, if the ship would have survived had not the deck load in question been lost . . . .
. . . A quick check showed that the wind had shifted to about 200º, with the result that the ship's heading was now 330º and that we were apparently working ourselves into the dangerous semicircle; and although somewhat south of the center of the typhoon, were heading toward its center. It was realized that the ship must again be brought around to take the wind on the opposite quarter if we were to work ourselves clear. In vies of the almost disastrous rolls resulting in turning down-wind previously, it was decided to try and turn into the eye of the wind. To do this it was necessary to go ahead, first full, and then flank speed, and turns were being made for sixteen knots before the ship could finally be brought into the wind. The intensity at this time had again increased in spite of the rising barometer, and is estimated to have been well in excess of one hundred knots. These are estimates, as the anemometer head had long since been blown away, cup by cup. As this ship has frequently experienced winds of fifty-five to sixty knots over the flight deck, and the winds in question were so far and away stronger than sixty knots relative wind, it is not believed that the forces estimated above are excessive. An idea of the intensity can be appreciated by the fact that when we reached the point of heading directly into the wind, the propellers of three or four planes still, parked on the bow began windmilling at about 200 RPM's (new engines), and a few seconds later theme planes were torn from their moorings and flung like chips over the side. After passing through the eye of the wind, a comparatively easy riding course of about 100º resulted . . . ."
9. The total of aircraft lost overboard from the Altamaha was 31, with 12 additional planes damaged beyond repair.
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Last update: 28 November 2004