Admiral Chester Nimitz called it the worst loss the U.S. Navy had suffered in the Pacific "without compensatory return" since the 9 August 1942 debacle off Savo Island. The Pacific Fleet commander wasn't referring to a battle against the Japanese Navy but to the damage inflicted by a typhoon that struck Admiral William F. Halsey's Task Force 38 on 18 December 1944.
"Halsey's Typhoon" has gone down as the most infamous storm in U.S. Navy history. In this issue we're presenting an exciting new chapter in the history of the typhoon: "Battling the Pacific's Most Deadly Force"—a gripping account of riding out the storm by an officer of the deck in the USS Nehenta Bay (CVE-74).
Lieutenant Thompson Webb Jr. (USNR) wrote the heretofore unpublished white-knuckle tale within weeks of the typhoon. In late 1945 he submitted the article to Harper's Magazine, which turned it down. So, while Mr. Webb built a career in the academic publishing business before passing away in 1998, the manuscript languished among old files in his basement. That's where his grandson, Gregg Webb, discovered it several years ago. "I had known that he had been a sailor," Gregg said, "but I had not appreciated the harrowing and crucial role he had played during the typhoon." After transcribing the manuscript, the younger Webb submitted it to Naval History.
Family ties are also behind two other storm stories in this issue. Author and retired Coast Guard Captain Robert Bennett's great-great grandfather John Maxson figures prominently in "Bouncy but Dry Ride to Safety." During a nor'easter in January 1850, Maxson supervised the first successful rescue from a U.S. government lifesaving station. Patrick McSherry, meanwhile, uses excerpts from his grandfather's memoirs to spice up his article about the Great White Fleet's stormy encounter on the way to Japan 100 years ago, "Wallowin' in a Typhoon Before Morning." Seaman Jack McSherry served on board the USS Minnesota during the fleet's round-the-world cruise.
Most Americans aren't likely to mark the centennial of the Great White Fleet's encounter with a typhoon, but they certainly should reflect long and hard about a searing event that took place 25 years ago. On 23 October 1983 a terrorist truck bomb flattened the Marine battalion landing team barracks in Beirut, killing 241 American servicemen. In "Courage in the Face of Terror," Major Robert Jordan, USMC (Ret.), who was then in Beirut serving as the 24th Marine Amphibious Unit's public-affairs officer, recollects the events that led to the horrific blast.
And finally, in the August issue we reported a runner-up for the 2007 Theodore and Franklin D. Roosevelt Prize in Naval History but failed to reveal the winner: William N. Still Jr. for his book Crisis at Sea: The United States Navy in European Waters in World War I (University Press of Florida, 2006). In addition to retired Navy Admiral James L. Holloway III (Aircraft Carriers at War, Naval Institute Press, 2007), Commander Craig C. Felker, U.S. Navy, also earned an honorable mention, for Testing American Sea Power: U.S. Navy Strategic Exercises, 1923-1940 (Texas A&M University Press, 2007). Our apologies to Dr. Still and Commander Felker.
Richard G. Latture