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Survivors from the Spence and the Hull

 

From the Survivors - The official record.

NAVY DEPARTMENT
HOLD FOR RELEASE
PRESS AND RADIO
UNTIL 6 P.M. (E.W.T.)
FEBRUARY 11,1945

USS MONAGHAN SURVIVORS TELL STORY; RESCUED BY USS BROWN

            Two of the six enlisted men who survived the sinking of the USS MONAGHAN during a typhoon in the Pacific are in the United States, their mind still filled with the tension and horror or their 72 hours in a storm-tossed sea.

The two men, rescued by the USS BROWN, are; Joseph Charles McCrane, Watertender, Second Class U.S.N.R, 30 of 115 Delaware Avenue, Clementon, New Jersey, and Robert J. Darden, Machinist's Mate Second Class, USNR 28, of Route One, Jacksonville, North Carolina. They are the senior survivors of the MONAGHAN. The remaining survivors are still in the pacific area, recovering from exhaustion, exposure and shock.

The 1500-ton destroyer MONAGHAN capsized in December during a typhoon in the Philippine Sea, with a loss of more than 200 officers and men. The story of its loss and the eventual rescue by the BROWN of the six survivors is told by McCrane and Darden.

"Thirteen of us were on the only life raft that was picked up," Darden explained, "but seven died or disappeared before we were rescued. Me I was too busy bandaging injured men and handing out food and water, trying to make it last, to think about dying. I guess that's one reason why I just didn't give up hope like some of the boys."

The storm struck suddenly, shortly after dawn, McCrane said. He was below supervising the filling of two empty oil tanks with salt-water ballast. The ship had run low of fuel and in company with the Spence and the Hull, two other destroyers lost in the same storm, she had been trying to refuel the night before, it was because of this that her ballast had been pumped out earlier, but the rough seas caused the abandonment of the fueling attempts.

"Things got bad around 11 o'clock on the first morning of the storm, the New Jersey man said, "but I bet there wasn't a man at that time who didn't think we would get through. Suddenly, I guess about noon, she began to roll violently to starboard. We found out later that the wind driving against our port side was over 100 knots. One of the fellows on the raft who was topside during the worst part said the starboard whaleboat dipped water several times and that she rolled over at least 70 degrees."

"The suddenness of the disaster is what surprised us. Before her final roll, the ship seemed to have gone over just as far as she did when she went over on her side. Before the final roll there were 40 or 50 of us in the after gun shelter. We stopped work and hung on. We began to get scared.

All of us were praying like we never prayed before, some of us out loud, too. The man next to me kept repeating on each roll "Don't let us down now, Dear Lord. Bring it back, Oh God, bring it back." We all felt the same way, and soon a few of the guys joined in. Then was when we came back we'd chant, "Thanks Dear Lord." The next thing we knew we were on our side.

Darden broke in at this point in the tale to say that previous to the MONAGHAN'S tragedy he had looked around to find something to "Knock myself out with." In case he was trapped below."I didn't think much of being drowned like a rat in that gun shelter." He said. "When it came, someone threw open the hatch," McCrane went on, "And we started to scramble out. Under the circumstances, most of us were pretty orderly and there was hardly any hysteria. The fellows start helping each other, particularly the shorter men who couldn't reach the hatch."

"I climbed out of the hatch and stood on a bulkhead. The waves were knocking me about, but I didn't want to shake loose because I saw what happened to men who had jumped off as soon as we heeled. They were pounded to a pulp against the side of the ship. But finally a big wave shook me loose and I went scrambling along the ship until I was lucky enough to grab a depth charge rack. I walked along the torpedo tubes. Another wave hit me and I went into the air."

"The next thing I knew I was struggling in the water trying to keep from being pounded against the ship. Water and oil were blowing against my face. I was choking and beating the water with my arms and legs like a puppy. I saw I wasn't getting anywhere so I calmed down and got away gradually. But I was losing strength when suddenly someone hollered: "Hey Joe, grab that raft in back of you, I think it was a fellow named Guio (Joseph Guio Jr., Gunners Mate, Third Class USNR, of 4020 Washington Street, Holliday's Cove, West Virginia.) Who later died on the raft. Thirteen of us got to it and hung on the sides like they did in that Noel Coward movie;  (In This We Serve). I never saw the movie, but I remember those guys hanging on from a trailer I saw."  This was about 1230, McCrane added, and was approximately the time the MONAGHAN filled up with water and went down completely. The wind at that time was blowing so hard that the driving salt spray and oil made it difficult to see more than a few yards and the survivors were unable to say for sure whether anyone was on the MONAGHAN at the time.  "It looked to me like there was no one left," he said. "We looked around for others to help and started to help some of the badly injured get on the raft. One of these was Ben Holland (Will Ben Holland, Ships Cook, First Class, USNR, son of Willian Earl Holland, Rural Route 1, Mc Minnville, Tennessee). He was a typical of the badly injured with a big gash on the back of his head and on his foot. Guio, the guy who yelled to me about the raft, was another. He had part of his foot torn off.

 (Note by Chuck Smith.) These life rafts were a balsa wood ring about four feet across and 8 or 10 feet long. They had a coarse weave netting of about 3/8-inch rope fastened to the balsa wood ring, with a woven wooden slat bottom. The only thing you could do was hang on to them. Your body was in the water whether you were on the inside or the outside of the balsa wood ring.)

             "Before we got the bottom of the raft down it turned over four of five times. This meant we had to fish around and help the wounded back on each time and we were getting pretty tired and weak. After we got the bottom down we all climbed aboard--thirteen of us---that first night." I broke out the emergency rations - Spam, hard biscuits and stuff like that--and water. I limited them to a biscuit, cup of water two or three time a day, as soon as we opened that Spam, the sharks started nosing around. We all ate a little, drank our mite of water and tried to get some rest. "That first night we just missed being saved. We saw the lights of a ship and started hollering and yelling, waving our arms. But she passed us by without seeing us. About this time I put my arms and legs around Guio because he was naked and suffering from the cold. Just then he said, "Joe can you see anything?" I thought he meant the ship and I told him I could. "I can't see a thing" he answered.

" A few minutes later he closed his eyes-- and we got ready for our first burial at sea. Doil Carpenter, Seaman, First Class, USNR from California (Address at time of enlistment was 562 East 223rd Street, Torrance, California), said a prayer and we put Guio, the guy who probably saved my life by yelling about that raft, over the side.

"The next day we were all confident we would be picked up. Planes passed over us, but it was still pretty rough and our little raft must have been hard to see. A TBF (torpedo plane) went right over us. That night another fellow died after he had gone berserk and started to drink salt water. We tried to stop him too. Another fellow started swimming around the raft and we lost him as well as Holland, who died of his injuries."

The next day and night passed about the same way. Another man went over the side and was lost and two more swam to another unoccupied raft. They were never seen again. Meanwhile, McCrane had applied first aid to the remaining men, bandaging up their cuts and applying sulfa powder and ointment."

Darden broke into McCrane's narrative again to tell how he began to see a mirage, a pretty, white beach with lights, he too jumped over the side and started to swim toward the "beach". Luckily it vanished in time and he returned to the raft.

"The water tasted brackish so I thought we were in a sound" Darden explained. "I got some of the other fellows to taste it and they agreed with me. Shows how we were beginning to look pretty grim. He was trying to keep up his hopes as well as those of the other survivors.

"Pretty soon we saw some fighter planes come over," he resumed, "and knew we were either near land or one of our carriers." They later turned out to be carrier planes. These two planes banked over us and dropped some of those water markers. Twenty minutes later we saw the most wonderful sight in the world, a destroyer steaming at full speed right at us.

A few moments later she was alongside with everyone shouting advice. Someone threw us a line and soon we were safe. She turned out to be the USS BROWN, a 2100 toner, badly battered by the storm herself. They told us when we got aboard that a shark was right on our tails the whole time we were being rescued. "Well he's welcome to the rest of that Spam, anyway." (Note by Chuck Smith...I think these were the only survivors from the  Monaghan.)

             All told 82 men were picked out of the heaving seas. But 790 men were gone. Three destroyers had been sacrificed to Typhoon Cobra, and so many other ships had been damaged that the fleet could not participate in that attack on Luzon. A court of inquiry blamed the disaster on Admiral Halsey---whatever problems the weather experts had encountered; he was the responsible commander.

Report from Crew Members of the USS Tabberer

The destroyer escort USS Tabberer had rolled 72 degrees to one side and was still afloat. Although the sea was rough, the rolling was much less and the peak of the storm had passed Fifty degree rolls no longer amazed anyone, but the swinging mast finally buckled and dangled dangerouslly over the starboard side. A damage control party braved the savage waves that swept over the slippery deck and cut it loose with a torch. Mast, or no mast, life was getting back to normal.

Twenty-nine-year-old Lt. Cdr. Henry Plage a product of Georiga Tech,s ROTC program, headed his ship for the 3rd Fleet rendezvous. It was Dec. 18, 1944. The fleet had attempted to fuel at sea after the invasion of Mindoro in the Philippines so it could continue its attacks against the Japanese. Instead, the fleet was caught in one of the worst typhoons in history.

Now at least, everyone on the Tabberer was breathing easier and the cleaning up had already begun. Ralph Tucker, chief radioman, was busy rigging an emergency antenna between the flag bag and the gun mount when he heard a shout. Looking in the Direction of the cry, he saw a man off the starboard beam. Tucker yelled, "Man overboard."

Plage immediately sailed downwind and then turned upwind as though he was approaching a mooring buoy. It was a normal procedure, but he lost steering control as he slowed speed in the heavy sea and wind. The ground swells and cross seas drove the bow of the Tabberer away from the exhausted man. It was maddening

The captain decided to go upwind. He thought that if he sailed the ship broadside the wind might blow it toward the man. Once Broadside the steep rolls dipped the edge of the main deck into the water. Rolling toward the struggling survivor, everyone on the deck wondered if he would be rescued or run over. Plage thought the ship and the crew were like tumbleweed blowing in the breeze.

When closer, Bob Surdam the exec, shouted to the man to put the line that was thrown under his arms. Weak, but still conscious, the man did as he was told. When the ship came out of a slow roll and the water washed away the man was on the deck as if he were a big fish. By now he was unconscious and was taken below. The stranger was obviously not from the Tabberer. When he revived, it was learned to the crew's Surprise that he was from the USS Hull. This was the first news in the fleet that a destroyer had capsized in the Typhoon.

Word about the survivor spread through the ship like lighting. Men rushed on deck to help. The 24- and 12-inch searchlights acanned the wild ocean, but whitecaps were everywhere and looked deceptively like men's heads. Nevertheless, in another hour or so, 10 stray men were fished out of the rough sea. Two survivors told Arthur Carpentier, the engineering officer, that the Tabberer had passed close by a number of times before they were saved. He wondered how many other helpless men were out there.

Jim Marks, the Hull's captain, had stepped off his bridge into the sea and was one of the lonely men who fought for his life. He must have asked himself why fate had dealt with him so harshly. Strangely, he developed a craving for something to eat and chewed on a whistle. It did not taste very good so he took a piece of leather from his shoe and chewed away. That was more appetizing.

About the same time, a few men from a second destroyer, the USS Spence, Tried to organize themselves. Their ship, light in fuel, had rolled to about 75 degrees and recovered. A couple of rolls later there was no recovery.

George Johnson, a chief watertender, had been with the Spence since it was a proud part of Arleigh (31Knot) Burke's Little Beaver Squadron in the Solomons. Just before the final, he had wandered topside near the radio room. In no time, the ship lay on it's side and Johnson walked off the forward stack into the sea.

Johnson stared at the Spence. It was eerie in the dim, gray light. Soon, the ship broke in half and went down. The boiler exploded and Johnson thought the depth charges would be next. Instead, the ship sucked him deep down into a vacuum. When he returned to the surface his lungs were ready to burst.

In a few minutes, Johnson found a 7-foot life raft. Although it seemed impossible to surive in the raging sea, 29 men surrounded their only hope. Soon the number of men dwindled. One of the First to die was a young mess cook, 18 or 19 years old. Near the end, he took a ring off his finger and told another man to be sure his mother got it. Other weary men were simply Brushed away by the mountainous waves.

Johnson took charge of the forlorn group. The important thing was to stay awake. Sleepy men were sure to drown. Johnson decided that the best way to stay awake was to talk. He talked and talked. After awhile nobody listened, but he didn't care. He thought, too, of his wife and the baby daughter he had never seen.

The next day the hallucinations began. Some saw islands and green grass. One man was positive he saw a refreshment stand and swam toward it. He never returned. Even the strong-minded Johnson lost touch with reality now and then. Oddly, he found that the false images sometimes helped. They gave hope and passed time.

As the men grew weaker, sharks seemed more aggressive. For a long time they had quietly followed the raft. Johnson found some grease and had the men coat themselves. It was supposed to be an old trick to ward off sharks. A shark bit a man in the arm and tore off a large piece of the muscle. Blood spilled around them. Everyone knew that blood attracted sharks, yet mysteriously they did not attack again. Maybe the grease worked. Still, no one came to their rescue.

Plage, on the bridge as dawn broke, had not given up. In the early hours he picked up six more men. the sixth man Jim Marks, extremely weak and badly battered. When the hungry Marks was offered hot soupe he could even keep it down.

Through the morning the excited young crew made more rescues. Plage's ship handling came as no surprise to them. They had often marveled at his skill. He had a natural talent, they thought, like the gift of a natural athlete.

Boatswain's Mate First Class Louis Purvis worked with Lt. Howard Korth on the nets thrown over the side. Purvis dived into the warter for someone and his slackened line tangled on an underwater dome. As seconds passed men on the deck feared he had drowned Purvis, however, slipped out of is life jacket and came up on the other side. His shipmates claimed he was the only man ever keelhauled in the modern Navy.

One man was too weak to reach for a life ring when a large shark appeared nearby. Bob Surdam dived into the sea despite the shark and placed a line around the man. Robert Cotton, a torpedoman, jumped in to help. The lucky survivor was Cyrus Watkins of the Hull.

Plage received a message to procced on a new course for the fleet rendezvous. . As soon as he changed course, Another man was spotted. This discovery convinced Plage to make another careful search. He found still another man and kept searching. By now it was impossible to reach the rendezvous on time as ordered, When he finally resumed the course, every one on board hoped there would be some reason for delay.

In another 20 minutes a sighting was made two miles away. This had never happened before. As the ship came closer, the men saw the reason. Seven men were in a circle. George Sharp, the engineering officer of the Hull, had insisted on lashing them together. one man had no life jacket and he was placed in the center. He had spent the night on a mattress that was about to fall apart when he came across the little group.

Plage was now three hours late. As he pondered whether or not to forget his orders, a message arrived from Adm. William F. Halsey to remain in the area until the next morning.

By the 20th Johnson's group had been adrift for 50 hours. only 14 men remained. Soon Johnson saw a ship approacing that he was certain was Japanese. Then the ship started firing. This had to be the end. But he was wrong. It was the Demasted Tabberer firing into the water to ward off sharks. The 14 became the last survivors. Fifty-five had been recovered.

Six men from the USS Monaghan, a third destoryer that had capsized, still drifted in the sea. Evan Fenn, one of the six, suffered from severe leg lacerations, but he refused to give up. On the 21st he confidently told the others they would be rescued that day. Sure enough he was right. They were discovered by the USS Brown and became the Monaghan's only survivors. Only 98 men were rescued by all the ships in the 3rd Fleet. Almost 800 were lost.

The Tabberer made a strange sight sailing into the anchorage at Ulithi. When it came within view of the giant USS New Jersey, Plage received a blinker message from the battleship' "What type of ship are you?" The tired Plage replied, "Destroyer  escort. What type are you?" He received no answer.

 

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