Monday, December 1, 2008

Fessie rides out typhoon in crow's nest

As the torpedo-damaged USS Reno was being towed to port for repairs, it faced the always-present danger of enemy submarines, but the threat of bad weather was also a real problem that November. A severe Pacific typhoon threatened the crippled cruiser and its escorts as they encountered strong winds, high seas, and generally rough weather. The cruiser, already in danger of capsizing from its injuries, had to struggle to stay afloat in the typhoon with a skeleton crew.

By late evening on November 5, not quite 48 hours after the torpedo attack, the wind increased and the seas roughened. On November 7, the typhoon came closer with gusting winds and churning seas. The Reno’s stern was often two feet under water, and the ship almost capsized. It wasn’t until November 9 that calmer seas allowed repairs to resume topside.

Fessie had a "personal" relationship with the typhoon, and as with his life jacket incident, he once again disobeyed orders. Rather than going down below deck to weather the storm, as he was ordered, Fessie hid out behind one of the bulkheads where he had previously stashed some rope. As the storm approached, he climbed into the crow’s nest and lashed himself to the ship's pole. Here, he rode out the typhoon for two days. His logic, as he related later, was that he wouldn’t have a chance for survival if the ship went down and he was barricaded under the main deck. To prevent the seas from sweeping over the main deck and pouring into the second deck compartments, a wooden barricade had been built around some of the hatches. Fessie figured he would have a better chance for survival in the crow’s nest if the ship capsized. He told how the waves would pitch and roll the ship from side to side and front to back, the crow’s nest almost touching the water before rolling over to the other side. On November 9, the seas receded, and an exhausted Fessie couldn't even untie his rope to climb down. It took a crew of men to get him down, and Fessie spent time in the brig for disobeying orders.

The USS Reno was fortunate in at least one respect. Had the ship not received the torpedo strike, thus putting it out of commission, it would have been with Admiral Halsey’s Third Fleet when the fleet encountered Typhoon Cobra in December 1944. This monster typhoon killed nearly 800 sailors and destroyed several naval vessels, including three destroyers. The surviving ships endured 185 mph gusts and 70 foot waves. The typhoon inflicted more damage upon the U.S. Navy than any single encounter with the enemy.

After reaching the safety of port, the Reno underwent temporary repairs for a couple of months that allowed it to sail under its own power to Charleston, South Carolina, arriving on March 22, 1945. Fessie had been at sea nearly a year, but it would be several more months before he was discharged home to his family in Peaceful Valley. Permanent repairs were needed on the Reno, and the ship's crew assisted in those repairs. Years later, Fessie recalled the stench of decayed human flesh that he and others had to clean from the damaged areas.

As for the USS Reno, an official War Damage Report gave much credit to the "courage and perseverance" of the ship's crew for their efforts in saving the ship following the torpedo attack. Repairs were completed in time for the Reno to participate in bringing home troops from Europe as part of "Operation Magic Carpet" following the end of the war. The ship was decommissioned a year later on November 4, 1946, and in 1962 the light cruiser was sold for scrap.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Your work on the adventures of Fessie and the U.S.S. is very very good. A credit to your grandfather and the U.S. Navy.