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The Great Atlantic Hurricane of September 1944

My Remembrances

May 2008

by
Ken Adams, RM2/c
USS EDSALL DE 129 & USS WALTER B. COBB APD 106

I submitted an article to DESANews in 1986 containing my and a shipmate's eye witness accounts of the Great Atlantic Hurricane of 13 September 1944. Since the publishing of my article, four additional eye witness accounts from DE sailors have been published concerning this same hurricane. In 2007, I sent these article's to Tim Deegan, weatherman for Channel 12 in Jacksonville, FL. His initial response was, "Wow!
Incredible!"


As I had lived in Kentucky most my first 19 years of life I doubt if I could have spelled hurricane at that time (joke), so I never realized the pending danger I would face while in the USN. It would be nearly 40 years later before I found out I had been in the Great Atlantic Hurricane of September 1944.

I enlisted in the USN in May 1943. After completing bootcamp at Great Lakes Training Center, Chicago, IL., I attended the US Naval Radio School, Indianapolis. Graduation day arrived January 3, 1944. Next, I attended Merchant Marine Radio School, Noroton Heights, CT. The Navy manned the Radio function/gunnery function on the Marine vessels. However, this school was closed and in early February I was transferred for sea duty aboard the USS EDSALL DE 129 as a radioman.

On 13 September 1944, EDSALL was returning to New York from Taranto, Italy. USS WARRINGTON DD 383 had departed Norfolk Navy Base two days earlier escorting the USS HYADES AF 28 enroute to Trinidad. Little did any of the ships in the area know what we were all about to face.

The hurricane was first detected on 9 September, northeast of the Lesser Antilles. It likely developed from a tropical wave several days before. It moved west-northwestward, and steadily intensified to a 140 mph major hurricane on the 12th, northeast of the Bahamas. Around this time, the Miami Hurricane Warning Office designated this storm The Great Atlantic Hurricane to emphasize its intensity and size(1).

The powerful hurricane reached Category 4 as it raced towards the Eastern Seaboard, her winds blanketing a 600 mile area.  The photo shows the track of the storm.

The hurricane had reached her maximum fury when encountered by the USS WARRINGTON DD 383 approximately 450 miles east of Vero Beach, FL.

 


WARRINGTON and HYADES had received word that they were steaming directly into a hurricane. On the evening of the 12th, the storm forced the destroyer to heave to while HYADES continued on her way alone. Keeping wind and sea on her port bow, WARRINGTON rode relatively well through most of the night. Wind and seas, however, continued to build during the early morning hours of the 13th. WARRINGTON began to lose headway and, as a result, started to ship water through the vents to her engineering spaces(1).

The water rushing into her vents caused a loss of electrical power which set off a chain reaction. Her main engines lost power, and her steering engine and mechanism went out. She wallowed there in the trough of the swells - continuing to ship water. She regained headway briefly and turned upwind, while her radiomen desperately, but fruitlessly, tried to raise HYADES. Finally, she resorted to a plain-language distress call to any
ship or shore station. By noon on the 13th, it was apparent that WARRINGTON'S crewmen could not win the struggle to save their ship, and the order went out to prepare to abandon ship. By 1250, her crew had left WARRINGTON and she went down almost immediately, stern first(1).

As I was a Radioman I copied the distress call from WARRINGTON. The EDSALL proceeded to be of help. Before we got to the scene, some five other DE's had arrived and we were informed by radio contact to proceed to New York. A prolonged search by HYADES, USS FROST DE 144, USS HUSE DE 145, USS INCH 146, USS SNOWDEN DE 246, USS SWASEY DE 248, USS WOODSON DE 359, and USS JOHNNIE
HUTCHINS DE 360, along with ATR-9 and ATR-62, resulted in the rescue of only 5 officers and 68 men of the destroyer's 20 officers and 301 men.

My ship, USS EDSALL, survived the hurricane. It is difficult, at best, to describe this event. Anyone not involved cannot understand the severity of this storm. Anyone involved can never forget.

Prior to submitting my article to DESANews, I researched the degree of "roll" a DE could/did take before rolling over. 70 degrees is said to be the DEs limit. EDSALL did a 57 degree roll during the hurricane. The rolls and plunges strew all the eating utensils about the galley. Crewmembers strapped themselves in their bunks and prayed our ship would hold together. I remember the "boom, boom, boom" as the sea pounded against the ship.

A shipmate and I had a very stressful "watch" (20:00/24:00) in the radio room. We had to insert the legs of our chairs into pipe to keep from sliding around the room. Typing was more than a challenge. We held the typewriter carriage with our left hand while typing code with the right.

We thought our watch would never end, but it did and we stepped out on the deck and held on to the pyrotechnics box (used for storing flares and other emergency equipment). As we held on we learned a history lesson. The ocean water was furiously churning and when that happens the phosphorous in the water shines green. The phosphorous and the "white caps" alternated. First really low, followed by really high. Waves have
been estimated for this particular hurricane to have reached 70 feet with the 140 MPH winds mentioned above.

The next morning we discovered that the pyrotechnic box we had held on to had broken loose from the securing welds during the night and had slipped overboard!! Enough said about that!!

In addition to the WARRINGTON and the Coast Guard Cutters BEDLOE and JACKSON, this hurricane claimed the 136 foot long minesweeper USS YMS-409 which foundered and sank with all 33 on board lost. Further north, it also claimed the Lightship VINEYARD SOUND (LV-73), which was sunk with the loss of all 12 aboard(1).

The hurricane and the sinking of the USS WARRINGTON are documented in the 1996 book The Dragon's Breath - Hurricane At Sea, written by Commander Robert A. Dawes, Jr. (a former Commanding Officer of the Warrington), and published by Naval Institute Press.

Ken Adams RM2/c
224 Blvd Des Pins
St. Augustine, FL  32080-6411
(904) 471-2855


2007


1944




(1) Wikipedia

 


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