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Halsey’s Typhoon

Charlie Wingard

Charlie Wingard

Associate Professor of Practical Theology at Reformed Theological Seminary Jackson and Senior Pastor of First Presbyterian Church, Yazoo City, Mississippi

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Halsey’s Typhoon (Robert Drury and Tom Clavin) is the gripping story of Task Force 38, and its desperate struggle to survive a devastating typhoon on December 17-18, 1944. By the end of the storm, three destroyers rested on the ocean floor and nearly 800 sailors lost their lives, almost as many American deaths as in the Battles of Midway and Coral Sea combined.

Under the leadership of Admiral William “Bull” Halsey, TF 38 was operating in waters 300 miles east of the Philippines. Charged with keeping Japanese planes based on Luzon out of the air during MacArthur’s Philippine campaign, Hasley chose to keep his fleet in station even as the surprise storm intensified. A number of the ships, unable to refuel, found themselves perilously unstable. A few exhausted their fuel supplies, leaving them crippled, helpless before the merciless winds and raging seas.

Particularly inspiring is the story of Lt. Commander Henry Lee Plage and the crew of the destroyer escort Tabberer. In spite of severe damage to their own ship and orders to leave the area, they remained and over the course of 55 hours plucked 51 sailors from the sea. Maneuvering the destroyer in turbulent waters alongside so many survivors, without killing them or their rescue swimmers, was a feat of extraordinary seamanship.

As one expects in a military history, Halsey’s Typhoon is the account of leaders making life and death judgments quickly and under extraordinary pressure. These are not my experiences, and I am moved by men struggling to do their duty in unimaginably harsh conditions.


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