Down to the Sea: An Epic Story of Naval Disaster and Heroism in World War IIby Bruce Henderson
This epic story opens at the hour the Greatest Generation went to war on December 7, 1941, and follows four U.S. Navy ships and their crews in the Pacific until their day of reckoning three years later with a far different enemy: a deadly typhoon. In December 1944, while supporting General MacArthur's invasion of the Philippines, Admiral William "Bull" Halsey
This epic story opens at the hour the Greatest Generation went to war on December 7, 1941, and follows four U.S. Navy ships and their crews in the Pacific until their day of reckoning three years later with a far different enemy: a deadly typhoon. In December 1944, while supporting General MacArthur's invasion of the Philippines, Admiral William "Bull" Halsey neglected the Law of Storms, placing the mighty U.S. Third Fleet in harm's way. Drawing on extensive interviews with nearly every living survivor and rescuer, as well as many families of lost sailors, transcripts and other records from naval courts of inquiry, ships' logs, personal letters, and diaries, Bruce Henderson finds some of the story's truest heroes exhibiting selflessness, courage, and even defiance.
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Down to the SeaAn Epic Story of Naval Disaster and Heroism in World War II
By Bruce Henderson
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2007 Bruce Henderson
All right reserved.
December 7, 1941
The greatest generation's first day of war dawned bright over Oahu.
Although sunrise came officially to the Hawaiian Islands at 6:36 A.M. that morning, Pearl Harbor remained shaded to the east by the 2,000-foot volcanic twins, Tantalus and Olympus, for another half an hour. As the sun crested the low-slung mountaintops, its brilliance washed the sky with bold streaks of light and painted in emerald the endless sugarcane fields stretching up the lush slopes above the nearly landlocked home port of the U.S. Navy's Pacific Fleet.
The destroyer Monaghan (DD-354) was tied up to a nest of three other destroyers: Aylwin, Dale, and Farragut. The four vessels, which made up Destroyer Division 2, were moored side by side in East Loch off the north end of Ford Island—less than one square mile of land situated in the middle of Pearl Harbor—home to a naval air station, ware-houses, and oil storage tanks. Several dozen other ships, including three other destroyer divisions, were moored on that side of the island; however, most of the fleet's anchorages (including animpressive lineup of America's biggest warships on Battleship Row), dry docks, and repair facilities, along with a sprawling oil-tank farm, were located along the harbor's expansive southeastern shores.
Monaghan had been the ready-duty destroyer since 8:00 the previous morning, meaning that for twenty-four hours the ship was "in readiness to get under way on one hour's notice" should her presence be required outside the harbor. To ensure a quick getaway, Monaghan was moored in the outboard position of the nest and singled up (with only one mooring line rather than multiple tie-downs), with a fire under one boiler and the full crew aboard. In the event of hostilities, enemy submarines were believed to be the most serious threat to the flow of ships that came and went from the harbor, so there was always at least one destroyer patrolling outside the entrance. Another destroyer was on standby to assist with any emergency outside the harbor.
Monaghan belonged to the Farragut class (named for the first U.S. Navy admiral, David Glasgow Farragut, a Civil War hero credited with the legendary battle cry "Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!"), which were the first modern destroyers built for the U.S. Navy since the end of World War I. A total of eight ships in this class were launched in 1934-35. Designed to carry a crew of 150 men (war-time complements exceeded 200), the vessels were dubbed by sailors as "gold platers" because they were so plush compared with their predecessors. Representing the peak of technology and naval design for their era, these 1,395-ton two-stackers with a flank speed of 37 knots (43 miles per hour) were originally armed with five 5-inch deck guns (two forward, two aft, one amidships), four .50-caliber mounted machine guns, eight torpedo tubes, and a pair of depth-charge tracks.
The last Farragut-class destroyer built, Monaghan was launched on January 9, 1935, in Boston and christened by Mary F. Monaghan, niece of its namesake. Like all destroyers, Monaghan was named for a hero; other ships were named for states (battleships), cities (cruisers), famous ships (aircraft carriers), and fish (submarines). Ensign John R. Monaghan had served aboard the cruiser Philadelphia during a native uprising in Samoa in 1899. Monaghan had joined a landing party assigned to restore order among the natives, and his small band was returning to the ship when they were ambushed, during which a lieutenant was badly wounded. Despite the lieutenant's order to leave him and save themselves, Monaghan and two sailors stood by their wounded officer, fighting until overpowered, killed, and beheaded by the natives.
Assigned to patrol duties outside Pearl Harbor that morning was the destroyer Ward (DD-139), "an old World War I vintage" vessel that could barely make 30 knots. The old ship had a new skipper, Lieutenant William W. Outerbridge, who had taken over this, his first sea command, two days earlier. Since the issuance of a war warning from Washington, D.C., in late November, the ships on offshore patrol were under orders to depth-charge any suspicious submarine contacts operating in the defensive sea area outside the harbor.
At 6:40 A.M., the crew of an auxiliary ship, Antares (AKS-3), towing a 500-ton barge toward the entrance to Pearl Harbor, spotted an object 1,500 yards off its starboard quarter. When the report reached Ward, the destroyer changed course to intercept the object, identifying it as a small submarine attempting to enter the harbor behind the barge. Given his shoot-to-kill orders, Outerbridge did not hesitate to commence an attack. Ward's forward deck gun fired a shell that struck the base of the sub's conning tower. The submarine submerged or sank, and as Ward passed close by, the destroyer's crew released a depth charge, rolling off a rack at the fantail a 600-pound cylindrically shaped "ashcan" packed with TNT and a fuse set to go off at a predetermined depth.
Outerbridge at that point radioed a report to Pearl Harbor communications: "We have attacked, fired upon, and dropped depth charges upon submarine operating in defensive area." The message from Ward filtered up the peacetime chain of command that Sabbath morning with glacial speed before orders went out to the ready-duty destroyer to assist Ward, which would be credited with sinking a Japanese midget submarine and firing the first shots of the war. At 7:51 A.M. Monaghan received a dispatch from the Fourteenth Naval District Headquarters: "Proceed immediately and contact Ward in defensive sea area."
At 7:53 A.M., the first wave of 181 Japanese planes—launched in the predawn darkness from six aircraft carriers operating undetected 275 miles northwest of Pearl Harbor—began their coordinated attack on the ships in the harbor and surrounding military bases and airfields. To further confuse the situation and keep their carriers from being located, many of the attacking planes flew around Oahu and approached Pearl Harbor from the south.
Excerpted from Down to the Sea by Bruce Henderson Copyright © 2007 by Bruce Henderson. Excerpted by permission.
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Meet the Author
Bruce Henderson is the author or coauthor of more than twenty nonfiction books, including the #1 New York Times bestseller And the Sea Will Tell. He lives in Menlo Park, California.
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An awesome book, both in its details and writing! This should be a model for any historical account, especially modern warfare. The account contains events, both major and miniscule, that most people would never realize about the war in the Pacific, no matter how much they thought they knew about it. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone even remotely interested in WWII battles, or the sea, or both. My only complaint is the lack of explanatory maps, other than the (excellent) typhoon chart near the back of the book (?) which I would have loved to know about at Chapter 11. Great read!!
My father Samuel 'Sonny' Rosen was one of the sailors who was killed in Typhoon Cobra on December 18, 1944. Bruce Henderson's book Down to the Sea is a masterful recounting of the horror of the loss of three U.S. Navy destroyers in that typhoon. He writes about the technical issues surrounding the tracking of the storm, the military necessity at the time and juxtaposes all of this with poignant stories of the sailors who died in the typhoon. He also does not spare the commanders of the Pacific Fleet and the board of inquiry in their roles before and after the disaster. For me personally, it helped understand in greater detail the agony of all of those involved who died. I was able to get a picture of the last minutes of my father's life, the father who died before I was born.
I thought the way the book was written was very good. The manner in which it told the stories of the ships and people involved were done to tell the total story of the 3 ships. It was not surprising that the officers responsible for the disasters were not found at fault even though they were at responsible. However, anyone having been a enlisted man in the armed forces knows better than to say anything against a officer as the results can be devistating, even if correct. It was a book that is hard to put down.
I was never a fan of history, but after reading this book, history has taken on a whole new meaning. Henderson brings life and real people to a time in history which used to be dates and numbers to me when I learned about it in school. You feel like you're a part of history reading this book and it makes the sacrifice our veterans made for this country so much more real. The things these people did are just unbelievable. Henderson did his research to gather first account information on what really happened and what these amazing people were like. I felt like I knew the crew members on the ship. The book was a little hard to follow since it describes in so much detail the lives of different people involved that you can lose the flow of the story, but you quickly learn to understand his style of writing and it makes for a more personal read. All in all, a great book and I recommend it to anyone who is looking for a great story. It is an important part of history.
I am a budding WW11 history buff and this a good way to start with a Navy saga. Interesting information about true events of WW11. I enjoyed the book.
Well, Mr. Henderson kept my attention throughout. I can't even imagine what it must have been like to have been caught in the raging typhoon these brave sailors went through. I heard of this story once when I was a civilian guest aboard the USS Gettysburg, a Navy destroyer. I was on the wing tiip off the bridge talking with the captain of the ship and commented about never hearing of a Navy ship going down at sea. He told me the story about the three ships, which were the focus of this amazing book. When I saw the book in print I just had to read more. I was particularly struck by how the high command steered these ships into harm's way, how weather reports were ignored and how insecure officers (only a few) risked the lives of their men to avoid having to make tough decisions. This book has a lot of heros and for a veteran such as myself, it drew a tear or two when I thought about the sacrifices men made, standing by their posts in what surely they must have known was their certain death. A solid read. Well tod.
"Down to the Sea" is the story of the US Navy's disastrous encounter with a typhoon in December 1944, which ultimately ended up costing it three destroyers and almost 800 men. Author Bruce Henderson relies on a great number of first person interviews with survivors from the ships that sank to put readers back into that place and time - when World War II in the Pacific was reaching its climax. The crewmen of the destroyers that form the centerpiece of the book, especially the doomed Hull, Monaghan and Spence, and the heroic destroyer escort Tabberer, paint a vivid picture of life at sea during wartime, from the stark terror of combat, to the tremendous importance good food can have on morale, to the unique camaraderie aboard the smaller warships. Where the book pulls no punches - or lacks balance, depending on your point of view - is when the survivors discuss the actions of their captains leading up to the capsizing of the three destroyers. For a different viewpoint consider reading Typhoon: The Other Enemy, by Capt. C. Raymond Calhoun, captain of another destroyer in the same typhoon, that nearly shared the fate of its sister ships. One thing that is very jarring about this book - Henderson uses a "lot of" little short "quotes that really" don't contribute much to the "overall" telling of the story "but sure" make it harder "to read" because of "all the quotation marks."