Sunday, November 8, 2009

Typhoon Cobra - Nimitz & Leadership '...Lessons of'

If you don’t read the entire review that follows, do yourself a favor and read Commander in Chief, U.S. Pacific Fleet ADM Nimitz’s confidential letter of Feb. 13, 1945. It’s a thoughtful, reasoned and balanced treatise on accountability in time of war. It shows why Nimitz was such a great leader -- a man whose emotional intelligence matched his analytical abilities.
Fleet Admiral Chester A. Nimitz
Halsey’s Typhoon
Review by Bill Doughty
Their decks, already top-heavy with armaments and equipment, were pushed nearly vertical in mountainous seas. Sixty-five years ago, caught in a giant storm, the Sailors of U.S. Third Fleet fought wind, water and waves trying to escape their own sinking ships and surrounding sharks. Some lost the fight.

Halsey’s Typhoon, the True Story of a Fighting Admiral, an Epic Storm, and an Untold Rescue is the gripping account of Typhoon Cobra and its aftermath.

McCain and Halsey, Dec. 1944.
Characters like Adm. William “Bull” Halsey, Adm. John “Slew” McCain (Sen. McCain’s grandfather), Capt. Henry Lee Plage, Capt. James Marks and Chief Quartermaster Archie DeRyckere (one of the true heroes of the tale, who retired as a Lt. Cmdr.) are revealed, warts and quirks and all.

Why were the ships in the path of the huge storm? How does a typhoon form and why is it so dangerous? What’s it like to be thrown off a ship into 90-foot waves in a storm with 150-mph winds? The authors address these questions through extensive research and interviews.
Although this book is not currently included on the Navy’s Professional Reading Program, it is on the informal must-read list of many Navy leaders. These leaders also value the lessons of history brought forth in books, including all the way back to one of the most well-known books in history, Homer’s Iliad, written around the 8th Century B.C. Here’s a quote from the Iliad, used on one of Halsey's Typhoon’s title pages:

Bursts as a wave from the clouds impends,
And swell'd with tempests on the ships descends;
White are the decks with foam; the winds aloud
Howl o'er the masts, and sing through every shroud:
Pale, trembling, tir'd, the sailors freeze with fear;
And instant death on every wave appears.

  Halsey’s Typhoon is not the first book about this famous incident in Navy history. Capt. C. Raymond "Cal" Calhoun, skipper of the USS Dewey (DD 349) at the time, was an eyewitness to history and wrote a gripping account, Typhoon: The Other Enemy, in 1981. Highly recommended.
There have been other books, written by apologists or accusers, including several other first-person accounts -- even one co-authored by Capt. George Kosco, Fleet Aerologist at the time of the storm.

Unidentified destroyer during Typhoon Cobra.

Typhoon Cobra formed and hit as the Third Fleet was moving ever closer to Imperial Japan. The Navy was achieving success using McCain’s “Big Blue Blanket” strategy, modeled after a U.S. Naval Academy football defense, of interweaving radar to defend against kamikaze (divine winds) attacks.
The name kamikaze came from the Shinto belief that the gods intervened twice in the 13th Century, sending separate typhoons against invading Chinese armadas -- drowning thousands of Mongol soldiers and sailors.

The Imperial Japanese warriors believed the gods were on their side and that they were ordained to win the war.
Ultimately science triumphed over superstition.
Halsey’s Typhoon narrates the lessons of history.
(Today, as a direct result of the devastating storm in the Philippine Sea, the Joint Typhoon Warning Center protects the U.S. Pacific Fleet. In the years after the war weather stations were set up in the Caroline Islands, Philippines, Iwo Jima, Okinawa and Guam.)
Communication has improved. Command-and-control incorporates maritime forecasts as a top priority to ensure the safety of Sailors. Nimitz addresses in his letter, "Lessons of," that leaders must take all information into account, but must also rely on their own intelligence.
This book is purposely a vital guide to good leadership. Compare the fearless bravery of destroyer escort USS Tabberer’s CO Capt. Plage -- whose interactions were generous, even-handed and caring -- with Capt. Marks, CO of destroyer USS Hull. Marks is shown as petty and controlling. The reporters suggest he was the basis for the Capt. Queeg character in the 1952 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Caine Mutiny by Herman Wouk.
Plage defied convention and came to the rescue of survivors treading water, fighting sharks and clinging to rafts and debris. Marks became paralyzed and failed to respond.
True wisdom during Typhoon Cobra was revealed in acts by brave leaders who acted correctly -- not blindly -- in the face of unimaginable terrors.
This Veteran’s Day, we think of all the men and women who have served selflessly in uniform in recent and distant wars.
Halsey’s Typhoon reminds us of some of the lessons learned -- and taught -- by the veterans of World War II. And, it introduces us to some of the heroes we continue to honor.
“...Lessons of”:

The book explores the role of Fleet Adm. Chester A. Nimitz -- one of the greatest heroes in our nation’s military history. Nimitz’s confidential letter of Feb. 13, 1945, just two months after Typhoon Cobra, while not included in Halsey’s Typhoon, is available at the Navy’s History and Heritage Command site.

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