WWII Memoirs – Oct. 9, 1945 – The Invincible Enemy (Typhoon Louise)

Okinawa, Our tent area after Typhoon Louise

Okinawa, Our tent area after Typhoon Louise

No shots were fired and no bombs were dropped. The war had been over for nearly two months, and the surrender terms signed a month ago. In its own way this action was as drastic as that of the Japanese.

An enemy’s combined naval and aerial bombardment couldn’t inflict such devastation in the same period of time! Many ships were lost, planes destroyed or damaged, men were killed or missing, and many injured, and more than half of the military housing and buildings on the Island were destroyed or made unserviceable.

This deadly enemy was NATURE, in the form of a TYPOON!

The date was October 9, 1945. Storm advisories had been out for several days before the storm hit Okinawa, and early predictions had it passing south of the Island. But without any warning, it had turned north and hit Okinawa so quickly that many ships did not have time to escape to the open sea.

Okinawa, Plane after Typhoon Louise

Okinawa October 1945, Naval Plane after Typhoon Louise, Buckner Bay

Buckner Bay was filled with ships, and with seas running 35 feet and wind reaching 120 knots, controlling those craft was a nightmare for the navy personnel. Many ships dragged their anchors, and ultimately 222 of them were grounded, others collided, and as a result 32 were severely damaged, and 12 sunk. In addition, more than 60 planes were destroyed or damaged.

But the most devastating loss was the loss of lives, and the human suffering: 36 dead, 47 missing and 100 severely injured.

Our squadron came through the typhoon without casualties or major losses. But none of us escaped the storm. I and the other three inhabitants of our tent were “trapped” inside of the tent, fighting desperately to keep it from being blown away. Since noon, visibility was near zero and the winds kept increasing. The rain never let up, and by late afternoon the center of the typhoon had moved into our area, and the fury of the storm reached new levels.

With winds gusting up to 150 mph, we realized that the tent could not stand by itself, so, using boards from the tent floor, we began placing braces on the side being pounded by the wind. The growing row of braces inside of our tent followed the shifting wind. It was a desperate sight. Fortunately we still had lights and a radio, on which Armed Forces Radio was keeping us informed of the “progress of the storm!”

After two hours of our “heroic” struggle, the wind decided to stop “playing” with us, and with a mighty “swoosh” it lifted a corner of the tent and flipped it over on the remaining section! The lights went out, the radio stopped. And for a few moments we were rolled up in the tent, along with cots, bedding, canvas, floor boards and personal belongings. And in those few seconds we lost what for the past five months had been our “home.” We crawled out into the dark, and the wind and rain. Miraculously, none of us were injured.

We headed for the quonset hut, 100 yards away, passing through our encampment on the way. We didn’t stop to seek shelter there, since many other tents were down, their occupants coping with their own disasters.

The quonset hut was the squadron’s only solid building in our encampment (the rest of our “facilities” were tents), and it was anything but a “hut.” It was a substantial building constructed of heavy corrugated sheet metal, shaped like a giant culvert split lengthwise. It was fastened to a concrete foundation, and easily withstood the typhoon. It had been used for our squadron’s photo lab. Its broad shelves had not been removed, so we each had our own “bunk” for the remainder of that night. I managed to grab two blankets before we abandoned our mangled tent, and recall loaning one to Bob Dickey, Glendale, California, tent mate and buddy. It was not the Hilton, but it definitely beat being in the raging storm outside.

By morning the storm had passed, and we set about “picking up the pieces.” And I was still two months away from leaving the Island.

On the second day Ellington (“Duke”) Eckart a classmate from Martin High (we had graduated from there on May 29, 1941) came by with a jeep and we toured the typhoon’s damage. It was like a battlefield. It was on this outing that I took my only photos of that disaster.

So devastating was the typhoon that had the A-bomb not been dropped and the war not been over at this time, the U.S. plans for the invasion of Japan very likely would have been affected. “According to Samuel Eliot Morrison, the famous Naval historian, ‘Typhoon Louise’ was the most furious and lethal storm ever encountered by the United States Navy in its entire history.”

It was after I was back in the States that I read that the typhoon had been given the name “Louise,” But regardless of what they named it, that would have been no concern to us that desperate night, and besides, we had our own choice names for the storm that evening, emotionally more descriptive and much more dramatically expressed—but unfortunately, none of them printable!

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About

Sgt. Eugene Neubauer served in WWII with the 28th Photographic Reconnaissance Squadron, 7th USAAF.

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