Surviving Typhoon Louise

on Okinawa in October 1945

Howard Keylor is a World War II veteran of the Okinawa campaign. Then, only a few months after the war ended and the danger seemed to be all over with, the island was hit by a major typhoon. What really put his life in jeopardy during that storm was military incompetence -- a naval high command that didn't seem to understand the most basic principles of seamanship.

Typhoon "Louise" hit Okinawa
from 8 thru 12 October 1945
and How I Survived

by Howard Keylor
August 2012

This is something I just dashed out without really editing it for style and flow. I wrote it in response to two people who had asked for details on the typhoon and for my grandsons and my daughters.

The two articles on Typhoon Louise which are excerpts from web sites and are below my comments give some details. What the articles do NOT do is reveal the extreme incompetence of the U.S. Navy, Air Force, and U.S. Army stationed on Okinawa to deal with the oncoming typhoon. The ships that survived the best were those that took to sea and even when caught up in the typhoon drove with full speed away from the winds or directly into the winds. I met two men who were on naval vessels at that time whose experienced captains ignored the orders to anchor in Buckner Bay on the East side of Okinawa. The ships that survived were either at sea at the time or the smarter ships’ commanders had violated orders and headed into the open sea. The air force left their planes on the ground to be destroyed rather than sending them to the Philippines or to the Marianas. The Okinawans had survived many typhoons of equal severity in their long history but the stupid U.S. military officers never thought to ask the Okinawans about typhoons. From my own observation the Okinawan farm houses all survived the typhoon with minimal damage while every Quonset hut and tent erected by the U.S. military was destroyed!

The ship on which I was stationed was a very large reinforced concrete ship without any engines to move from place to place. It was towed to Buckner Bay on the East side of Okinawa. The vessel was a refrigerator ship that carried fresh vegetables and had an ice plant and an ice cream manufacturing plant. There were diesel engines to provide power for those operations. There were no seamen stationed on the vessel but about 25 Army Transportation Corps personnel. We supplied mainly the many huge military hospitals on the island. My first job was running the ice plant. I did so well at that job that I was 'promoted' to running the ice cream plant. We had one officer, a second lieutenant who stayed drunk the whole time that I was aboard.

About a week before typhoon Louise struck, we suffered a moderate typhoon. In that typhoon we dragged our anchor and collided with another ship causing a large hole in the bow above the water line. The military fools should have evacuated us to land before Louise struck; instead we were left to die.

The powerful winds from Louise caused us to drag anchor first toward the shore and then away from shore toward the open sea. Early on our anchor cable broke leaving us to receive the full impact of the winds broadside. We were healing over to about 50 degrees much of the time. As we headed into the open seas we figured that we were either going to sink from the water coming in through the big hole in the bow or totally tip over. During the lull when we passed through the "eye of the storm" we went up on deck dressed in the very best navy raingear and lashed ourselves to the superstructure.

I dispute the figures given in the two reports as to the velocity of the winds. The fact is that every anemometer that either the U.S. Air Force had or the Navy was using went up to maximum and broke. I think that the winds were well in excess of 200 miles per hour. I was quite astonished that the winds drove the rain right through the thick rain gear.

Our lieutenant was so panicked that he got totally drunk and was rolling around on the floor in 6 inches of water in the galley. A number of the soldiers became paralyzed with fright, fell on their knees and prayed. Those of us who were functional had to help these guys on deck and lash them to the superstructure.

Only two of us were completely calm and functional, my best friend, a Seventh Day Adventist, and myself who did not believe in life after death. We figured that our chances of survival were quite poor when we reached the open seas toward which we were being blown. My religious friend was not worried because he was probably going to Heaven. I was not too worried because I figured that death was the worst that could happen to me.

We hit a reef about five miles from shore just before the open sea and sank on the reef leaving the top deck and superstructure above water. No electricity and the supplies of food and water were down below under water. For two days we waited on deck in calm sunny weather for a vessel or plane. Since most planes had been destroyed it was only two days later that a plane from the Marianas passed low on its way to land at Kadena or Yontan airfields and sighted us on deck frantically waving anything that could be seen. I think that they spotted our yellow raingear. About 30 hours later a small navy boat came and rescued us. We had been reported as missing and probably dead.

One of my more memorable experiences. I am still afraid of water!

There must be a moral to this true story somewhere but even after 61 years I have not yet figured out a good one. Thor is looking after me? Grandfather Coyote (a Navaho mythical figure) is my protector? The people in charge of my life are incompetent? My gene pool was being saved so that I could produce a grandson who would lead the human resistance to the computers who would take over the world and try to exterminate Homo sapiens?

HOWARD KEYLOR is a retired longshoreman living in the San Francisco Bay Area

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Typhoon "Louise" The 9 October 1945 Storm at Okinawa

On 4 October a typhoon developed just north of Rota as a result of a barometric depression and the convergent flow of equatorial air and tropical air. Guam Weather Central called the storm of apparently weak intensity "Louise" and put out the first weather advisory on it at 041200Z, with further advisories following at intervals of six hours. Up to that time of the 16th advisory (080600Z), the storm was following a fairly predictable path to the NW, and was expected to pass between Formosa and Okinawa and on into the East China Sea. At this time, however, the storm began to veer sharply to the right and head north for Okinawa. The 17th advisory at 081200Z (081100I) showed this clearly, and units began to be alerted for the storm late in the evening of the 8th. The forecast for Okinawa was for winds of 60 knots, with 90 knot gusts in the early morning of 9 October, and passage of the center at 1030(I).

"Louise", however, failed to conform to pattern, and that evening, as it reached 25º N (directly south of Okinawa) it slowed to six knots and greatly increased in intensity. As a result, the storm which struck in the afternoon of the 9th has seldom been paralleled in fury and violence; the worst storm at Okinawa since our landings in April.

The sudden shift of the storm 12 hours before its expected maximum, from a predicted path 150 miles west of Okinawa to an actual path that brought the center of the storm less than 15 miles east of Okinawa's southeast coast, caught many craft in the supposedly safe shelter of Buckner Bay without time to put to sea far enough to clear the storm. The ninth of October found the Bay jammed with ships ranging in size from Victory ships to LCV(P)s. All units, both afloat and ashore, were hurriedly battening down and securing for the storm.

By 1000 the wind had risen to 40 knots, and the barometer was down to 989 millibars, visibility was less than 800 yards, the seas were rising, and the rain was coming down in torrents, liberally mixed with salt spray. By 1200, visibility was zero, and the wind was 60 knots from the east and northeast, with tremendous seas breaking over the ships. Small craft were already being torn loose from their anchors, and larger ships were, with difficulty, holding by liberal use of their engines. At 1400 the wind had risen to 80 knots, with gusts of far greater intensity, the rain that drove in horizontally was more salt than fresh, and even the large ships were dragging anchor under the pounding of 30 to 35-foot seas. The bay was now in almost total darkness, and was a scene of utter confusion as ships suddenly loomed in the darkness, collided, or barely escaped colliding by skillful use of engines, and were as quickly separated by the heavy seas. Not all ships were lucky; hundreds were blown ashore, and frequently several were cast on the beach in one general mass of wreckage, while the crews worked desperately to maintain watertight integrity and to fasten a line to anything at hand in order to stop pounding. Many ships had to be abandoned. Sometimes the crews were taken aboard by other ships; more often they made their way ashore, where they spent a miserable night huddled in caves and fields. A few were lost.

By 1600 the typhoon reached its peak, with steady winds of 100 knots and frequent gusts of 120 knots. At this time the barometer dipped to 968.5 millibars. This was the lowest reading that the barometers recorded, and was probably the point of passage of the center of the typhoon, but the maximum winds continued unabated for another two hours, the gusts becoming more fierce, if anything. During this period, the wind shifted to the north, and then to the northwest, and began to blow ships back off the west and north reefs of the Bay and across to the south, sometimes dragging anchor the entire way. These wild voyages by damaged ships caused a nightmare series of collisions and near escapes with other drifting ships and shattered hulks.

A typical experience was that of FLAGLER (AK). Her anchors dragged at 1200, and despite the use of both engines she was blown ashore a mile north of Baten Ko by 1315, colliding with LST 826 on the way. Grounded, she began to pound, and all power was lost. At 1710, as the wind changed, FLAGLER was blown off the reef and back across the bay, grazing a capsized YF and continuing on, with a 13º port list, no power, and the lower spaces and after engine room beginning to flood. One anchor was lost, the other dragged across the bay. By 1800 she had moved two miles across the bay and had grounded on the east side of Baten Ko, alongside a DE hulk. Lines were made fast to the DE, but flooding continued, and AT 0545 ship was abandoned. A small party remained on board, however, and successfully stopped flooding as the typhoon subsided. FLAGLER was later salvaged.

Many other ships had similar stories. SOUTHERN SEAS (PY) rammed or was rammed by five other ships, before sinking. NESTOR (ARB) was forced to start maneuvering as early as 1020, in order to avoid INCA (IX), which had started to drag at 0950. In dodging INCA, NESTOR slipped nearer to the beach, and was forced to put all engines ahead one third in order to hold position on her anchor. At 1230 NESTOR again had to maneuver to narrowly avoid a collision with LST 826, which was dragging anchor very rapidly; but in so doing, NESTOR nearly ran down ARD 27. Another LST, the 823, was being slowly driven towards NESTOR. While maneuvering clear of 823, NESTOR's anchor chain fouled the buoy to which an LCI was secured, and NESTOR had to slip her anchor chain. Despite the full use of all engines, NESTOR was being driven on shore by the increasing winds. The starboard anchor was let go but would not hold, and in clearing two more ships dragging anchor (ARD 22 and LCI 463), NESTOR moved perilously close to the beach. At this time the winds were constantly rising, seas were breaking clear over the ship, and the conn was being deluged with salt water and torrents of rain.

No sooner had the last two ships been cleared than YP 289 closed dead ahead, and it became necessary to back all engines to avoid a collision, but this put NESTOR so close to the beach that she soon grounded. It was now 1345, only an hour and a quarter after first dodging LST 826. While grounded, NESTOR was struck by YF 1079, was holed, and began to pound badly. At 1420 a sudden shift of wind drove NESTOR off the beach, flipped her around end for end, and drove her back on the beach alongside OCELOT (IX 110). Breakers 20 to 30 feet high now pounded NESTOR, flooding all starboard compartments aft of frame 25. At 1530 the wind again shifted, driving NESTOR's stern against APL 14, completely crushing the stern, while the bow penetrated the side of OCELOT at frame 10. A few minutes later, NESTOR settled in 24 feet of water. At 1945 all personnel and records were evacuated to APL 14.

Conditions on shore were no better. Twenty hours of torrential rain soaked everything, made quagmires of roads, and ruined virtually all stores. The hurricane winds destroyed from 50% to 95% of all tent camps, and flooded the remainder. Damage to Quonset huts ran from 40% to 99% total destruction. Some of these Quonsets were lifted bodily and moved hundreds of feet; others were torn apart, galvanized iron sheets ripped off, wallboarding shredded, and curved supports torn apart. Driven from their housing, officers and men alike were compelled to take shelter in caves, old tombs, trenches, and ditches in the open fields, and even behind heavy road-building machinery, as the wind swept tents, planks, and sections of galvanized iron through the air.

At the Naval Air Bases some 60 planes of all types were damaged, some of which had been tossed about unmercifully, but most of which were reparable. Installations suffered far more severely. The seas worked under many of the concrete ramps and broke them up into large and small pieces of rubble. All repair installations were either swept away or severely damaged. At Yonobaru, all 40' by 100' buildings were demolished, the same being true at the NATS terminal. Communication and meteorological services were blown out at most bases by 1900.

The storm center of typhoon "Louise" passed Buckner Bay at about 1600, from which time until 2000 it raged at peak strength. The storm was advancing at the rapid rate of 15 knots in a northerly, then northeasterly, direction, and by 2000 the center was 60 miles away. The winds gradually began to subside. Conditions in Buckner Bay were at this time somewhat improved by the wind's having veered to the northwest across the land mass of Okinawa, which reduced the size of the seas, and probably saved many more damaged ships from being driven off the reefs and sunk in deep water. Nevertheless, the subsidence at 2000 was a relative one, from "super-typhoon" to typhoon conditions, with steady winds of 80 and 60 knots throughout the night, and some gusts of higher velocity. A wild, wet, and dangerous night was spent by all hands, afloat or ashore. It was not until 1000 on the 10th that the winds fell to a steady 40 knots and rains slackened.

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Almost immediately American soldiers, sailors and airmen, in for the duration, were being discharged and sent home. By the fall of 1945, there remained approximately 200,000 soldiers, sailors and airmen still on Okinawa, which would have been the major launching platform for the invasion of Japan, was now peaceful.

In October, Buckner Bay, on the east coasts of the island, was still jammed with vessels of all kinds, from Victory ships to landing craft. On the island itself, 150,000 soldiers lived under miles of canvas, in what were referred to as "Tent Cities." All over the island, hundreds of tons of food, equipment and supplies stacked in immense piles lay out in the open.

During the early part of October, to the southwest of Okinawa just northeast of the Marianas, the seas were growing restless and the winds began to blow. The ocean skies slowly turned black and the large swells that were developing began to turn the Pacific Ocean white with froth. In a matter of only a few days, a gigantic typhoon had somehow out of season, sprung to life and began sweeping past Saipan and into the Philippine Sea. As the storm grew more violent, it raced northward and kicked up waves 60 feet high.

Navy Meteorologists eventually became aware of the storm, but they expected it to pass well between Formosa and Okinawa, and to disappear into then East China Sea.

Unexplainably, on the evening of October 8th, the storm changed direction and abruptly veered to the east. When it did do, there was insufficient warning to allow ships in the harbor to get under way in order to escape the typhoon's terrible violence. By late morning on the 9th, rain was coming down in torrents, the seas were rising and visibility was zero. Winds, now over 80 miles per hour blowing from the east and northeast, caused small crafts in Bruckner Bay to drag their anchors.

By early afternoon, the wind had risen to over 100 miles per hour, the rain coming in horizontally now was more salt than fresh, and even the larger vessels began dragging anchor under the pounding of 50 foot seas.

As the winds continued to increase and the storm unleashed its fury, the entire Bay became a scene of devastation. Ships dragging their anchors collided with one another; hundreds of vessels were blown ashore. Vessels in groups of two's and three's were washed ashore into masses of wreckage that began to accumulate on the beaches.

Numerous ships had to be abandoned, while their crews were precariously transferred between ships.

By midafternoon, the typhoon had reached its raging peak with winds, now coming from the north and northeast, blowing up to 150 miles per hour. Ships initially grounded by the storm were now blown off the reefs and back across the bay to the south shore, dragging their anchors the entire way. More collisions occurred between the wind-blown ships and shattered hulks.

Gigantic waves swamped small vessels and engulfed larger ones. Liberty ships lost their propellers, while men in transports, destroyers and Victory ships were swept off the decks by 60 foot waves that reached the tops of the masts of their vessels.

On shore, the typhoon was devastating the island. Twenty hours of torrential rain washed out roads and ruined the islands stores of rations and supplies. Aircraft were picked up and catapulted off the airfields; huge Quonset huts went sailing into the air, metal hangers were ripped to shreds, and the "Tent Cities," housing 150,000 troops on the island, ceased to exist.

Almost the entire food supply on the island was blown away. Americans on the island had nowhere to go, but into caves, trenches and ditches of the island in order to survive. All over the island were tents, boards and sections of galvanized iron being hurled through the air at over 100 miles per hour.

The storm raged over the island for hours, and then slowly headed out to sea; then it doubled back, and two days later howled in from the ocean to hit the island again. On the following day, when the typhoon had finally passed, dazed men crawled out of holes and caves to count the losses.

Countless aircraft had been destroyed, all power was gone, communications and supplies were nonexistent. B-29's were requisitioned to rush in tons of supplies from the Marianas. General Joseph Stillwell, the 10th Army Commander, asked for immediate plans to evacuate all hospital cases from the island. The harbor facilities were useless.

After the typhoon roared out into the Sea of Japan and started to die its slow death, the bodies began to wash ashore. The toll on ships was staggering. Almost 270 ships were sunk, grounded or damaged beyond repair. Fifty-three ships in too bad a state to be restored were decommissioned, stripped and abandoned. Out of 90 ships which needed major repair, the Navy decided only 10 were even worthy of complete salvage, and so the remaining 80 were scrapped.

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. Hundreds of Americans were killed, injured and missing, ships were sunk and the island of Okinawa was in havoc.

News accounts at the time disclose that the press and the public back home paid little attention to this storm that struck the Pacific with such force. The very existence of this storm is still a little-known fact.