A heavily-illustrated, non fiction book based on the research of a hurricane expert, explaining hurricanes, how they form, what they do, and , possibly, how to kill one of them. Many exciting photos provided by the government's "hurricane hunters."
A HURRICANE HOBBLES HALSEY
"Either a hurricane hit Halsey, or Halsey hit the hurricane!" said one officer in the group in the wardroom of APA 37, the USS Cavalier.
It was December 17, 1944, near the end of World War II, and the huge troop ship was standing by in the Gulf of Malita on the island of Mindanao, the southernmost of the larger Philippine Islands. Further north, on Luzon, an area selected for a critical Allied landing operation had been shelled again and again over the previous few days by Halsey's Third Fleet in support of the upcoming action.
The Fleet, by then low on fuel, had withdrawn to rendezvous with
Halsey's Task Force 38 tankers, standing by five hundred miles east of Luzon. With fuel tanks full, the Third would hurry back to Luzon and begin a final "softening up."
Any military historian worth his salt will agree that Halsey's fleet did eventually return to Luzon, but thanks to Mother Nature's fury, the largest fighting naval force in history didn't arrive in a "hurry," and when it did
finally arrive, it was rather tired and beat up.
Task Force 38, consisting of twenty seven destroyers, seven escort carriers and twenty four fleet oilers, was waiting at sea for Halsey at the correct coordinates. The oilers were split into three sections to meet up with the three carrier task groups of the Admiral's Third Fleet. It was a complex but still routine operation that had long since been perfected by the U.S. Navy.
But as the Third Fleet arrived and began to "fill 'er up," even the
giant battleships New Jersey and South Dakota were rolling dangerously in the rising waves, and fuel transfer lines were stretching to the limit and snapping. Admiral Halsey's smaller fighting ships were in even more trouble as they bounced about like corks.
APA 37, the Squadron Transport Headquarters Flagship Cavalier, with a crew of sixteen hundred and one of over eight hundred such support ships, was standing by hundreds of miles away in the relative calm of the Allied-controlled Bay. Her job in the massive military operation was to deliver two thousand troops and their fighting equipment to the Third Fleet's invasion beaches at Lingayen Gulf on Luzon, the northernmost of the Philippine Islands and the last Japanese stronghold.
The officers in the wardroom of the Cavalier had served under the Pacific Fleet's Commanding Officer, feisty Admiral William F. "Bull" Halsey, for a long time, and they knew if anything could frighten a hurricane, it would be the Admiral.
One of the sailors in the group chuckled as he sipped his coffee. "A hurricane wouldn't attack Bull Halsey."
Another grinned and joked with his shipmates about "an immovable object" meeting "an irresistible force," though none could say which was which. A third fired back, "Halsey may know a hurricane is the most powerful thing on earth, but I'm sure it's of only passing interest to him."
"Well, the old man's motto has always been, 'hit , hit, hit. Does that include typhoons?" one of the sailors asked.
The first sailor answered quickly. "Typhoon or hurricane, they're all the same. And it could be the Admiral is in trouble this time."
Tough Bull Halsey's doctrine had always been to move forward to victory and not worry about the consequences. If Halsey had to choose between attacking or defending, his officers knew without asking which way the Navy's most aggressive admiral would go. His men knew it too, and generally respected him for it. They joked about their leader and his penchant for ordering a fast charge forward as quickly as possible in spite of obstacles, but they knew he was a winner.
It is possible that tough and uncompromising Bull Halsey, who was still embarrassed and irritated over missing the important victory in the Battle of Midway due to a skin condition that required hospitalization, agreed with the assessments of his men. History isn't specific.
At the moment, Halsey was desperately fighting a great storm at sea, trying to save his fleet, but the storm was winning. History isn't clear on why this was happening, either. All that is known for sure is that the reports of
the rising typhoon did reach Halsey, but many hours too late. In any case, he probably would have charged rashly into the hurricane anyhow, to get needed fuel for his vessels. However he happened to be there, when Halsey
finally gave the order to suspend fueling operations and run from the storm, he ran the wrong way, directly into the worst of the howling, screaming winds of the massive typhoon.
What the Cavalier's sailors were discussing in the troop ship's wardroom, and what Halsey was at the moment fighting at sea, is the single greatest and most dangerous force known to man. It is a gargantuan freak of nature more powerful than a whole flock of hydrogen bombs. It is a
natural force that has killed millions of people, half a million during one single storm in the Bay of Bengal on November 30, 1970. It is the force that many years ago ripped Louisiana's Last Island into several pieces (see
Chapter Two). Hurricane Camille smashed apart four out of every five houses in Pass Christian, Mississippi, in 1969. Every year new hurricanes strike, and more damage is done.
And more people are killed.
Bull Halsey was a famous modern fighting man, but the energy from nature he was even then facing had hit other military geniuses over the ages. Kublai Khan, grandson of Genghis Khan, was another great fighting commander of history. Young Khan made the mistake of taking on hurricanes, though you might think one would be enough.
After conquering Europe and the Mideast, Khan turned to China and Korea. These nations were quickly defeated by Kahn's mighty invading army. Finally Khan realized that with one exasperating exception, he was the leader of the greatest empire known to man, practically the entire known
world. Japan was the only free country remaining.
Khan wanted it to complete his kingdom.
Hungry for this final conquest, Khan sailed his magnificent fleet to Japan in November of 1274. But before he could attack, his fleet was destroyed by a mighty storm. Thousands of Khan's sailors and soldiers were drowned, and Khan himself barely made it out alive.
Not one to give up easily, and certain that such bad luck could not hit him again, Khan formed a new army and built a new fleet. Seven years later he sailed again. He planned to strike Japan a second time with a thousand ships carrying two hundred thousand tough soldiers. But once again, his fleet was destroyed by a hurricane, his ships sunk and his soldiers drowned.
Today in Japan, centuries later, the destruction of Kublai Khan's forces is memorialized by the word "kamikaze," which means "divine wind."
In the Second World War, far out to sea east of the Philippines, there was no humorous talk about "irresistible forces" or "immoveable objects." The "divine wind" seemed to be striking again, perhaps to protect the
beleaguered Japanese soldiers on Luzon by destroying the fleet that was harassing them. A hurricane, called a "typhoon" in the Eastern Pacific, continued to batter Halsey's fleet. Whether it was a mistake of the weather
officers, or a mistake of Admiral Halsey's, or whether Halsey simply decided to ignore the massive storm or whether it was simply bad luck, was no longer the issue.
The fact was that the mighty Third Fleet and Task Force 38, the largest and strongest combined naval fleet ever assembled, was in desperate trouble. The great fleet was being ripped to pieces not by their Japanese enemy, but by Mother Nature.
Meanwhile, although World War II was nearly over, the Japanese soldiers on Luzon, men who had already lost many of the southern Philippine islands, were dug into deep caves and underground passageways awaiting the fight to the death they knew was coming. The Japanese soldiers and their officers understood that the Allies were by then winning the war they, themselves, had started at Pearl Harbor. They also knew that the Americans had to take the Philippine Islands before they could sail on to land on the Japanese mainland. Every Japanese soldier was ready and willing to give his life before he would surrender, so a "softening up" process of air and naval bombardment was ordered by the Allies, and then a landing.
Japanese fortifications on the island were hit again and again by the Third Fleet's heavy guns in preparation for the landing. Thousands of shells the size of small Volkswagens crashed down on the Japanese stronghold. Some of the soldiers were killed by the prolonged shelling, but most survived. Finally, short on fuel, the U.S. fleet had withdrawn to a location east of Luzon to meet waiting tankers before a final bombardment and landing assault.
Everyone was so busy with the shelling and the upcoming assault they failed to notice the weather, which had been worsening. About the time the ships of the Third Fleet were rendezvousing with the fuel tankers of Task Force 38, the typhoon screamed in.
Aircraft carrier captains watched in dismay as gigantic waves smashed across their enormous vessels, ripping fighting aircraft off flight decks and dumping them into the sea. Below the flight decks, airplanes were breaking up from the pounding the ship was taking. Airplane fuel tanks were rupturing, dumping gasoline around the hangar deck. The fuel would burst into flames, making a bad matter worse. Bombs were rolling about on the lower decks, maiming and killing many sailors as they tried to contain them. Machine gun bullets were scattered around in the flames and exploding.
Battleship and cruiser skippers used all their skill as their ships rolled and jumped, shedding topside parts into the turbulent ocean. Captains of destroyers and other smaller ships fought valiantly as their vessels rolled
upside down and plunged to the bottom. The smaller ships, low on fuel, were riding high in the water and almost helpless. Ships low on fuel and facing heavy weather normally fill their fuel tanks with sea water, the extra
weight serving as ballast to help hold the ship upright.
But these ships, involved in a major battle, were planning to quickly re-fuel and steam back at flank speed to support the upcoming Luzon landing. If they pumped in sea water for ballast, it would take many extra hours to offload the water and re-fuel once the weather moved away. By the time the
destroyer skippers, who were by then on their own, decided to ballast their ships, it was much too late. Several smaller ships rolled over and sank.
When a man on any of the ships went over the side, his horrified shipmates could only watch sadly, knowing that nothing could be done to rescue him. Many sailors were battered and crushed by equipment being slammed about below decks. The fleet was out of control, and every ship was fighting to survive.
The great storm, which was expected to turn north, did not. Instead, it seemed to follow the fleet with angry malevolence. Halsey would order a new course, and the storm would hear and obey. Lt. Commander James A. Marks, skipper of the destroyer USS Hull, reported later that, "several depth charges were ripped loose. No man could have possibly existed in an exposed position topside without having been quickly blown overboard. In endeavoring to alleviate the heavy rolling of the ship, I tried every possible
combination of rudder and engines, with little avail. An attempt was made to bring the ship's head into the sea but she would not respond. It was apparent that no matter what was done with the rudder and engines, the ship was being blown bodily before the wind and sea.
"By this time, because of the high velocity wind gusts, the ship took several rolls of about 70 degrees. At one time the Junior Officer of the Deck was catapaulted from the port side of the pilot house through the air to the
upper position on the starboard side of the pilot house.
"Shortly after 12 o'clock the ship withstood what I estimated to be the worst punishment any storm could offer. She had rolled about 70 degrees and righted herself."
The Hull's men were praying that their ship would remain afloat, but the storm worsened. "The force laid the ship steadily over on her starboard side and held her down in the water until the seas came flowing into the pilot
house itself," reported CDR Marks. "I stepped off into the water as the ship rolled over on her way down."
A half hour later, the destroyer Monaghan went down the same way. Then the 2,100 ton destroyer Spence struggled and rolled over. The last anyone saw of the ship, she was floating upside down.
Back in the Bay, waiting for the landing, there were some things the young officers in the Cavalier's wardroom, and for that matter Admiral Halsey himself, did not know. They did not know when the hurricane would pass
and allow support operations to continue, or for that matter whether or not they would have anything left with which to fight. In the Cavalier wardroom they only knew that Halsey's fleet was fighting for its life in a great storm. They did not know how serious the matter had become, and that the
Third Fleet and Task Force 38 could be destroyed.
In the relatively stable Cavalier wardroom they also had no way of knowing that after their own first successful movement of troops to the front, on the way back to Mindanao for a second load of fighting men and women, the Cavalier, herself, would be ripped by a torpedo from a Japanese submarine. The gallant but gravely injured APA 37 would finally be towed back to Pearl Harbor by a pair of ocean-going tugs. This would happen several weeks later, when the giant storm finally permitted such troop movements and fighting activities.
Then and now, hurricanes are notoriously uncaring about the concerns and anxieties of humans, even humans involved in something as critically important to them as a world war.
Finally, neither Bull Halsey nor the men on the Cavalier had any idea that one of the young officers in the wardroom, a physician in charge of Surgery Number Two on the big troop transport, would eventually become notable in the field of study of the very type of storm that was ripping
Halsey's fleet to pieces only a few hundred miles away.
At sea, Halsey's task force was floundering about. Warships were bumping into each other. Every captain was confused and military precision and ship formation was out of the question. It had become a matter of every ship for itself, every captain for his own ship. All vessels were ordered by the flagship to spread out and ride out the hurricane as best they could.
Bull Halsey, Commander of all U.S. Navy Forces in the Pacific in WWII and at the time the most aggressive admiral in the navy, had met his match. His main adversary until then had been Japanese Admiral Isoruku Yamamoto. Halsey graduated as a young midshipman from the Naval
Academy at Annapolis in 1904, the same year his counterpart in the Imperial Navy of Japan, Yamamoto, graduated as a young officer from his country's naval training academy. Both men had climbed to the top in their own navies. It was Yamamoto, Bull Halsey knew, who had planned and executed the
successful attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, and it was Yamamoto who had ultimately lost the later, decisive battle of Midway in 1942. Yamamoto, Halsey also knew though probably with no regret at all, had finally died when his transport plane was shot down near Bougainville in April, 1943, by an Air Force P-38.
Now, although Yamamoto was gone, battle-hardened Halsey was fighting the campaign of his life. It was not against his old adversary, but against the powerful hurricane that was trying to destroy his fleet.
Back in the Bay, the waiting troop ships could only sympathize with the plight of the ships at sea. They knew what was happening, but could do nothing about it. The mighty storm raged on, scattering Halsey's fleet and putting plans of a landing into the future. The survival of the fleet was the main concern.
In a strange twist of fate, one of the smaller ships in the flotilla escaped the tempest without a trace of damage or the loss of a single life. But the fleet was devastated. Three ships sank, with only 92 of the total number of crewmen from all three rescued. Badly damaged were the light carriers Monterey, Cowpens, Cabot, and San Jacinto, the escort carriers Cape Esperance, Nehenta Bay, and Altamaha, the light cruiser Miami, the destroyers Dyson, Buchanan, Hickox, Dewey, and Alywin, the destroyer escorts Tabberer and M.R. Newman, and the fleet oiler Natahala. These ships could only limp back to the nearest Allied port for repair. Even the ships still able to maneuver were damaged to some extent. Before the storm subsided, nearly eight hundred men were killed or drowned, and many more were seriously injured. The 1944 typhoon brought to a complete
halt the mightiest naval fleet in the world, and postponed the invasion of Luzon by the largest and strongest fleet in the history of naval warfare until January, 1945.
Instead of supporting the invasion, which was held up for weeks by the great storm, the majority of Task Force 38 limped home, thankful that some of the ships were still floating. General Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Allied
Commander in the Pacific, was said to be "very disappointed" in Bull Halsey, his top admiral.
Halsey responded from the bridge of the flagship of his battered fleet. "No one who has not been through a typhoon can conceive its fury. The seventy foot seas smash you from all sides. The rain and the scud are blinding, they drive you flat out until you can't tell the ocean from the air. At high noon I couldn't see the bow of my ship from the bridge. This typhoon tossed our enormous ship (the battleship New Jersey) as if she were a canoe."
Not many know it, but Admiral William F. Halsey faced a court of inquiry, ordered by the top brass to look into the events leading up to the near destruction of the mighty Third Fleet and Task Force 38. The court did judge
that it was Halsey's fault that TF38 wasn't there to support the important landing on Luzon. Then the report on the inquiry allowed Halsey some slack when it concluded, "(the) errors in judgement were committed under stress of war operations."
Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, the officer in ultimate command of all of America's naval operations, said the great storm had dealt, "a more crippling blow to the Third Fleet than it might be expected to suffer in anything less than a major action." Nimitz also sent a letter to Halsey, which Bull studied with amusement. "The time for taking all measures for a ship's safety is while still able to do so," scolded Nimitz.
Maybe so, admitted Admiral Halsey. But did the fury of the terrible hurricane, known to be the most powerful force of all, frighten him? Apparently not. True to his pugnacious nickname, Bull Halsey sailed his fleet
directly into the teeth of another typhoon only a few months later. This time, the fleet survived with only a few casualties. And this time, Halsey won the battle.
Meanwhile, the young doctor in the conversation in the wardroom of the USS Cavalier in 1944 survived the war and practiced medicine in the United States for many years. He patented several unique inventions, co-authored four books, retired from the practice of medical imaging after forty-four years, and finally turned in retirement to the study of storms, among other things. Eventually, although much too late to help Bull Halsey at the battle of Luzon, he developed a way to hobble a hurricane (Chapter Eight).
HOW LAST ISLAND BECAME LAST ISLANDS
Hurricanes are terrible on the ocean, and just as terrible on land. They kill military men and women trying to fight wars from ships, and they kill civilian men, women, and children enjoying a vacation, all with the same cold and merciless equality. Many years before Bull Halsey's desperate struggle with a hurricane, on a balmy August day in 1856, nearly four hundred happy vacationers were enjoying the beauty and serenity of Last Island. Lying far from the Philippines only a few miles off the coast of Louisiana in the United States, at the end of a chain of tropical islands in the Gulf of Mexico, Last Island was twenty five miles long. A white-beached resort known to the Creoles as Isle Derneire, the serene island was a haven for upper class
southerners who could afford to holiday in the most fashionable and expensive way.
On the enchanting island was an elegant two-story hotel surrounded by beautiful, sweeping lawns, vast flower gardens and charming bungalows for guests who preferred a bit more privacy. The sprawling main building was one of the largest in Louisiana, with comfortable space for more guests than any hotel in bustling New Orleans only a few miles away.
Renowned for its superb service and the excellent dance band in its sumptuous ball room, the Last Island hotel was noted for cultured living and superior cuisine. Near the hotel and dotted around the island were attractive
groves of ancient oak trees hanging heavy with graceful Spanish moss.
Enchanting Last Island had a permanent population of more than one hundred farmers, fishermen and hotel workers to feed and care for the pampered guests of the hotel. A solid paddle wheel steamship called 'Star"
chugged to the mainland and back every day with supplies and visitors.
For many wealthy southern families, Last Island was the highly anticipated vacation destination every year. Children would romp in the warm, safe surf while contented parents sunbathed on the sparkling beaches. Every evening, with children playing nearby, adults gathered in the high-windowed ball room for conversation and the dancing they all looked forward to with delight. On some clear nights the romantic music could be heard and enjoyed all the way to the mainland across Caillou Bay. Last Island was an idyllic place to visit and the hotel was booked solid for months in advance.
The music on that summer evening in 1856 could not, however, be heard on the mainland. The weather had turned odd, the air heavy and oppressive. It was too warm, too humid, almost uncomfortable, much like the weather over Admiral Halsey's force as his ships withdrew for fuel off
the Philippines many years later. Once again, a terrible tragedy was beginning very slowly, this time on Last Island on a soft August evening nearly one hundred years before Bull Halsey. This time on land, rather than at sea.
If Last Island residents or visitors had been out near the shore that muggy evening instead of working or dancing, they would have noticed that each wavelet on the gentle beach was lapping up a bit higher. Almost as in
science fiction, the stealthy, darkening water was quietly advancing. Far off on the horizon to the south, the blackening skies had taken on a dark green, evil look. Although still very warm, the soft breeze blowing across the
island throughout the afternoon had stiffened.
Inside the ball room, cheerful vacationers danced on. Waiters hurried refreshments from the kitchen to the many tables as laughing children ran amongst them playing.
As always, guests were having a grand time. Few noticed the
increasing rain beginning to drum forcefully against the one story high, floor-to-ceiling windows.
Outside, darkness became intense. Here and there worried islanders moved toward the protection of the solid, brightly lit hotel. They had been through major storms before, and they thought they recognized what was coming. They would survive, of course, but the hotel was much safer than their own flimsy huts. Off in the distance angry lightning flashed between black clouds, followed long seconds later by irritated, grumbling thunder. On the deserted beach, each wave continued to roll higher and larger than the one before. Soon waves were washing over the neatly clipped grass of the lower hotel lawns.
The steamer Star struggled in the swelling storm at the end of her daily run, finally arriving at her anchorage in the inlet on the mainland side of the island, near the hotel's pier. None of the crew knew it, of course, as they labored to secure the vessel, but they were tying the hard-working boat to her own buoys for the last time ever. Private boats and yachts were by then bouncing about wildly, so the Star's captain ordered extra anchors out to
steady his vessel in what he knew was coming. He was certain those in the hotel had began major storm preparations as well. In any case, he couldn't get to them and they certainly couldn't get to him in the rising waves of the inlet anchorage.
Meanwhile, if any of the revelers in the hotel were worried, they felt better. They could by then see, during brief lightning flashes, the small steamer that had brought them there. She seemed to be safely at her anchor. Of course it wouldn't be required, but the Star could take them back to the mainland if the coming storm, which was by then quite obvious, should become dangerous.
They danced on. Last Island had suffered major storms before. Here and there a tree had blown over, beach cabanas had been carried away, and occasionally one of the patchwork huts of a native had been demolished, but the hotel was as solid as it could be. There was no danger.
Finally a young woman in silk dancing slippers cringed, lifting her dainty foot. Her feet were suddenly cold and wet from water oozing in under the tall ball room doors. At the same time, a waiter watched in fascination as
a thin thread of water streamed in through a small hole in a window casing, as if from a tiny firehose. One look outside told worried parents that there was nothing but water everywhere. Water was actually flowing upward on the great windows. The nervous band had stopped playing so parents began to gather their frightened children.
It was much too late.
A titanic hurricane smashed down on Last Island with all the immense and awesome force of its shrieking winds. In an instant the tall windows smashed in, hurling water and shards of razor sharp glass into the frightened crowd huddled in the wet ball room. Hurricanes are remorseless, striking children as quickly as adults, the rich as well as the poor, the idle and the working equally. The force of the storm battered and slashed the humans then, as if to be sure, ripped out the hotel wall facing the sea.
The second floor groaned and crashed with a roar that could not even be heard over the scream of the hurricane down into the first. What was left of the jumbled ball room filled with surging water and blood and parts of the hotel and parts of human bodies. Those adults and children who were still alive and conscious screamed in terror as they were mutilated by jagged debris in the howling wind and rushing water.
The terrible winds smashed mercilessly at the bouncing steamship Star, which was helpless to do anything for the guests or for herself as she ricocheted off other vessels in the anchorage. Though her captain fought the
winds with all his skill, the Star was soon riding great wave crests further and further inland.
The wind screeched and screamed, forcing walls of water across the battered island. Graceful palm trees that had been there for decades were ripped from the ground, lifted high and thrown miles away into the ocean. Having destroyed evidence of humans and human life, the mighty storm began to rip at the ancient oak groves and then at the island itself. Soon a new channel over a mile wide was carved across Last Island where the hotel once stood, all the way from the Gulf of Mexico to Caillou Bay.
By the calm of the next morning, when the sun began to shine through scattered clouds, there was nothing left. Rescuers found the island to be as silent as death, with a gentle surf lapping playfully at the cluttered beaches. They were shocked to see that Last Island had become two islands. There was no beautiful hotel, no tranquil groves of trees, nothing. The people, except for a few pulled from the wild water by the beached Star, were dead. The Star herself was far inland and she waited there forever, far from the ocean, eventually turning into bleached wood and then dust.
How it happened, none of the arriving rescuers could explain, but one lone dairy cow remained from the herd of yesterday. She, confused and befuddled but uninjured, was attempting to graze on a single salt-encrusted clump of grass.
Last Island, once a haven for wealthy southerners and with the largest building in Louisiana, was changed forever by the single greatest force known to man. The hotel was never rebuilt. Vacationers never returned.
Today, after several later hurricanes carved more channels across the narrow landfall, what was a single, long island can be seen on a map as a desolate, uninhabited, lonely chain of islands.
Now they are called Iles Derneire, or Last Islands. The single island which was ripped into a string of small islets, was abandoned with a new name. Yet, although an entire hotel was destroyed and hundreds of lives
lost, the 1856 hurricane was not the most deadly, nor the most unusual, ever recorded.
Nor are all hurricanes bad, depending upon your point of view. If you care one way or the other, well known broadcaster Dan Rather established his national reputation, becoming famous around the world, as he covered Hurricane Carla in 1961.
Then there were the historic twin hurricanes way back in 1588. These two storms so long ago substantially and specifically changed our modern world. If you happened to be English, you might have considered these great storms as friends, though they nearly wrecked your Navy. Even so, the great storms of 1588 finally established England as the ruler of the seas.
England and Spain were enemies as a result of a fight between the two nations in 1568. Spain, in one of its own harbors, won that battle and for the next few years each nation worked hard to be king of the seas. England won more and more of the occasional battles when the ships of the two nations would cross paths, and Spain's Philip II finally realized that he was losing the race for dominance. So Philip decided to settle the question of who was master of the seas with one massive strike, using the greatest naval force in the history of the world. Philip's "Invincible Armada" was made up of more than one hundred thirty Spanish fighting ships and more than 30,000 brave Spanish sailors and soldiers.
His orders to his commanders were simple. "Sail up the English Channel and sink every English ship in sight. Then take my magnificent Armada to Flanders and pick up my army of fine Spanish soldiers, who will be waiting there. Finally, invade and conquer England once and for all." King
Philip was there when the Armada sailed from Lisbon in May of 1588. The entire plan depended upon surprise, but in those days it was no problem that many in Spain knew about the sailing. The military secret was safe since the fleet was the fastest means of communication, and it had already
Such an armada of warships was certainly invincible to anything the English, or any other nation, could put together. The great Spanish fleet did not, however, prove to be invincible to Mother Nature. For there was another secret. From far to the west a mighty storm was churning eastward. Slowly it shrieked across the Atlantic, its mighty winds whirling. Finally it smashed into the Armada of Philip, sinking many ships, damaging many others, and forcing the fleet to put in to the Spanish port of La Coruna for repairs.
Surprise was no longer possible, for news of the fleet at La Coruna soon spread to England. Things moved more slowly in those days, giving England time to prepare for what she knew was coming. English admirals pulled together every fighting ship they could find, and by the time the patched-up Spanish fleet sailed, the English fleet was waiting in the Channel.
It took the Spanish ten more days to fight through the smaller but valiant English fleet, resulting in heavy losses on both sides. By early August of 1588, the Spanish were in sight of the English coast. The great plan of King
Philip II could still work.
Mother Nature struck again. A second hurricane plowed across the Atlantic and slammed into both struggling fleets with great fury. Battered English ships were able to put into friendly ports nearby to wait out the storm, but the Spaniards, far from home, had nowhere to go. The "invincible" armada's ships were scattered. Many sank, and others were slammed onto the rocky English shoreline up and down the Channel. Over half of what was left of the great Spanish fleet was destroyed in the second hurricane of 1588.
England, with the help of two mighty storms, became the ruler of the seas, a position she held from then on into modern times.
Grateful Queen Elizabeth had a victory medal cast. On it were the words, "God breathed, and they were scattered."
It is true that if the Invincible Armada had succeeded in its goal back in 1588, North America might even today be of Spanish rather than English heritage. But with the defeat of the great fleet, Spain lost her power as a
master of the seas, and her domination of the trade routes to the new world. As a result of a pair of hurricanes, England and France could safely send more and more ships to the Americas, an area that eventually became the United States and Canada.
A hurricane stopped another war nearly three centuries later, in 1884. The two naval fleets involved weren't that imposing when compared to today's warships, but they were "modern" to the extent they were steam-driven and armor plated. They had rows of deadly cannons and each side
was ready and willing to shoot at the first sign of aggression from the other.
Mere cannons on man-made ships are not even in the same league as a hurricane, as both navies were soon to learn.
There was no question that Germany wanted the island group known as Samoa in the South Pacific in 1884. Germany had been expanding her territory, and the Samoan islands were strategically located between Hawaii and Australia. With Germans in control of Samoa, they could effectively control the trade routes of the entire area.
The Samoans, however, didn't wish to give up their independence in spite of the promises of Germany about how much better things would be if Germans were in charge. America watched warily as these negotiations proceeded, since many American citizens lived in Samoa.
German leaders, in an effort to "persuade" the simple natives of the island group, sent a flotilla of three formidable warships into the harbor at Apia. Germany didn't really want to go to war and it was still possible the show of force would swing over reluctant Samoans.
Still the Samoans refused to be taken over. The German captains received their orders, and soon shells began to fall on the harbor village. Quickly the United States sent three of their own warships to protect the lives and property of U.S. citizens. Samoans on shore watched in fear as the two forces faced each other across the harbor with cannons loaded. Tension was heavy as both sides awaited orders to "Fire!"
The orders never came, for as each force prepared itself, a howling typhoon (which is what a hurricane is called in the Pacific Ocean) slammed down on the Samoan islands. All six warships were smashed on the rocks ashore and destroyed, with a great loss of life on both sides. Fighting against this new common enemy, Germans, Americans and Samoans helped each other. American sailors pulled drowning German sailors aboard, and German sailors did the same for Americans. Ashore, Samoans helped pull drowning Germans and Americans from the raging breakers.
The war ended before it had a chance to begin, thanks to a hurricane. Having nothing left to fight with, all three nations decided to meet at the conference table. The result was that the Samoan chain of islands was declared neutral. It didn't belong to anybody but the natives, it was to be governed by its own rulers, and it was to be claimed by no other nation.
Though more than a hundred sailors and several islanders lost their lives in the howling hurricane, some good did result. Before the storm, it appeared very likely that the United States and Germany would be at war with each other the instant the first guns fired.
On August 22, 1992, the Miami Herald reported, "Tropical storm Andrew, a distant swirl of wind until Friday, is scheduled for promotion this morning. Its new title will be Hurricane Andrew. 'We don't like it either, but it's there and it looks like it's getting stronger,' said Max Mayfield, a National Hurricane Center specialist who forecast Andrew's growth Friday.
"Something else to dislike," the Herald continued. "the latest forecasts have the storm changing its northwest direction to westward toward South Florida, but slowly. It is not likely to arrive before Tuesday. This doesn't
mean it will happen. 'A lot can happen between now and next week',
What happened next? Almost everything that can be said has been said, almost everything that can be written has been written, about the single greatest disaster ever to hit the United States. Not in the number of lives lost,
since evacuation methods did work, but in sheer damage done. The headline in USA Today on Monday, August 24, 1992, said this.
ANDREW HITS FLORIDA, BIGGEST STORM IN DECADES
HOMES IN ON COAST.
The following story said, in part, "Hurricane Andrew chased as many as a million people from their homes, then descended on south Florida today. Andrew's edge hit the coast at 1:15 am, EST today, threatening to wreak havoc with winds between 135 and 150 mph, heavy rain and 18 foot
waves. Evacuations were ordered Sunday after Andrew hit the Bahamas, killing at least four. The last bus left Miami Beach at midnight."
Soon after, Andrew howled and screeched into south Florida, ripping out trees and collapsing homes, destroying almost everything in a wide path.
The area where the gigantic hurricane struck was a shambles. The people who stayed behind were either dead, or injured, or roaming about their destroyed neighborhoods the following morning, hungry, thirsty, and having no idea what to do next. They remained that way for many days as
government agencies, and the President, promised help that didn't come as they argued among themselves about who was responsible for what. Meanwhile, the police were turning away all civilian rescue caravans attempting to reach South Florida with food, medicine, clothing, and building
Total damage? They're still counting, but it has already gone into many billions of dollars.
Six months after Andrew, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's chief, Richard A. Frank, said, "Since the Galveston disaster the United States has put men on the moon, orbited satellites to forecast the weather, and invented that miracle of modern civilization, the pop-top can. One might assume that our technological ingenuity has reduced or eliminated the risk of losing substantial numbers of lives in a hurricane. That is, however, not true. In fact, the hurricane peril has significantly increased.
"More Americans are at risk today from a major hurricane than at the turn of the century."
Certainly citizens of the United States Guif Coast and especially the City of New Orleans would agree, as they would also agree that government response was once again lacking in the wake of terribly destructive Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
More Chapters on request, and samples of exciting full color photos of hurricane damage and of hurricane hunters, who penetrate the walls of these terrible storms to try to track them.