(Chinese for "Taai" {great} "Fung" {wind}

By Richard H. King, CDR USNR-Ret.

At the time of this story, CDR King was LT JG, Main Propulsion Assistant (1965-1968), 
(Assistant Engineering Officer for Main Propulsion) 


    In her more than twenty-eight years of service in the United States Navy, USS CHEVALIER DD-805, undoubtedly weathered many typhoons, including the one that hit Tokyo Bay the day after the day she first arrived there which was a few days after the end of World War II. But this is the story of one Typhoon hit twenty-two years later. In late October of 1967, after a brief stopover in Keelung (now spelled Chilung), Taiwan, CHEVALIER pulled into Kaohsiung, Taiwan for a TAV (Tender Availability). The tender was not too busy, so we decided to take as much advantage of it as we could, including obtaining medical treatment for Seaman Cindy's broken leg (the ship's canine mascot - CHEVY CHATTER, Spring 1996).

    Several days before the scheduled completion of the TAV, we received word that a huge typhoon was rolling north through the South China Sea and heading for Taiwan. The Captain of the tender, as SOPA (Senior Officer Present Afloat), ordered all American Navy ships to make preparations for getting underway. Ship to shop work orders which hadn't yet been started were cancelled. The tender shops, together with the CHEVY divisions most involved in a TAV (OE, M, B and R) worked throughout the night to finish everything up and get everything back in place. By morning, we reached the point that we could get underway if we had to.

    But as everyone knows, typhoons and hurricanes have minds of their own. They speed up, stall, change course, intensify and abate. The SOPA, receiving hourly weather updates and typhoon tracks, "waffled" as the typhoon zigged and zagged. Hours went by. He didn't ask me, but if he had, I would have told him we should stay put no matter what the typhoon did. Kaohsiung Harbor was ideally protected, with high bluffs all around and a narrow entrance. Scuttlebutt had it, however, that he was concerned that merchant ships in the harbor, of which there were many, might come loose from their anchorages or moorings and drift through the harbor like the balls in a pin ball machine (or "Pachinko”, for you West Pac sailors). As the day wore on, the sky darkened, it began to rain and the wind picked up. Belatedly, late in the afternoon of November 5, 1967, the waffling SOPA made up his mind; Kaohsiung was going to get a direct hit, so sortie!

    The Special Sea and Anchor Detail was set and we cast off. X Division (Administrative Division) contained the ship's yeomen, personnel men and hospital corpsmen. During routine steaming, some had "watch stander's liberty", but others did not, including the three departmental yeomen. YNSN Bill Cittadino, the log room (engineering) yeoman, normally stood watch on the bridge, enjoyed steering the ship, became good at it and eventually was assigned as an alternate Special Sea and Anchor Detail helmsman. As Main Propulsion Assistant, according to the book, I should be in the after engine room for all special details. But the Senior Watch Officer, LCDR Lee Rauch, hadn't read that book and put me all over the place, including this time, as "Pilot House Safety Officer".

    As we began the sortie, I was at my appointed position standing in the pilothouse behind the helmsman and lee helmsman. YNSN Bill Cittadino was at the helm. Captain G. G. Ely Kirk had the deck and the conn. I worked very closely with Cittadino in the day-to-day administration of the engineering department, side by side at adjoining desks in the log room. He was personable, bright and squared away.

    As CHEVY approached the mouth of the harbor and the open sea, the sea state changed radically, from harbor calm to full blown typhoon. CHEVY began to pitch, plunge, yaw and roll like I had never seen before. Captain Kirk was on the starboard wing holding onto the gyro repeater for his life and yelling minute course corrections, in degrees true, every few seconds. The channel was obvious because rocks were visible both to port and starboard and CHEVY was being broadsided by huge swells and high winds. As CHEVY began the first of a series of 40 to 45 degree rolls - yes, 45 degrees, I was standing (actually, hanging from the overhead) right behind the inclinometer - Cittadino turned to me in a state of panic and said "Mr. King, the compass rose is spinning so fast I can't read the numbers!" I looked at the gyrocompass repeater and to my astonishment, saw that he was absolutely right! As an emergency measure, I whispered to Cittadino "look out the porthole, steer right down the middle - but acknowledge the Captain's orders".

   And so Cittadino did just that, stretching on his tiptoes to see out. I intended to immediately explain to the Captain the problem, but I was in the pilothouse, the Captain was out on the wing, and the situation was so topsy-turvy, I couldn't even get out there to him. For the next few minutes or so it took to clear the harbor, Bill Cittadino continued "steering by seaman's eye", but acknowledging each of Captain Kirk's orders, which came in fast and furious. Watching him, I wished suddenly that he were taller because the alignment of the pilot house windows with bridge windows, through both of which he had to look, was not really intended for this. The 40 plus degree rolls continued and I quietly cursed that waffling SOPA who sent us out in this mess at the last possible minute.

   The implications about what I had just done began to sink in. I had in effect taken the conn away from a four stripe Captain in his third year of his third command-at-sea and turned over the safety of a 391 foot ship, 265 men and one dog to an E-3 teenager. And the Captain doesn't even know it! Is that what I was taught in NROTC? .... I don't think so.... Damn! (Pardon my language). How did that trial come out in The Caine Mutiny? But it's working, we're almost out!

   Finally, we were clear of the harbor and Captain Kirk ordered a major course change directly into the huge waves. Bill Cittadino understood what the Captain wanted and why and reverted instantly to his proper role as helmsman. As the turn progressed, the rolls eased off into the low "thirties" range, to be replaced by horrible pitching and plunging. But the compass rose once again became legible and the secret exercise of "steering by seaman's eye" was over. I never mastered the mathematics of "ship's stability", and have no idea how precarious the situation had been. But in Principles of Naval Engineering, BUPERS (1966), the hypothetical ship used to explain that math, "zero righting arm" (meaning the ship is as likely to roll over on her side as to return to an upright position) was reached at 53 degrees.

    Bill Cittadino and I kept our secret for almost three years. In 1970, while I was in Washington D.C. for a wedding, I visited with Captain Kirk at his home.  Surrounded by his wife, Jean, and a few friends and neighbors, and lubricated by a few of the Captain's famous martinis, I told the real story about "The Sortie". His comment was "I couldn't read the compass either - I was just ordering slight changes right or left of the known base course." "I didn't think about how the helmsman was going to translate that into action if his compass rose was as illegible as mine."




   At 2330, 1 went to the mess decks, ate a sandwich and headed for the bridge to relieve the O.O.D. No written night orders had been prepared, but the off-going O.O.D. told me that he had been told to steam slowly into the waves. If the wave angle changed, change course with it, no "permission" was required. There was no particular prescribed course, speed or destination. The "night order" was simply to try to keep CHEVALIER from rolling over on her side. For the next four hours, we did just that. The rolling continued in the "low thirties", and the "pitching" was wild. CHEVY's bow would plow into the sea until water cascaded over Mount 51 and then the spray cascaded over Mount 52 to the bridge, three stories above the main deck. Then the bow would leap out of the water like a submarine surfacing in an emergency and the cycle would repeat. During the watch, there was a lot of time to reflect on those talented men and women in Bath, Maine, who put CHEVALIER together with such care, that she could withstand the worst punishment that nature could deliver.

    Finally, it was 0345 and my relief, gunnery officer LTJG Jim Culotta, showed up. Jim and I had arrived on board within a week of each other in mid 1965, shared an apartment together in San Francisco while CHEVY was in the yards, shared a beach house together for nine months in South Mission Beach, San Diego, and were close friends. After going through the ritual of turning over the watch and within seconds of the "I relieve you"..."I stand relieved" ceremony, we were interrupted by the ongoing sounding and security watch. He told both of us that he couldn't find the off-going watch-stander he was supposed to relieve, that he had already made one trip forward and that the boatswain's locker was flooding, already with six inches or so of water. Jim and I were both incredulous. The boatswain's locker was on the first platform … there were two more platforms below that. Finally, Jim said, "in other words, the ship is sinking!" The watch-stander, who I recall was an ET, replied politely "yes sir".

    There is an obscure section of Naval Regulations, which states that if an ongoing O.O.D. (Officer of the Deck) doesn't like the situation that he is being asked to "take over", he has the absolute right to refuse to relieve. Jim announced that he was thinking about invoking that section. There followed an argument between two good friends about what appeared to both of us to be a serious situation.

    Seasickness is partly mental, mostly physiological and not all people are affected equally. Experience at sea helps, but it does not necessarily overcome the disability. It sometimes afflicts people so severely that they cannot function at all. This was the worst storm either Jim or I had ever seen and we both knew that a high percentage of the officers, chiefs and crew were essentially temporarily incapacitated. We both knew also that included within that group were the Captain, the X.O. and our new Chief Engineer and that calling upon higher authority to solve the temporary impasse between two very junior officers was not a realistic option.

    The argument that finally got Jim’s attention was really a question I posed. "Who at this moment, by reason of job assignment in engineering, seniority, training, experience and present physiological condition, is best qualified to find out what the problem is, to organize an ad hoc repair party from such off-watch able bodied engineers as might be found in the engineering berthing compartment, and do something to stop the ship from sinking?" While he was mulling over the obvious answer, I then asked "And if the ship sinks, what difference does it matter whose watch it was on?" "In these seas, there will be no survivors so there will be no Court Martials.” I then offered, "On my honor, if you will relieve me now, I will roust out a repair party and do whatever is necessary to stop the flooding". Finally, Jim turned to QM3 Frank Bennar, who had been listening with interest to our argument, and said "I relieve Mr. King UNDER PROTEST!" "Write that in the Log." "And put in there that it is conditioned upon his organizing a repair party to go forward and deal with the flooding." "And he must call the bridge every five minutes with a full report".  I interjected "Make that every fifteen minutes ... the nearest phone will be in Chiefs' Quarters ... I can't do the job with a headset on". Bennar was scribbling madly in the Log trying to keep up with all the "sea lawyering". 

    It really made no sense, but I went to the boatswain's locker first to size up the problem. Just being up in the front of that pitching bow was a living nightmare. One hand had to grip something at all times just to remain erect. The Sounding and Security watch-stander had not exaggerated, the flooding was now about a foot deep. I turned around and headed for engineering berthing. Even as I entered the compartment, I wasn't sure who I was going to get because I didn't know who was or was not already on watch. My recollection becomes hazy at this point, but I recall aiming my flashlight at the various bunks on the R Division side (starboard side). I believe it stopped at MM1 Victor J. Hesseltine, who would have in any event been a likely choice. He was the leading P.O. in the "A” Gang of “R” Division, very versatile, and had formerly been in M Division in charge of the after engine room. He was sharp at damage control, as sharp as anyone on board.

    I woke Hesseltine up, told him what was going on and told him to wake up three more guys, get dressed and follow me (note how I "delegated" the decision of who the others would be).  I also told him to make sure he had his key to the damage control lockers. Hesseltine wasn't a happy camper (as usual), but he quickly did as directed. He knew this was important.

 Passing through the Chiefs' Lounge en route, I told Hesseltine to go ahead while I made my first report to the bridge. I reported that a small damage control party was now on the scene investigating and more men would be mustered if needed. Rejoining Hesseltine in the partially flooded boatswain's locker, he had his hand over the sounding tube to the chain locker and when he saw me, stated that he had found the problem. The sounding tube cap was missing, the chain locker was flooded (not surprisingly) and every time the bow plunged into the sea, water roared up through the sounding tube into the boatswain's locker. He had already sent one of his men to get a sledge hammer and a DC plug out of Repair II. I joined in on a search for the missing cap, but it was not to be found in all the dirty water and loose boatswain mate gear. We surmised that the previous sounding and security watch tried to sound the chain locker, got sick in the process or was thrown to the deck, and lost the cap. I don't recall ever hearing about who that watch-stander was, why he lost the cap and why he didn't report it. A few minutes later, the plug and hammer arrived and seconds later, the flooding was stopped. The second report to the bridge so stated together with our intent to begin de-watering. We then rigged pumps and began dewatering.

    When the water was down enough, we began opening deck hatches to the storage spaces below. One space was flooded to the top and was also filled to the brim with one and only one commodity ... toilet paper for 265 men for several months. What a mess! The deck hatches must have leaked between the boatswain's locker and this tiny storeroom. There was no way we could pump it without first unloading it by hand and I decided that was a job for either the storekeepers or First Division later. We dogged that hatch back down and worked on other compartments.

    For the final report to Jim Culotta, I went back up to the bridge and reported in person. I told him about the one small compartment left in a flooded state, and why. I then headed for my rack. But first, I went to the after officer's head and grabbed a roll of toilet paper. In my stateroom, I opened my tiny safe, removed the classified documents and threw them in a drawer. Then I put the roll of toilet paper in the safe, locked it and climbed into my rack. I estimated that by later in the day that one roll would be a very, very valuable commodity on board and worthy of all the security I could give it. By late afternoon, Captain Kirk decided the storm had abated enough to risk turning around. We took some bad rolls in the process, but once finally around, with following seas, the ship rode more comfortably. Course was set for Hong Kong, British Crown Colony, and by the time CHEVY arrived, some tech manuals, printed on low quality but soft paper, were missing pages.



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