Journal Entry  -  September 14, 1999  -  Day 3

Tuesday Evening Position Report
8:00 p.m., Pacific Daylight Time
Latitude:  45 Degrees, 3 Minutes, 7 Seconds North
Longitude: 125 Degrees, 18 Minutes, 2 Seconds West
Days Run: 70.8 Nautical Miles
Speed: 5.9 Knots (Average)

Total Run:  339 Nautical Miles
Total Average Speed:  5.85 Knots
Hours From Departure:  58 Hours
Distance To Go This Leg:  843.5 Nautical Miles
Estimated Time Of Arrival:  8:00 a.m., September 21
Present Course:  180 Degrees due South
Wind:  North at 18 Knots
Seas:  4 Feet
Swells:  From the Northwest at 6 Feet
Air Temperature:  60 Degrees
Skies:  Overcast
Visibility:  Over 10 Miles

Position:   Passing through the albacore tuna fishing grounds of some three dozen west coast fishing fleet boats, 55 nautical miles due west of Cascade Head, Oregon, which is just off the Salmon River.

Storms East and West, Then and Now...

News of the massive force of Hurricane Floyd is hard for even the crew of the Sea Victory to escape as they continue to make good time with the USS New Jersey in tow 55-miles due west of Cascade, Oregon.

It's been so far, so good for "The Big J" and weather in the Pacific, but it wasn't always the case for her.

In fact, storms like Floyd, in the eastern Pacific, begin to take shape near Baja California, Mexico, an area generally within New Jersey's path to Panama.  But considerable projection and analysis will keep the ship from any exposure to such danger.

Tragically, in December of 1944, hundreds of sailors died after a Floyd-like storm, called a typhoon in the western Pacific, capsized three U.S. destroyers.  One veteran of the USS New Jersey recalls that storm with a bitter memory.

"It was awful," said George T. Chestnut in a phone interview tonight. 'There was nothing we could do for them.  It's a terrible memory," he said.  "It's always been on my mind."

Chestnut, who resides in Kirkland, Washington, explained that the New Jersey and the bulk of the Third Fleet were caught in a ferocious typhoon on their way back to anchorage on Ulithi Atoll after the decisive Battle of the Philippine Sea.

"We couldn't re-fuel," he said.   "There was no way to get re-fueled in the storm, and the destroyers ran out of fuel.  Then they were unable to maneuver in the seas," he said.

The 170-mile-per-hour winds, according to Chestnut tonight, whipped the sea into a frenzy, tearing massive steel battleship components from their structure, and flinging the destroyers into submission.  Each destroyer had a crew of some 500 men.  Three destroyers capsized because they couldn't fight the sea after winning the battle.

"It was rough," he said.  "On the New Jersey, we made 45-degree lists. Some of the ships were at 75-degrees.  The destroyers," he said, "couldn't get upright.  They just rolled over.  We couldn't rescue anyone in a storm like that."

Chestnut said the flagship New Jersey weathered the storm and returned to Ulithi.  He said Third Fleet Commander Admiral William "Bull" Halsey relieved the crew from an immediate after-storm inspection.   "The crew was grateful to the Admiral," he said.  "We'd been in operations for three months, and he wanted to give us a break.  We liked him for that.  He was good that way," said Chestnut.

Asked what he did during the storm, he said:   "I was in the number three 16-inch gun turret.  It had 12-inch armor plating. " Perhaps it was home to Chestnut.  He was a gunners mate on that number three turret.

"We had 500 ships in our Fleet," he added.   "After that, after the Philippine battle, we could go anywhere we wanted.   "Indeed they could, and did.  Retired Rear Admiral J. Edward Snyder, Jr., Captain of the New Jersey in 1968-69, said this afternoon by satellite-phone that after a stop-over in Japan in 1969, they ran into the tail end of another typhoon.

"We had left Japan and turned around because the high winds set off the General Quarters Alarm," Snyder related.  "Under no circumstances did I want any of the sailors topside," he said.  "But some of them," he admitted, "got onto the superstructure to watch the storm from there."

Snyder said he directed the battleship directly into the swell, that there was no rolling.  "The winds weren't as high as 100 mph," he said.  "If they were, the anemometer would have broken."

He said the ship took on a lot of water during the storm, but nothing got washed off.  "It lasted fifteen to seventeen hours, and I slowed down some, to about 20 knots, but I had a schedule to keep, so I had to have some speed, "Snyder explained.

Storms at sea pose an unequal match to steel ships.   But in the case of Gunners Mate Chestnut's USS New Jersey in 1944, and Captain Snyder's in 1969, the match was met.

For others, it was not.  Many will never forget.   And hundreds of others will not have the chance to.

Submitted by Bob Wernet onboard the Sea Victory.

 

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