Monday, May 28, 2018

Edward Henkel (1923-1944): Killed During Typhoon Cobra

Edward Henkel joined the U.S. Navy in 1940 at the age of 17; he survived the attack on Pearl Harbor, though his battleship sank; and several south Pacific operations, including Wake Island, Marshall Islands, and the Marianas Islands. But Edward did not survive Typhoon Cobra[1] after Task Force 38 sailed into the center of the storm. He was reported missing on 18 December and was memorialized on the Walls of the Missing at the American Memorial Cemetery in Taguig City, Philippines -- one of the 790 Navy men who lost their lives that day.

Machinist's Mate 1st Class Edward Henkel on the Walls of the Missing at the
American Memorial Cemetery in the Philippines; courtesy of the American
Battle Monuments Commission

He was born on 8 May 1923 in Winnipeg, Canada, to Gustav Henkel and Karolina Ziprick (or Tiprik). His parents were of German heritage. His father had immigrated to Canada in 1912 from the Russian Empire, and his mother, with her parents, in 1909. When Edward was four months old, his parents immigrated to the U.S., entering the country in Noyes, Minnesota. They traveled by train to California and settled in Montebello in Los Angeles County. By 1935 they had moved to Antelope, California. Edward's father died in 1937 at the age of 45. His mother listed farming as her occupation in the 1940 census.

After three years of high school, Edward joined the U.S. Navy on 26 November 1940. I imagine he had a short training period at a naval base in California. When that was completed he was rated an able seaman and transferred on 18 January 1941 to the USS Utah (AG-16), an elderly battleship built in 1909. The ship had been turned into a radio-controlled target ship by the Navy in the 1930s and served in a training squadron.

On 14 September 1941, the USS Utah left Puget Sound and steamed for Pearl Harbor where she was to serve in her training capacity. On the night of 6 December she was moored on the west side of Ford Island opposite battleship row. During the surprise attack on the base by the Japanese, the USS Utah was hit by two torpedos and capsized. The ship was a total loss and 64 men lost their lives. There is a memorial platform at Pearl Harbor and parts of the ship are still visible today.

USS Utah (AG-16) after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor; courtesy of
the U.S. Navy

Edward Henkel had been promoted to Fireman 2nd Class by the time the USS Utah arrived in Pearl Harbor. On 13 December, under emergency orders, he reported to his new duty station -- the USS Hull (DD-350), a destroyer, a type of ship often called the Greyhounds of the Sea. During World War II, they were small, fast, close-in combatants used to screen battleships and aircraft carriers or protect convoys.

During the rest of 1941 and 1942, the USS Hull participated in naval operations in Guadalcanal and New Hebrides. She operated in the Aleutian Islands during the early part of 1943 before returning to Pearl Harbor on 26 September. Three days later she left for strikes on Wake Island. The USS Hull returned to the mainland for amphibious training exercises in December, but left San Diego with Task Force 53 and sailed for the Marshall Islands.

In 1944 the ship and her men saw action at Truk before joining Admiral Lee's battleships for the assault on the Marianas Islands. With Admiral Mitscher's carrier task force the USS Hull took part in the "Great Marianas Turkey Shoot," which succeeded in sinking two Japanese aircraft carriers. She patrolled off Guam for a month in July and then returned to Seattle for repairs. By October the USS Hull was back in Pearl Harbor.

She was ordered to join a fueling group departing Pearl on 20 November 1944 in order to rendezvous with Admiral Halsey's carrier strike force in the Philippine Sea. Refueling began on 17 December but operations had to be abandoned during worsening weather conditions. Unbeknownst to Halsey, his strike force had sailed into the teeth of Typhoon Cobra.

USS Maddox (DD-731), a newer class of destroyer during Typhoon Cobra;
courtesy of the U.S. Navy

The USS Hull was caught in trough between two mountainous waves and rolled 70 degrees. Water flooded the pilot house and poured through ship via the stacks. Her commander, Lt. Commander Marks, described her final minutes, "the ship remained over on her side at an angle of 80 degrees or more as water flooded into her upper structures. I remained on the port wing of the bridge until the water flooded up to me, then I stepped off into the water as the ship rolled over on her way down."

The Navy reported Machinist's Mate 1st Class Edward Henkel as missing on 29 December 1944. On 29 March 1945 he was listed as dead in an article in The Los Angeles Times. His body was never recovered -- one of the 202 men serving on the USS Hull who were presumed to have drowned during Typhoon Cobra.

[1] Typhoon Cobra is also known as Halsey's Typhoon.

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