Lieut. Gilbert Steingart
U.S.S. Ocelot, F.P.O. San Francisco
Monday 17 September, 1945, 9:35 PM
So much has happened since my last letter (Saturday night) that I'd better start with Saturday night so you can follow me. After I wrote my daily letter to you, I went forward to see the movies, but instead I heard the word passed to prepare to get underway. That meant rigging in the deck awning, bringing all the small boats aboard and securing everything for sea. A typhoon was headed for Okinawa and all ships were to leave the area as soon as possible.
Sunday morning dawned with an angry ocean whipped up to greater fury by strong winds coming in from the sea. The captain decided, and thank God he did, to stay in the harbor and try to ride out the storm. All morning long boats, small craft and ships were breaking away from their moorings and washing up on the beach. About noon an APL (barracks barge) with about six hundred men snapped her buoy chain and headed for the beach. First she grazed a floating dry dock and then headed toward a merchant ship riding at anchor. This merchantman upped anchor and moved out of the barge's way. All this time the sea was getting rougher and the wind stronger. The merchantman went out of control and headed straight for us. He pulled one of our anchors loose, we had both down, and we began to shift from our mooring. So we had to get underway and try to re-anchor in a safe area.
Thus began as harrowing an experience as I ever want to encounter. By then the gale reached a wind velocity of fifty knots, and the sea was mountainous even in the harbor. It was impossible to control the Ocelot and her bow went whichever way the wind drove it. We had several collisions with other ships riding at anchor, but fortunately they were all glancing blows without serious damage or injury. For awhile we'd seem to be making headway and then the wind would catch our bow again and off we'd veer once more. In one of the collisions we lost one anchor. The other was damaged when the merchant ship pulled it loose. We had no way of anchoring to ride out the storm and had to cruise around the harbor until the storm abated. After about four hours it began to get dark and visibility was so poor that all hands, with life jackets on, were ordered topside ready for any emergency. By then waves about forty feet high were breaking over our bow and into the navigation bridge. Suddenly we scraped bottom and stopped. We were aground but didn't know where or how far from the beach. The ship shuddered with every blow of the giant waves and soon both the #3 and #4 holds were filled with seven feet of water. Just then the word was passed for all hands to stand clear of the starboard bow. Wham! Something solid struck up forward. A liberty ship, in the same predicament we were in, had lost its anchor and was blown up on the same reef. Our bows came to form a "V." The bows were lashed together with heavy line and additional lines were passed aft as well. Then we knew we were safe unless the typhoon continued at a high intensity for a long period of time. By 9:30 PM the wind had reached a velocity of 78 knots with additional gusts going up as high as 109 knots. Lines (8 inch manila rope) between the ships snapped like too taught strings on a violin. New lines replaced them immediately. After 9:30 PM the wind and sea began to abate in ferocity. By 1:00 AM the wind velocity was down to 35 to 40 knots. All this time the sea was crashing our bow against that of the liberty ship and pounding up and down on the reef. Our pumps were just holding their own. At 1:30 AM I lay down to relax. No sleep in me. Just as I was getting comfortable a call came for all ship's officers to report to the wardroom. The water was rising in the engine room too fast for our pumps to handle. Something had to be done or else all our power generators would be flooded and we'd really be in hot water. The solution was a bucket brigade. We got together all the gallon buckets on the ship and started a line down in the engine room and extending up to the main deck (equivalent to three stories in height) and then over the side with water. My job was to keep the buckets moving and relieve tired men with rested ones. I acted like Captain Bligh in "Mutiny on the Bounty" and really drove the men from about 2:15 AM until 7:00 AM. Most of the men were willing and anxious to do their part, but there were several shirkers so I didn't always have fresh men to relieve the tired ones. No sooner did a man get out that I had to send him back in. The important thing was to keep the water at a low level and from flooding the engine room. Even though they did complain a little, the men understood and did their part. By 7:00 AM we had won. The water level was way down. With the cessation of the heavy swells and wind gusts, our pumps were able to carry on from there without additional help. Dr. Bushyager got out the medicinal whisky and every man got a stiff drink before breakfast. I personally retired to my room, stripped off my wet clothes and gave myself a brisk rubdown with a bath towel. Then on with some dry clothes and a hot breakfast.
A survey of the damage done to the ship indicates that the Ocelot will never put to sea again. Her steel ribs, stanchions and keel are twisted and warped. Her fuel tanks are all cracked. Half of the fresh water tanks are full of sea water. But still, she floats. I personally am very proud of her and the way she carried us through those perilous hours. Now the salvage officers are trying to figure out what to do with her. She can be used as a barracks or receiving ship in a harbor but I, personally, think that the old girl is though and that all that can be done is to remove all gear and equipment aboard and then lay her to rest in the briny deep. However the Navy is funny and will spend millions to salvage ...so we'll just have to wait and see what happens.
At 10:30 AM I turned in until 11:30 AM when I ate some lunch. At 1:00 PM I turned in again and slept until 3:00 PM. That is all the sleep I've had. There is a lot of diesel oil about the ship so no smoking is allowed due to the fire hazard. Because there are a few who just won't comply with orders, officers have to patrol the ship and keep an eye out for violators.
Tonight we had the movie we were to have on Saturday night. "Swing Out Sister" is very amusing and I did enjoy it.
Now Sweet, don't worry about me. We didn't have any casualties and I'm safe and sound. Even my "tochos" doesn't bother me anymore. Maybe it was the hand of fate. The Ocelot will be surveyed and I'll come home. Could be.
Wow, what a letter. Now I'm going to say goodnight and turn in. I'm really sleepy. See you in my dreams.
P.S. From the time we started, the bucket brigade of about 150 men dumped 100 gallons of water over the side every minute. Quite a record!
Excuse my not writing last night. I really had other things on my mind.
Goodnight again darling,
Typewritten account that Eleanor sent to newspapers.
Category 1 typhoon (SSHS)
Duration September 10 – September 20 1945
Peak intensity 130 km/h (80 mph) (1-min) 969 mbar (hPa)
BJ Cunningham, Jr. Y3/c was also aboard the Ocelot. Here is his account from Navsource