Hurricane at Sea:

The Story of Gerhard A. Nundahl, Ret. LCDR.

Retold by Victoria Holt

 

On late August of 1954, the submarine tender USS Howard W. Gilmore, AS-16, anchored in the harbor of Trinity Bay, Newfoundland. The natives of the nearby village were astounded; they had never seen such a large vessel. This was the first time that American sailors had ever entered their harbor. The sailors were welcomed on shore with open arms. They were invited to the village where the sailors gave them a concert. The children from the local village sang and danced to the music while the band members played melodious tunes. After an overnight anchorage the ship headed south for Key West, Florida. One of the sailors recounted the events of this ship battling the stormy seas after it got underway. Here is his story.

 

          I was only 17 years old when I joined the Navy. My father had to sign for me to join because I was not yet considered an adult. Against my mother’s will, my father signed the dotted line. My mother would never have allowed for me to join, but I felt the sea calling to me and I desperately wanted to go. I left my mother at home in Wisconsin and she reportedly cried for two weeks after I had gone. I was assigned to the submarine tender, USS Howard W. Gilmore.

 

When entering or leaving a harbor, my duty was to man the anchor windlass. I would either drop the anchor or hoist it by turning a large wheel. After hoisting anchor and leaving Trinity Bay we were steaming south in fairly moderate seas. When we were South and East of Montauk Point, Long Island we found ourselves in the midst of Hurricane Carol. The winds reached a velocity of 110 miles an hour and waves reached 90 feet high. Solid "green" water broke clear of the bridge a number of times during the worst of the storm. The angry ocean swept over the ship repeatedly, and we pitched at terrifying angles.  I was at my damage control station located on the second deck, a complete deck below the main deck. Below us in the torpedo room things were tearing loose so badly that all the men there were forced to abandon the space.  I was standing on the starboard side with a shipmate hanging on to pipes in the overhead.  A large locker broke loose from the opposite side, flew full force across the deck, and slammed against my shipmate who was standing next to me.  Luckily he was in front of two frames; he was pushed back between them which protected him and saved his life.  Also, I was very lucky for it missed me by inches. 

 

It was my job as a Metalsmith to fix things on the ship. Our ship was taking a beating in this horrific storm at sea. I remember how I wondered about what on the ship needed to be fixed first. Inch thick steel plates were dented, bulkhead joints and seams were pulled apart.  Expansion joints on the upper decks were opened far beyond normal and were twisted as they closed.  One of the dents on the flying bridge was way up 60 feet above the normal waterline.  We headed into the wind, the engines doing their best to keep the ship from being blown shoreward.  We were afraid of running aground.  The ship was east of the storm throughout.  The hardest blows came between 8 in the morning and 1 o'clock in the afternoon.  The winds then eased slightly before noon but it was not until 5 o'clock in the evening that the captain dared to turn the vessel crosswise of the seas to change course to get us away from the shore.  There was no way to turn the ship earlier, the heavy seas could have caught us broadside between waves and sank our ship.

 

Instead of steaming on to Key West, we pulled into New York for repairs. While bits of machinery and equipment were swept clear of the ship by the storm, there was no damage that prevented us from continuing our voyage south. So after 5 days in New York, we got underway for Key West.

 

Our captain's name was David H. McClintock. In 1944, during WWII, he was the skipper of one of the seven submarines that were lost in battle at Leyte Gulf. He barely escaped and was lucky to be alive. Our captain stated that our battle at sea with Hurricane Carol was the most frightening experience he had ever had. He stated that “it was the courage, capabilities and loyalty of the officers and men of the crew that saved the big submarine tender from being damaged or possibly wrecked.”  On the other hand it was we the crew that said it was the superb seamanship of the Captain that saved the ship and all of the nearly one thousand sailing on board.  I must admit that for me, it was an awesome experience and one I will never forget.

 

Hurricane Carol was a Category 3 hurricane as it reached winds up to 110 mph. Luckily, its intensity weakened when it hit landfall on August 31, 1954, and was downgraded to a tropical storm. 

 

Built in 1943, the Gilmore was 530 feet in length and weighed approximately 16,000 tons. Today this United States Naval ship is no longer in service. It was decommissioned in 1980. For many years it was anchored in the James River with many other ships that have served. They wait in the “Ghost Fleet” where they eventually become destined for scrap metal that can be re-created into something new. In March of 2006, the USS Howard W. Gilmore was finally towed away to be re-cycled.

 

Shortly after Hurricane Isabel struck the East Coast in 2003, I read an article in a newspaper that said all of the ships in the Ghost Fleet were not disturbed by the storm with the exception of USS Gilmore; it had taken on a lot of rain water and began to list.  That is, lean toward one side because of the weight of all the water collecting on one side.  What a burst of memories flooded through my mind!  It was this ship, hundreds of sailors, including myself, who were almost lost in a hurricane many years ago.

 

This was the one of the many thrilling adventures that my father experienced during his naval career.

 

Service for the Silent Service

 

 

In the middle, (My Dad) USN Sailor Gerhard Nundahl on board the

USS Gilmore in Key West, Florida taken after the Hurricane at sea.

USS Howard W. Gilmore, Submarine Tender Taken from Tendertale.com

 

LCDR Gerhard A. Nundahl

 

References:

 

Hurricane History: http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/HAW2/english/history.shtml#carol

Nundahl, Gerhard A. (personal interview July 20, 2010)

Tender Tale: USS Howard W. Gilmore AS 16: http://www.tendertale.com/tenders/116/116.html