|Born||19 Feb 1915|
|Died||24 Sep 2003|
Contributor: David Stubblebine
ww2dbaseHenry Lee Plage was born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, United States but he was raised in Georgia. "Hank" Plage had looks that were compared to Cary Grant and was a summer athletic counselor at the rural Camp Tate near Stone Mountain, Georgia. It was here that he began developing his skills as a sailor. He entered Georgia Tech in 1933 as an engineering student. There he met the daughter of the university's director of athletics, Marjorie Armstrong. Plage's activities at Georgia Tech included being chapter president of fraternity Chi-Phi, captain of the swimming team, and part of the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC). Upon graduating in 1937 as a member of the Honor Society, he received a commissioned as an Ensign in the Naval Reserve.
ww2dbaseIn 1940, Plage petitioned the Navy for active duty at sea. He entered active service in Jan 1941 but did not immediately receive the assignment at sea he was hoping for. On 18 Jun 1941, Ensign Plage and Marjorie Armstrong were married in Atlanta, Georgia.
ww2dbaseAfter a promotion to Lieutenant (junior grade), Plage was given his first command on 15 May 1942 as commanding officer of the 174-foot USS PC-464 upon the vessel's commissioning in Neponset, Massachusetts. PC-464 had a crew of 55 and was quickly relocated to the Caribbean where the sub-chaser made regular anti-submarine patrols between the Panama Canal Zone and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. While this duty might sound rather benign, this was a period of great activity by German submarines in this very patrol area. In a single month just before PC-464's arrival in the area, German U-Boats sunk 45 merchant ships against the loss of just one submarine damaged. Even so, PC-464 had no encounters with enemy submarines during the year Lieutenant (jg) Plage commanded.
ww2dbaseAfter a promotion to Lieutenant and exactly one year after assuming command of PC-464, Lt Plage was appointed to the position of executive officer of the Evarts-class destroyer escort USS LeHardy upon her commissioning 15 May 1943 at Mare Island Naval Shipyard in Vallejo, California. Plage served five months in this capacity as the ship performed escort service between San Francisco and Hawaii.
ww2dbasePlage then assumed commanded of the Evarts-class destroyer escort USS Donaldson upon her commissioning at Puget Sound 1 Dec 1943. Donaldson performed some escort duties between Hawaii and the Marshall Islands but while Plage was aboard she never got closer to the war zone than that. Plage was relieved of Donaldson's command on 2 Mar 1944 at Majuro, he accepted a promotion to Lieutenant Commander and proceeded to Houston where he began work on the pre-commissioning fitting out of the destroyer escort Tabberer. When Tabberer was commissioned 23 May 1944, Lieutenant Commander Plage was appointed her commanding officer. So from PC-464 to LeHardy to Donaldson to Tabberer, Henry Plage was a plank-owner four times over, three times as the commanding officer. But it was commanding Tabberer that would be the most consequential for Plage and the war effort.
ww2dbaseBefore Tabberer ever left Texas, there were already signs that the ship would be expected to perform rugged duty. On 29 May 1944 while shifting berths in Galveston with a Coast Guard pilot at the conn, Tabberer rammed the side of a floating drydock that caused minor damage to Tabberer's stem and capsized a motor whaleboat alongside.
ww2dbaseFollowing a shakedown cruise to Bermuda and a post-shakedown refit at the Boston Navy Yard, Tabberer transited to the Pacific and took her place in an anti-submarine hunter-killer group centered on the escort carrier USS Anzio. On 18 Nov 1944, the Anzio group made its first successful submarine attack east of the Philippines with a coordinated air/sea attack on Japanese submarine I-41 commanded by Lieutenant Commander Kondo Fumitake. I-41 was lost with all hands.
ww2dbaseFollowing a brief replenishment period at Ulithi, Tabberer and her group resumed anti-submarine sweeps in the Philippine Sea in advance of Vice-Admiral John McCain's Fast Carrier Task Force 38. Ever alert for submarines, enemy ships, and air attacks, Tabberer was about to be threatened by a most unexpected enemy.
ww2dbaseOn 16 Dec 1944, McCain's carriers withdrew from the Philippines for refueling and Anzio's anti-submarine group followed. After a morning rendezvous with the replenishment group 180 miles northeast of the Philippine island of Samar, the ships experienced increasing winds and rough seas that forced an early end to the fueling operations. The barometers dropped quickly, the weather grew worse, and soon the fleet was fighting hurricane force winds. The ships had unexpectedly sailed directly into the powerful tropical Typhoon Cobra.
ww2dbaseBy mid-day, the waves had increased to the point Tabberer could not fight her way out of the deep troughs. She took on rolls of 60 degrees and sometimes more. Captain Plage ordered anything that was not permanently affixed to the ship to be repositioned to the lower spaces to improve stability. He also ordered the shifting of fuel oil to help with the ship's trim. Winds increased to an estimated 100 knots or more and visibility became very poor. The continuous heavy rolling caused the wire supports for Tabberer's main mast to begin giving way. The mast swayed more and more violently throughout the afternoon and during one 50-degree roll just as darkness was falling, the mast buckled altogether. All radar and radio antennas were lost as the mast hung over the side of the ship. After 30 minutes of torch and axe work in the heavy seas, the mast was cut away and the ship's handling improved immediately. Water entering through air vents had caused some short-circuiting in the switchboards and generators below decks but the vents and the equipment were covered and no more electrical trouble was experienced. At no time did Tabberer lose power.
ww2dbaseBy late evening, conditions had improved enough to allow Chief Radiomans Mate Ralph Tucker to begin rigging an emergency radio antenna on Tabberer's stack. While conducting this work in the dark, he noticed an occasional light shining from the waves close aboard. He called out into the darkness and thought he heard a voice call back from the sea. Tucker quickly sounded the "Man Overboard" alarm. Captain Plage immediately altered course and reduced speed. After some tricky seamanship and no small amount of stark bravery from the crew, Quartermaster 3rd-class August Lindquist was pulled from the sea. He said he was a crew member from the destroyer USS Hull that had foundered and sunk in the typhoon about mid-day. His lifejacket had been equipped with a single-cell flashlight and a whistle, as had many of the Hull's lifejackets, and the flashlight is what allowed Chief Tucker to see him in the darkness.
ww2dbaseThus, Tabberer was the first ship to become aware that another ship had gone down in the storm; but until the makeshift antenna could be rigged, Plage had no way of relaying that information to the fleet. In the meantime, he set extra watches to look for more lights in the water and listen for whistles. Soon, more Hull sailors were spotted in the water. Rescue work continued through the night, throughout the following day, and into the day after that. Time and time again in the rough seas, Captain Plage would bring Tabberer in upwind of a sailor in the water, allow the ship to drift broadside into the sailor, where members of Tabberer's crew would risk their own lives to bring the sailor aboard.
ww2dbaseOnce communications had been restored, Tabberer was ordered to return to the fleet so her damage could be assessed and other ships would complete the rescue work. But Plage knew those other ships were not yet on the scene and Tabberer was, so Plage disobeyed orders and continued searching for men in the water. By the time Plage was physically relieved by other search ships, Tabberer had recovered 55 officers and men, 41 from Hull and 14 from the similarly sunken USS Spence. The ships that took over the search rescued another 36 men from Hull, Spence, and also USS Monaghan. At the conclusion of Tabberer's search for survivors on 20 Dec 1944, Captain Plage issued a captain's memorandum of commendation to his crew recognizing their hard work and courage.
ww2dbaseFive days after being first consumed by the typhoon, Tabberer entered the fleet anchorage at Ulithi for repairs. While at Ulithi, Admiral Halsey came aboard with a box full of medals. For their courageous rescue work during the storm, two officers and two petty officers were awarded Navy and Marine Corps medals, awards customarily given for non-combat lifesaving work. For his courageous leadership and skilled seamanship, Lieutenant Commander Plage received the Legion of Merit, one of the highest non-combat awards. The ship and the entire ship's company were among the first to receive the newly created Navy Unit Commendation. According to Tabberer's war history, Halsey's remarks to the crew that day included:
ww2dbase"Your seamanship, endurance, and courage, and the plain guts that you exhibited during the typhoon that we went through is an epic of naval history and will long be remembered by your children and their children's children.
ww2dbase"It is this spirit displayed throughout the world by the American forces of all branches that is winning the war for us."
ww2dbaseLieutenant Commander Plage's Legion of Merit citations reads:
ww2dbase"For exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding service to the government a as commanding officer of destroyer escort USS Tabberer operating in the Western Pacific from December 18, 1944 to December 20, 1944.
ww2dbase"While his ship was combating a storm of hurricane intensity and mountainous seas causing severe damage, Lt.Comdr. Plage directed the rescue of 55 survivors from two ships which foundered as a result of the same storm. In spite of seemingly unsurmountable hardships and adverse conditions, he persisted in the search for survivors for 51 hours. Lt.Comdr. Plage's courageous leadership and excellent seamanship through treacherous and stormswept seas and his timely reports aided materially in the rescue of additional survivors by other ships which later arrived at the scene. His conduct was in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service."
ww2dbaseFollowing repairs at Pearl Harbor, Tabberer returned to duty with Anzio's anti-submarine group patrolling ahead of the fleet as well as convoys in and around the Mariana Islands, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa.
ww2dbaseOn 5 Jul 1945 while laying over at Leyte, Lieutenant Commander Henry Plage was relieved by Lieutenant Commander Dean DeCoudres as Tabberer's commanding officer in a normal rotation of command. The next day, Tabberer sailed with the Anzio group again while Plage made his way back to the continental United States.
ww2dbaseHenry Plage's next assignment as the war was ending was as an instructor at the Naval War College and he ultimately retired from the Navy in 1954. He then pursued a career as a pharmaceutical distributor in western Florida before retiring altogether. Marjorie, his wife of 57 years, passed away in 1998 and Henry Plage himself followed five years later in 2003 at the age of 88.
ww2dbaseSince Plage's death, several Typhoon Cobra survivors who were rescued by Plage, particularly those from USS Hull, have been pressing the Navy to posthumously upgrade Plage's award to the Medal of Honor. The application was favorably endorsed by former President Gerald Ford, who was aboard USS Monterey during the storm, but the Navy has yet to render a formal decision.
United States Navy
History Channel - Wrath of God: Halsey's Typhoons - Peril on the Sea (2000)
Bob Drury & Tom Clavin: Halsey's Typhoon - Grove Press, 2007
USS Hull Association
CombinedFleet Imperial Japanese Navy History
NavSource Naval History
Last Major Revision: Jun 2021
Henry Plage Interactive Map
Henry Plage Timeline
|19 Feb 1915||Henry Plage was born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, United States.|
|23 May 1944||Destroyer escort USS Tabberer was commissioned at Houston, Texas, United States with LtCdr Henry Plage in command.|
|29 May 1944||While shifting berths under the control of a Coast Guard harbor pilot, destroyer escort USS Tabberer rammed a floating drydock in Galveston Bay, Texas, United States.|
|4 Jul 1944||Destroyer escort USS Tabberer arrived at Great Sound, Bermuda on her shakedown cruise.|
|4 Aug 1944||Destroyer escort USS Tabberer arrived at the Boston Navy Yard for a post-shakedown refit.|
|18 Aug 1944||Fleet oiler USS Severn with destroyer escort USS Tabberer departed Norfolk, Virginia, United States bound for the Panama Canal.|
|25 Aug 1944||Fleet oiler USS Severn with destroyer escort USS Tabberer transited the Panama Canal into the Pacific.|
|7 Sep 1944||Fleet oiler USS Severn with destroyer escort USS Tabberer arrived at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.|
|18 Nov 1944||Ships and aircraft from the hunter-killer group built around escort carrier USS Anzio conducted a coordinated attack 350 miles east of the Philippines on the submerged Japanese submarine I-41 commanded by LtCdr Kondo Fumitake. Destroyer escort USS Lawrence C. Taylor launched a successful spread of Hedgehog anti-submarine mortars and the I-41 was lost with all hands. Other ships in the Anzio group were USS Melvin R. Nawman, USS Tabberer, USS Oliver Mitchell, and USS Robert F. Keller.|
|18 Dec 1944||Many ships from the United States Third Fleet, Task Force 38 sailed into Typhoon Cobra in the Philippine Sea. Three destroyers and 790 men were lost.|
|20 Dec 1944||After three days and two nights of searching for survivors in the water after Typhoon Cobra, destroyer escort USS Tabberer was relieved of the search by other ships after recovering 55 men from the water.|
|29 Dec 1944||Admiral William Halsey came aboard destroyer escort USS Tabberer at Ullithi and presented awards to the commanding officer, LtCdr Henry Plage, as well as several crewmembers for their performance in rescuing 55 sailors from ships sunk during Typhoon Cobra. USS Tabberer and all hands were also awarded the Navy Unit Commendation for these same efforts.|
|13 Feb 1945||Destroyer escort USS Tabberer arrived off Saipan, Mariana Islands and delivered a supply convoy. Tabberer then sailed with escort carrier USS Anzio and destroyer USS Ralph Talbot for Iwo Jima.|
|16 Feb 1945||USS Anzio, USS Tabberer, and the rest of their task group arrived southwest of Iwo Jima where the carriers launched pre-invasion strikes against the island.|
|12 Mar 1945||USS Anzio and USS Tabberer arrived at San Pedro Bay, Leyte, Philippines.|
|27 Mar 1945||USS Anzio and USS Tabberer arrived on station off Okinawa and remained for 52 days covering the landings there.|
|25 Jul 1945||In a normal rotation of command, Lieutenant Commander Dean DeCoudres relieved Lieutenant Commander Henry Plage as USS Tabberer's commanding officer at San Pedro Bay, Leyte Gulf, Philippines.|
|24 Sep 2003||Navy veteran Henry Plage passed away at age 88 in Ocala, Florida, United States.|
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