In the Battle of Formosa, the US naval air force did much to destroy Japanese bases for the island battles still to come. Japanese forces retaliated with heavy and repeated land-based air attacks. USS Houston (CL-81) splashed about four aircraft in one attack on 12 October 1944, and helped repel another attack next day, in which Canberra was hit by an aerial torpedo. Taking Canberra's old station on 14 October, Houston and other ships encountered another heavy air raid. Her gunners shot down three of the attacking torpedo bombers, but a fourth's torpedo hit her engine room, causing the loss of propulsive power. Captain Behrens requested a tow, which was undertaken by Boston.
By , both Canberra and Houston were under tow toward Ulithi for repairs. Pawnee – a fleet tug – assumed the tow on 16 October. Late that afternoon, one of the Japanese torpedo plane strikes from Formosa, still trying to sink the cruiser, struck Houston directly on her stern from the rear. This flooded the hangar for Houston's scout planes. Evacuating all surplus sailors to the escorting ships, Captain Behrens and his damage control officer, with the aid of Houston's Executive Officer, Captain Clarence J. Broussard, kept the damage control parties working, and they managed to keep Houston afloat, traveling slowly toward Ulithi.
WO Behrend drowned during the action on the 14th. He was buried in Guam. In 1949, his remains were returned to the United States for burial by his family.
Awarded for Actions During World War II
Division: U.S.S. Houston (CA-30)
General Orders: Commander in Chief Pacific Fleet: Serial 031793 (January 4, 1945)
Citation: The President of the United States of America takes pride in presenting the Navy Cross (Posthumously) to Machinist Carl Wilhelm Behrend (NSN: 334338), United States Navy, for extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty while serving on board the Heavy Cruiser U.S.S. HOUSTON (CA-30), in action on 14 October 1944, off Formosa, when the HOUSTON, received a torpedo hit in the engine space next adjoining his after fireroom battle station. Observing from the upper level by his own flashlight that a group of men was struggling in darkness and rapidly rising water to enter an escape door, he went immediately below to direct an orderly exit and to provide light. Though able at any moment to step to safety he thought only of his men, standing aside for late comers until water rose above his head and blocked his chance of escape. Machinist Behrend's utter disregard of self and resolute sacrifice for others was in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.
Note about citation: The citation has the ship designated as CA-30 although the ship was actually designated CL-81.