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The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors: The Extraordinary World War II Story of the U.S. Navy's Finest Hour

The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors: The Extraordinary World War II Story of the U.S. Navy's Finest Hour

4.4 119
by James D. Hornfischer

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BONUS: This edition includes an excerpt from James D. Hornfischer's Neptune's Inferno.

“This will be a fight against overwhelming odds from which survival cannot be expected. We will do what damage we can.”

With these words, Lieutenant Commander Robert W. Copeland addressed the crew of the destroyer escort USS Samuel B.


BONUS: This edition includes an excerpt from James D. Hornfischer's Neptune's Inferno.

“This will be a fight against overwhelming odds from which survival cannot be expected. We will do what damage we can.”

With these words, Lieutenant Commander Robert W. Copeland addressed the crew of the destroyer escort USS Samuel B. Roberts on the morning of October 25, 1944, off the Philippine Island of Samar. On the horizon loomed the mightiest ships of the Japanese navy, a massive fleet that represented the last hope of a staggering empire. All that stood between it and Douglas MacArthur’ s vulnerable invasion force were the Roberts and the other small ships of a tiny American flotilla poised to charge into history.

In the tradition of the #1 New York Times bestseller Flags of Our Fathers, James D. Hornfischer paints an unprecedented portrait of the Battle of Samar, a naval engagement unlike any other in U.S. history—and captures with unforgettable intensity the men, the strategies, and the sacrifices that turned certain defeat into a legendary victory.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
One of the finest WWII naval action narratives in recent years, this book follows in the footsteps of Flags of Our Fathers, creating a microcosm of the war's American Navy destroyers. Hornfischer, a writer and literary agent in Austin, Tex., covers the battle off Samar, the Philippines, in October 1944, in which a force of American escort carriers and destroyers fought off a Japanese force many times its strength, and the larger battle of Leyte Gulf, the opening of the American liberation of the Philippines, which might have suffered a major setback if the Japanese had attacked the transports. He presents the men who crewed the destroyer Taffy 3, most of whom had never seen salt water before the war but who fought, flew, kept the crippled ship afloat, and doomed ships fighting almost literally to the last shell. Finally, Hornfischer provides a perspective on the Japanese approach to the battle, somewhat (and justifiably) modifying the traditional view of the Japanese Admiral Kurita as a fumbler or even a coward-while exalting American sailors and pilots as they richly deserve. (American admirals don't get off so easily.) Not entirely free of glitches in research, the book still reads like a very good action novel, indicated by its selection as a dual split main selection of the BOMC and History Book Club alternate. (Feb. 3) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Six months after the Battle of Samar, Adm. William Halsey said to Rear Adm. Clifton Sprague, commander of U.S. naval forces in that engagement, that the latter had written there "the most glorious page in American naval history." In his first historical work, Hornfischer offers an immensely gripping account of the supreme courage and self-sacrifice displayed by the outgunned sailors and airmen of Sprague's Task Force off the Philippine coast in October 1944. With captivating prose and innovative battle maps, Hornfischer deftly creates a clear picture of what has been characterized by some historians as the most complex naval battle in history. The author draws extensively upon interviews with surviving veterans, previously unpublished eyewitness accounts, and official naval documents to record an almost minute-by-minute account of the action that saw Sprague's lightly armed and thinly armored escort carriers and destroyers (Tin Cans) deflect and ultimately turn back the Japanese juggernaut of battleships and cruisers aiming to attack MacArthur's Leyte beachheads. Steeped in the immensely rich details of the men and ships that fought, Hornfischer's work will be welcomed by both general readers and naval enthusiasts. Highly recommended for all public libraries.-Edward Metz, USACGSC Combined Arms Research Lib., Ft. Leavenworth, KS Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A thrilling narrative of the Battle off Samar, a two-and-a-half-hour melee in which outgunned American sailors fended off a Japanese attack that could have stymied the invasion of the Philippines. In October 1944, with Gen. Douglas MacArthur preparing to assault the Philippine island of Leyte and choke off the Japanese empire, the Imperial Fleet formulated a desperate plan. Aircraft carriers would lure the impulsive Adm. William Halsey away from Leyte Gulf while two battleship groups fell on MacArthur's suddenly vulnerable force, including the ships guarding him. Part of the plan worked to perfection-Halsey dashed off after the decoy force-and on the morning of October 25, the American flotilla Taffy 3 awoke to face overwhelming odds. Their five destroyers and destroyer carriers, or "tin cans," stood against Japan's four fastest battleships (two being the largest on the seas), nine cruisers, and fourteen destroyers, the largest group of surface ships ever put to sea by the Land of the Rising Sun. Realizing that their own vessels were doomed, the unarmored but doughty Americans attacked a foe that enjoyed a 10-to-1 advantage in firepower-sinking or crippling four heavy cruisers, strafing Japanese gunners with air attacks, even bluffing with "dry runs" when ammunition ran out. The tin cans held out long enough for pilots from the two other Taffy groups to turn the tide of battle, but not before sinking and losing nearly 1,000 men (including more than 100 to exhaustion and shark attacks). The Japanese were never able again to mount a serious challenge to the US advance on Tokyo. Relying on interviews with aging, proud survivors of the flotilla, Hornfischer expertly conveys the sensoryexperience of warfare, its deafening roar and sickening stench, to produce a gripping minute-by-minute reconstruction of an engagement awful in cost but awesome in importance. Easily merits pride of place among the flotilla of books appearing in recent years on "the greatest generation." (B&w maps)
From the Publisher
"One of the finest WWII naval action narratives in recent years, this book follows in the footsteps of Flags of Our Fathers.... exalting American sailors and pilots as they richly deserve.... Reads like a very good action novel."—Publishers Weekly

"Reads as fresh as tomorrow's headlines.... Hornfischer's captivating narrative uses previously classified documents to reconstruct the epic battle and eyewitness accounts to bring the officers and sailors to life."—Texas Monthly

"Hornfischer is a powerful stylist whose explanations are clear as well as memorable.... a dire survival-at-sea saga."—Denver Post

"In The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors, James Hornfischer drops you right into the middle of this raging battle, with 5-inch guns blazing, torpedoes detonating and Navy fliers dive-bombing.... The overall story of the battle is one of American guts, glory and heroic sacrifice."—Omaha World Herald

From the Hardcover edition.

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The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors

The Extraordinary World War II Story of the U.S. Navy's Finest Hour
By James Hornfischer


Copyright © 2004 James Hornfischer
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-553-80257-7

Chapter One

October 25, 1944

San Bernardino Strait, the Philippines

A giant stalked through the darkness. In the moonless calm after midnight, the great fleet seemed not so much to navigate the narrow strait as to fill it with armor and steel. Barely visible even to a night-trained eye, the long silhouettes of twenty-three warships passed in a column ten miles long, guided by the dim glow of the channel lights in the passage threading between the headlands of Luzon and Samar.

That such a majestic procession should move without challenge was surprising, inexplicable even, in light of the vicious reception the Americans had already given it on its journey from Borneo to this critical point. Having weathered submarine ambush the night before, and assault by wave after wave of angry blue aircraft the previous afternoon, Vice Adm. Takeo Kurita, steward of the last hopes of the Japanese empire, would have been right to expect the worst. But then Kurita knew that heavenly influences could be counted upon to trump human planning. In war, events seldom cooperate with expectation. Given the dependable cruelty of the divine hand, most unexpected of all, perhaps was this fact: Unfolding at last after more than two years of retreat, Japan's ornate plan to defend the Philippines appeared to be working perfectly.

For its complexity, for its scale, for its extravagantly optimistic overelegance, the Sho plan represented the very best and also the very worst tendencies of the Imperial Navy. The Japanese military's fondness for bold strokes had been evident from the earliest days of the war: the sudden strike on Pearl Harbor, the sprawling offensive into the Malay Peninsula, the lightning thrust into the Philippines, and the smaller but no less swift raids on Wake Island, Guam, Hong Kong and northern Borneo. Allied commanders believed the Japanese could not tackle more than one objective at a time. The sudden spasm of advances of December 1941, in which Japan struck with overwhelming force in eight directions at once, refuted that fallacy.

In the war's early days, Japan had overwhelmed enemies stretched thin by the need to defend their scattered colonies throughout the hemisphere. But as the war continued, the geographical breadth of its conquests saddled Japan in turn with the necessity of piecemeal defense. America rallied, the home front's spirits boosted by the gallant if doomed defense of Wake Island and by Jimmy Doolittle's raid on Tokyo. As heavier blows landed-the Battle of the Coral Sea, the triumph at Midway, the landings on Guadalcanal and the leapfrogging campaign through the Solomons and up the northern coast of New Guinea-Japan's overstretched domain was in turn overrun by the resurgent Americans. The hard charge of U.S. Marines up the bloody path of Tarawa, the Marshalls, and the Marianas Islands had put American forces, by the middle of 1944, in position to sever the vital artery connecting the Japanese home islands to their resource-rich domain in East Asia. The Philippines were that pressure point. Their seizure by the Americans would push the entire Japanese empire toward collapse.

The strength America wielded in its counteroffensive was the nightmare prophecy foretold by Admiral Isoraku Yamamoto and other far-sighted Japanese commanders who had long dreaded war with an industrial giant. As two great American fleets closed in on the Philippines in October, with Gen. Douglas MacArthur's troops spearheading the ground assault on the Philippine island of Leyte, Japan activated its own last-ditch plan to forestall the inevitable defeat. It was unfolding now. Admiral Kurita was its linchpin.

The Sho plan's audacity-orchestrating the movements of four fleets spread across thousands of miles of ocean and the land-based aircraft necessary to protect them-was both its genius and its potentially disastrous weakness. Admiral Jisaburo Ozawa, leading the remnants of Japan's once glorious naval air arm, would steam south from Japan with his aircraft carriers and try to lure the American fast carrier groups north, away from Leyte. With the U.S. flattops busy pursuing the decoy, two Japanese battleship groups would close on Leyte from the north and south and deal MacArthur a surprise, killing blow.

Admiral Kurita had departed Brunei on October 22 with his powerful Center Force, led by the Yamato and Musashi, the two largest warships afloat, aiming to slip across the South China Sea, pass through San Bernardino Strait above Samar Island, and close on the Leyte beachhead from the north. Meanwhile, the Southern Force, led by Vice Adm. Shoji Nishimura and supported by Vice Adm. Kiyohide Shima, would cross the Sulu Sea and approach Leyte from the south, through Surigao Strait.

In the morning, after their thousand-mile journeys through perilous waters, Kurita's and Nishimura's battleship groups would rendezvous at 9:00 a.m. off Leyte island's eastern shore, encircling the islands like hands around a throat. Then they would turn their massive guns on MacArthur's invasion force. Japan would at last win the decisive battle that had eluded it in the twenty-eight months since the debacle at Midway.

Kurita's grandfather had been a great scholar of early Meiji literature. His father too had been a distinguished man of learning, author of a magisterial history of his native land. Now Takeo Kurita, who preferred action to words, would make his own contribution to it.

Off Samar

Gathered around the radio set in the combat information center of the destroyer escort USS Samuel B. Roberts, they listened as a hundred miles to their south, their heavier counterparts in the Seventh Fleet encountered the first signs that the Japanese defense of the Philippines was underway. There was no telling precisely what their countrymen faced. It was something big-that much was for sure. And yet, until the scale of the far-off battle became too apparent to ignore, they would pretend it was just another midwatch. By the routine indications, it was. They watched the radar scopes and the scopes watched back, bathing the darkened compartment in cathode-green fluorescence but revealing no enemy nearby. The southwest Pacific slept. But something was on the radio, and it put the lie to the silent night.

The tactical circuit they were using to eavesdrop was meant for sending and receiving short-range messages from ship to ship. Officers used it to trade scuttlebutt with other vessels about what their radar was showing, about their course changes, about the targets they were tracking. By day, the high-frequency Talk Between Ships signal reached only to the line of sight. But tonight, the earth's atmosphere was working its magic and the TBS broadcasts from faraway ships were propagating wildly, bouncing over the horizon to the small warship's vigilant antennae.

They had come from small places to accomplish big things. As the American liberation of the Philippines unfolded, the greenhorn enlistees who made up majority of the Samuel B. Roberts's 224-man complement could scarcely have guessed at the scope of the drama to come. On the midnight-to-four-a.m. midwatch, the Roberts's skipper, Lt. Cdr. Robert W. Copeland, his executive officer, Lt. Everett E. "Bob" Roberts, his communications officer, Lt. Tom Stevenson, and the young men under them in the little ship's combat information center (CIC) had little else to do than while away the night as the destroyer escort zigzagged lazily off the eastern coast of Samar with the twelve other ships of its task unit. When morning warmed the eastern horizon, the daily routine would begin anew: run through morning general quarters, then edge closer to shore with the six small aircraft carriers that were the purpose of the flotilla's existence and launch air strikes in support of the American troops advancing into Leyte Island.

With a mixture of pride and resignation, the men of the Seventh Fleet called themselves "MacArthur's Navy." The unusual arrangement that placed the powerful armada under Army command was the product of the long-standing interservice rivalry. The two service branches, each wildly successful, were beating divergent paths to Tokyo. From June 1943 to August 1944, MacArthur's forces had leapfrogged across the southern Pacific, staging eighty-seven successful amphibious landings in a drive from Dutch New Guinea and west-by-northwestward across a thousand-mile swath of islanded sea to the foot of the Philippine archipelago. Simultaneously, Fleet Adm. Chester W. Nimitz's fast carrier groups, accompanied by battle-hardened Marine divisions, had driven across the Central Pacific.

The perpetual motion of the American industrial machine had built a naval and amphibious arsenal of such staggering size, range and striking power that the vast sea seemed to shrink around it. "Our naval power in the western Pacific was such that we could have challenged the combined fleets of the world," Adm. William F. Halsey, Jr., would write in his memoirs. The rival commanders had used it so well that the Pacific Ocean was no longer large enough to hold their conflicting ambitions. There was little of the Pacific left to liberate. Behind them lay conquered ground. Ahead, looking westward to the Philippines and beyond, was a short watery vista bounded by the shores of Manchuria, China, and Indonesia. Once the Far East had seemed a world away. Allied soldiers, marines, sailors, and airmen operating along the far Pacific rim early in the war-the Flying Tigers in China, the U.S. Asiatic Fleet in Java, the marines on Wake Island, the defenders of Bataan and Corregidor-were consigned to oblivion, so desperately far from home. Now that U.S. forces had crossed that world, the greatest challenge was to agree on how to deliver the inevitable victory as quickly as possible.

For most of the summer of 1944 a debate raged between Army and Navy planners about where to attack next. On July 21 Franklin Delano Roosevelt, newly nominated at the Chicago Democratic Convention for a fourth presidential term, boarded the heavy cruiser Baltimore at San Diego and sailed to Oahu for a summit meeting of his Army and Navy leaders. In a sober discussion after dinner at the presidential residence in Honolulu, Nimitz and MacArthur repeated to their commander in chief the same arguments they had been espousing to the Joint Chiefs of Staff these many weeks. The Navy preferred an assault on Formosa (now Taiwan). MacArthur had other priorities. On a large map FDR pointed to Mindanao Island, southernmost in the Philippines archipelago, and asked, "Douglas, where do we go from here?"

Without hesitation, MacArthur replied, "Leyte, Mr. President, and then Luzon!"

It had been nearly three years since Bataan fell and the American Caesar fled that haunted peninsula by night aboard a PT boat, arrived in Mindanao, and boarded a B-17 bomber for Australia to endure the exile of the defeated. On March 20, 1942, at a press conference at the Adelaide train station, he declared, "The President of the United States ordered me to break through the Japanese lines ... for the purpose, as I understand it, of organizing the American offensive against Japan, a primary object of which is the relief of the Philippines. I came through and I shall return." Torn from context and conflated to a national commitment, "I shall return" became MacArthur's calling card and his albatross.

For the general, fulfilling his famous promise to the Philippine people was not solely a question of military strategy but also a point of personal and national honor. He told his president of the backlash in public opinion that might arise if the United States abandoned seventeen million loyal Filipinos to their Japanese conquerors. And the lives of some 3,700 American prisoners-the ravaged survivors of Bataan and Corregidor-would fall in immediate peril if the archipelago were bypassed and its occupying garrison starved out, a strategy many U.S. planners favored after seeing it succeed against other Japanese strongholds.

Nimitz reiterated the Navy's preference for driving further westward to seize Formosa. Such a move would land a more decisive blow against the long communications and supply lines that linked Tokyo to its bases and fuel supplies in Sumatra and Borneo. MacArthur and Nimitz made their best arguments, and after extended discussion FDR sided with his general. MacArthur had flown in with virtually no time to prepare. Such was the force of his personality and persuasive gifts that even Admiral Nimitz was ultimately won over. The Philippines-Leyte-would be next.

And so it began. Two great fleets gathered at staging areas at Manus in the Admiralty Islands and at Ulithi in the Carolines for the final assault on the Philippines. Under MacArthur, as it had been since March 1943, was Vice Adm. Thomas C. Kinkaid's Seventh Fleet. Nimitz retained the Third Fleet, which sailed under the flag of Admiral Halsey.

The Seventh Fleet had a wide variety of ships to ferry and supply the invasion force itself. In addition to an alphabet soup of troop-, tank-, and equipment-carrying landing craft-APAs, LSTs, LSDs, LSMs, LCTs, LCIs and LVTs-it had amphibious command ships, ammunition ships, cargo ships, oilers, seaplane tenders, motor torpedo boats, patrol craft, coast guard frigates, minesweepers, minelayers, repair and salvage ships, water tankers, floating drydocks, and hospital ships. Standing guard over this wide assortment of hulls were the combatant vessels of the Seventh Fleet: Jesse Oldendorf's bombardment group, composed of battleships and cruisers, and, farther offshore, Task Group 77.4, a force of sixteen escort carriers under Rear Adm. Thomas L. Sprague, divided into three task units and screened by destroyers and destroyer escorts.

On October 20, 1944, two and a half years after retreating from the strategic archipelago, Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Commander, Allied Forces, Southwest Pacific Area, made good on his grand promise. At seven a.m. sharp, the Seventh Fleet battleships Maryland, West Virginia and Mississippi trained their main batteries on Leyte Island's inland hills and opened fire on the conquerors and murderers of Bataan. The American liberation of the Philippines was underway. For exactly two hours the massive rifles roared. Then, precisely on schedule, the shelling stopped and Higgins boats began spilling out of the larger ships that housed them. Lt. Gen. Walter Krueger's troops clambered down rope ladders thrown over the sides, the landing craft circling until their full number had gathered. Then the invasion force spiraled out into a series of waves that surged across San Pedro Bay and broke on Leyte's eastern shore.

As two corps of Sixth Army soldiers pushed inland from the coastal towns of Dulag and Tacloban, newspapers back home captivated the public with reports of the ongoing offensive. Macarthur returns to Philippines in personal command of Americans. FDR voices gratitude for nation. The drama had been stage-managed from the beginning.


Excerpted from The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors by James Hornfischer Copyright © 2004 by James Hornfischer . Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

James D. Hornfischer, a native of Massachusetts, is the author of the New York Times bestsellers Neptune’s Inferno, Ship of Ghosts, and The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors, which won the Samuel Eliot Morison Award for Naval Literature. Two of his widely acclaimed works about the U.S. Navy in World War II are selections of the U.S. Navy’s professional reading list. A graduate of Colgate University and the University of Texas at Austin, he lives with his wife and their three children in Austin, Texas.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors: The Extraordinary World War II Story of the U.S. Navy's Finest Hour 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 119 reviews.
leeper More than 1 year ago
The NOOK version does NOT contain the Photo Insert. This is an outrage, I spent nearly the full cost of the book and I did not get inmportant historical material that would have enhanced my enjoyment of this book. I think that really stinks, especially since BN says nothing about this omission in their ad for the book. My apologies to the author of this great historical narrative but come on BN, how shoddy.
Bumpa More than 1 year ago
After hearing of this book, I was intensely interested; because, I spent 30 months as an officer aboard the 2nd USS Johnston, a WW-II Gearing class destroyer. The first Johnston was a Fletcher class destroyer which was sunk during heroic action in the Battle off Samar during the larger battle of Leyte Gulf. A synopsis, of the 1st Johnston's role in the action off Samar, was kept in our wardroom. Every officer aboard practically knew it by heart. The captain of the 1st Johnston, Cdr. Earnest Evans, was our idol. The book was the most comprehensive treatment of the Battle off Samar that I had ever read. As the author points out, the story of the battle was sort of swept under the rug by high-level naval commanders, mainly because of Adm. Halsey. Indeed, the Battle of Leyte Gulf revealed Halsey as myopic in battle. Like Robert E. Lee, at times Halsey had one tactic, CHARGE! Halsey's focus on, and pursuit of, the Japanese carriers to the north of Leyte could have resulted in the naval equivalent of Lee's disasters at Antietam or Gettysburg. However, in both cases their foes failed to take advantage of vulnerability and failed to deliver the coup de grace. Halsey's butt, and the entire US landing operation at Leyte, was saved by the intrepidity of the destroyermen, the tin can sailors, and airmen of the small US force engaged in the Battle off Samar. This book is important for shedding light on that otherwise forgotten heroic episode in US naval history. It is an episode of which all Americans, the American navy, in particular US navy destroyermen, should be aware and proud. Unfortunately, the author was not himself a navy veteran. To such a veteran, the author's occasional misuse of naval terminology is somewhat annoying; e.g., reference to a ship in battle being hit in the "quarterdeck." A ship's quarterdeck is a ceremonial area, the area of access to and egress from the ship in port. It can be located practically anywhere on the main deck or even on the second deck of large ships. So, where was the ship hit? I also found the human interest snippets excessive. I wanted to know who (name optional, rank or rate) did what and when during the battle. Information about families and what individuals did in civilian life I found distracting. There are also a few peripheral historical inaccuracies, which can generally be ignored since the reader's focus should be on the action off Samar. I recommend this book. A nonveteran of the navy will probably not be bothered by what annoyed me.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Anyone who is unsure of whether to get this book should set their reservations aside and grab it now. I have no hidden agenda to hype this book - I just grabbed it off the shelf at the store and struck gold. Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors stands proudly in my library and holds its own with other great non-fiction books. James Hornfischer didn't just find a great story to tell, he crafted it with a very skillful narration. A writer of non-fiction who can capture a reader and pull him into his story is rare and the author does this very well. He had me cheering as Ernest Evans led the Johnston on the attack against the entire Japanese fleet. He left me horrified by the effects of the pounding that the Tin Cans took and stunned by the heroism and sense of duty of those who manned their posts until the very end. The book gives a nice overview of the Pacific Theater until the point of this battle. Hornfischer clearly explains what has happened so that you can understand the context of the Battle off of Samar. He does this without going too far in depth and losing the reader. The explanations of the development of the Navy and Naval Aviation were clear and concise. I learned quite a bit about the planes that were used and the men who piloted them. The same can be said for his explanations of the different naval vessels and what made them unique. If you like books told from numerous first-person accounts that personalize a story and let you get to know those involved, then this book is for you. It is an honorable salute to those who survived and the heroes who did not.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is one of the most touching, inspirational true stories to come out of WW2. I have read my hard copy three times now and will probably read it again this winter. Hornfisher has written a really good book about heroism at its finest. Highly recommened!
Gator_Sailor More than 1 year ago
Fast moving, interesting, exciting, stimulating...the list goes on and on of words I would use to describe this fast moving book about one of the most inspiring battles at sea in recent history. Mr. Hornfischer made wrote this story in a manner that made me feel as if I were living the battle...I could hardly put it down...my wife complained that I was "checked out" from the moment I started reading the book...then she picked it up and promptly found herself totally immersed. I loved the details, the way the story was told, and the inspiring stories of bravery...in the face of staggering odds...these men were exceptional in every sense of the word and this is a story every man/woman should read...it shows the indominable spirit of the American people...even in the face of totally uneven odds. Great book....I wish I could call the author and tell him how much I loved his book....buy this one and enjoy. BUT BEWARE...YOU WON'T WANT TO PUT IT DOWN!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Must reading for anyone who likes naval books..and for anyone else for that matter. Extremely well-written by an author who can write a sentence the way an artist paints a picture. Gripping story of courage under fire as small ships defend McArthur vs Japanese giants in key WWII Pacific battle. Demonstrates human side of naval warfare. David vs Goliath where America gets to be David !
PittsburghFrank More than 1 year ago
I just finished this book. Mr. Hornfisher delivers a solid performance. Had to leaf back to the pages that showed each warship and the page with the last map of the battle quite a few times, to see the difference in sizes of the ships, and the exact area the fighting was takiing place. As descriptive as one might expect. The gallantry of each individual sailor and what happens when everyone contributes. The mistakes made by the Japanese commander Kurita, the counter-moves by Ziggy Sprague. With a battle of this magnitude, the little guy did more than hold its own against a mighty Goliath. Both opponents kept thinking they were getting help...which never came.
Funny, I read his recent book before this (original) one, 'Ship of Ghosts' a year earlier. Hornfisher mentions numerous times about references from 'Tin Can Sailors'. Thank you to my wife for giving me the pleasure of another thrilling journey through the Pacific during WWII.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Read this book! This is the best book you will read in the next ten years. It is spectacular, breathtaking, awe-inspiring, and a tribute to the men who staved off an attack by an overwhelming force. Their valor and sacrifice will over come you with sorrow and joy. Their exploits will bring tears to your eyes. Every American should know who the men of the Samuel B. Roberts are and thank them every single day. But this book. Read this book. You will not be disappointed.

Guest More than 1 year ago
You must, must, must read the nonfiction book. It tells the story of one naval battle, fought in the retaking of the Philippines. The Japanese had 23 ships, the largest of which outweighed all of the U.S. ships involved, combined. I have to warn you though, I wept openly and often reading this book. But I am a sucker for tales of bravery, valor, loyalty, sacrifice and undying devotion to duty. According to John Dufresne, fiction is the lie that tells the truth. I've read plenty of stories that tell the truth of these character traits in fictional tales. But I've rarely been as spell bound as I was by this true story.
Ellachella More than 1 year ago
I gave this book to my step father, who served in WWII in the Navy. He was familiar with this subject, and was very pleased with the book.
Malibu_Stacy More than 1 year ago
When my husband deployed to Iraq he left me a big box of his books to help pass the time while he was gone. This was one of his favorites, and it has become one of mine as well. It is such a thrilling, in-depth account that I literally could barely put it down. What need is there to read fiction when real life is full of heroes like this?
Guest More than 1 year ago
The best audio book I have listened to because it combines a very good story, very good reading, and very good production. James Hornfischer¿s account of the encounter between a few escort aircraft carriers and their destroyer escorts with major elements of the Japanese Navy amid the larger backdrop of the Battle of Leyte Gulf is very fast paced, interesting, and entertaining. A layman like myself with an interest in naval encounters of the Second World War or the courage and resourcefulness shown in desperate situations will enjoy it. The abridged audio book can be appreciated without constant reference to a map which is very nice since most of us purchase audio books for times during which reading is impractical. It is probably the best read audio book I have heard: Mr. Gardner has a good speaking voice - not too fast, not too slow, good diction, good emphasis to where, quotations begin and end all around very good. He was very pleasant to listen to. It was the best produced audio book I have listened to, especially how the volume levels were so consistent between tracks on the CD. You would think that would always be the case with the same person reading - but it never is, except here. As I listen to the books on the treadmill it was so nice to not have to keep reaching for the volume control! Good story, good reading, good producing. What could be better?
Guest More than 1 year ago
this book is so good i think i learned so much about ships in World War 2. Great book
Guest More than 1 year ago
By Bill Marsano. The Battle of Leyte Gulf, in October of 1944, is still the greatest naval battle in history: Two gigantic armadas, Japanese and American, clashed as the Americans tried to take back the Philippines. Beyond the enormous forces involved, this battle, or series of battles, has other fascinations. For one, it was the last clash of the big-gun navies--battleship to battleship (featuring American battleships resurrected from Pearl Harbor). We shall not see its like again. Two, an American fleet was decoyed, leaving the invasion beaches with little protection. Three, that little protective force thereupon responded with what many consider the finest display of heroism, sacrifice and fighting seamanship in the history of the U.S. Navy. James D. Hornfischer covers all three areas--plus some postwar history, including the reason the Navy has been wary of celebrating what he calls 'the U.S. Navy's Finest Hour. If his prose rarely rises above the workmanlike, that's OK, because it seldom sinks to cheap melodrama and also (so far as I can tell) avoids the kind of amateurish mistakes and ignorant howlers that marred the likes of Craig Nelson's 'The First Heroes.' Indeed, Hornfischer does an excellent job of conveying the WWII naval milieu, probably because (despite his evident youth and lack of naval background, he's done real research and a lot of fresh interviewing. We come to know there are human beings involved; this is not just a tale about sheet metal and shellfire. That means we are powerfully affected when he talks about the cost. He does not shrink from the terrible sufferings and horrible deaths involved, whether from scalding steam or explosions or fires in battle--or from delerium, exposure and sharks during an aftermath of long-delayed rescue. The center of this story comes after the battleship duel (a disaster for the Japanese): When the decoy succeeds, Japan's powerful Center Force is left free to swoop into Leyte Gulf and destroy Gen. Douglas MacArthur's invasion force on the beach. Standing in the way (and utterly unaware) is Taffy 3, whose job is simply air support for the troops. It's hard to express the imbalance between the two forces, which is so great it makes David vs. Goliath resemble a sporting proposition. The Japanese have 11 destroyers, 2 light cruisers, 6 heavy cruisers and 4 battleships (the largest of which, the Yamato, outweighs all of Taffy 3's ships combined). Taffy 3's excellent Fletcher-class destroyers are, as Hornfischer aptly notes, its only ships 'not conceived as lesser versions of a more capable vessel.' Taffy 3's 6 aircraft carriers, for example, are mere escort or 'jeep' carriers (never intended for fleet actions). Its remaining ships are 4 of the frankly desperate 'destroyer escorts,' mainly intended for antisubmarine work. The clash of these forces makes for exciting reading; as a Hollywood script it would be laughed out of town as outrageous fiction, but it is in fact true and inspiring. It would be unfair to the book to go into details here, but I should add that Hornfischer is particularly good on the ship-by-ship tactical end. Too many other accounts have focused excessively on Japanese confusion: While that did weigh in the balance, it's also clear that in some cases David simply outfought Goliath--and out-thought him, too.--Bill Marsano is a long-time amateur of naval history.
JethroT More than 1 year ago
The author presents fascinating detail into the life of sailors at all levels during the complex battle. It is unfortunate that the Japanese records do not provide for the same level of detail to explain what was going on aboard the attack ships. So the description is truly the view as if the reader was on board a US ship that reacted to what they saw coming and acted - bravely and effectively.
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sainthelenaislandman More than 1 year ago
A spectacular story of U.S. naval bravery in one of the pivotal battles of WWII.  Mr. Hornfischer is a spectacularly talented researcher and story teller, one of the best ever.  This is a great place to begin one's introduction to an incredible author.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
An hour by hour - nearly minute by minute - history of the greatest sea battle ever fought. This is the tale not only of the brave sailors of the 'tin cans' (destroyers and destroyer escorts) and the 'jeep carriers' that fought but the Battle off Samar but it also details the other engagements of this famous battle. The main part of the book is, of course, focused on the plight of the ships and their crews that fought for their lives off of Samar. Also included are the struggles to survive in the aftermath of the battle, adrift in the Pacific Ocean. This is a beautifully written tribute to selless courage andbravery in the face of overwhelming odds. As a former USN Sailor myself I stand in awe of what these men accomplished.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This piece of history and the battles as told by people who were there made for a fasnating read.
hawkeye54 More than 1 year ago
The book is an excellent history lesson of a battle that is largely overlooked in WWII naval stories. It is a detailed account where men stood in the face of death, instead of backing down when faced with impossible odds against a vastly superior foe, they chose to attack. And attack with such ferocity that they turned back a force many times stronger than their own. The down side to the book IS the detail. Much research went into telling the tale. The story often times bogged down with "too much information" as the author tried to fit so much of the background into the telling.
Jim73MN More than 1 year ago
Excellent historical read. Recommend this read for all current or past sailors, especially those of us that are/were "tincan sailors."
Anonymous More than 1 year ago