The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors : The Extraordinary World War II Story of the U.S. Navy's Finest Hour
"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.
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.
Copyright (c) Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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March 28, 2005
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Excerpt from The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors by James D. Hornfischer
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 nava