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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 Hardcover – February 3, 2004

4.7 out of 5 stars 708 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From 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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

This piece of World War II naval history reads like a particularly good novel. It is an account of the October 1944 battle off Samar, in which a force of American destroyers and escort carriers drove off a Japanese fleet at least 10 times its strength. The struggle was a part of the epic Battle of Leyte Gulf, which was the beginning of the campaign to liberate the Philippines. Hornfischer focuses on the men of the escort carrier unit Taffy 3 (the radio call signal for Task Unit 77.4.3 --easy to see why it is the preferred designation), who fought, flew, and fired to nearly the last shell in a battle that at least one commander commenced by saying, "Survival cannot be expected." Readable from beginning to end, this popular history magnificently brings to life men and times that may seem almost as remote as Trafalgar to many in the early twenty-first century. Of especial interest are its account of the process that turned civilians into sailors, and its carrying forward of those sailors' stories to the handful of aging survivors still gathering in commemoration today. One of the finest World War II volumes to appear in years. Frieda Murray
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Bantam Books (February 3, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0553802577
  • ISBN-13: 978-0553802573
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.5 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (708 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #36,667 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

James D. Hornfischer is the author most recently of the national bestseller Neptune's Inferno: The U.S. Navy at Guadalcanal (2011). It is a selection of the U.S. Navy's Professional Reading List maintained by the Chief of Naval Operations, and was chosen as a best book of 2011 by Military History Quarterly and several other book reviews.

Hornfischer's other books are Ship of Ghosts (2006), about the cruiser USS Houston and the odyssey of its crew in Japanese captivity, and The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors (2004), a naval action narrative about the Battle off Samar that won the Samuel Eliot Morison Award and was chosen by the Wall Street Journal as one of the five best books on "war as soldiers know it."

Hornfischer has also collaborated with Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell, the bestselling author of Lone Survivor, on Luttrell's second book, Service: A Navy SEAL at War (Little Brown, 2012), a New York Times bestseller.

Hornfischer is finishing work on a major narrative of the U.S. 1944 air, land and sea campaign in the Mariana Islands, to be published by Bantam in 2016.

Hornfischer's motivation to write about the U.S. military reaches back to his childhood years building Monogram and Revell model ships and aircraft, watching "Black Sheep Squadron" on TV, featuring Robert Conrad as the legendary Marine fighter pilot, Pappy Boyington, and absorbing the epic intonations of Laurence Olivier narrating the documentary, "The World at War."

A native of Massachusetts and a graduate of Colgate University and the University of Texas School of Law, Hornfischer lives in Austin, Texas.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
As one of the "Tin Can Sailors" mentioned in Jim Hornfischer's book, I would like to assure one and all of the authenticity of the content of this book. Personally, I am aware of the amount of research, interviewing and travel that was involved in the creation of this all too true story of one of the most amazing naval battles of World War II.
When I read the book for the first time I was back in time to October, 1944, when I was an eighteen year old kid, ready to take on the world, including the Japanese Navy - not realizing that I would soon have that opportunity. Hornfischer's accounts of the battles from the standpoint of each of the ships are wonderfully done. His stories of what it was like to be on life rafts with dying shipmates, sharks and unbelievable thirst, still bring tears to my eyes.
To gain a real understanding of what it was like to be a part of that Battle Off Samar, and in fact to be a sailor in World War II, read this book.
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Format: Hardcover
"This will be a fight against overwhelming odds from which survival cannot be expected. We will do all the damage we can." - Lieutenant Commander Robert W. Copeland, from the dust jacket.
One of the saddest truths about the turn of the new Millennium is the realization that the veterans of the so-called "Greatest Generation," those who defeated Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, are now rapidly passing into history. As such, it has become even more important that the stories of their heroism and sacrifice be written down for posterity while the heroes themselves are still around to tell them. With his new book, "The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors," literary agent and author James D. Hornfischer has documented one such lesser-remembered World War Two tale with a reverence befitting the brave men who fought and died for America's freedom.
The events of the book take place during the Battle of Leyte Gulf, which stands as the largest naval engagement in world history, and was fought between the Japanese and American navies in the vicinity of the Philippines as General Douglas McArthur's forces were invading to take the archipelago back from the Japanese. The Leyte Gulf campaign has been well documented in other books about the Pacific war, so Hornfischer focuses most of his attention on one particular engagement off Samar Island. There, a small task force of American escort carriers and destroyers (the "Tin Cans" of the title), held off a far superior enemy fleet of battleships and cruisers with a combination of near-suicidal bravery and spectacular seamanship coupled with a healthy dose of sheer good fortune.
"Tin Can Sailors" is exhaustively researched, which gives the narrative the kind detailed nuance that elevates it above the level of mere reportage into inspired storytelling.
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Format: Hardcover
This is an excellent illustration of leadership, courage and heroism. While the major forces of the American navy went after a diversion to the north, early on the morning of October 25, 1944 a powerful Japanese fleet surprised a much smaller American force protecting nascent American gains on Leyte. While historians will long argue the errors that led to this surprise, none can argue that the response from the American forces was dramatic, powerful, effective and almost suicidal. Yankee ingenuity, respect for their leaders, and old-fashioned stick-to-it-iveness made up in quality what the Americans lacked in quantity.

Three small destroyers dashed into harm's way and leveled mortal blows before they succumbed to withering, overpowering -- but often inaccurate -- Japanese fire. While some would flinch at calling these acts 'suicidal' against cruisers and battleships, the sense of purpose and patriotism, combined with the small chance that a good offense is the best defense seemed to drive these men to heights of fury and fight against the thunderstorm of Japanese ships.

Storms actually played a positive role in this fight, hiding both the smaller American ships, sometimes at lucky moments, as well as those pesky American fighter planes darting in and out of the clouds. But what really seems to have mattered was accurate firing, productive -- if incomplete -- intelligence, good leadership, and the absolute audacity of the crews aboard the American ships and planes.
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Format: Hardcover
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.
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