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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
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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.
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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
Top customer reviews
The October 1944 Naval Battle of Samar has been well documented, so why pick James Hornfischer's book to learn about it? First, the author has done extensive research, including many primary sources, which he then uses well. He sets the stage, takes the reader through the battle in detail, describes the aftermath and rescue of survivors, and briefly follows the veterans through the following decades. I particularly liked the vivid descriptions of the destroyer charges and ship engagements; he left me with a clear mind's-eye view of the action, noise, chaos, and extreme courage required to do what those sailors did.
In telling the story, Hornsfischer picked out several key characters and follows their rolls throughout the battle and aftermath. You get an intimate look at various rolls the individual sailors had on the ships during the unbelievable carnage of sea warfare. It really helped drive home what that type of action was like and what the horrors of battle could do to a man. My wife's 93 year-old uncle served on the heavy cruiser Salt Lake City in the Pacific during WW II and saw a terrific amount of action as a very young seaman. He has talked about it some and the tales are amazing, right in line with this story. This book greatly expanded my understanding of what he probably endured and I am very grateful to the author for this book.
I served in the U.S. Navy from 1965-1993, both as enlisted and officer. The vast majority of my 13 years as an officer on surface ships was on the "small boys", the frigates and destroyers that bear the names of naval heroes of the past.
This book is a brilliantly written, superbly researched tribute to the men of Taffy 3 who, in late October 1944, off the coast of Samar, fought and performed their duty "...in the highest tradition of the U.S. Naval Service". I truly appreciated the opportunity to learn about this battle, and these men, through the efforts of this wonderful author.