The Ship That Wouldn’t Die Book Review

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The Ship That Wouldn’t Die: The Saga of the USS Neosho – A World War II Story of Courage and Survival at Sea

by Don Keith

Hardcover in dustjacket, 400 pages, photographs, indexed

Published by Dutton Caliber April 2015

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0451470001

ISBN-13: 978-0451470003

Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.2 x 9.2 inches

This is the story of the USS Neosho (AO-23), a Cimmeron-class fleet oiler.  Neosho was one of the few ships to get underway during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, moving from Battleship Row to a safer area.  The U.S. Navy depends on supply ships and oilers to keep its fighting ships at sea; without them operational range and endurance would be greatly reduced, severely limiting combat operations.  Thus the “fleet train” ships are considered to be high-value assets.

The Neosho was sent to the Coral Sea to support RADM Fletcher’s Task Force 17 centered around the aircraft carriers Yorktown and Lexington.  After refueling TF 17 Fletcher sent the Neosho and her escort, the destroyer USS Sims (DD-409) to a safer area while he sought to engage the Japanese fleet consisting of the carriers Zuiakaku, Shoakaku, and light carrier Shoho.  Unfortunately a Japanese scout plane discovered the Neosho and Sims, but misidentified them as an aircraft carrier and cruiser.

Thinking they had located Fletcher’s main force, the Japanese launched a powerful airstrike.  Three dive bombers struck Sims, breaking her back and sinking her quickly.  Neosho took seven bomb hits and was crashed by a damaged dive bomber.  After the strike she was left on fire and dead in the water.  In the confusion, roughly half her crew had mistaken to order to prepare to abandon ship for the order to abandon ship.  While two of her whaleboats and one of the Sims’ boats eventually returned to Neosho, at least eight life rafts full of men drifted away.

The author uses official reports and crew interviews to tell the story of the Neosho from the Pearl Harbor attack through the eventual rescue of her crew and the Sims survivors by the destroyer USS Henley (DD-391).  There are several acts of heroism and several cringe-worth mistakes which reflects both the highs and lows of human responses to extraordinary circumstances.  An interesting read which went by rather quickly, recommended.

Note:  If you have ever wondered why I go to the extra effort to list the publishing information and ISBN numbers as part of my book reviews, here is an example of a list of other books with very similar titles:

The Ship That Would Not Die by RADM F. Julian Becton – USS Laffey (DD-724)

The Ship That Would Not Die by Stephen Curley and J. Dale Shively – USS Queens (APA-103)

The Ship That Would Not Die by Thomas Lightburn (novel)

USS Franklin (CV-13) The Ship That Wouldn’t Die by James R. Nilo and Robert E. St. Peters

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