The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors: The Extraordinary World War II Story of the U.S. Navy’s Finest Hour
By James D. Hornfischer
Hardcover in dustjacket, 427 pages, illustrated, indexed
Published by Bantam Books, February 2004
Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.5 x 9.5 inches
The Battle of Samar is the United States Navy version of the Charge of the Light Brigade. On the morning of 26OCT44 a small group of six U.S. escort carriers and their screening destroyers (call sign Taffy 3) was surprised to see an overwhelmingly superior force of Imperial Japanese Navy battleships and cruisers steaming over the horizon. The destroyers nearest to the Japanese armada turned to the attack in order to allow time for the carriers to escape. The destroyers Johnston and Hoel, along with the smaller destroyer escort Samuel B. Roberts were sunk, but they were able to save all the escort carriers except for the Gambier Bay.
Hornfischer tells the story from the perspective of the sailors who fought it, often in their own words. Even though they each may have served on the same ship during the same action, the experiences of a gunner are very different than a boiler tender, and neither are the same as the Captain on the bridge. This is very much a sailor’s story. He also details the ordeal of the survivors who had to wait days for rescue – an often overlooked part of the story.
This is a very engaging book. The Battle of Samar was just one action in the sprawling Battle of Leyte Gulf, the largest naval battle in history. It is a valiant fight against overwhelming odds and a study of how men react under pressure when – in the words of the Captain of the Samuel B. Roberts addressing his crew as they turned to attack the Japanese fleet, “… survival cannot be expected.” An outstanding book, highly recommended.