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The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors: The Extraordinary World War II Story of the US Navy's Finest Hour [Paperback]

James D. Hornfischer
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

15 May 2005
“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.


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Product details

  • Paperback: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Bantam USA; New edition edition (15 May 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0553381482
  • ISBN-13: 978-0553381481
  • Product Dimensions: 23.5 x 15.8 x 2.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 363,292 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I have to say that this book is a disappointment. The first 92 pages is mainly background setting, most of it concentrating on the life stories of men who will obviously feature as heroes later on, especially those serving in the Destroyer Escort Samuel B Roberts and Escort Carrier St Lo. To my mind this is 'over done' and far too long. I found Mr Hornfischer's book 'Hells Inferno', on Guadalcanal, also a bit slow at first- but that develops into excellant book and is not nearly as 'mushy' and jingoistic as this one.

When writing about only one battle in a campaign that encompassed four it is always going to be difficult getting the balance right, since the other three cannot be completely ignored. Unfortunately in this respect there is little evidence of research and there are many errors. Describing the Sho- 1 plan the impression is given that the Southern Japanese force was carefully planned, whereas Nishimura's squadron was actually very extemporised and was never originally intended at all. It is assumed to have been a key feature of the Sho 1 plan that Kurita arrrive at Leyte coincident with Nishimura- whereas in fact the latter was always scheduled to be there first by a considerable margin. The Battle of the Sibuyan sea, including Musashi's sinking, occupies only two pages.

After reading Anthony Tully's account of the Battle of Surigao Straight I found this short 'how we won the war' version actually rather distasteful, and also full of errors- especially the old one about Fuso staying afloat for hours in two halves, whilst the cruiser Mogami's heroic fight is completely ignored.

Really the errors and 'bias' in this book are not too surprising since in the vast 26 page biography I have found not a single Japanese- originated source!
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
By Maciej TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Battle of Samar, fought on 25 October 1944 between Taffy 3, a small American task force commanded by Rear-Admiral Clifton A.F.("Ziggy") Sprague and the Center Force, the main body of Japanese Imperial Fleet commanded by Vice-Admiral Takeo Kurita, was a relatively short but incredibly intense, dramatic and bloody naval fight. In this book James D. Hornfischer describes this unbelievable battle with great detail and clarity, producing the most complete and the best account on this topic until now. I read this book with real pleasure and although already quite familiar with this archi-famous battle, I still learned a lot. I recommend it absolutely to anybody who is interested in naval history or military history in general and for anybody studying the Second World War in Pacific, this is a must!

If you are not yet familiar with this battle, here are some general facts, which should help understand the topic, without spoiling the pleasure of reading. Between 23 and 26 October 1944 US Navy and Japanese Imperial Fleet fought in the waters around the Philippines four major battles and a number of smaller engagements which together are known as Battle of Leyte Gulf - it is generally considered as the greatest naval battle ever fought (with the battle of Jutland in 1916 being the only one coming close to it in number of ships and sailors engaged). For the needs of this battle, the outnumbered and outgunned Japanese conceived a desperate but very clever plan, setting a trap for American commanders (Admiral William Halsey for 3rd Fleet and Admiral Thomas Kinkaid of 7th Fleet).
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Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
James Hornfischer has put together a set of eye-witness accounts of the naval battle known as The battle off Samar in which a large Japanese battleforce surprised an American task group of escort carriers and their escorts and came off worse in the ensuing action. His handling of the descriptions of this incredible battle is masterfully done and one feels part of the action as the heavily outnumbered task group fights for its life against impossible odds. We are introduced to some of the men who are to be in the thick of the fighting, especially those who man the destroyers who bear the brunt of the action. Fighting monster battleships some 35 times their weight and suffering terrible damage and injuries the men of these ships met their fate in their almost suicidal 'death ride' to save the carriers they were screening. Hornfischer describes the harrowing scenes as the ships are literally torn apart by shellfire with almost too much realism; leaving one with a sense of sheer disbelief that men can endure such horrors. This is a really good read that is hard to put down as the task force faces almost certain annihilation. The ending, if you don't know it, is beyond belief.
Well illustrated and well written with good insights into how this 'shouldn't have happened' battle came about.
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5.0 out of 5 stars HIGHLY RECOMMENDED BOOK 29 Aug 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I can only add what others have said about "The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors" .
This is a first rate work of military history which is very well written and illustrated ,
and has the added advantage that some of the stuff you learn about the entire fight
was only briefly touched upon in other books
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Amazon.com: 4.7 out of 5 stars  376 reviews
531 of 535 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars And That's the Way It Was. 14 Feb 2004
By Richard K. Rohde - Published on Amazon.com
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.
227 of 232 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Epic Naval Battle Remembered 3 Feb 2004
By Brian D. Rubendall - Published on Amazon.com
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. Hornfischer sets the stage by introducing the main players, both the ships and the men who sailed on them. He gives an overall view of events leading up to the battle to assist the casual reader in placing it in context, and also presents enough of the Japanese point of view to give an appreciation of how desperate the forces of the Rising Sun were at this stage of the war. Desperate enough, in fact, to risk virtually their entire remaining surface fleet on a gamble, the success of which hinged on their ability to bluff hard-charging American Admiral William F. "Bull" Halsey. If not for the almost superhuman courage of the Tin Can Sailors, they might well have succeeded and seriously imperiled McArthur's invasion forces.
The battle scenes in the book are particularly well depicted; some of the first hand accounts are every bit as graphically disturbing as, say, the first half-hour of the movie "Saving Private Ryan." Such images are absolutely vital to the telling of the story, and the author handles them deftly, never lapsing into sensationalism. Hour-by-hour position maps showing the locations of the ships are helpfully provided to assist the reader along with a generous selection of photographs. The extras make "Tin Can Sailors" one of the best battle books I've read in terms of helping the reader see the action as it is taking place. The epilogue contains a list of those who died fighting the battle, and what's immediately striking is that America lost more fighting men in just over three hours in this one small corner of World War Two than it has during the entire nine-plus months of the Iraq war.
Overall, "The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors" is a first rate work of history that will be enjoyed equally by both military buffs and more casual readers. The book was obviously a labor of love for its author, and he should be saluted for his efforts in writing it.
85 of 88 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Heroic stand of tin can sailors 7 Sep 2004
By Peter Lorenzi - Published on Amazon.com
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. And timidity on the part of the Japanese admiral, believing he had stumbled upon a superior force of sull-sized carriers and cruisers, helped turn the onslaught into a full-fledged diaster for the Japanese, who lost perhaps 11,000 men to terrible but lesser casualties of fewer than 1,000 for the inspired Americans.

The research is thorough, with fascinating detail and first-hand reports from the battle and the men who fought it. Maps detailing the progress of this brief but spectacular battle help guide the reader. Read it and respect the men who made this happen.
34 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Pays tribute to heroes and their sacrifices for us 16 Feb 2004
By Scott Tyler - Published on Amazon.com
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.
20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best historical account. of the Battle of Leyte Gulf. 20 Aug 2004
By Kevin C. B. - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
When I was a young adolescent, I wasn't like other kids. I actually read about WWII history. When I found out my 7th grade English teacher was a "Fireman" in the boiler rooms of the USS Pennsylvania facing the Southern force in Surigao Strait, I bombarded him with a host of questions, and my classmates had no idea what we were talking about. Suffice it to say, through my previous reading, I thought I was pretty knowledgable about this naval battle.

The author has blown that preconception out of the water. He brings the level of scholarship on this battle to a whole new plane. The meticulous research he has undertaken shines forth in this account, and it is simply an incomparable work. No matter if you have previous exposure to historical accounts of this battle (specifically for Taffy 3 and it's air groups facing Kurita's Central force, Southern and Northern aspects are not as in depth), or not, this book is the definitive work on the topic. Included is the deep and detailed bibliography. A true historical gem.
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