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 : by James Hornfischer) c. 2004

Summary: In October of 1944 the United States returned to the Philippines, two massive fleets protecting and supporting the invasion beach head on Leyte Island. The Japanese, with their carrier fleet and air superiority broken irreparably, hatched an implausible plan to sacrifice their remaining surface ships in a desperate bid to crush the beach head and deal the United States a blow that would keep Japan in the war. And, against all odds, the plan worked. The battleships and fleet carriers of Admirals Halsey and Kinkaid, aided by miscommunication, headed north and south in pursuit of two Japanese fleets thrown out as bait. The way was clear for Admiral Kurita, with 4 battleships, 6 heavy cruisers, 2 light cruisers and 15 destroyers to assault the packed beach head and loaded landing craft at Leyte. Only a collection of light support ships commanded by Admiral Clifton Sprague, a task force dubbed ‘Taffy 3’, stood in his way. With 3 destroyers, 4 destroyer escorts and 6 escort carriers, Taffy 3 would engage in a  desperate two-hour long running battle that capped the epic Battle of Leyte Gulf, the largest naval engagement of World War II.

Review: The Battle of Leyte Gulf has always had, of course, the appeal of David taking on Goliath and winning against all odds. What Hornfischer does here to recommend his account over others is to provide sound reasons for what happened rather than simply retelling the story. And while disparities in air power and new advances in technology by the United States do help make sense of the battle and it’s outcome, the author never takes away from the heroism and sacrifice of the sailors on both sides of the fight. A peek at the legacy of the battle within United States Naval tradition provides a fitting, and very moving, finale to the book.

Read-a-likes: Fans of James Bradley’s Flyboys and Flags of Our Fathers will be particularly rewarded for picking up this one. Those looking for more on Leyte Gulf should check out The Battle of Leyte Gulf : The Last Fleet Action by H.P. Willmott. Reader’s looking for a novel set in similar waters should take a look at The Caine Mutiny by Herman Wouk or Broken Jewel by David L. Robbins.

Availability: The Lake Bluff Public Library owns this title as a book. Click here to check on the availability.

Review by Eric.


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