The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors by James Hornfischer is about a desperate sea battle that took place in the Samar Gulf off the Philippines toward the end of the World War II. The fighting was a key part of the much larger Battle of the Leyte Gulf.
The Last Stand focuses primarily on the destroyers and destroyer escorts that urgently took the fight to an ultra large Japanese incursion force trying to hold (or reverse) advances to (or in) the Philippines. As such it is an in-depth assay on tactics and valor; those looking for more big picture strategy best turn to other tomes.
Which is not to say Hornfisher’s book dismisses strategy altogether. The driving forces that lead to this battle – often pictured as the likely the last big naval battle in history – are discussed. Moreover, the scene is set with detailed portraits of Japanese and American participants, somewhat on the order of the writing of Cornelius Ryan.
While strategy may not be exactly clean, it can be said that tactics can be very bloody. The severity of battle depiction here is intense. As much as literature allows, you experience the sudden shells, shrapnel and small ordinance raining down, boilers exploding, bulkheads heaving explosions. With this your shipmates bleed in gushes, limbs fly, death undoes mere youth. If they survive, they drift in the ocean, not always until help comes.
In many views, the battle was needless. If American Naval Hero Bull Halsey and his large-carrier force had not fallen fully for a Japanese carrier feint, the destroyers and escorts shielding a US small-carrier force would not have been thrust into hopeless attacks. According to the book, the Navy wanted to keep the sheen on Halsey’s star in luster. More on the topic would have made for a fuller story.
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