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Ship of Ghosts: The Story of the USS Houston, FDR's Legendary Lost Cruiser, and the Epic Saga of Her Survivors
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Ship of Ghosts: The Story of the USS Houston, FDR's Legendary Lost Cruiser, and the Epic Saga of Her Survivors

4.13  ·  Rating Details ·  1,782 Ratings  ·  122 Reviews
"Son, we’re going to Hell."

The navigator of the USS Houston confided these prophetic words to a young officer as he and his captain charted a course into U.S. naval legend. Renowned as FDR’s favorite warship, the cruiser USS Houston was a prize target trapped in the far Pacific after Pearl Harbor. Without hope of reinforcement, her crew faced a superior Japanese force ruth
Hardcover, 530 pages
Published October 31st 2006 by Bantam (first published 2006)
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Jason Koivu
Feb 25, 2013 Jason Koivu rated it it was amazing
Reads like Band of Brothers. Sounds like "the horror...the horror."

All the pieces are here: the finely crafted storytelling with intentionally-though-seamlessly placed details all fitting together and falling into place so that you hardly notice the author's hand, as you should not. You should be focused on the story, and that's not difficult as this is a terrible, true tale of war and human perseverance through some of the harshest treatment man has ever doled out to man.

Reading Ship of Ghosts
Sep 04, 2007 George rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: WWII, military history
I picked this book up primarily as it was my father's first ship in 37, right off the tobacco farm. fortunately for me he was transferred off before the beginning of the war. unfortunately for him, he was transferred to Pearl Harbor, and was still there Dec. 7th. But he made it through in one piece. I still have my father's souvenir photo album from the Houston in my closet, and many of the photos in it and stories I heard growing up appear in the book. So, as you might imagine, the book resonat ...more
carl  theaker
Sep 12, 2010 carl theaker rated it it was amazing
Shelves: ww2
Hornfischer, doesn't a name of that caliber sound like it should be
Admiral Hornfischer?

'Ship of Ghosts' is a definite goodread. You usually pick up a history book
because you are interested in the subject, but sometimes text is a bit dry
and tough to get through, well that's no problem here. I was always looking
forward to time to continue reading.

Hornfischer selected a perfect niche with this early days of the war
in the Pacific, which in the shadow of tales of the later war years of
Iwo Jima an
Mar 26, 2015 Sweetwilliam rated it it was amazing
I believe that the USN Houston was the first American capital ship to take on the Imperial Japanese surface navy. This story is told from the mouths of those who lived through the ordeal. The ship and crew acquitted themselves according to the highest standards of the United States Navy until they were sunk and survivors were captured. Captivity was horrible and Hornfischer brings all this back to life.

I do not know if it is the Pacific War I love reading about or if it is the way that Hornfisc
Doreen Petersen
Oct 21, 2016 Doreen Petersen rated it really liked it
Shelves: wwii
Very well written book. Lots of info I didn't know about. I would recommend this to those interested in WWII history.
The USS Houston was serving in the South Pacific when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. As such it immediately started the fight against the Japanese, but was far from resupply lines. On February 28, 1942 the USS Houston and the Australian ship Perth were sunk off the coast of Indonesia as they battled the Japanese landing fleet. Survivors of both ships were taken prisoners and served the remainder of the war as Japanese slave labor.

Why I started this book: Hornfischer is one of my new history-c
Aug 21, 2008 Emmy rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
Very interesting book. I have never read any naval history so the first part took me a bit to get through; I didn't understand a lot of the terms and/or couldn't visualize what they were talking about. However, it picked up for me a bit once the ship was sunk and they were captured and transferred to the POW camps. The author really does a great job wrapping up the book. He lets you know how these soldiers/POWs did after the war and talks about the lifelong impact that their experiences had on t ...more
Richard Palmer
Aug 11, 2014 Richard Palmer rated it it was amazing
Fantastic history!
Incredibly well researched, organized. An excellent story of the men of the Houston who found themselves working on the Burma railroad.
What a remarkable story, and how well told!

My only comment is that the title might be a little misleading. The book is devoted mostly to the trials of the men after the ship was lost. Though they may have maintained a personal identification with the Houston, it is not the main emphasis of the book. 'The Epic Saga of Her Survivors' should be the
Sep 07, 2015 Brian rated it really liked it
Two tremendous stories - the story of the USS Houston and its crew as it battled with the doomed ABDA fleet in the first months of WWII. The first 6 months of the war, particularly in the western Pacific, were a chaotic time for the Allies as they tried to slow the Japanese advance. The Houston literally went down, flags flying, in an effort to stop a Japanese invasion fleet in Indonesia.
The 2nd story is that of her crew that survived and were captured. They faced the full gamut of the Allied PO
Feb 05, 2012 Rollo rated it it was amazing
This a really good read. The amount of detail in the first several chapters seemed daunting at first but soon I got hooked on the stories and hated to reach the end. The book begins with the saga of the USS Houston and follows the crew until the end of WWII. The story of The Lost Battalion (131st Artillery, 36th Infantry Division, Texas National Guard) is interwoven. The two groups shared many POW experiences. Hornfischer provides enough "big picture" information (strategies, planning, major bat ...more
Jan 22, 2009 Janet rated it liked it
Ship of Ghosts is a rather unfortunate title for “the story of the USS Houston, FDR’s legendary cruiser, and the epic saga of her survivors.” There are no ghosts. There are, however, harrowing tales of bravery, sacrifice, and human dignity in the face of unbelievable hardships and suffering. This book fits in nicely with Flags of Our Fathers and Tom Clancy's Debt of Honor. There are many aspects of the WW2 era that today’s generations seem woefully ignorant about… such as the Gulag Archipelago i ...more
Ralph Wark
Jul 18, 2014 Ralph Wark rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A story to be remembered

The men of the Houston had many distinctions, a few unfortunate. It was FDR'S favorite ship, well run with great morale. They fought in the first great naval battle in the Pacific war in 1942, the Sunda straight, fighting bravely but sunk. The unfortunate bits were the timing.... this happened at the start of WW II, little as known of them, and the survivors liberated after VE day, when the nation's attention was turned to celebration. I'm between they suffered, died, per
Nov 28, 2012 Adam rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
James Hornfischer does it again. An amazing survival story that lasted almost the entire Pacific War. I was surprised at the real story behind the film and novel "Bridge on the River Kwai", and how HOUSTON survivors played a part. They suffered a truly torturous existence at the hands of Japanese slave drivers (a.k.a. POW guards). After reading this I feel even more honored to have been given the opportunity to return one of the USS HOUSTON survivors to a final rest with his shipmates. In 2008, ...more
Jeff Dawson
Feb 21, 2015 Jeff Dawson rated it it was amazing
Excellent Recounting

I will admit when I bought this book, I was clueless about the USS Houston and its plight. I did not know it was FDR’s favorite ship. I did not know it was stationed in the South China Seas under a fractured command structure or that is was the first Untied States Warship to be sunk by Japanese gunfire.
This is a compelling tale of the men who served and died on her during the early days of World War Two. If you haven’t read this book and are looking for a rare find, I can’t
Kenneth Barber
Oct 14, 2014 Kenneth Barber rated it it was amazing
This book tells the story of the battleship USS Houston the flagship of the Asiatic Fleet. The ship was a favorite of FDR who sailed on it for many trips. The ship was sunk in an early engagement with the Japanese. The book then follows the survivors as prisoners of war many of them were forced to help build the Burma to Thialand railroad. This railroad was immortalized in the movie Bridge over the River Kwai. The truth is far from the romanized version of the movie. The chronicle of the prisone ...more
Nov 22, 2015 Wally rated it it was amazing
There are SO MANY stories of American heroes that are not told. This is a huge story - many heroes doing so much - and we never know about it if we don't go search. This is another great book by Mr. Hornfischer. It tells the story of a ship that I never even heard of... and he tells it very well. I urge you to read this book. Will our children ever care about the struggles of our world when they have computer games?
Amy Hardison
Jan 10, 2015 Amy Hardison rated it it was amazing
I loved this book. The first part was a little hard going since I am not an expert on naval terms, but after this it was riveting. It covers the experiences of the USS Houston up to and including the battle in the Java Sea. However, the best part is what happens afterwards as these sailors became POWs and enforced laborers building a railway in Burma and Thailand. (Think "The Bridge on the River Kwai.") It is inspiring and heartbreaking and riveting.
Jun 11, 2012 Jon rated it it was amazing
Very well written. A little known story of the USS Houston being sunk in Feb 1942. It tells of the heroic and courageous struggle to survive the harsh Japanese brutality and the jungles working on the railroads thru Burma and Thailand. Many believed there were no survivorsnof the Uss Houston till the near end of the Pacific War. I was able to meet one of the survivors at a USNCSA reunion in 2010.
Justin Talbot
May 29, 2014 Justin Talbot rated it really liked it
Excellent chronicle of the men of the USS Houston, it spares a lot of the horror show usually found in books depicting POW experiences but it's unsensationalized, factual retelling of the stories that make up the story loses none of it's impact for that. Excellent.
Aug 21, 2014 Frances rated it it was amazing
Shelves: historical-war
A summary of the death railroad built during World War II, focusing on the Americans and the Australians from the Perth and the Houston.
Kent Weatherby
Aug 25, 2014 Kent Weatherby rated it it was amazing
Fabulous story. What these brave men endured should never be forgotten in an America obsessed with growing mediocrity.
Feb 11, 2014 Larry rated it it was amazing
The Houston was lost in the battle of the Java Sea as part of a badly overmatched Anglo-Dutch-American force, but it left a reputationfor valor.
Charles H Berlemann Jr
The movie "The Bridge over the River Kwai" is the framing device as to why the author wrote this book. In the movie the character played by William Holden states that he is from the USS Houston, CA-30. Which confused the author since he naturally assumed that the Houston was lost later in the conflict. Instead he finds a horror story that the crew went thru after their ship, along with the HMAS Perth (D-93) were sunk while off the Sunda Strait near the island of Java. After the crew is captured ...more
May 15, 2017 Jim rated it it was amazing
The heavy cruiser, USS Houston, was the flagship of the United States' Asiatic Fleet at the outbreak of war between Japan and the United States on December 7, 1941. It was her fate and that of her crew to participate in one of the war's first major naval engagements. USS Houston and HMAS Perth, together with several smaller destroyers were part of a multi-national force that attempted to thwart the Japanese invasion of Java. After suffering greatly during that battle, Houston and Perth attempted ...more
May 10, 2017 JimH rated it it was amazing
Great story about the USS Houston's sinking and the resulting survival of it's crew. The book chronicles the atrocities suffered by the hands of their Japenese guards. Particulary during the building of the Burma Railway and what has become known as The Bridge on the River Kwai. The difference between the facts of the aformentioned movie and the actuality of the level of dispair are amazing. My hats of to those survivors. and what a shame they never recieved much in compensation in the form of r ...more
Bob Schmitz
Sep 13, 2012 Bob Schmitz rated it liked it
Shelves: history-wwii
FDR's favorite ship and the flag ship of the US Pacific fleet at the start of WWII, the USS Houston, is involved in the first large Pacific sea battle of WWII and sunk. Survivors are sent to Japan and Siam where some work on the famous Bridge over the River Kwai. The prisoners suffer terribly under the Japanese and are liberated and go on to various careers.

A tremendous amount of personal interviews with the survivors of the Houston were collected shortly after the war resulting in a very detail
Richard Burzlaff
May 28, 2014 Richard Burzlaff rated it it was amazing
James Hornfischer is an excellent naval historian who is skilled at bringing the ships and men to life and putting the reader right into the heart of the conflict.
Ship of Ghosts tells the tragic story of the USS Houston, one of the most fabled cruisers in US history. Gaining fame in the early 1930's as the ship that carried President Franklin Roosevelt on many of his overseas journeys and briefly serving as flagship of the entire US fleet, she headed to the Philippines in November 1940 to serve
Nov 24, 2011 Jim rated it really liked it
The USS Houston was a personal favorite of FDR. He was a VIP passenger on her many times before World War II. Assigned to the Asiatic Station at the outbreak of the war, the Houston was part of an ill fated mixed force of Australian, British, Dutch & American (ABDA) ships defending Java and other Indonesian islands and the convoy routes between Java, New Guinea and Australia.

The Japanese falsely claimed to sink the Houston many times, earning her the nickname "The Galloping Ghost of the Java
Nov 08, 2014 Tom rated it really liked it
What happened to the POWs described in this book should not have happened to anyone.

Hornfischer tells the story of the USS Houston, which was FDR's favorite naval vessel before the US entered World War II. After Pearl Harbor, the Houston was in the middle of the Pacific and made part of a poorly-organized multinational attack force that attempted, poorly, to keep the massive Japanese invasion fleet away from the island of Java.

The mission was doomed from the start for a wide variety of reasons.
Feb 02, 2016 Steven rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A forgotten page of history

Having read and thoroughly enjoyed Hornfischer's other book "The Last of the Tin Can Sailors" I was anxious to immerse myself in this book. It tells the tale of the ill-starred sailors of the USS Houston who did their best to keep the flag of the US Asiatic Fleet flying proudly in the waters off southeast Asia and northern Australia in the early days of World War II. The ship was the pride of the Navy, a favorite of the President and target for the Japanese. The ship a
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Hornfischer’s writing career has grown out of a lifelong interest in the Pacific war. He has appeared on television on The History Channel, Fox News Channel’s “War Stories with Oliver North” and C-SPAN’s “BookTV.” A frequent speaker on the subject of the war in the Pacific, the U.S. Navy, and the experience of America’s sailors in World War II, he frequently addresses veterans organizations, youth ...more
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