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The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors: The Extraordinary World War II Story of the U.S. Navy's Finest Hour

4.29  ·  Rating Details ·  5,611 Ratings  ·  323 Reviews
“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 nav
Paperback, 528 pages
Published March 29th 2005 by Bantam (first published November 12th 2003)
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With the Old Breed by Eugene B. SledgeThe Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors by James D. HornfischerNeptune's Inferno by James D. HornfischerEscape From Davao by John D. LukacsGhost Soldiers by Hampton Sides
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2nd out of 142 books — 180 voters
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Feb 15, 2016 Mike rated it it was amazing
5 Battle Stars! There are few books that will impact you physically as well as mentally. This is one of them. I sit drained and awe-inspired. Hornfischer will take you into the heart of this final major sea battle off the coast of the Philippine Islands, a battle that should have been a slaughter of American ships by a vastly more powerful Japanese force. But a small force of destroyers/destroyer escorts and swirling naval air attacked, and attacked, and attacked until the Japanese force finally ...more
A.L. Sowards
What do you do when you’re a relatively small group of light aircraft carriers, destroyers, and destroyer escorts and you’re suddenly faced with the biggest ships in the Japanese Navy? Japanese ships that are faster, sturdier, and have guns that can fire long before you’ll be in range to fire back?

You can:

A) Curse Admiral Halsey for chasing a decoy group of Japanese ships and leaving your flank exposed.

B) Accept the fact that you are probably going to die.

C) Charge the Japanese line anyway, even
Feb 07, 2010 Jacqui rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, military
This should be required reading for all those who serve in the Navy--on or above the sea. It is the story of Taffy 3, a WWII force of America's smallest ships--Destroyers and Destroyer Escorts. Tasked with protecting the carriers that were part of MacArthur's return to the Philippines, they ended up the front line against Japan's largest collection of battleships and the island nation's last gasp to turn the tides of WWII. No one expected these tiny ships--therein lies the name, 'tin cans'--to f ...more
Mark C
Jul 12, 2007 Mark C rated it it was amazing
As a former crew member of the HOEL (DDG-13) the history surrounding the desperate battle at Samar is of great interest. This book captures the extreme peril that was accepted and overcome by the fearless Captains and their crews. Makes one realize that we owe a great debt to the "greatest generation" that we may never be able to repay.
Evan Filby
Nov 28, 2012 Evan Filby rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
As a WW-II history buff, I had read long ago about the part played by Taffy 3 in the overall Battle of Leyte Gulf. Even a "mundane" report of the incredible heroics sent chills up the spine, and brought tears -- and this wonderfully-researched account is far, far beyond mundane. As a writer, I know how difficult it is to move smoothly between viewpoints when the action is widespread and changing fast, and author Hornfischer does a fine job. (That's one of the many strengths of this book.)
An adde
Jan 11, 2013 Sean rated it it was amazing
My grandfather was in this battle, on the USS Hoel. He was a survivor. I've had the HONOR and OPPORTUNITY in meeting these brave men who fought along side him on these "Tin Cans" at Leyte Gulf and have heard the most amazing stories from them. Sam Lucas, Bill Mercer, Glenn Parkin, and others. This is a great book on their accounts. Also, my family and I attended the monument dedication in San Diego in 1996, and its an amazing site. If you're a history buff like myself, you wont be disappointed., ...more
Brian Leach
Apr 15, 2011 Brian Leach rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
I wanted to give this book five stars but I will get into why I had to give four. I really reserve the 5 star rating for the best books I have ever read. The last half of this book fits this description but the first half falls short.

What I mean by this is the level of detail and the number of people described in the first half of the book, before the battle scenes. I found myself struggling to remember all the names because I knew I would want to remember them when the battles were described. I
Jun 09, 2012 Manray9 rated it really liked it
The history of the U. S. Navy contains many valorous chapters -- from Stephen Decatur burning the frigate PHILADELPHIA in the harbor at Tripoli, through David Dixon Porter running the Confederate batteries at Vicksburg, to the attack of Torpedo Squadron 8 at Midway -- but few compare to the actions of USS JOHNSTON and USS HOEL off Samar in 1944. Commander Ernest E. Evans demonstrated the “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity” worthy of his posthumous Medal of Honor. The sea battles know collect ...more
Bob Mayer
Jul 27, 2016 Bob Mayer rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Exceptional story of courage

My father served in the Navy in World War II. Reading this gave me an idea of what he faced as a 17 year old shipped out to the Pacific. Well worth the time to read and appreciate
May 11, 2009 Christopher rated it really liked it
Shelves: wwii, history
I've written before that I am easily annoyed by Tom Brokaw's assertion of the GI Generation as "The Greatest Generation" especially when applied selectively to only Americans. I in no way mean to demean WWII vets (quite the opposite), but I feel like today's young men and women would make the same sacrafices if called upon.


The story of Taffy Three is the first time in a WWII history that I have found myself this amazed at the courage under fire of American servicemen. The courage of Army
Dec 06, 2008 Jeremy rated it really liked it
If you like reading history books about World War II, the Navy or military subjects in general, this is a well written, gripping book worth reading. It's about a single naval battle toward the end of WWII off the coast of the Philippines, A tiny group of small US ships managed to survive (mostly) an intense onslaught by a huge group of Japanese vessels through a combination of luck, determination and strategy, with help from the "fog of war." The author interviewed many of the survivors of the b ...more
Dec 11, 2009 Dennis rated it it was amazing
Shelves: ww2, naval
I was standing in the bookstore contemplating buying when an older gent on a cane told me I should read it. Turned out he was on one of the ships at the time and his photo was in the book. I shook his hand, thanked him for his service and bought the book. An excellent read for anyone interested in Naval History.
Feb 12, 2016 J.D. rated it it was amazing
I had a conversation a while back with a soldier who'd distinguished himself in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. He observed to me that "A lot of heroes in a battle means someone screwed up bad." So it was in this tale of a desperate World War II naval battle against impossible odds that would have never occurred had the legendary Admiral "Bull" Halsey not been played for a sucker by the Imperial Japanese Navy.

While Halsey chased a decoy force in his obsession to sink another Japanese carrier, a
Jeff Miller
Dec 12, 2014 Jeff Miller rated it it was amazing
"Covers the battle off Samar, the Philippines, in October 1944, in which a force of American escort carriers and destroyers fought off a Japanese force many times its strength, and the larger battle of Leyte Gulf, the opening of the American liberation of the Philippines,"

Wow, oh wow. Totally blown away by the retelling of this history. Way beyond reciting a history of events, but including the stories of the sailors involved especially the crew of the destroyer escort USS Samuel B. Roberts. Suc
Jul 22, 2011 Max rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
This is the absolutely amazing story of perhaps the greatest sea battle that you have never heard of. While there bigger and more powerful counterparts were away, a group of tin can ships (carrier escorts and destroyer escorts) that were never supposed to see real battle were engaged by a massive Japanese fleet.

The tiny American ships are forced to outlast their enemies through nothing but seamanship, fortitude, and inferior weapons (and maybe a little luck). The ensuing battle is amazing and sh
Colin Rush
Jan 07, 2010 Colin Rush rated it it was amazing
I never thought I would use the term "gripping", but this book merits that description. This is a very intense recounting of the last major ship-to-ship action in naval history, the Battle of Samar. When a group of destroyer escorts and aircraft carrier escorts are patrolling the Leyte Gulf off the coast of the Philippines, they run smack into a group of Japanese battleships, including the Yamato, largest of her fleet. Hopelessly outgunned and unable to outrun the Japanese, the Americans adopted ...more
Tony duncan
Mar 12, 2012 Tony duncan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone
Recommended to Tony by: library
Shelves: history, audio
A really fascinating book, both for the history of the battle and the detail of so many sailors lives and their history. A well written book that covers mostly one battle from a huge variety of individuals involved in it. The book captures the human element that covers simple relationships between various members of different ships in this one carrier fleet, as well as the over-arching background of the war and the specific strategies and events that led up to this particular battle. There are a ...more
Jim Hale
Aug 02, 2014 Jim Hale rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, audiobooks
History writing at its very finest. Like a great novelist, Hornfischer conveys emotional depth by providing detail. In the circumstances leading up to the disaster (caused by Admiral Halsey's blunder), the gruesome battle scenes, the individual stories of self-sacrifice, courage and American ingenuity, Hornfischer keeps the tension going, superbly describing one of the most stirring, against-the-odds naval battles of all time. This book rises to the level of classic and is a must-read for milita ...more
The Battle of Leyte Gulf is by far the greatest example of David vs. Goliath. David of course wins the day. Goliath is badly mauled and retreats to Iwo Jima and Okinawa. The battle illustrates the desparate gamble of destroyers against the entire IJN Center Force. I can only imagine the sickening feeling the sailors had when the pagoda style masts of battleships and cruisers came over the horizon. I only wish there was more included from the Japanese side of the battle. A great book.
In October 1944 the littler ships, Destroyers and Destroyer escorts were left to guard the Army's invasion of the Philippines while the larger aircraft carriers went hunting for the main Japanese navy. Instead the Japanese navy found the remaining ships. In an epic day of battle, these little ships attacked with what torpedos they had (just 10 per ship) and their smaller guns against a battleships with larger guns and farther reach. And when they had exhausted their weapons they continued to att ...more
Mar 08, 2015 Sweetwilliam rated it it was amazing
This was probably the best book about a naval battle that I have ever read. No, it was the best book that I have ever read. There was literally never a dull moment. The author did a great job setting up the battle by developing the characters and explaining all the events that led up to the battle of Samar/Leyte Gulf.

The actual battle was described in vivid detail through the eyes of the American aviators and sailors who fought it. Your heart will leap when the tin can sailors of the USN Samuel
Jan 01, 2015 Rhonda added it
Shelves: history
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jan 09, 2011 John rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, history, wwii
An excellent narrative history of the last great surface battle in history where a division of second line US fleet units faced off against much of what was left of the Japanese main fleet.

I've been aware of the heroic actions of Taffy 3 off Samar at the Battle of Leyte Gulf for some time, but only in a more abstract sense from more general histories of the war. This book goes into far more detail concerning the actions of each of the destroyers and destroyer escorts involved, and goes into as
Dec 07, 2010 Al rated it liked it
An exhaustively detailed and well-researched story of the desperate battle between a powerful Japanese naval force and a task force of U.S. light carriers, destroyers, and destroyer escorts off the Philippines in 1944. The engagement occurred only because Admiral Halsey took his main fleet north in an ill-advised pursuit of a small Japanese carrier force, leaving the other group of ships unprotected. No one saw the Japanese force coming. Outgunned, the U.S. force fought valiantly and inflicted ...more
Apr 18, 2011 Joe rated it really liked it

This is an incredible story of the sea battle that could have changed the course of the Pacific battle. Against overwhelming odds, a group of courageous "Tin Cans" (smaller Destroyers) fought the BEST that Japan had in Naval carriers. The courage of our smaller ships fought with true heroic effort.

Where were our carriers? A famous Naval Admiral had gone against orders and chased a diversion of Japanese freight ships which fortunately was not aware of the successful feign. If it had realized of t
May 25, 2016 Kate rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, war, wwii
I first heard about the sea battle in the Leyte offensive in a book that I read in the mid-80s, but couldn't find more than a few references, and no details. Returning to school I decided to write a History paper on it, and found very little in the college library, so made a trek across the Bay to the Hoover Library at Stanford...that was the books on index cards days, but with the help of a good reference librarian I found 3 books, and set down two speed read them. The battle accounts were amaz ...more
Jason Carter
Jan 04, 2016 Jason Carter rated it it was amazing
Hornfischer writes of the little-known Battle off Samar, a smaller clash in the larger Battle of Leyte Gulf, in which the US Navy destroyed the Japanese Navy for good.

This book personifies the notion that truth is more exciting than fiction. As Admiral "Bull" Halsey's Third Fleet was drawn off to the north by a Japanese diversionary tactic, and as Admiral Jesse Oldendorf's Third Fleet was destroying the main force in the Battle of Surigao Strait, Admiral Clifton Sprague's Task Unit 77.4.3 ('Taff
Will Lock
Dec 30, 2014 Will Lock rated it really liked it
I picked up Last of the Tin Can Sailors, by James D. Hornfischer. simply because it was on sale for $1.99, and because one of my all-time favorite war movies is Preminger's "In Harm's Way." And in fact, the climactic sea battle of "In Harm's Way" has a few similarities to the battle off Samar that Hornfischer documents (what with the battleship Yamato making an appearance in both). The story was an eye-opener: this took place not that long ago, and yet the situations and tactics have far more in ...more
Aug 09, 2013 S. rated it really liked it
Shelves: hookah, red-queen
most Americans are familiar with the Battle of Midway, June 1942, the famous cryptological decrypts; the US aircraft carrier rushed to repair; the 4 Japanese fleet aircraft carriers caught at the vulnerable moment as they switch from land bombs to ocean torpedoes-- and Pearl Harbor is avenged. lesser known is the last fleet-on-fleet battle in history, the Battle off Samar 25 October 1944 in which due to Japanese decoy action, the US Navy Task Force 3 ("Taffy 3") comprising 'jeep carrier' escort ...more
Apr 24, 2014 Jonathan rated it it was amazing
Shelves: wwii-allies
Excellent book on the stand of Taffy 3, where men given the opportunity to run or fight chose to fight, despite the overwhelming odds and help change the course of the battle. Personal and down in the action style of writing helps make this read like a novel.
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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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“ESCORT CARRIERS HAD MANY nicknames, only a few tinged with anything resembling affection: jeep carriers, Woolworth flattops, Kaiser coffins, one-torpedo ships. Wags in the fleet deadpanned that the acronym CVE stood for the escort carrier’s three most salient characteristics: combustible, vulnerable, expendable. That most everyone seemed to get the joke—laughing in that grim, nervous way—was probably the surest sign that it was rooted in truth.” 1 likes
“Wildcats could carry a light bomb load too. Their pilots, however, found to their dismay that the bombs could be difficult to drop: a pilot had not only to pull the bomb release but also to jerk the plane’s rudder back and forth, shaking the plane in midflight to dislodge the bombs from their notoriously sticky mountings.” 0 likes
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