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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

4.28 of 5 stars 4.28  ·  rating details  ·  4,638 ratings  ·  281 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
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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. SledgeEscape From Davao by John D. LukacsThe Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors by James D. HornfischerNeptune's Inferno by James D. HornfischerGhost Soldiers by Hampton Sides
Best Books on the Pacific War
3rd out of 121 books — 155 voters
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Best World War II history
20th out of 142 books — 178 voters


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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Jacqui
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
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
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Evan Filby
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
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Mark C
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.
Brian Leach
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
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Sean
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
Christopher
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.

Usually.

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
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Jeremy
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
Manray9
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
Dennis
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.
Jeff Miller
"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
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Tony duncan
Mar 12, 2012 Tony duncan rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone
Recommended to Tony by: library
Shelves: audio, history
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
Max
Jul 22, 2011 Max rated it 5 of 5 stars
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
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Colin Rush
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
Joe

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
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Jack
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.
Rhonda
Jan 01, 2015 Rhonda added it
Shelves: history
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Maria
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
Sweetwilliam
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
...more
S.
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
Jim Hale
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
John
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
...more
Al
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
Kevin Johnson
Usually I am not a big fan of war stories. However, this really was a gripping, inspiring and extraordinary story. I found it a little hard to follow at times with all the referenced characters but an excellent read nonetheless.
Jonathan
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.
Ruby Bibi
A chilling description of the battle for the Phillipines off the coast of the island of Samar where a group of underpowered destroyers faced the concentrated remaining force of the Japanese Imperial Navy's battleships and destroyers. It was a battle where the 6 airplane carriers of the US Navy were being attacked and were defended by smaller destroyer escorts. In order to save the airplane carriers, which were crucial to the war effort, the destroyer escorts had to slow down the advancing Japane ...more
Will Lock
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
Tom
I have always been a fan of military history, WWII in particular. Having been in the Army, and currently the Air Force, my interests have always been focused on land/air combat and those who have made history in those arenas; paying little attention to naval warfare.

This book, recommended by my father (former Navy), was the one that kindeled a new interest in the history of naval combat in WWII. I have read few military history books that are written so well about what many people find to be a
...more
J.
"Our schoolchildren should know about [this] incident, and our enemies should ponder it."

In late October 1944 the US Navy guarded the seas off the Philippines protecting the return of General MacArthur. With the 7th Fleet (Kinkaid) guarding from the south, and the 3rd Fleet (Halsey) guarding the north, those in the middle didn't expect to see much action. But Japan knew it's days were numbered and invented a daring plan to protect their position and resources in the Philippines by attacking from
...more
Andrew
This was not a "goodread" but a "goodlisten," which I got from the library in the absence of the book itself. The audio makes it difficult to assess the background information at the outset as the listener tries to get familiar with key ships, the geography and the sailors. Robert Jon Cox's excellent website on "The Battle Off Samar" helps get over that problem:
http://www.bosamar.com/pages/bosc01

Thankfully, as the audio book gets into individual accounts of battle action and post-action recoveri
...more
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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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“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
“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.” 0 likes
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