book reviews

Book Review: Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailor

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

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

View all my reviews

This should be required reading for all those who serve in the Navy or want to serve in the Navy–on or above the sea. That’s all the USNA-wanna-bes. Which is why I’m reposting it from a couple of years ago.

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 face down Japan’s massive force of light cruisers, heavy cruisers and carriers. In fact, one of the Destroyer captains said, “This will be a fight against overwhelming odds, from which survival cannot be expected. We will do what damage we can.”

And damage they did. They flitted in, their tiny guns booming and flashing. When they had no more torpedoes (each only carried 10), they charged anyway, shooting their small caliber deck-mounted guns. Wave after wave of aircraft buzzed the Japanese ships, American pilots continuing to attack even when their bombs ran out, hoping to frazzle and frighten the enemy. Despite the bravado, the sailors knew they had no chance to stop such a superior force. They could do little but pray for the best, understanding if the enemy got past them, they would get to the carriers.

But this isn’t as much an historic account of the Battle of Leyte Gulf–that can be found in other books–as it is the story of the men who fought, their all-American roots, their unquestioning commitment to fight the good fight, their bottomless courage. They joined the war in response to Pearl Harbor, giving their brains and muscle to defend what was most important to them, and ended up giving their lives.

Hermon Wouk wrote of this battle, “The vision of Sprague’s (the commander of Taffy 3)three destroyers–the Johnston, the Hoel, and the Heermann–charging out of the smoke and the rain straight toward the main batteries of Kurita’s battleships and cruisers, can endure as a picture of the way Americans fight when they don’t have superiority. Our schoolchildren should know about that incident, and our enemies should ponder it.”

When the battle ended, Japan lost almost 10,000 men while America lost 800+ brave sailors, three of the tin cans and only one of our carriers–the only American carrier ever sunk in a naval battle. When the tiny ships sank and the sailors tredded water, fought off the sharks who smelled their blood, one incident stood out: A Japanese heavy cruiser approached. The stranded sailors didn’t know if they’d be killed or captured. Instead, as the ship sailed by, the Japanese lined the side and saluted the bravery of their enemy.

If you are an American soldier or the parent of one, read this to see what will be expected of him or her. If you are our enemy, read this and beware.

If you would like to purchase this from Amazon, click the link below:

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

More military book reviews:

Gates of Fire

Killer Angels

Horse Soldiers

Jacqui Murray is the author of dozens of books (on technology in education) as well as the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for and TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. In her free time, she is  editor of technology training books for how to integrate technology in education. Currently, she’s editing a techno-thriller that should be out to publishers next summer.

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20 thoughts on “Book Review: Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailor

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  6. This looks like a powerful and emotional read. It’s not easy reading about war, but at the same time we must commemorate the struggles and bravery of other generations. I don’t recall reading any books about the navy


  7. For me, anything of the Pacific Theater of WWII, brings me to a teary state; my dad had been part of the clean-up crew of Pearl Harbor. I cannot imagine the horror he witnessed. He was a farm boy from Iowa, only 18.


  8. Sounds a bit like the “Charge of the Light Brigade” but on water. I can hardly imagine what it must have felt like to be caught up in such a struggle. On ships, everyone in the crew has to be a hero whether they want to or not, and there must be all kinds of emotional responses to events as they unfold. Truly a gripping and tragic tale, of which I was not aware, coming from the UK


    • Winston Churchill said it best–“Never give in, never give in, never; never; never; never – in nothing, great or small, large or petty – never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense” These sailors did just that.


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