The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors

ISBN: 0-553-80257-7
Review Date:

Selected by the Book-of-the-Month Club, Military Book Club, and History Book Club, The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors by James Hornfischer is an account of the Battle off Samar in Philippines waters, constructed most notably from interviews with sailors and pilots who participated in the battle. While most discussions of naval battles focus on the big picture, at the level of admirals if you will, Hornfischer focuses on the very bottom of the chain-of-command. The book gives the reader what it was like to be aboard the ship during a modern naval battle, whether the location was on the deck, in the CIC, or below decks. It can perhaps be said that the author's approach is similar to that of Stephen Ambrose (Band of Brothers, Citizen Soldiers, etc.), and the otherwise impersonal modern naval battle is described to a very personal level. The heroes of the book, naturally, were the officers and enlisted men of destroyers and destroyer escorts, whose daring and sacrificing dash toward the overwhelming Japanese surface ships not only inflicted heavy damage on the enemy, but also stalled enemy momentum, saving nearly defenseless escort carriers from total destruction. Lieutenant Commander Robert Copeland, skipper of the destroyer escort Roberts, said to his crew on that fateful day that "this will be a fight against overwhelming odds from which survival cannot be expected. We will do what damange we can." That quote perhaps best sums up the heroic feat that the sailors accomplished that day. As Rear Admiral (Ret.) Charles Grojean commented, "this book should be read by all Americans -- and never forgotten". One of the most informative feature of the book was the many maps it features to help the reader visualize the locations of the ships, American and Japanese, as the witnesses and the author accounted the battle minute-by-minute. The center inserts featured photos of some of the participants, allowing the readers to match faces with the heroic actions.

The appendix of the book includes a listing of men who sacrificed their lives aboard ships of Task Force 77.4.3 between 25-28 Oct 1944; the ships include USS Heermann, USS Hoel, USS Johnston, USS Dennis, USS Roberts, USS St. Lo, USS White Plains, USS Kalinin Bay, USS Fanshaw Bay, USS Kitkun Bay, USS Gambier Bay, as well as the pilots who stationed aboard aircraft carriers.

As Rear Admiral (Ret.) Charles Grojean commented, "this book should be read by all Americans -- and never forgotten".

For more information, please visit the author's website at

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Visitor Submitted Comments

1. doug campbell says:
7 Mar 2007 06:40:42 PM

my son just went in the Navy and i thought i would read some naval books. i do not read that much but i started the Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors and can not put it down. i never knew how bad it was fro the men in the navy. i do not know if this is ever made in a movie but it would have to be the best.
i can not wait till my son reads this.
thank you
2. Mike Casey says:
13 Dec 2007 08:43:32 PM

The Battle of Leyte Gulf, during WWII is chronicled in a book by James Hornfischer. The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors, tells of a squadron of three DDs and four DEs escorting six small aircraft carriers called jeep carriers. These seven tin cans and the planes from the carriers were all that stood between the allies and a Japanese fleet consisting of four battleships, eight cruisers, and eleven destroyers. The tin cans, and the torpedo/bombers, and fighter planes attacked the formidable force. The Japanese were firing their 8”, 14”, 16” and 18” guns as they would to fight battleships and cruisers, with the armor piercing rounds set to explode on impact. The big shells were ripping right through the destroyers without exploding. The tin cans just kept on coming, launching their torpedoes.
Visualize an American DE steaming beam to beam with a Japanese heavy cruiser, twelve times her weight, peppering the cruiser with 5” gunfire, in so close that the cruiser can’t depress its 8” guns low enough to hit the DE.
Visualize GM3 Paul Carr, mortally wounded, his ship sinking fast, standing in his disabled gun mount, his entire gun crew lying dead around him, weakly cradling the last of the 325 rounds from his magazine, begging a shipmate to help him load it into his wrecked breech tray.
Visualize DD 557 charging out of the smoke and rain squalls, straight at the 36,000 ton battleship Kongo, sending thirty 5” rounds into her in forty seconds, then healing around and running back into her own smoke screen while the BB belched fourteen- inchers, all clean misses, any one of which would have split the tin can in two.
The crew of the USS Hoel had abandoned ship. Torpedoman first class, Jim O’Gorek cast afloat in four thousand fathoms of shark-infested waters, defeated in battle with friends lost forever, swam over to gunnery officer Bob Hagen and cheerfully announced, “Mr. Hagen, we got off all ten of them torpedoes, and they ran hot straight and normal!” Jim and the tin can torpedomen on all the American destroyers had done serious damage to the big boys.
Japanese Admiral Kurita, on board the Yamato, the largest battleship in the world, couldn’t deal with these guys any longer. He turned north and ordered the rest of his force to turn tail and run. Yamato’s armor plating at the waterline was sixteen inches thick and twenty four inches on her gun turrets. Each of the three 18” gun turrets on the Yamato weighed more than an entire Fletcher class destroyer. A destroyer’s 5” guns would barely knock the paint off of them. Armor be damned don’t mess with tin can sailors!
And don’t mess with naval aviators like Earl Archer, who after all his other ordnance had been depleted, has the distinction of being the only Avenger pilot, to get six hits on a Japanese battleship with a .38-caliber revolver, while passing over it inverted, canopy open. Earl suffered a serious back injury amid the brambles of flak over Kurita’s fleet, but refused disability benefits from Uncle Sam. Instead he took three or four aspirin twice a day and continued flying for the USNR.

3. John Crass says:
9 Mar 2009 10:58:37 PM

My cousin Joe Clark Dotson was abord the USS Johnston. He did not return from the war. We understand there is a memorial in San Diego which we have the opportunity to see if we jnew where it is located. Can you help?
4. Tom Musson Colgate 61 LCDR USNR says:
10 Dec 2009 12:38:30 PM

Your book was outstanding!!!! As a former OPS Officer of a DDG I could not help but put myself in the battle of Samar. A great work!!!!
5. Lee Badman says:
4 Jan 2010 06:10:51 PM

I spent 18 months at Clark AB in the Philippines in the mid-80s when I was in the USAF. If you travel around to Manila, Corregidor, Bataan, and the likes of Okinawa, you see many monuments and remembrences of the land and sea battles that took place during WWII. This book takes you back in time and puts you squarely in the action that preceeded these memorials. Is riveting, and moving. Thanks for a great ride and for honoring well those who served- on both sides.
6. AJV says:
22 Feb 2010 12:01:25 PM

Have read this twice now, love it. The story of LtCdr Evans ignoring orders and charging headlong at the Japanese fleet, then losing the fingers from his hand but still commanding the ship from the fantail, and furthermore drawing fire from the escort carriers as the Johnston sits bruised and battered, gives me goosebumps every time. The same goes for Cpt Copeland and the Samuel B Roberts.
7. L.L.Trigiano,M.D. says:
10 Mar 2013 04:14:58 PM

I was a nineteen year old Ensign aboard the USS Rankin (AKA 103)in 1945-46. Although I was not involved in the Battle off Samar,I did touch down on Samar and Leyte and sailed the San Bernadino Straits (1945). Mr.Hornfischer captured the situation with such realism that did not want to put the book to rest. A REAL Well Done !
8. James O'Gorek says:
24 Sep 2015 05:18:23 AM

My dad (Jim O'Gorek) was on the USS Johnston when it was sunk.

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Related Events:
» Philippines Campaign, Phase 1, the Leyte Campaign

Related Ships:
» Johnston

Famous WW2 Quote
"I have returned. By the grace of Almighty God, our forces stand again on Philippine soil."

General Douglas MacArthur at Leyte, 17 Oct 1944

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