SHIP OF GHOSTS by James D. Hornfischer


The Story of the USS Houston, FDR’s Legendary Lost Cruiser, and the Epic Saga of Her Survivors
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A forgotten chapter of heroism, brutality and survival from the opening days of World War II.

The USS Houston, famed for ferrying FDR on several voyages, was on the wrong side of the Pacific when World War II broke out. The fate of the ship and her crew has never been fully revealed until now. Battered and on the run after several skirmishes in the opening weeks of the war, the Houston was looking for shelter. Just after 11:30 at night, on Feb. 28, 1942, the Houston and the Australian cruiser Perth sailed into the Sunda Strait off the coast of Java. Their arrival coincided with the landing of a massive Japanese army on the island. Against overwhelming odds, the two ships battled for more than an hour before they were sunk. Those who survived were captured and taken to Singapore, but that was only the beginning of their nightmare. The prisoners were put to work in what would become an infamous stretch of jungle, the Burma-Thailand Railway, basis for the epic The Bridge on the River Kwai. Though the Perth and Houston survivors shared the same experience, the author focuses on the Houston crew. As in Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors (2004), personal accounts from survivors make vivid the brutal experience. Scattered by the current, some sailors were immediately captured, while others evaded the enemy for days or weeks. Back home, families waited for news that never came. The multiple points-of-view presented here occasionally become confusing, but when the survivors arrive at the jungle prison, the author ties the separate threads into a gripping narrative. Harrowing and frank, this story of a gritty band of men—starved, isolated and working under excruciating conditions—reflects the triumph of will over adversity.

A mostly compelling, long-overdue saga of the famous ship.

Pub Date: Nov. 7th, 2006
ISBN: 0-553-80390-5
Page count: 544pp
Publisher: Bantam
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 2006


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