A thrilling narrative of the Battle off Samar, a two-and-a-half-hour melee in which outgunned American sailors fended off a Japanese attack that could have stymied the invasion of the Philippines.
In October 1944, with Gen. Douglas MacArthur preparing to assault the Philippine island of Leyte and choke off the Japanese empire, the Imperial Fleet formulated a desperate plan. Aircraft carriers would lure the impulsive Adm. William Halsey away from Leyte Gulf while two battleship groups fell on MacArthur’s suddenly vulnerable force, including the ships guarding him. Part of the plan worked to perfection—Halsey dashed off after the decoy force—and on the morning of October 25, the American flotilla Taffy 3 awoke to face overwhelming odds. Their five destroyers and destroyer carriers, or “tin cans,” stood against Japan’s four fastest battleships (two being the largest on the seas), nine cruisers, and fourteen destroyers, the largest group of surface ships ever put to sea by the Land of the Rising Sun. Realizing that their own vessels were doomed, the unarmored but doughty Americans attacked a foe that enjoyed a 10-to-1 advantage in firepower—sinking or crippling four heavy cruisers, strafing Japanese gunners with air attacks, even bluffing with “dry runs” when ammunition ran out. The tin cans held out long enough for pilots from the two other Taffy groups to turn the tide of battle, but not before sinking and losing nearly 1,000 men (including more than 100 to exhaustion and shark attacks). The Japanese were never able again to mount a serious challenge to the US advance on Tokyo. Relying on interviews with aging, proud survivors of the flotilla, Hornfischer expertly conveys the sensory experience of warfare, its deafening roar and sickening stench, to produce a gripping minute-by-minute reconstruction of an engagement awful in cost but awesome in importance.
Easily merits pride of place among the flotilla of books appearing in recent years on “the greatest generation.” (B&w maps)