Usually, I don’t learn naval historical past. Ships and the sailors who man them are one thing to which I can’t relate, and I received into this e-book solely as a result of Chuck Banks, who contributes to this weblog, insisted that I achieve this. I’m glad he did.
It’s the story of the Battle of Samar, which was a part of the a lot bigger battle of Leyte Gulf. James Hornfischer sums up Leyte thus:
“The three-day sequence of melees across the Philippines in October 1944 was by a number of measures probably the most sprawling, spectacular, and horrible naval battle in historical past…It was the best naval battle ever fought for the distances it spanned, for the tonnage of ships sunk, during the duels between floor ships, and for the horrible losses of human life….
“The Battle off Samar was a battle of firsts; the primary time a U.S. plane service was destroyed by floor gunfire, the primary time a ship was destroyed by a suicide airplane; the primary time the mightiest battleship afloat fired on enemy warships. And it was a battle of lasts: the final massed ship-versus-ship motion in naval historical past; the final time a battleship fired its foremost batteries at an enemy; the final time small destroyers charged an opposing battle line.”
It was additionally what Admiral William F. Halsey known as “probably the most superb web page in American naval historical past,” and sarcastically, it started with a near-fatal miscalculation by Halsey. When the American military invaded Leyte on their strategy to retaking the Philippine Islands, the Japanese, by now determined, devised a plan whereby they’d use their carriers to lure off Halsey and heavy warships of the American drive defending the invasion fleet, after which steam into Leyte Gulf and destroy the whole lot, together with the troops that had landed.
Halsey took the bait, leaving solely a scratch drive of destroyers, destroyer escorts, and escort carriers behind. It was a tin can fleet, so badly outnumbered and outgunned that it might be suicide to attempt to maintain off the Japanese juggernaut bearing on them. However that’s simply what they did. They attacked.
Commander Ernest E. Evans of the destroyer Johnston advised his crew:
“…This will likely be a combat in opposition to overwhelming odds from which survival can’t be anticipated. We are going to do what harm we will.”
And with that, the Johnston and her equally puny sister ships made smoke and charged the Japanese armada, firing torpedoes and Eight-inch weapons till their ships had been shot to items. Evans was killed; nobody is aware of for sure how he died. He obtained a posthumous Medal of Honor.
However the Johnston and her fellow tin cans, together with Navy pilots who attacked furiously and incessantly, did a unprecedented quantity of injury, a lot that the Japanese commander grew to become satisfied that if he didn’t break off the assault, he would lose extra ships than he might afford to.
James Hornfischer does a variety of issues right here: He offers you the narrative of the battle, and paints poignant little footage of the lads concerned. However most unusually, he describes how ships labored, and the way gunnery operated, and what the sizes and weights and ranges of shells had been, and what they may do, and the actual perils confronted by Naval aviators.
After which he describes combating at sea:
“Naval fight is nothing like floor battle, however that doesn’t make it any much less terrifying. Dying comes immediately, shrieking down with little warning from the sky. If a two-thousand-pound projectile fired from lengthy vary has your quantity—if the lazy, decaying parabola of its trajectory terminates on or close to your ship—you’re completed, regardless of how nice your reflexes or assiduous your coaching. In dimension and explosive energy, naval gunfire on this battle dwarfed something within the Military’s arsenal. The largest howitzer that Macarthur’s troops used fired a 155mm shell, about the identical dimension because the six-inch rounds of the sunshine cruisers. Battleship shells had been a number of orders of magnitude heavier. Once they struck they shredded armor, burned metal, and vaporized flesh. They killed any variety of methods, by flame, by shock, by storm of flying shrapnel.”
So that you stood your responsibility station quick and did your job within the full data that there was nowhere to cover, and that you might at any on the spot be torn to bits, rendered right into a bloody mist, burned, crushed, or boiled alive by escaping steam. The deck on which you walked, or crawled, was prone to be awash in blood and coated with the our bodies and physique elements of males who had been your shipmates, and alive, just a few seconds in the past.
Should you went into the water you stood a great opportunity of drowning (many sailors couldn’t swim at the moment) as a result of your flotation gear would change into saturated after a day or two. Or you might swallow saltwater and lose your thoughts, or swallow oil and die from that. Or you might go mad, and swim away from no matter you had been clinging to, or the sharks may get you. Otherwise you is likely to be picked up by the Japanese. Most sailors most well-liked dying to that.
And on the backside of all this was the data that the Navy’s search and rescue operations throughout World Struggle II had been largely clusterf***s, because the sailors would put it. Luck had extra to do with survival than the rest.
Then there have been the odd moments, which Hornfischer additionally offers us:
An ideal many Navy pilots, having expended their ammo, bombs, and torpedoes, flew passes on the Japanese ships to distract them from planes that also had ordnance. One pilot drew his .38 revolver and fired all six rounds on the ship over which he was flying.
An Avenger pilot, Lt. (jg) Thomas J. Lupo, had truly thrown a Coke bottle and a navigation board at a Japanese vessel, however he now wanted fuel, and landed at an airfield at Tacloban, which was cratered by bombs and nearly suicide to land on. He made it, however ran afoul of an American main who refused him fuel and ammo on the grounds that they had been earmarked for an additional unit. Lupo, unable to make the key perceive what the stakes had been, gave his revolver to his radioman, advised him to kill the key if he tried to intrude, and commandeered a Jeep to seek out an officer with some brains. He did, and received his fuel and ammo.
The crew of a sunken American ship, treading water within the Pacific, watched in dread as a Japanese ship bore down on them. Anticipating to be machine-gunned, or depth-charged (the impact of a depth cost on a person within the water was notably horrific, and Hornfischer describes it), or run down, they had been astonished to see the crew lined up alongside the rail, at consideration, in tribute. One Japanese sailor threw one thing to them. It was a can of tomatoes, packed in the USA.
It is a prolonged evaluation, and the e-book below dialogue just isn’t about weapons, our selection a minimum of, however I feel that our common readers can admire it greater than most individuals. In a time when “security” and “safety” are two of a very powerful phrases in our nationwide vocabulary, and when school children decide out of taking exams as a result of they really feel careworn by the occasions of the day, Tin Can Sailors is one thing you could learn with appreciation … and with awe. Buy It Now.