The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors

Blog Post


Many of you who visit this blog have read James Hornfischer’s epic book,  The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors.

“This will be a fight against overwhelming odds from which survival cannot be expected. We will do what damage we can.”

With these words, Lieutenant Commander Robert W. Copeland addressed the crew of the destroyer escort USS Samuel B. Roberts on the morning of October 25, 1944, off the Philippine Island of Samar. On the horizon loomed the mightiest ships of the Japanese navy, a massive fleet that represented the last hope of a staggering empire. All that stood between it and Douglas MacArthur’ s vulnerable invasion force were the Roberts and the other small ships of a tiny American flotilla poised to charge into history.

But were you aware of the graphic novel of the same name from the Naval Institute Press?

The graphic novel is authored and produced by James D. Hornfischer; Adapted by Doug Murray; Drawn by Steven Sanders; Colored by Matt Soffe; Lettered by Rob Steen

The Battle of Samar was one of the greatest last stands in naval history.

The reason that I recommend this book so highly to this blog’s readership is that many of you have children and grandchildren who have grown up in the age of the i-pad, internet, sound bites and they may not sit and the book itself. BUT (LSP), they might be willing to read the graphic novel and be moved by history.

My father served on USS Hazelwood (DD531),  which was of the same Fletcher Class but not at Samar.

Hazelwood met the Imperial Japanese Navy’s kamikaze fleet off Okinawa later in the war and came away bloodied (below).

Helping my grandchildren understand the great Navy War and his place in it was aided by the graphic novel.

39 thoughts on “The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors

  1. At the start of WWII didn’t the Japanese claim that the U.S. was corrupt and soft, so they wouldn’t have the gumption for a stand-up fight. I wonder if the fight at Samar revised some opinions.

    1. The Japanese thought they were facing light cruisers, not destroyers.

      Halsey took the bait and left the DDs to protect his carriers.

      By Samar the Japanese no longer had the Victory Disease

  2. Larry,

    Your father’s experience on the USS Hazelwood led me to discover the USS Laffey’s duel with 50-odd Kamikazes off Okinawa. It is recounted in “Hell from the Heavens” by John Wukovits, who worked with Hornfisher and interviewed the last survivors. This fight deserves its own movie, and there should always be a USS Laffey in USN service.

    Graphic novels have the merit, if family friendly, of being less impactful than many a modern movie. And anything which leads children to books is more than welcome.

    1. The Fletcher Class Destroyers (and the follow-on Sumner Class that arrived late in the war) were workhorses, built to do everything and to sustain damage and survive. The USS Laffey was remarkable in her capacity to survive and be everywhere at once.

      Hazelwood accounted for a few kamikazes before one came at the fantail at the wavetops and nobody saw it until it struck according to my father, who manned that aft 40mm mount. He was thrown from the ship when it struck.

      1. Your father was on the aft 40mm mount? I’m amazed he survived, at all. There will have been schrapnel and burning fuel flying all over, plus burning pieces from the engine and wing spars scything and crushing everything in their path.

        The Fletchers were very good ships, nothing less would’ve survived multiple kamikazes. And the Japanese were free of victory disease by late 1943 or so.

        1. He was hit by shrapnel in his arm. He had a memory of firing/operating the gun and then floating in the water. It all happened very fast and traumatically as things do in war. They were not shooting at the kamikaze that struck them. Multiple incoming targets.

          They constructed a “new bridge” – a platform attached to the stack – and conned the ship back home that way.

  3. Another book to add to the reading list and maybe pick up the graphic novel

    Sadly I don’t know that the current crop of military would do as well in the same situation. Surely there are still heroes in the original sense of the word but I believe the overall bell curve has shifted to less risk taking.

    1. This battle occurred later in the war (October 25, 1944) after the slackers and cowards were sifted out. These were warships sailing aggressively in harm’s way. I can only hope that the current navy, once removed from the grievance class, cowards, and low IQ entitled would do as well.

      1. I guess in any war there has to be the initial fire and brimstone of some sort to temper those who remain.

        As you say or rather quote: “War is Hell”.

      2. Clearing out the deadwood will occur once a real war starts. The issue is how much it will cost in treasure, ships and men to clear it out and put in new leadership. Assuming the current crop of leaders does not surrender outright, and that sufficient warriors remain to rise to the occasion.

  4. Consider how pitifully few of the orificers and men on those little ships were on active duty when the Japanese attacked in 1941 and that the ships themselves had not yet been commissioned either.

    1. Almost all were reserve officers who served for the duration and then moved on to civilian life. The same was true of the sailors.

      1. The Greatest Generation. That they succeeded in both war and peace is testimony to how great they were.

        Immagine how the Japanese will hve felt when they finally realized that Yamamoto’s prediction, i.e. six months of rampage and then unavoidable defeat to an unstoppable juggernaut, was correct.

        What is changed today is the lack of capability to rebuild a fleet in the same numbers acheived in WW2.

        1. There is a time factor that they were afforded in WW2. Today, things move very quickly and so many weapons are global strike in nature. It’s a different world, a different planet. World War 3 is said, to be fought with nukes and World War 4 with sticks and stones.

    1. Let me know if he likes it. He can take it to Eastern Europe with him when he deploys.

  5. So many things…..
    Anyone who hasn’t read Hornfischer’s “Neptune’s Inferno” you should do so.
    Some of the sailors on those Tin Cans of Taffey 3 had been on ships sunk in Iron Bottom Sound, yet they sailed into the hellfire again.
    Many of the survivors of ships sunk off of Samar floated for days awaiting rescue. Many were lost to sharks… my opinion, a fate worse than facing the Japs.

    I have always been in awe of the men below decks in those tin cans. Imagine some anonymous machinist mate at his post in the engine room. He has no gun to shoot at the enemy, he can’t even see what is going on. He knows that at any moment a shell or torpedo could come crashing through a bulkhead and end his life. Yet he stands his post and does his duty, because if he doesn’t his ship is doomed.

    1. When my father was blown from his destroyer off Okinawa, he said that there were many others. The sharks ate many of them while he watched, helpless, bobbing in the swell in his life jacket. He opined that there either weren’t enough sharks eat him too, or it was luck or something. He bled from an open wound in his arm. A destroyer picked him up and he was transferred back to Hazelwood and given a bag to pick up body parts. The totality of the experience haunted him.

      War is hell.

      1. Some days I think we are not worthy. The rest of the time, I know for sure.

        In other news, Jack Singlaub has died – age 100.

    2. As a Nuke Machinist Mate, I had no abandon ship station, I was supposed to go down to the plant and destroy any classified material. I worked ~30 feet below the waterline every-day, I knew I wasn’t getting out. ” The men below just grimly smile at what their fate may be, It’s well assumed that if they’re hit the men below will die.”

  6. LL, thank you for the heads on the graphic novel. As I’vewritten you before, my father was aboard the Haggard 555 near the Hazelwood. Easily could have been his ship picking him up. Luckily only one Kimakaze hit them. He was part of Taffey 2 and picked up some survivors there as well. He turns 99 March 15th.

  7. Amazing the courage of those sailors. Equally amazing was how well they used the weapons they had.

    1. I remember hearing that after Adm Kurita turned and left the area, one of the sailors called out “Damn it boys, they’re getting away!” and wanted to pursue them

  8. It must be have been a lonely moment of feeling disparaged, when the crew of the destroyers knew the might of their fleet was off chasing decoys. Their determination, bravery, and sacrifice was more than any country could ask, and an honor to those that in slept in warm beds because of their effort.

    1. One of the Vets I worked with on the Iowa had been on the Hoel , and spent several days in the water, swimming among the survivors to check on them.

      Amazing men…..

  9. It is what real men do. They just do it. Bitch about it, yes. Complain, yes. Slack off if possible, yes. But when the rubber meets the road, when the fires come from the sky, when the world becomes Hell itself, then men just man up and do toxic masculinity things.

    I’ve met men that did these things. They just act like men are supposed to act. Suck up the pain, move on, don’t talk about it.

    There’s lots of men in this current nation that are like this. Just they don’t get any positive publicity.

    1. Absolutely. Lord knows enough men (and women) proved it in Iraq and Afghanistan for what turned out to be inscrutable reasons. And they remember that. So of course our government looks upon them with deep suspicion and fistadte.

  10. Years ago I had a customer on my route who was a survivor of the U.S.S. Indianapolis.
    From time to time I would visit with him, drink a beer and talk.
    I’m not sure that they make men like that any more

  11. I have read both books about the Pacific War and agree about the men and women who fought and sacrificed to defeat a vicious enemy. I understand the comments about the generation of WWII being the greatest and the lamentations of today’s military. I want to reassure everyone, there are young people still willing to volunteer for military service. My youngest daughters 2019 HS graduating class had 10% (142 grads) of the kids going directly to the military. She is thinking about the AF after college. My cousin is in the Coast Guard. My son is in the Navy and just finished a 2.5-year stint in Bahrain. Wife and I went to see him in Oct. We met hundreds of dedicated Navy members. All are ready to do their duty. it is the top brass who are more concerned with being woke/PC which takes away from the primary mission of defending the country. They are more concerned with all of the political correctness BS. It is the seaman or private who suffers because of this incompetence.

Comments are closed.

Scroll to top