Tin Can Titans
The Heroic Men and Ships of World War II’s Most Decorated Navy Destroyer Squadron
Da Capo Press, Boston, 2017, 352 pages
Book Review published on: February 2, 2018
In his earlier book Hell from the Heavens, John Wukovits detailed, in gripping fashion, the heroic actions of the crew on the destroyer USS Laffey during the battle of Okinawa. In Tin Can Titans, he widens the scope of his work to examine the almost three-year combat record of Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 23 in the Pacific War, and the results are equally splendid.
A total of twelve ships served in DESRON 23 from the fall of 1942 to Japan’s surrender in September 1945. In admirable detail, the author traces the campaigns that would make the squadron the most decorated of the war. He begins with the desperate days of late 1942 in the Solomon Islands, where heavy losses of the larger ships left DESRON 23 as one of Adm. William Halsey’s most critical assets. His description of the nightly cat-and-mouse duels between American and Japanese ships leaves the reader well versed on the evolution of destroyer tactics and in awe of the men who went into harm’s way almost constantly, defying the terror inherent in fighting in the dark. The scene then shifts to New Guinea, where DESRON 23 is an integral part of “MacArthur’s Navy,” providing support to his amphibious campaign through the Bismarck Archipelago and on to the Philippines. The final chapters of the book are devoted to the final year of the war and the challenges presented by Japanese kamikaze attacks. Throughout each of these campaigns, Wukovits expertly weaves an understanding of the strategic, operational, and tactical challenges with the daily fears, perils, and camaraderie experienced by the crews.
Wukovits relies on a strong assortment of primary sources, including action reports and ship logs as well as numerous interviews with surviving crew members. The author is a very talented storyteller, and he brilliantly narrates the experience of war at sea from the perspective of several men: a beloved ship’s doctor, a former college football star, a gallant commanding officer, and an ordinary sailor carrying on a loving correspondence with his wife. Tin Can Titans is also enhanced by a wonderful photo section of men, ships, and combat action scenes, in addition to appendices that allow the neophyte to track the chronology of the naval war. This is a must-read book for the serious student of history as well as the casual reader.
While aircraft carriers and battleships were the most glamorous vessels of the war, it was no coincidence that Halsey chose three DESRON 23 destroyers—O’Bannon, Nicholas, and Taylor—to be in the van of the great armada entering Tokyo Bay in 1945. In Tin Can Titans, Wukovits perfectly captures the reason why one of the proudest boasts of the war was “I am a destroyerman.”
Book Review written by: Robert M. Brown, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas