The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

Hard-Boiled And Hard Core

Posted on | November 14, 2014 | 31 Comments

— by Wombat-socho

This week was spent reading a lot of naval history – Morison’s The Two-Ocean War, of course, because it’s enormous, and James Hornfischer’s The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors, an excellent recounting of the Battle of Samar, in which half a dozen escort carriers with their puny screen of destroyers and destroyer escorts managed to meet and defeat a Japanese battleship task force. Samar doesn’t get much mention among the great battles of the Pacific War, partially because explaining how it came about is terribly embarrassing to the Navy and one of its heroes, Fleet Admiral William F. Halsey, but heroism like this deserves to be remembered, and Hornfischer does an excellent job of telling the tale of Taffy 3 and its desperate struggle in October of 1944. This book won the Morison Prize, and rightly so; Hornfischer is every bit as good a storyteller as Morison, while incorporating the more modern historians’ trope of including the stories of the crewmen who served the guns, armed the planes, and died in the hundreds when the Japanese gunners finally found the range.

I’ve been noticing a trend in science fiction and fantasy lately, where an author writes what seems to be a fantasy at the beginning, but as the story unfolds it turns out that Clarke’s Law is at work, and what you thought was magic is just technology we haven’t mastered yet. This is definitely the case with The International Lord of Hate’s Grimnoir trilogy, which begins with Hard Magic. Correia adds additional goodness by making his hero a stereotypical hard-boiled private eye straight out of Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett, but unlike the classic noir P.I.’s Heavy Jake Sullivan has an additional talent: he’s a Gravity Spiker, one of those rare people who can manipulate the pull and intensity of gravity. When we first meet Jake, he’s being strong-armed into helping the federal Bureau of Investigation, which arranged to have him released from prison in return for helping them chase down and capture other Actives. This time, they want him to take down an old girlfriend, and that’s far from the last thing to go wrong. As usual, Correia does a great job of delivering lots of action along with serious thought about how the world would be changed if 1% of the population acquired magical abilities. I am waiting for a copy of Spellbound to become available through the county library, but in the meantime, since I had a copy of Warbound, I read that too – and all I can say is WOW. The stakes are huge, Jake Sullivan is surrounded by allies of questionable loyalty, and he’s going straight into Shanghai on what looks for all the world like a suicidal attack on the Chairman of the Imperium. He’s got a few tricks up his sleeve, though, to say nothing of friends in low places. I don’t think I’ve enjoyed a novel this much since finishing Correia’s Monster Hunter Nemesis, which is saying quite a bit. Not sure if you’ll like the Grimnoir novels? Have a taste with the short story “Detroit Christmas”.

Speaking of hard-boiled, perhaps the most iconic of the hard-boiled detectives isn’t a fictional private eye, it’s Prohibition agent Eliot Ness, played by Robert Stack in the Desilu/Quinn Martin TV series The Untouchables, and later by Kevin Costner in the Brian DePalma movie The Untouchables. Chicago is just the beginning of the Eliot Ness story, though, and Douglas Perry brings you – in true Paul Harvey style – the rest of the story. In Eliot Ness: The Rise and Fall of an American Hero, Perry continues the story through Ness’ brilliant career as Cleveland’s Director of Public Safety, in which he cleaned up an infamously corrupt city police force and broke the local mob – for which he became much better known than his exploits as a T-man working against Capone, since after all (in contrast to the movies) it was the IRS that actually nailed Capone for tax evasion; Ness and his prohibition agents were more of a sideshow and backup operation in case the tax charges couldn’t be made to stick. After Cleveland, though, the story of Eliot Ness is a less happy one, but you can read about that yourself. A good book that does an excellent job of offsetting all the Hollywood hoopla surrounding a genuine hero.


31 Responses to “Hard-Boiled And Hard Core”

  1. RS
    November 14th, 2014 @ 5:06 pm

    I have Hornfischer’s and have read it several times. It’s extraordinarily good. (BTW, I think battle is known as, “The Battle Off Samar). Halsey seemed to be all about himself and his “brand.” He was trying to be the Navy equivalent to MacArthur, but ultimately, his hubris bit him in the rear. History has not been kind to him, even though the Navy suppressed open criticism.

    For a similar, well-written work about Wake Island, I recommend Pacific Alamo by John Wukowits. It’s quite the page turner and illuminates a number of misconceptions about the battle. Definitely worth a read.

  2. M. Thompson
    November 14th, 2014 @ 5:16 pm

    Being the dependent of a crewmember of one of the ships named after an officer at the Battle Off Samar, Hornfischer’s book was a great read.

    My copy was cheap and fell apart though.

  3. Evan3457
    November 14th, 2014 @ 7:03 pm

    Well, the jeep carriers, destroyers and destroyer escorts didn’t really “meet and defeat” Kurita’s main force. They ran like hell, made smoke, threw every plane they had at the main force, and forced/deceived Kurita into what turned out to be bad decisions, and most of all, delayed him for a six critical hours. After that, believing without evidence that Halsey and the US Fleet carriers were closing in on him to annihilate his forces, and asking no permission from higher ranks, he just turned and left Leyte without completing his mission.

    In truth, Sprague and his forces were lucky in the the extreme, but it is just as true to say that without their desperate brilliance and towering valor, McArthur’s beachhead would’ve been destroyed and the invasion would’ve been lost. In that sense, they defeated Kurita.

    Herman Wouk, from War and Remembrance, speaking as Victor Henry: “The vision of Sprague’s three destroyers — the Johnston, the Hoel, and the Heermann — charging out of the smoke and the rain straight toward the main batteries of Kurita’s battleships and heavy crusiers, can endure as a picture of the way Americans fight when they don’t have superiority. Our schoolchildren should know about that incident, and our enemies should ponder it.

    I wonder sometimes if our military is still capable of that sort of thing now. The men? Maybe. The leaders, especially the political leadership…I don’t think so.

  4. richard mcenroe
    November 14th, 2014 @ 9:43 pm

    Your last question was answered for half our “leadership” in Somalia…

  5. richard mcenroe
    November 14th, 2014 @ 9:45 pm

    I enjoyed Raymond Chandler’s guest appearance in the Grimnoir books.

  6. darleenclick
    November 14th, 2014 @ 9:56 pm

    I started with the Grimnoir novels first, then the Monster Hunters. Both are great series.

  7. Wombat_socho
    November 14th, 2014 @ 10:54 pm

    I’ll have to look into that Wukowits book.

  8. Wombat_socho
    November 14th, 2014 @ 11:29 pm

    I, too, found it amusing that he was present as Frank Stuyvesant’s accountant and drinking buddy.

  9. Wombat_socho
    November 14th, 2014 @ 11:31 pm

    Forgive me for lapsing into wargamer argot, but Sprague and Taffy 3 accomplished their victory conditions; Kurita did not accomplish his, and left the field to the Americans. Sounds like a win to me.

  10. Wombat_socho
    November 14th, 2014 @ 11:31 pm


  11. Wombat_socho
    November 14th, 2014 @ 11:32 pm

    Amazon has used paperback copies from ~$2.50, nudge nudge. 😉

  12. Fail Burton
    November 15th, 2014 @ 4:16 am

    Our destroyers and DE’s did not run. They sailed directly at Kurita and launched torpedo and gunnery assaults. That played a large role in turning Kurita back. No, they did not tactically defeat Kurita; that might have been impossible given what was arrayed on each side, but they did inflict a strategic defeat on him and inflicted damage as well. Kurita tactically defeated what he engaged, but didn’t exploit that.

  13. Fail Burton
    November 15th, 2014 @ 4:21 am

    The main battle is known as The Battle Off Samar but the action as a whole is known as The Battle of Leyte Gulf, since all was of a whole in dealing with a north/south pincer movement of Japanese units for 3 to 4 days.

  14. RS
    November 15th, 2014 @ 4:36 pm

    Yeah. Three components: Surigao Strait, Samar and Cape Engano. Four if you count Sibuyan Sea as separate.

  15. Bob Belvedere
    November 15th, 2014 @ 7:16 pm

    If I may take advantage of this forum…

    -Has anyone read Earth Abides and what do you think about it?

    -Has anyone read Lights Out and what do you think about it?

  16. richard mcenroe
    November 15th, 2014 @ 7:37 pm

    Another historical note worth mentioning, the Japanese advance through Surigao Strait was met and massacred by old battleships raised from the mud of Pearl Harbor, repaired and refitted. That’s a revenge Aristotle would have approved.

  17. richard mcenroe
    November 15th, 2014 @ 7:38 pm

    Earth Abides I’ve read several times and enjoyed. Lights Out I haven’t read.

  18. Bob Belvedere
    November 15th, 2014 @ 7:39 pm

    I would highly recommend it, Cousin Richard. Well done and tough to put down. Good especially for waiting in Doctor’s offices. You could play the character of ‘Gunny’.

  19. Bob Belvedere
    November 15th, 2014 @ 7:40 pm

    Somebody mention my name???

  20. craig henry
    November 15th, 2014 @ 7:47 pm

    History has not been kind to Halsey because modern history is written by scolds and wussies. Nimitz who was well aware of Halsey’s weaknesses never tolerated criticism of the man. And the men who served under him loved him. (Watch the interviews in Battle 360 Enterprise)

  21. Evan3457
    November 16th, 2014 @ 12:52 am

    First the entire fleet ran, and then to save the jeep carriers, Sprague ordered the destroyers and DE’s to turn and attack Kurita. It was desperation, and it had no business working, but it worked anyway. Those much smaller boats turning and charging those battleships helped delay Kurita, and the delay made him worried about Halsey’s carriers, wherever they were. Sprague did everything he could to avoid a catastrophe, and it worked. The destroyers and DE’s paid the price.

  22. Evan3457
    November 16th, 2014 @ 12:57 am

    Everything you say about how the men under him felt about Halsey it true. It’s also true he make big mistakes at Leyte. It’s also true he might have saved the whole Pacific war in the Guadalcanal campaign. Well, the Marines, too.

  23. Evan3457
    November 16th, 2014 @ 12:59 am

    In the end, yes it was. But Kurita had cleared the field, and could’ve destroyed the invasion forces. He didn’t because he forgot that his job was to risk his entire force, if necessary, to destroy the invasion.

  24. JollyGreenChemist
    November 16th, 2014 @ 1:22 am

    I am about one-third of the way through Hornfischer’s book, and I agree that it is superb. I was generally familiar with the battle. I knew Halsey had screwed up, but was not aware of the magnitude of his hubris.

  25. Fail Burton
    November 16th, 2014 @ 2:11 am

    DD Johnston attacked without orders.

  26. Quartermaster
    November 16th, 2014 @ 10:04 am

    History hasn’t been kind to Halsey because of his mistakes. He was criticized for the fleet having weathered two hurricanes needlessly (Forrest Sherman called Halsey’s acts “acts of incompetence,” for example (published in his memoirs). I don’t fault Halsey for going north after the carriers. The Japs dangled bait that Halsey could not possibly pass up and he bit hard. It got Halsey and the fast Battleships out of the way so that one or more arms of the Jap fleet could get to Leyte Gulf and destroy the beach head. Had Kurita been a bit bolder, the outcome would have been far different.

  27. Wombat_socho
    November 16th, 2014 @ 5:16 pm

    Morison and Hornfischer were neither “scolds” nor “wussies”, and both were even-handed in their treatment of Fleet Admiral Halsey.

  28. Wombat_socho
    November 16th, 2014 @ 5:16 pm

    I was actually referring to Larry Correia.

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    November 16th, 2014 @ 9:48 pm

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  30. Western Gunowner
    November 17th, 2014 @ 7:59 pm

    Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors is an absolutely stunning read.
    Maybe equaled in courage but never exceeded, the charge of the Destroyer Escort (DE) Samuel B Roberts into the on-coming Japanese fleet (of which the Yammamoto herself nearly displaced more tons than the entire Taffy 3) is in my opinion the US Navy’s single most “final hour”. Perhaps only the sacrifice of the torpedo bombers at Midway comes close.
    For Evan3457 below, yes the carriers of Taffy 3 did turn and run like “hell” but almost all of the DD’s and DE’s sailed directly at the enemy in a desperate rear-guard effort to protect the carriers. Roberts led the charge without waiting for orders but the others were not far behind. Most got within range to launch torpedos and some exchanged gunfire with ships they had no business being within range of. They scored hits with torpedos and gun-fire both taking enemy ships out of action and causing them to turn aside from the attack. The Japanese did make several blunders and failed to press home the attack partly at least because of the ferocity of the defense.
    As Sprague wrote “the divine act of providence had helped” but it was the courage of the men on the little ships that did the work.
    I couldn’t put it down.

  31. Western Gunowner
    November 17th, 2014 @ 8:01 pm

    Also, if I remember correctly from the “Winds of War” the last time one fleet “crossed the T” against another fleet.