The Last Run of the USS Heermann

First of all, dear blog readers, self would like to introduce this post by saying that she grew up in the Philippines and attended the best schools that Filipino money could buy. And none of those schools taught World War II.

She never even heard of the Battle of Leyte Gulf until she began reading The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors. It took her going to the States, getting graduate degrees from Stanford, and becoming a US citizen before she had access to books about World War II.

That is why reading this book by James D. Hornfischer is such an incredible experience.

Her last post was about the fatally wounded Gambier Bay. The commander of Taffy 2, Admiral Stump, has just decided not to send any of his ships into the battle, as he sees it is lost. It is left to the commander of Taffy 3, Ziggy Sprague, to beg any carriers and cruisers nearby to come to the aid of Gambier Bay.

But none of the besieged carriers have any torpedoes left. There is one who responds, though: the Heermann. The Heermann‘s captain decides to bluff (he has no torpedoes either, but what the hey). Remember the Heermann almost crashed into an American destroyer, not once but three times? It happens again here, the Heermann nearly collides with the Fanshaw Bay. Nevertheless, collision is avoided, the Heermann builds up steam and continues towards the Gambier Bay, its gun boss, Lieutenant Meadors, keeping up “a steady cadence of fire all the way in.” An eight-inch shot from a Japanese cruiser “ripped through the ship’s bow, blowing a five-foot hole in the hull and flooding the forward magazines.” Everyone in the pilothouse is killed. With chief quartermaster John P. Milley (Thank you, James D. Hornfischer, for giving us actual names instead of just saying “the chief quartermaster lay dead …”) lying dead on the deck, “the wheel was abandoned.”

A sailor named Harold Whitney grabs the wheel and tries to imitate what he’s seen his skipper do so many times. Suddenly, he feels a tug on his pant leg and looks down. The chief quartermaster John P. Milley was alive! “I’ll take it,” Milley told Whitney. “But you’re wounded,” Whitney said. “I’ll take it,” was all Milley said again. Whitney surrendered the wheel.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

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