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The Last Battle Station, a Book Review

Discussion in 'The Pacific and CBI' started by belasar, Oct 19, 2014.

  1. belasar

    belasar Court Jester Staff Member

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    The Last Battle Station: The Story of the USS Houston, By Duane Schultz,1985, St. Martin's Press, Hardcover, 271 pages, Maps, Photo's, Notes, Bibliography, Index.

    This book recounts the short and violent wartime career of the American Heavy Cruiser, USS Houston. A elegant looking ship, she had all the flaws and virtues of a "Treaty Class" cruiser. Heavy armament, good speed and sea keeping, but painfully thin armor. She, along with the HMAS Perth were lost of Samar with most of her crew in a heroic, yet misguided attempt to prevent the invasion of Java.

    Schultz lays out her pre-war career as the 'Presidential Yacht" (FDR cruised on her 3 times calling her his favorite ship in the Navy), transfer to the Asiatic Fleet as its flagship, build up to war and escape from the Philippines, convoy duties, port calls, air attacks (one of which cost her the aft 8 inch turret) and the forlorn attempt to stem the Japanese tide bearing down on the Dutch East Indies.

    The author makes great direct use of survivor's accounts about life aboard a ship at war and peace, their hopes, fear's and uncertainties of their fate. A couple of times perhaps too much as the abandoning of the ship sequence felt a little repetitive, but this is a minor quibble with a otherwise fine book.

    Be advised that some parts might make any red blooded American feel a deep agitation on how the crew were treated, and surprisingly not only by the Japanese. Lets just say I lost a great deal of respect for the Dutch authorities, though the actual Dutch military on the sharp end are above reproach. Her Admiral's and government in exile however are another matter.

    Overall a fine book that reveals a part of the war generally overlooked by most accounts.
     
    O.M.A. and Slipdigit like this.
  2. LRusso216

    LRusso216 Graybeard Staff Member Patron  

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    I've read a couple of accounts of the USS Houston. Most point out the deficiencies of the ship.The battle off Samar fascinates me, so it's another book I'll have to add to my list. *sigh*
     
  3. belasar

    belasar Court Jester Staff Member

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    It is a topic that runs trough the book, but it seems she dished out as much as she took. More to the point she lasted longer and took far greater damage than any of the ABDA ships. Much of that seems to be due to a exceptional crew who made the most of her.
     
  4. LRusso216

    LRusso216 Graybeard Staff Member Patron  

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    Sounds similar to Hornfischer's Ship of Ghosts. I think the Houston and her crew acquitted themselves quite well.
     
  5. belasar

    belasar Court Jester Staff Member

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    There is a moment in the book where a departing Admiral Hart and Captain Rooks on a Javanese dock debate sending Houston out of the area since her after 8 inch turret is out of commission (Light Cruiser's Marblehead and Boise have both departed to effect repairs) and decide to keep her in the fight. Knowing what was to come I still hoped they might choose a different course since the crew seemed so exceptional in a impossible situation.
     
  6. Carronade

    Carronade Ace Patron  

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    Three of the Northampton class cruisers, Houston, Augusta, and Chicago, were fitted as fleet flagships, with the forecastle extended aft almost to the catapults to provide additional accommodation and office space. All three served tours as flagship of the Asiatic Fleet, which Houston was in 1941.

    Augusta spent the war in the Atlantic and also hosted FDR on several occasions including his "Atlantic Charter" conference with Churchill. She was Patton's flagship for the Casablanca landings and Bradley's at Normandy.

    Indianapolis of the next class was also a flagship, often used by Spruance during the war.
     

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