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Ship of Ghosts: The Story of the USS Houston, FDR's Legendary Lost Cruiser, and the Epic Saga of her Survivors
"Son, we’re going to Hell."
The navigator of the USS Houston confided these prophetic words to a young officer as he and his captain charted a course into U.S. naval legend. Renowned as FDR’s favorite warship, the cruiser USS Houston was a prize target trapped in the far Pacific after Pearl Harbor. Without hope of reinforcement, her crew faced a superior Japanese force ruthlessly committed to total conquest. It wasn’t a fair fight, but the men of the Houston would wage it to the death.
Hornfischer brings to life the awesome terror of nighttime naval battles that turned decks into strobe-lit slaughterhouses, the deadly rain of fire from Japanese bombers, and the almost superhuman effort of the crew as they miraculously escaped disaster again and again–until their luck ran out during a daring action in Sunda Strait. There, hopelessly outnumbered, the Houston was finally sunk and its survivors taken prisoner. For more than three years their fate would be a mystery to families waiting at home.
In the brutal privation of jungle POW camps dubiously immortalized in such films as The Bridge on the River Kwai, the war continued for the men of the Houston—a life-and-death struggle to survive forced labor, starvation, disease, and psychological torture. Here is the gritty, unvarnished story of the infamous Burma–Thailand Death Railway glamorized by Hollywood, but which in reality mercilessly reduced men to little more than animals, who fought back against their dehumanization with dignity, ingenuity, sabotage, will–power—and the undying faith that their country would prevail.
Using journals and letters, rare historical documents, including testimony from postwar Japanese war crimes tribunals, and the eyewitness accounts of Houston’s survivors, James Hornfischer has crafted an account of human valor so riveting and awe-inspiring, it’s easy to forget that every single word is true.
From the Hardcover edition.
Ship of Ghosts: Crew of Valor
By Michael Diehl
- November 27, 2006
Hornfischer's new history of the last days of USS Houston (CA30) covers the story of USS Houston from her launch through her sinking at the Battle of Sunda Strait, Java, February 1942. Most of the volume covers her wartime service with the United States Asiatic fleet, and the subsequent ordeals of her surviving crewmembers as prisoners of war in Java, Burma, Thailand and Japan. The tales of valor, resistence, and survival in the face of the impossible circumstances of Asiatic Fleet, and of her crew's survival in prisoner of war camps, have long awaited telling. Hornfischer deserves great credit for obtaining and presenting the tale, and for honoring the last great men of a generation of WW2 veterans who are rapidly dwindling in number.
The story of USS Houston's service as Asiatic Fleet's flagship when America entered the war has only been told once before with any competence (E.P. Hoyt's "The Lonely Ships") -- but not with the detail provided by Hornfischer. More... read more
Brave Ship, Brave Crew
By Jeffrey T. Munson
- January 10, 2007
Author James Hornfischer has followed up his best-selling "Last Stand of the Tin Can Soldiers" with another sea epic that's sure to become as popular as his first book.
Hornfischer's second effort deals with the heavy cruiser USS Houston, the flagship of the rag-tag Asiatic Fleet. Given orders to intercept the advancing Imperial Japanese Navy in the early days of the Pacific war, the small Asiatic fleet had little chance of survival. The Japanese held a massive superiority over the Allies in all types of ships. It was only a matter of time before the Japanese succeeded in destroying the plucky little Allied fleet.
Despite these overwhelming odds, the Asiatic Fleet fought bravely, though in the end, the Japanese prevailed. The Houston and the Australian cruiser HMAS Perth were sunk in the Java Sea while attempting to sneak by the Japanese fleet and reach safety in Australia.
Several hundred crewmen of the Houston and Perth were captured by the... read more
HEROIC Ghost of the Java Coast!
By Michael J. Maxwell
- November 15, 2006
When I first read the sample pgs on Amazon, it reminded me of those Civil War books w/ the flowery language in place of facts/1st hand experiences - but I was going to get this book cause there are rarely new WWII stories. The only thing I had know about the Houston was that it had been lost early in the war & had only seen that 1 Japanese photo of it engulfed in shell splashes (not incl here unfort - prob too sensitive!)
Well, I was wrong! This IS an epic story, more involved than the bks I have on the Indianapolis, Juneau or Bismark, written in an easy-reading style,(different than most of my WWII books) full of human interest stories & personal experiences - I read it in 10hrs in 2 sittings. 100pgs of the 530 are notes, but it incls the crew list, so it's a good value for your $18 - not like that new Midway book 'Shattered Sword' which is half technical info. I'm going to get this authors other 'Last Stand' bk.
And hey - if you're going to review these... read more
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