Tales from a Tin Can

Author: Michael Keith Olsen
Publisher: Zenith Press
Year: 2007
Reviewer: Neal Stevens

From Pearl Harbor to the surrender in Tokyo Bay, the USS Dale and her crew were there. Tales from a Tin Can is a worthy and distinctive book--it gathers veterans of Dale's missions in the Pacific to recount activities the destroyer took part in during World War II. Each major episode is told with a personal flavor.  Any omissions or discrepancies cropping up from the span of time since the events took place are nicely balanced by the blend of narratives and perspectives.

The author is the son of a Dale sailor and was drawn into creating the book after returning home together from a ship's reunion. Olsen soon learned he faced a substantial challenge in organizing the book and fitting the sea stories of the men who served on her into a manageable account. But the result pays off--Tales from a Tin Can offers the naval enthusiast an absorbing look into the life of a US naval sailor in war, from the freezing Aleutians to the kamikaze attacks of Okinawa. The officers, radiomen, electricians, and other crewmen aboard Dale relate the uncertainties of scuttlebutt, the hardships of duty, the fickle reliability of equipment, and the danger posed by the mighty capital ships of the Imperial Japanese Navy in unique fashion.

Life aboard a tin can, as destroyers were lovingly called, was difficult. Destroyers were important, and expendable, at the same time. Among the least power units in the Navy, destroyers were often tasked with pressing the initial attack on enemy ships many times their size and firepower. Their role in the attack was to dart in, draw the fire of battleships, and launch torpedo attacks, relying on luck, guts, and speed to evade counterfire. In March, 1943, while patrolling off the coast of Kamchatka Peninsula, a task force consisting of two US cruisers and Dale ambushed what they thought were three Japanese transports. The battle quickly took a deadly turn for Dale--the transports were escorted by faster and more powerfully armed Japanese heavy cruisers, in attendance with two IJN light cruisers and four destroyers, kicking off a terrifying two-day naval engagement. At one point, the group commander, realizing he could not outrun the enemy, commanded the Dale to turn and engage.

The Jap cruiser had closed to nine miles, but at sea a mile is nothing! Why, some ships can't turn in less than a half-mile. When the order came down for us to launch a torpedo attack, I knew we were in big trouble, because I could see them (Nachi-class heavy cruisers Nachi and Maya, and four IJN destroyers) as plain as day from the gun director. There wasn't going to be anything to protect us as we ran up to the launch point.

                                      Mike Callahan, XO, USS Dale

The small, narrow ships were also susceptible to the capricious whims of Mother Nature. In December of 1944, Task Force 38 was beset by Typhoon Cobra, a huge Pacific hurricane. USS Dale was fortunate to be in dock for repairs at this time. With waves battering  and rolling ships up to seventy degrees, surviving the weather was as difficult as surviving the war. Seven-hundred and ninety DD sailors were lost.

The author intertwines well-researched historical background and war events throughout the Dale stories, providing the reader an understanding of the scope of the war and Dale's role in it.  The men of the USS Dale faced a broad range of adversaries--sharks, mines, enemy subs, typhoons, kamikaze planes, battleships--even a skipper who terrorized the crew more than the enemy. But the men of Dale survived it all, and their accounts make informative and interesting reading. I recommend this book.


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2007 SUBSIM Review