The remarkable story of destroyer-class warships

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The remarkable story of destroyer-class warships

Tin Cans and Greyhounds: The Destroyers that Won Two World Wars by Clint Johnson, Regnery History, US$29.99, Pp 416, February 2019, ISBN 978-1621576471

One of the weapons that helped Allies win the two World Wars was the destroyer-class warships. But, unfortunately, it does not have a place it deserves in the history books. In Tin Cans and Greyhounds, Clint Johnson argues that destroyers played a major role in fighting both world wars. In the two wars, soldiers of all nations fought each other face to face. Airmen were the most likely to die in combat, falling from the skies due to machine gun and cannon fire, ground anti-aircraft artillery, weather, and mechanical failures. But, death was more certain for soldiers fighting on the seas. Sailors braved the dark, unforgiving ocean from the single coxswain on a landing craft to the admiral on a battleship commanding tens of thousands of men in hundreds of ships. But all of them depended on Destroyer Men. Clint Johnson argues that it was destroyers that escorted the convoys which successfully supplied troops on battlefields in both world wars. It was destroyers that sank the submarines stalking the convoys. It was destroyers that rushed in to rescue men from sinking ships. And it was destroyers that scraped their keels on the ocean’s sandy bottom to provide bombardment support for beach landings of the soldiers who would fight the land war.

Clint Johnson tells us that Great Britain essentially invented the destroyer in the 1870s and thought it would rule the waves. But it was Japan that tremendously improved them just thirty years later when its British-built and home-built destroyers played a major role in sinking much of the supposedly superior Russian fleet. Clint Johnson argues that had America not sent dozens of destroyers to a tiny Irish Coastal town in May 1917, Germany might have defeated Great Britain before the end of the year. While Germany had the technological ability to build the V-1 and V-2 rockets, it invested little toward designing good destroyers. Japan’s most historic destroyer did not win any battles for its own county, but it played the major role in the most important American naval victory of the war. Had it not been for the dogged determination of United States Destroyer Men, Guadalcanal might have stayed in Japanese hands in 1942 and the US invasion fleet off the Philippines in 1944 might have been destroyed.

Clint Johnson shows profound respect for the ships called the Greyhounds of the Sea and their crews who proudly call themselves Tin Can Sailors. He regrets that the four pioneer destroyer-building nations did not save the earliest and most important examples of their destroyers. Great Britain scrapped the HMS Petard in 1967. Petard captured Enigma machine codebooks and sank three different submarines in three different oceans, and it was still cut up. The sole survivor of the deadly Japanese Kagero-destroyer class from World War II was the Yukikaze, which was scrapped in 1970. The United States unceremoniously sold the USS O’Bannon (DD-450) — with seventeen battle stars — in 1970 and it was broken up two years later.

Tin Cans and Greyhounds is the first general history of the development of the destroyer-class warships that spanned both world wars. Clint Johnson shows how Great Britain invented destroyers and Japan improved them while the United States perfected them but Germany miserably failed to invest in them and lost the war. Tin Cans and Greyhounds is a remarkable story of destroyer-class warships — worth telling over and over again. This is equally the story of those brave sailors who put their lives at risk and fought for freedom. Clint Johnson has told this inspiring story beautifully. This book will equally fascinate and delight both the lay reader and military historian.

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