“This is going to be a fighting ship,” said Commander Ernest E. Evans during the Battle off Semar of 1944. “I intend to go in harm’s way, and anyone who doesn’t want to go along had better get off right now. Now that I have a fighting ship, I will never retreat from an enemy force.”
Evans was given a ship. A model that would play a large role in naval warfare during World War II. The Battle off Semar was one of many fierce fights where the destroyer ripped through the waters, placing crewmembers in odds against submarines, transports, and other major threats.
Tom Hanks’s movie, Greyhound, was originally supposed to be coming out March 22, but was recently pushed back to Spring 2020. Anyone who wants to know more about the destroyer ships and their legacy during both world wars should read Clint Johnson’s book, Tin Cans & Greyhounds.
“I’ve been a civil war historian for years and I wanted to do something new,” Johnson said in an interview with Townhall.
He found inspiration reading about two destroyers, both named the USS Jacob Jones. One served in World War I and the other in World War II. Both were attacked by torpedoes and sunk, losing many of their crew members.
Johnson found the stories fascinating but realized that there weren’t many works telling a comprehensive history of destroyer ships.
“Destroyers are probably the most versatile of all the warships in World War I and World War II,” he said.
“Tin cans” and “Greyhounds” were both nicknames for the destroyer. The “tin can” nickname references the ships’ thin hulls.
“Their hull is only a half inch thick. That was all that was keeping the crew from the ocean,” Johnson said.
While this made the ships less secure for the crew inside, they also made the ships travel fast, like a greyhound.
In his book, Johnson covers the early history of the destroyer and how it was invented. He then covers various battles the destroyers were used in World War I and II.
One of the more interesting stories, Johnson mentioned, was the story of the USS Buckley. During World War II, the ship patrolled the waters of the South Atlantic. On May 6, 1944, the Buckley engaged in combat with a German U-boat.
The crew took the enemy by surprise as it rammed the destroyer into the U-boat. The battle soon turned into hand-to-hand combat. The Americans used everything they had to fight the Germans; even coffee mugs were used in the fierce conflict.
Johnson said that the only injury that was inflicted on an American in that battle was a bruised hand, after the crew member bashed an enemy soldier with it.
This and many other battles are reflected in the book, which serves as Johnson’s push to try to give destroyers and their crew members the recognition they deserve.
“I make a point in the book that there are only four destroyers in museums across the United States,” Johnson said. “I am puzzled by it too, but the Navy and the federal government are just focused on what’s happening right now, and not so much on preservation.”
In fact, most of the destroyers that helped win the world wars were eventually cut down for scrap and repurposed, leaving behind a historical legacy.
“It is upsetting,” he said. “It’s upsetting to me.”
Johnson also expressed concerns with the historical accuracy of the upcoming Tom Hanks movie.
“His Greyhound is supposed to be called USS Greyhound,” he said. “That’s not how they were named.”
Johnson said that destroyers were named after real-life American naval heroes. The author believes that if the movie sticks with the name they have, it will upset a lot of Navy members. And after all, those are the people that not only manned the destroyers, but all the other ships that tread the vast waters to defend our nation.
“They knew that they had to be very good at their jobs and to avoid their enemies,” Johnson said.
Tin Cans & Greyhounds is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.