Many people would argue that the destroyer was the unsung hero of the Pacific Theater in World War II. Destroyers did not have the gun power of cruisers or battleships or the public fascination of aircraft carriers. However, destroyers were tasked with the important duty of protecting these capital ships – either as pickets against surface or air attack or as defenders against submarine attack. With this in mind, I wanted to learn more about these pivotal ships. Tales From a Tin Can: The USS Dale from Pearl Harbor to Tokyo Bay by Michael Keith Olson is a great resource that follows the exploits of the destroyer USS Dale from Pearl Harbor to the end of the war.
Olson’s father, Robert, served on the USS Dale during the war. Through his father, Olson connected with the officers and sailors who served on the ship. Olson writes a wonderful history of the Dale around the stories he was told and read about in letters and diaries.
The majority of the book is filled with the minutiae of daily life on a World War II destroyer. The days were filled with drills, maintenance, and boredom. These long days were broken up by periodic combat and other more entertaining events such as when the ship crossed the equator. Tradition has it when crew members who have never crossed the equator (they are called pollywogs) must go through a ritual of tasks put forth by those who have crossed before (they are called shellbacks). Olson describes some of these tasks, which included crawling along the deck while shellbacks take whacks at you with wooded paddles and being fed slop from the galley.
The strongest parts of the book detail the ship’s actions during the attack on Pearl Harbor and the Battle of the Komandorski Islands. Olson describes the tense moments that the crew had as they tried to evade Japanese fighters and torpedo planes that roamed over Pearl Harbor. I think Olson is at his best when he explains the role Dale played in the Battle of the Komandorski Islands – where a few U.S. Navy ships tried to fight off a superior Imperial Navy force. Olson easily wove in the words of the Dale crewmen into the narrative of the battle.
Olson’s writing style is easy to follow and the 291 pages fly by. In addition, he includes several pages of black and white photographs of the crew and the Dale in action.