Pages Menu

Categories Menu

Posted on Sep 9, 2007 in Books and Movies, Front Page Features

The Last Epic Naval Battle – Book Review

By Richard N Story

cover.jpgBook Review: The Last Epic Naval Battle: Voices From Leyte Gulf.  Sears, David.
New American Library Publishing, 2005, Soft cover.

Many people, myself included, consider oral histories or first person biographies to be the best kind of history. Told by the participants themselves the stories they weave are always fascinating even if the memory does not match the historical documented history. David Sears decided to take to task the enormous job of recording the voices of the various sailors who served in the last massive naval battle of World War II.   Given that 40 years had passed since the end of the battle; David Sears managed to collect an impressive number of sailors (60) to share their remembrances about their career in the Navy and the Battle of Leyte Gulf. 


Sailors did not spring out of the waves fully formed and ready for battle like Aphrodite and David Sears takes careful pains to show how the sailors reached the battle. Once the players are in place the book follows the battle in chronological order.  Because the book is based on direct testimony of the sailors involved there are many little interesting tidbits that I have not read or seen any other place.  For example he discloses how a Japanese officer not only prevented a machine gunner on a cruiser from shooting up the helpless sailors in the water; he also saluted them for their bravery.  One of the other untold stories was the use of PT boats in the battle or what happened to the aircraft from the St. Lo after the battle.  One other interesting unknown fact was that despite the bad luck of renaming a commissioned warship the St. Lo was in fact the first named carrier to honor the battle of Midway.  The name Midway was taken to be used for a new class of super heavy aircraft carriers.

The book is generally free of mistakes or omissions, but there were two of note.  Perhaps the most annoying error was crediting the General Motors TBM Avenger with being at the Battle of Midway when, in fact, it was the Grumman built TBF Avenger. He also understates the number of TBD Devastators that survived the battle. The other error/omission was concerning the Raid on Pearl Harbor.  David Sears over counts the number of Japanese aircraft destroyed; undercounts the total number of Japanese aircrew killed and fails to mention that one of the midget submariners was captured to become POW #1.  Are these errors critical? No, but they are annoying in the fact that David Sears did so much research on the Battle of Leyte Gulf to be tripped up by this small annoying gaps in his knowledge.  As the errors in the book crept into the book fairly early; I was alert to see if I could spot any other factual error and I am happy to report that I saw no more errors.

Technically the book is grammatically flawless and well written. The photographs are plentiful and crisp.  The only technical parts I had problems was with the placement of the glossary at the beginning of the book.  I agree that the list of voices should have been at the front, but the rest of the glossary should have been in the back of the book. Also the map included with the photographs would have been better served in the front of the book so that the reader could refer to it in the beginning of the book instead of looking through the photographs.  Finally the glossary could have been tightened up a bit with better editing. 

Overall this book is a very good read and should be of interest to any student of World War II, Naval Aviation or the Battle History of the United States Navy. While not flawless in executing the book; David Sears gives the reader a unique look into the largest naval battle in the history of the world.  With a list price of $15 the book is easy to fit into any budget.  The book is recommended for everyone.