Call to Colors, A
Author: John Gobbell
Publisher: Presidio Press (2006)
Binding: Mass Market Paperback, 512 pages
A-Day, 20 October 1944, is the code-name for when General Douglas MacArthur fulfills his promise of "I Shall Return" to the Filipinos. With over 400 amphibious ships, he lands 165,000 troops in Leyte Gulf to begin throwing the Japanese Army out of the Philippines. Protecting MacArthur is Admiral William F. Halsey, Jr.'s Third Fleet concentrated around sixteen attack carriers. Also, the scrappy Halsey looks for the first opportunity to deliver the killing blow to the Imperial Japanese Navy.
But Admiral Soemu Toyoda, CinC of the Imperial Japanese Navy's combined fleet, and Vice Admiral Takeo Kurita have a general idea of what MacArthur and Halsey intend. They form a brilliant plan to divert Halsey's aircraft carriers so they can send in a battle force to wipe out MacArthur's troop and supply ships.
Both sides commit more than 800 ships with the battle for Leyte Gulf becoming the largest naval battle in history.
Caught in the middle is Commander Mike Donovan, skipper of the destroyer USS Matthew. On patrol off Leyte Gulf, Donovan doesn't realize Halsey's carriers have been drawn out of the way by Toyoda's decoy force. Now it's just Donovan and seven other "tin cans" standing between Kurita's force of four battleships, nine cruisers, and twelve destroyers poised to gun down MacArthur's ships frantically unloading inside Leyte Gulf.
Worse, Donovan isn't aware he's under attack on another front. Ammunition ships are blowing up all over the Pacific at an alarming rate. The conclusion is obvious: Ships in the Leyte Gulf battle force are next. Lieutenant Commander John Sabovik of Naval intelligence is in a position to catch the saboteur and save Donovan among others. But there's a catch: Once best friends. Sabovik has vowed to kill Donovan. It's not just because both are in love with Katherine Logan, a medical intern in California. It goes back two years when both served on a jinxed cruiser off Guadalcanal.
The Battle of Leyte Gulf took place on October 24 and 25 in1944. Without a doubt it was the final battle in the history of the world where naval surface combatants were in actual physical sight of each other.
In John J. Gobbell's A Call To Colors he takes us back to that tenuous time late in the war when most of the strategic minds within the U.S. and Japanese militaries were certain of one thing. The Japanese had lost the war. The questions that remained were, how would the remaining resources of the Japanese armed services be used. Gobbell has constructed a fictional account of an American destroyer and her crew and placed them in the unenviable location of the famous squadron of ships known to most World War II historians as Taffy 3. The under armed, outnumbered men of Taffy 3 faced the most powerful force of Japanese warships ever assembled, all centered on the super battleship Yamato. Gobbell's account of the battle concentrates on Commander Mike Donovan, Captain of the destroyer USS Matthew, taking us through the events that lead Donovan from his terrifying experiences during his first engagement with the enemy to his taking command of the Matthew.
Interspersed are two side stories. The first involves the U.S. military railway and how it underwent some determined foreign sabotage. This story does deviate from the Donovan story--just when you want to know more. From a historical standpoint, the military railway story is very interesting, and Gobbell does use it to tie a lean parallel story concerning an estranged friend of Donovan's now back into his life, however the book could have stood alone without it. The second perspective is a Japanese point of view and is helpful because the Japanese simply don't write about their failures in WWII. I have no doubt this is a fictional account, but without the real thing, this is a great addition to the book.
The writing is good; and the character development is paced well. From a historical standpoint, everything appears to be in the right place. Armchair Interviews says: Anyone who likes a good historical WWII fiction can't go wrong with A Call to Colors.
Reviewed by: Jeff Foster (2005)