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The Finest Hours: The True Story of the U.S. Coast Guard's Most Daring Sea Rescue

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In the winter of 1952, New England was battered by the most brutal nor'easter in years. As the weather wreaked havoc on land, the freezing Atlantic became a wind-whipped zone of peril. In the early hours of Monday, February 18, while the storm raged, two oil tankers, the Pendleton and the Fort Mercer, found themselves in the same horrifying predicament. Built with "dirty st In the winter of 1952, New England was battered by the most brutal nor'easter in years. As the weather wreaked havoc on land, the freezing Atlantic became a wind-whipped zone of peril. In the early hours of Monday, February 18, while the storm raged, two oil tankers, the Pendleton and the Fort Mercer, found themselves in the same horrifying predicament. Built with "dirty steel," and not prepared to withstand such ferocious seas, both tankers split in two, leaving the dozens of men on board utterly at the Atlantic's mercy. The Finest Hours is the gripping, true story of the valiant attempt to rescue the souls huddling inside the broken halves of the two ships. Coast Guard cutters raced to the aid of those on the Fort Mercer, and when it became apparent that the halves of the Pendleton were in danger of capsizing, the Guard sent out two thirty-six-foot lifeboats as well. These wooden boats, manned by only four seamen, were dwarfed by the enormous seventy-foot seas. As the tiny rescue vessels set out from the coast of Cape Cod, the men aboard were all fully aware that they were embarking on what could easily become a suicide mission. The spellbinding tale is overflowing with breathtaking scenes that sear themselves into the mind's eye, as boats capsize, bows and sterns crash into one another, and men hurl themselves into the raging sea in their terrifying battle for survival. Not all of the eighty-four men caught at sea in the midst of that brutal storm survived, but considering the odds, it's a miracle--and a testament to their bravery--that any came home to tell their tales at all.


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In the winter of 1952, New England was battered by the most brutal nor'easter in years. As the weather wreaked havoc on land, the freezing Atlantic became a wind-whipped zone of peril. In the early hours of Monday, February 18, while the storm raged, two oil tankers, the Pendleton and the Fort Mercer, found themselves in the same horrifying predicament. Built with "dirty st In the winter of 1952, New England was battered by the most brutal nor'easter in years. As the weather wreaked havoc on land, the freezing Atlantic became a wind-whipped zone of peril. In the early hours of Monday, February 18, while the storm raged, two oil tankers, the Pendleton and the Fort Mercer, found themselves in the same horrifying predicament. Built with "dirty steel," and not prepared to withstand such ferocious seas, both tankers split in two, leaving the dozens of men on board utterly at the Atlantic's mercy. The Finest Hours is the gripping, true story of the valiant attempt to rescue the souls huddling inside the broken halves of the two ships. Coast Guard cutters raced to the aid of those on the Fort Mercer, and when it became apparent that the halves of the Pendleton were in danger of capsizing, the Guard sent out two thirty-six-foot lifeboats as well. These wooden boats, manned by only four seamen, were dwarfed by the enormous seventy-foot seas. As the tiny rescue vessels set out from the coast of Cape Cod, the men aboard were all fully aware that they were embarking on what could easily become a suicide mission. The spellbinding tale is overflowing with breathtaking scenes that sear themselves into the mind's eye, as boats capsize, bows and sterns crash into one another, and men hurl themselves into the raging sea in their terrifying battle for survival. Not all of the eighty-four men caught at sea in the midst of that brutal storm survived, but considering the odds, it's a miracle--and a testament to their bravery--that any came home to tell their tales at all.

30 review for The Finest Hours: The True Story of the U.S. Coast Guard's Most Daring Sea Rescue

  1. 5 out of 5

    Joy D

    This book tells the true story of a 1952 Coast Guard rescue mission off the coast of Cape Cod, where two oil tankers, the Fort Mercer and the Pendleton, each broke into two sections, thirty miles apart, in the same storm. Fighting towering waves, the Coast Guard crews try various methods to get the stranded men off the ships. The story shifts between the two rescue efforts, telling the tale through eye-witness reports and interviews with survivors. The scenes of the rescues are riveting. Toward This book tells the true story of a 1952 Coast Guard rescue mission off the coast of Cape Cod, where two oil tankers, the Fort Mercer and the Pendleton, each broke into two sections, thirty miles apart, in the same storm. Fighting towering waves, the Coast Guard crews try various methods to get the stranded men off the ships. The story shifts between the two rescue efforts, telling the tale through eye-witness reports and interviews with survivors. The scenes of the rescues are riveting. Toward the end, the narrative shifts to the aftermath, which is not quite as captivating but needed to be told to give a complete account. Unfortunately, they could not save everyone, and the book is dedicated to both the heroic rescuers and those who lost their lives. I read this book in honor of Veteran’s Day. It was turned into a film in 2016.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Jason FitzGerald

    This feels like the type of typical "local lore" story that fills small book shops across the Vacationland of Cape Cod. The authors all mean well - - because they have extraordinary history to tell. This is no exception. The tale of near-simultaneous tanker accidents in the middle of a deadly February Nor'easter is hair raising no matter who is telling it. Admittedly, I tore through it in 2 sessions and enjoyed it very much. When ordinary men do what has to be done at great peril, their heroism This feels like the type of typical "local lore" story that fills small book shops across the Vacationland of Cape Cod. The authors all mean well - - because they have extraordinary history to tell. This is no exception. The tale of near-simultaneous tanker accidents in the middle of a deadly February Nor'easter is hair raising no matter who is telling it. Admittedly, I tore through it in 2 sessions and enjoyed it very much. When ordinary men do what has to be done at great peril, their heroism can be spectacular. If you've ever been to Cape Cod or the islands and have any interest of the area, this is a great piece of history to absorb. That being said, the prose is choppy and difficult at times. Adjectives are reused and it seems to be a struggle to describe the scary conditions. I wanted to feel what it was like to be in the trough of a wave as the crest towered 60 feet above me - wind howling, sleet pelting. What was it like to grip slippery steel railing with frost bitten fingers? It's hard to tell as we are treated to more of a factual reference than an immersive narrative. Epic rescues and nightmarish drownings deserve a little better than this presentation can achieve. 3 stars.

  3. 5 out of 5

    ♥ Sandi ❣

    Four separate Coast Guard lifeboats descend on 2 oil tankers in the North Atlantic Sea which have broken in two due to poor craftsmanship during World War II. Both pieces of the tanker Pendleton and both pieces of the Fort Mercer have crew on board. Depending on the broken section, some have radio contact, some have heat and lights, others are adrift on a ragged portion of a tanker without any means of communication or comfort. The day was February 12, 1952. There was a nor'eastern blowing snow Four separate Coast Guard lifeboats descend on 2 oil tankers in the North Atlantic Sea which have broken in two due to poor craftsmanship during World War II. Both pieces of the tanker Pendleton and both pieces of the Fort Mercer have crew on board. Depending on the broken section, some have radio contact, some have heat and lights, others are adrift on a ragged portion of a tanker without any means of communication or comfort. The day was February 12, 1952. There was a nor'eastern blowing snow with blizzard effects. The waves were up to 70 foot high. Four Coast Guard lifeboats were dispersed in this storm off the Cape Cod coast, from 4 separate ports, to rescue the men abroad the tankers. It becomes apparent that the lifeboats are probably in more danger than the broken vessels. The lifeboats were 36 feet long, open bridges and expected to carry 12 passengers. This book speaks to all 4 lifeboats and both oil tankers but hones in on the CG36500 lifeboat, Captained by Bernie Webber and their experience in the trip out to the tanker, their rescue, their losses and to the exemplary courage of the four men sent out into that storm. A movie is to be released in 2016.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Scott Hitchcock

    2.5*'s. If it wasn't for the fact I'm from the region where the story took place and know every single lighthouse, harbor, city, town, road and nearly every building mentioned in detail I'm not sure I would have liked this book at all. It's basically an audio documentary but I've read a lot in this style and this one was pretty boring. I think you need to be a nautical buff or from southern Massachusetts or preferably both to enjoy this one.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Corey Butler

    I thought as an overall this book was pretty good but I definitely think that part 1 was better than part 2. In part 1 it had more action and was better. This is one of the few times that I thought the movie was better tan the book because I saw the movie and I got more out of it like how it would feel if I was in that situation, on the ship or rescuing the people from the ship, but the book didn't have enough description but I still liked it.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Amber ☾♥

    First off, what an incredibly heart wrenching story. I vaguely remember learning something about this at some point in my life but being completely immersed in every vivid detail of each event made it way more real. Reading something like this, feeling the terror and death surrounding the characters, and then realizing they are not "characters" but actual people who have lived through said events makes the experience way more...meaningful. The only thing I can say that caused me to dock a star wa First off, what an incredibly heart wrenching story. I vaguely remember learning something about this at some point in my life but being completely immersed in every vivid detail of each event made it way more real. Reading something like this, feeling the terror and death surrounding the characters, and then realizing they are not "characters" but actual people who have lived through said events makes the experience way more...meaningful. The only thing I can say that caused me to dock a star was some the repetitiveness of some of the writing. I've read reviews that complained about the added backgrounds of the Coast Guard or other similar events but, personally, I really appreciated their being part of this story. It's now a goal of mine to travel to visit the CG36500 to show my respects. It's always a wonderful feeling to be reminded that having faith in humanity is not an impossible dream. Final rating: 4.5/5 stars

  7. 4 out of 5

    Andrea Cox

    by Andrea Renee Cox What an amazing story! The Finest Hours recounts the true story of the most daring sea rescue in US Coast Guard history. This book completely blew me away with how two large tankers split in half during a huge winter storm, and the heroic rescue efforts that were made during horrible weather conditions. A must-read! Thank you to the US Coast Guardsmen who put their lives on the line during that rescue mission, and countless others throughout the decades since. Your work does no by Andrea Renee Cox What an amazing story! The Finest Hours recounts the true story of the most daring sea rescue in US Coast Guard history. This book completely blew me away with how two large tankers split in half during a huge winter storm, and the heroic rescue efforts that were made during horrible weather conditions. A must-read! Thank you to the US Coast Guardsmen who put their lives on the line during that rescue mission, and countless others throughout the decades since. Your work does not go unnoticed, and I wish I could thank you enough for the incredible service you provide to our country.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Christine

    I actually enjoyed this far more than I thought I would. Tougias does an excellent job of relating the Coast Guard rescue of two tankers which both broke in half during a huge storm. While in audio format, it is a little difficult to keep some of the men straight ( I had to backtrack a few times), it is still an engaging story. I like how Tourgias took it in into the modern era.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Tricia Mingerink

    This book is a well-written, easy to read (and listen to) non fiction. The narrator for the audiobook does a really good job, and even though it is non-fiction, it is just as gripping and heart-pounding as a fiction book. I highly recommend this book to anyone with a passing interest in history, especially American history. This is a true story of reluctant heroes.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Shawn Deal

    A fascinating piece of history this book goes into detail the events of this rescue. Where the read might be dry in parts, I enjoyed it quite a bit.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Hannah

    I found the first half of the book, with the narration of the crisis, interesting and informative. The second half was filled with facts, statistics, comparisons of boats and subsequent similar or dissimilar tragedies, etc, and I had a hard time slogging through that much dry information. Overall a book worth reading. Content: a few profanities

  12. 4 out of 5

    RJ from the LBC

    This is a very straightforward, no-frills telling of the Coast Guard rescue of several crewmembers of two merchant vessels that both broke in half during the same storm in 1952. It's not clear which is more astonishing: the lengths the Coasties went to in order to save lives (braving 70 foot waves in 36 foot boats) or their humility afterwards with respects to their heroic deeds. The account was well-researched with some recent interviews of survivors and a few photos, but overall a little on th This is a very straightforward, no-frills telling of the Coast Guard rescue of several crewmembers of two merchant vessels that both broke in half during the same storm in 1952. It's not clear which is more astonishing: the lengths the Coasties went to in order to save lives (braving 70 foot waves in 36 foot boats) or their humility afterwards with respects to their heroic deeds. The account was well-researched with some recent interviews of survivors and a few photos, but overall a little on the bland side which is strange considering the herculean rescue efforts. Yes, a movie version was made recently.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Becky

    I normally love Tougias. I will be the first to admit that he is a great researcher, but only a decent writer. Usually, however, his stories are so fast paced and terrifying (since they're all true) that I just tear through the books. Theyre the sort of book that you read in one day, enthralled on the couch- or in a tent because its pouring outside :D But this one, this one was scattered for Tougias, who normally weaves multiple storylines in much more coherently. I found the story to be jumping I normally love Tougias. I will be the first to admit that he is a great researcher, but only a decent writer. Usually, however, his stories are so fast paced and terrifying (since they're all true) that I just tear through the books. Theyre the sort of book that you read in one day, enthralled on the couch- or in a tent because its pouring outside :D But this one, this one was scattered for Tougias, who normally weaves multiple storylines in much more coherently. I found the story to be jumping around, the "cast" was already huge, but he jumped around in timelines to other incidents in the area in decades past. The lack of coherency allowed my mind to wander far too easily. I also would not recommend the audiobook, if you are going to read this, definitely read dont listen. Don't get me wrong- its an absolutely astonishing tale of heroism and daring. The rescue the Coast Guard did on this day is absolutely nothing short of amazing and breathtaking. I just felt that the authors could have done a better job describing and narrating such a fantastic story.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Suzan

    I was pulled into the drama almost immediately! A great recounting of 3 days in the winter of 1952 when brave coast guardsmen simply "did the job" and rescued dozens from 2 ship wrecks. It was fascinating to read how they were able to pull it off, with little to no technology and in seas that rival the scene of the small fishing boat climbing a tower of water in the perfect storm. Read the book - the pictures at the end cannot do the ordeal justice. Congratulations to local writer Michael Tougia I was pulled into the drama almost immediately! A great recounting of 3 days in the winter of 1952 when brave coast guardsmen simply "did the job" and rescued dozens from 2 ship wrecks. It was fascinating to read how they were able to pull it off, with little to no technology and in seas that rival the scene of the small fishing boat climbing a tower of water in the perfect storm. Read the book - the pictures at the end cannot do the ordeal justice. Congratulations to local writer Michael Tougias for his research an no nonsense writing style.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Eddie

    If this was a triller novel you might of said this is crazy but it was history. This happen to people and both rescues were just incredible. The Coast Guard. The movie is coming but read this book, I put off reading this, what a mistake.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Lis Carey

    In February 1952, New England was being battered by one of the worst nor'easters in years, and two oil tankers, the Pendleton and the Fort Mercer, both broke in two. The two tankers were both built of "dirty steel," and were welded, not riveted. Both things made them more brittle and more at risk of precisely the disaster that befell them both. The dozens of men on each ship were at risk, especially given that both halves of each ship were at risk of capsizing. Rescuing them was not a job for ama In February 1952, New England was being battered by one of the worst nor'easters in years, and two oil tankers, the Pendleton and the Fort Mercer, both broke in two. The two tankers were both built of "dirty steel," and were welded, not riveted. Both things made them more brittle and more at risk of precisely the disaster that befell them both. The dozens of men on each ship were at risk, especially given that both halves of each ship were at risk of capsizing. Rescuing them was not a job for amateurs, and the Coast Guard sent out two 36-foot lifeboats, each crewed by just four men. Tougias gives us a thrilling and sometimes heartbreaking account of the rescue efforts, interleaved with the history of rescue lifeboats, and the individual histories of the men putting their lives at risk in these rescue efforts. At times this has the effect of slowing the narrative of thrilling events. On balance, though, it makes the whole story richer and more satisfying. They couldn't save all the men on those two ships. They saved many, though, indeed more than they should have been able to fit on their comparatively tiny boats. It's a wonderful example of just how important, and heroic, the outwardly mundane United States Coast Guard really is. It's an overall excellent book, and well worth some of your time. Recommended. I bought this audiobook.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Shiloah

    I enjoyed this book with my sweetie! We both loved the excellent story-telling. It’s amazing how much you learn from books, especially true stories. We spent a great deal of time learning about the Coast Guard, the Sea, ships, and especially the heroic actions of brave men. Wonderful, inspiring book.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Doreen

    In February 1952, three low pressure systems combined with a system from New Jersey to create a storm like never before. The system stalled over Nantucket, wreaking havoc on those unfortunate enough to be on the sea. Not one, but two ships, the 'Pendleton' and the 'Fort Mercer', had each split as a result of powerful waves and weakened hulls. The fates of the crews depended upon the actions of the Coast Guard. The story covers the history of Chatham, dating back to the Monomoyick Native Americans In February 1952, three low pressure systems combined with a system from New Jersey to create a storm like never before. The system stalled over Nantucket, wreaking havoc on those unfortunate enough to be on the sea. Not one, but two ships, the 'Pendleton' and the 'Fort Mercer', had each split as a result of powerful waves and weakened hulls. The fates of the crews depended upon the actions of the Coast Guard. The story covers the history of Chatham, dating back to the Monomoyick Native Americans. The histories of the men from the Coast Guard are explained which allows for a real feel of who these men were. From there the story unfolds with the desperation, courage, and determination of both the doomed ships' crews and the amazing Coast Guards sent to rescue them. The detail and accuracy given here is the end result of extensive research of newspapers and other periodicals, as well as interviews with rescuers and survivors, alike. The authors, realizing they were both working on the same subject, opted to coordinate their efforts. A good decision, because they did a marvelous job! This book is straightforward as it relates the true events of the daring rescues. There is no added drama, no sensationalism here. The story doesn't need it. There's enough drama and suspense in the actual story; no need for fluff. The story is told well and stands on its own. This book praises the good men whose strengths and characters were tested on that fateful rescue mission. Admirably, it is told with honor and respect toward those who did not survive. I recommend this book! For those who live in New England or have ties to the area, this book is a must-read. The rescues, history, and descriptions of the seas and the Chatham bar are absolutely fascinating!

  19. 4 out of 5

    Martin Hill

    I have to confess up front, I'm a bit biased about this book. The Finest Hours is about one of the most dangerous rescue missions in the history of the U.S. Coast Guard, and I spent 13 years of active and reserve duty in the Coast Guard. Moreover, this book focuses on the exploits of four men who were members of my part of the Coast Guard—the Boat Force, those Coasties serving in small boats who "have to go out, but don't have to come back." On February 18, 1952, two WWII-era T2 oil tankers brok I have to confess up front, I'm a bit biased about this book. The Finest Hours is about one of the most dangerous rescue missions in the history of the U.S. Coast Guard, and I spent 13 years of active and reserve duty in the Coast Guard. Moreover, this book focuses on the exploits of four men who were members of my part of the Coast Guard—the Boat Force, those Coasties serving in small boats who "have to go out, but don't have to come back." On February 18, 1952, two WWII-era T2 oil tankers broke in half during a vicious nor'easter, leaving the surviving crewmembers trapped in the floating remains of the ships. While multiple Coast Guard vessels took part in rescuing all the survivors, The Finest Hours focuses mainly on the efforts of four young Coasties who battled the storm-tortured sea in a small 36-foot lifeboat to rescue 31 men trapped on the hulk of the tanker Pendleton. Authors Michael J. Tougias and Casey Sherman do an admirable job of describing the torment of the Coast Guard crew as they fought the monstrous waves battering their small, open-cockpit boat, leaving the men near hypothermic as finally neared the wreckage of the Pendleton. Even more miraculous than the fact they managed to save 31 members of the Pendleton's crew is that the Coasties managed to make it back to shore in their heavily loaded lifeboat. The rescue was evidence of masterful seamanship and courage, and all four crewmen rightfully received the Gold Lifesaving Medal, the Coast Guard's highest award for valor. As I said, I may be bias about this book. However, like many Coasties, I've spent many hours in small boats hammered by foul weather. I am thankful someone has finally recognized the courage that typifies the men and women of the United States Coast Guard.

  20. 4 out of 5

    David

    I wanted this book to be more interesting than it was. I usually enjoy these tales of harrowing survival in hostile environments, whether it be on the slopes of Mount Everest, the wilds of Alaska, or the Arctic seas. The Finest Hours is about four Coast Guardsmen who ventured out into a New England storm in 1952 to save the crews of two tankers that cracked up in the waves. It is a harrowing and heroic story, but it was also a fairly straightforward one. The Pendleton and the Fort Mercer were bot I wanted this book to be more interesting than it was. I usually enjoy these tales of harrowing survival in hostile environments, whether it be on the slopes of Mount Everest, the wilds of Alaska, or the Arctic seas. The Finest Hours is about four Coast Guardsmen who ventured out into a New England storm in 1952 to save the crews of two tankers that cracked up in the waves. It is a harrowing and heroic story, but it was also a fairly straightforward one. The Pendleton and the Fort Mercer were both old ships built with "dirty steel," and failed to withstand the battering of an Atlantic storm. The Coast Guard sent a pair of 36-foot lifeboats out to rescue the crewmen who were aboard the floundering vessels. With surging waves and icy water tossing them around, they only managed to save some of the sailors - others died trying to jump from one deck to another, or falling into the waves and being unable to reach rescue. It traumatized some of the survivors, who were all given medals afterwards and became media darlings in the early television age. But there isn't much more to the story - it was basically two ships in distress and the Coast Guard doing its job. The author pads this short book with a bit of history about the Coast Guard, and follows up on what happened to the survivors afterwards, but while a worthy story, it just wasn't as memorable as Shackleton's journey or one of Jon Krakauer's books.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    The Coast Guard makes a daring rescue attempt off the coast of Cape Cod after a pair of oil tankers are destroyed during a blizzard in 1952.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Pamela

    “O Lord, have mercy, Thy sea is so large, and my boat is so small.” – Breton Fisherman’s Prayer The Finest Hours: The True Story of the U.S. Coast Guard’s Most Daring Sea Rescue: one of the finest unpretentious examples honoring uncommon valor in darkest hours of tempest seas and memorializing those who never made shore. February 18, 1952: Two commercial fuel tankers, the “Pendleton” and the “Fort Mercer”- caught in one of the worst nor’easter storms to hit the eastern seaboard – snapped in half, “O Lord, have mercy, Thy sea is so large, and my boat is so small.” – Breton Fisherman’s Prayer The Finest Hours: The True Story of the U.S. Coast Guard’s Most Daring Sea Rescue: one of the finest unpretentious examples honoring uncommon valor in darkest hours of tempest seas and memorializing those who never made shore. February 18, 1952: Two commercial fuel tankers, the “Pendleton” and the “Fort Mercer”- caught in one of the worst nor’easter storms to hit the eastern seaboard – snapped in half, a couple hundred miles from the Chatham Lifeboat Station. Miraculously, though now non-navigable, both halves of both ships, managed to stay afloat. But for how long? Unable to navigate, loss of power and communications, and with forty to seventy feet seas, gale force winds whipping pellets of ice and whiteout snow, conditions and time were stacked against them. Can they survive the tempest until rescuers arrive? “The surest way not to fail is to determine to succeed.” - Richard Brinsley Sheridan Compellingly told with humanistic warmth and integrity, “The Finest Hours . . . “makes for enjoyable and fascinating reading. I’m still in awe of the “Gold Medal Crew” led by Bernie Webber in CG36500. As Webber said, God certainly was looking out for that “old thirty-six.” And Along with the main story thread surrounding the dual disaster/rescue, Tougias includes many other fascinating complementary tidbits and biography blurbs. One of my favorites: During WWII, former world heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey was a commander in the Coast Guard who also taught physical fitness to Merchant Marines. And then there's the old "Mooncursers" - lantern wielding, shoal-entrapping Pirates of yore. Yes, “Finest Hours . . . “is an intriguing, well-balanced, nicely written maritime tribute and disaster/rescue expose. And though it may be a lesser known seafaring incident, except to those who are native to New England shores, “The Pendleton and Mercer rescues are still the largest open-sea rescues involving small boats and cutters in U.S. maritime history.” And it makes for a great read – recommended to those who enjoy maritime history, adventure/biographies, or military non-fiction – four solid-stars.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    It’s the winter of 1952 and a ferocious Nor’easter is pounding New England with howling winds and seventy-foot seas. Two oil tankers get caught in the violent storm off Cape Cod, its fury splitting the massive ships in two. Back on shore, four young Coast Guardsmen are issued a suicide mission: save the lives of the stranded seamen. Sailing a tiny lifeboat into the teeth of the killer storm, the rescue crew soon loses all navigation. With no idea where the stranded seaman are nor how to get back It’s the winter of 1952 and a ferocious Nor’easter is pounding New England with howling winds and seventy-foot seas. Two oil tankers get caught in the violent storm off Cape Cod, its fury splitting the massive ships in two. Back on shore, four young Coast Guardsmen are issued a suicide mission: save the lives of the stranded seamen. Sailing a tiny lifeboat into the teeth of the killer storm, the rescue crew soon loses all navigation. With no idea where the stranded seaman are nor how to get back home, the crew stumbles upon the SS Pendleton in the darkness. More than thirty hopeful men appear at the wounded ship’s railings. Can the tiny lifeboat save them all? my rating : five stars What did I think of it: 2016 must be the year for me to pick up non-fiction( biographies-memoirs) because so far this year I've read 3 of them and this is one of them, I actually finished this on the 3/19/16 but I still didn't know how to put what I thought of it down ,I still don't . Its so much more than what I thought it was going to be , the history of the people who the book is about , what they all went though , the ones who made it back and the ones that didn't , the old black and white photos that make the story so much real when you look at them, this book actually made me cry in some parts and that's rarely done, but there's something about this story that once you start to read it ,it pulls at your heart, and see basely see and feel what they went though, its also a testament to how much are our U.S Coast Guards do every day ,their bravery no matter what part of the coast guards their in. Its a must read, if today I still can't write down what I want to say. Just go pick it up and read it, your see what I mean.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Roger Weston

    An amazing story about Liberty ships, which are known to break in half in heavy seas. I’ve been at sea in a fierce Alaskan storm where the ship was hitting two waves at once, causing massive structural strain to the point where I could hear the creepy sounds of flexing steal. In a World War Two era ship like the one I was on the chance of it breaking in half was real. It’s a scary place to be. The Finest Hours tells the story of when two of these ships were violently torn apart during one stormy An amazing story about Liberty ships, which are known to break in half in heavy seas. I’ve been at sea in a fierce Alaskan storm where the ship was hitting two waves at once, causing massive structural strain to the point where I could hear the creepy sounds of flexing steal. In a World War Two era ship like the one I was on the chance of it breaking in half was real. It’s a scary place to be. The Finest Hours tells the story of when two of these ships were violently torn apart during one stormy night and the heroic efforts of the US Coast Guard to rescue those onboard. I heard that this is going to be made into a movie. I look forward to seeing it on the big screen.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Nathan

    It was good. Well written and it would make a good movie. The chapter on Chatham's history felt like padding for length, but I wasn't sad it was there. I would have liked it better if it were more narrative...to the point of being fiction. There was room for a lot more dramatic tension with a more character-driven style. Maybe someone will write a novel...

  26. 5 out of 5

    gabi

    Such an amazing (almost unreal) true rescue story. Who knew boats split in half and that cold water can kill people so fast?

  27. 5 out of 5

    Cindy

    Before The Perfect Storm, there was similar storm in New England in the early 50s that contributed to not one, but two, tankers splitting in two. These WWII tankers had been hastily made with 'dirty steel' and were not made to withstand the 60 and 70 foot waves and bitter cold of the Nor'Easter. Against this, the US Coast Guard sent out 36 foot lifeboats in a heroic attempt to rescue the men from the broken halves of the Pendleton and the Fort Mercer. The Coast Guard boats were trying to rescue Before The Perfect Storm, there was similar storm in New England in the early 50s that contributed to not one, but two, tankers splitting in two. These WWII tankers had been hastily made with 'dirty steel' and were not made to withstand the 60 and 70 foot waves and bitter cold of the Nor'Easter. Against this, the US Coast Guard sent out 36 foot lifeboats in a heroic attempt to rescue the men from the broken halves of the Pendleton and the Fort Mercer. The Coast Guard boats were trying to rescue men off much larger vessels while enormous waves threatened to capsize both vessels and the cold could present the danger of frostbite at best, and death in minutes if a man fell into the ocean. It's remarkable that anyone was saved under these circumstances, but the young men (most in their early twenties) of the Coast Guard saved a number of them in what is still largest open-sea rescue involving small boats and cutters in US maritime history. Not until the rescues involved with the cruise ship Prisendam in 1980 and Hurricane Katrina in 2005 would the feats here be surpassed. However the men of these ships did not think themselves heroes. Far from it. One of the principal men involved in the rescue - Bernie Webber - was especially hard hit. Despite rescuing 32 men from the Pendleton, he was haunted by "Tiny" Myers, the one man who fell and was crushed between the ships. The author notes "It was not the men who lived that called to Bernie in his dreams, it was the one man he couldn't bring home." This was a heroic story. I thought it was good and it did not take me long to read this. But I found myself wishing that it had been done by Jon Krakauer (In Thin Air) or Sebastian Junger (Perfect Storm) - this narrative was a little dry and was a little too scholarly. If this had been done better, this could have been a blockbuster read. The story is inspiring and still worth a read.

  28. 5 out of 5

    C.P. Cabaniss

    My sister and I finally finished listening to this. We were on a longish road trip and I decided it was time to force her into finishing. I really enjoy the history of this and learning more about the Coast Guard and some of the people who have served, but the way the story was told didn't work well for me. It might have worked better if I had been reading the physical version, but I still think the way it was structured was odd. Sometimes it seems that authors of historical texts throw in stori My sister and I finally finished listening to this. We were on a longish road trip and I decided it was time to force her into finishing. I really enjoy the history of this and learning more about the Coast Guard and some of the people who have served, but the way the story was told didn't work well for me. It might have worked better if I had been reading the physical version, but I still think the way it was structured was odd. Sometimes it seems that authors of historical texts throw in stories that aren't that relevant to the main story they are trying to tell, which makes the book feel bogged down and sluggish. The structure was also odd, because it jumped back and forth between events too much for my liking. Again, reading it physically may have helped with some of that. I enjoyed the history and learning more about these events, which I find fascinating, but I didn't love the way it was told. I would recommend it if you are interested in history and want to learn more about the events covered here, which are very inspiring.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Perri

    Some parts of this book were SO exciting and some parts really dragged. The heroism of the Coast Guard was indeed uplifting , but the follow- up sections and inquiry .. snore. Here's one of the few times I think I'd have preferred an abridged version. Now I've given myself the green light to watch the film and I'll bet it focuses on the action.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Mimi

    As I read this book, I wondered if there are people still like this today. Are there still people like these Coast Guards who will risk their lives for complete strangers? Then I listened to the news, and amidst lots of awfulness, there are stories of people who risked everything for strangers, and it gives me hope for mankind. This book follows the true events of 1952 when two oil tankers are caught in a terrible, terrible storm and literally split in half. Four halves of huge boats were floatin As I read this book, I wondered if there are people still like this today. Are there still people like these Coast Guards who will risk their lives for complete strangers? Then I listened to the news, and amidst lots of awfulness, there are stories of people who risked everything for strangers, and it gives me hope for mankind. This book follows the true events of 1952 when two oil tankers are caught in a terrible, terrible storm and literally split in half. Four halves of huge boats were floating in the storm, all with people on board, with varying degrees of communication capabilities. The Coast Guards braved the storm, risked their lives, and tried to save as many as they could. Amidst the story of the two tankers, the authors weave in other historical facts and rescue information, creating a full, interesting, heroic, and tragic tale. I went on vacation to Cape Cod last month, so reading the names of towns and ports that I had just barely visited added some extra interest for me. Here are some excerpts that stood out to me. "First Class Boatswain Mate Leo Gracie took Webber and a crew on a 38-foot Coast Guard picket boat over the treacherous Chatham Bar to where the Livermore lay with a Naval Reserve crew stranded on board. The ship rested high up on the shoal and was leaning dangerously on its side. Webber and the men stayed with the destroyer for the rest of the night as salvage tugs were called in. The next morning, the Coast Guard assisted in several failed attempts to free the warship before finally achieving success and sending the Livermore safely on its way. Webber smiled as the Livermore's crew cheered him and his crew. The sailors had given him quite a different reception hours earlier when they pelted him with apples, oranges, and even eight-ounce shackles, because in their eyes the rescue mission was taking too long. It was all part of a friendly rivalry between the Navy and the Coasties." "Webber felt his heart drop to his feet. He could picture himself taking the tiny wooden rescue boat over the hazardous Chatham Bar and into the high seas, a mariner's worst nightmare. The bar is a collection of ever-shifting shoals with flood currents carrying ocean waves that can splinter small boats in a matter of seconds. Formed in deep ocean, the swells eventually surge toward the bar, gaining strength, speed, and size as they roll into shallower waters, where they curl into fearsome breakers. These are the conditions in good weather. Now the danger was amplified tenfold. Webber had seen fishing boats get their windshields shattered and their cabins torn off as the result of a violent encounter with the Chatham Bar." "The unofficial Coast Guard motto weighed heavily on his mind: You have to go out, but you do not have to come back." "'Call Miriam and tell her what's going on.' He had not spoken to his wife in two days. He thought of her home sick in bed and his heart ached.'" "Webber and the others fitted the small dory with tholepins to hold the oars in place and dragged it to water's edge. They pushed the vessel out and then helped each other get aboard. . . . The small dory began taking on water almost immediately as it struggled toward the CG36383. . . . The dory capsized, throwing Webber and the others into the bone-chilling water before they could reach the lifeboat. The men were hit by the sudden shock of the frigid ocean. The initial panic subsided quickly, however, as their training instinctively kicked in. The Coast Guardsmen kicked off their heavy boots, grabbed the bottom of the overturned boat, and held on. Their training told them that swimming would be futile in these brutal conditions because this type of physical exercise caused the body to lose heat at a much faster rate than when simply remaining still. The crew rode the waves back to shore as the dory beached itself on Morris Island. . . . Webber and the others hoped to seek refuge in an old boathouse, but fighting back the frigid cold and numbness crawling up his legs, Frank Masachi refused to give up the mission. . . . He ordered his men to right the 19-foot dory, find the oars, and resume the journey toward the CG36383. Their valiant effort came up short once more; this time the tholepins snapped, capsizing the boat and sending the men back into the icy water. Again the men managed to make it back to Morris Island, where they finally opted to get warm inside the boathouse. The crew rubbed their aching arms and legs and started the old Kohler gasoline-powered generator while Frank Masachi cranked the antiquated magneto telephone connecting him to the Chatham Station switchboard. Masachi relayed their dire situation and was then told that the William J. Landry was still afloat but taking on massive amounts of water as it closed in on the Pollock Rip lightship. . . . Arne Hansen and his crew were still alive and this sliver of hope seemed to reenergize Frank Masachi, who then told his men that they would make a third attempt to reach the lifeboat. Webber and the rest of the crew found some broom handles and whittled them down to replace the broken tholepins. The tired, frozen men walked on sore legs back down the beach and back into the frigid water. The men were turned back a third time when the oars broke and the vessel capsized, plunging the men back into the dark sea. They struggled once again to make it back to Morris Island, with a sober new reality that they would no longer be in a position to help rescue the Landry crew. At that moment, the men of Chatham had to rescue themselves from the natural elements that had nearly killed them three times already. Masachi led his men across a cut-through channel between Morris Island and Chatham where the tide was running low, or so they believed. The water felt warmer as the crew members began their long walk across the channel, but the strong current pressed against their numb legs, almost knocking them over with each stride. The men continued on and the water got deeper, much deeper than they could have imagined. The water was now up to Webber's neck and circling his chin. He and Mel Gouthro were the tallest of the crew, so they were faced with the task of carrying Frank Masachi and Antonio Ballerini across. During the ride back to the station, Masachi still refused to admit defeat. . . . The exhausted crew returned to the station and trudged into the watch room. . . . There was still a chance to save the men. After allowing his men a few minutes to warm up and get changed, Masachi ordered them to Old Harbor, where the CG36500 was waiting for what would now be a fourth rescue attempt. . . . The bad news was that the storm was intensifying and the seas were at top heights. As the Landry crew was attempting to retrieve the hawser from the lightship, a mighty wave slammed the vessels together, further damaging the fishing dragger. After twenty-four hours fighting for their lives, the Landry's crew was now physically and emotionally beaten. The skipper indicated there would be no more attempts. . . . The Landry crew would now pin their fading hopes on the Chatham lifeboat men. Lightship skipper Emro acknowledged Captain Hansen's decision over the radio and received an unnerving reply. Emro heard the words 'Oh my God' and then nothing else. A split second later, Emro's world was turned upside down as a monstrous wave spun the lightship completely around. As he tried to regain his bearings, Emro received one last message from the Landry. The captain informed him that the engine room was now flooding and they were giving up the fight. The last wave had been a dagger in the heart of the crew. 'We're going down below to pray and have something to eat,' the exhausted captain reported. 'If we die out here, it will be with full stomachs. So long, thank you. God bless you all.' Guy Emro reported the news to Chatham station and then watched as the seas swallowed the William J. Landry whole. The remains of the crew were never found, although wreckage from their doomer scalloper later washed ashore on Nantucket. The tragedy left a bitter taste in Bernie Webber's mouth, as did the folly that followed. Coast Guard officials swooped down from Boston to question and criticize everyone involved in the failed rescue. If only they could have seen the determined look in Frank Masachi's eyes that night, the Coast Guard brass would have known that every effort possible was made to see the men of the Landry. Frank Masachi has been pushed by something beyond the valor of human courage during the dark hours of April 7, 1950." "Members of a volunteer station in Wellfleet helped save the lives of dozens of passengers on the cursed vessel Franklin. The immigrant ship had departed from Deal, England, headed for Boston in late winter. She ran aground near the station at Cahoon's Hollow, where Captain Mulford Rich and his son Benjamin were ready to offer assistance. They launched a lifeboat and made several trips to the fractured ship. Young Ben even managed to save a baby whose mother had perished, one of ten passengers and several crew members who died on that bitter cold day in early March 1849. Neither severe weather nor poor seamanship could be blamed for the tragedy, however. The fate of those who died had been decided back in England weeks before. Along with saving an infant, Ben Rich also discovered the captain's valise, which had washed ashore. In the satchel was a letter from the ship's owners advising the captain to wreck the vessel before it got to America. The Franklin had been insured for twice its value. The owners were later indicted for their murderous scheme, but neither was ever sent to prison." "Writer J. W. Dalton described the surfman's weekly routine in his 1902 book, The Life Savers of Cape Cod: 'On Monday the members of the crew are employed putting the station in order. On Tuesday, weather permitting, the crew are drilled in launching and landing in the life-boat through the surf. On Wednesday, the men are drilled in the International and General code of signals. Thursday, the crew drill with the beach apparatus and breeches-buoy. Friday, the crew practices the resuscitation drill for restoring the apparently drowned. Saturday is wash day. Sunday is devoted to religious practices.'" "The Chatham coast was as busy as it was dangerous. Mariners not only had to concern themselves with deadly shoals, but also the tricks of men looking to steal their goods. These men were called Mooncussers, and they set out to disorient captains and ground their ships by aggressively waving a lantern from the dunes. These dune bandits would then rescue the sailors but liberate their goods. The Mooncussers got their nickname because they 'cussed' the moon on moonlit evenings; they could pull off their dangerous treachery only when the sky was near pitch black." "The brittle metal was the catalyst that set the stage for Pennsylvania to sink. In many respects the Pennsylvania tragedy mirrored the situation off Cape Cod. The Pennsylvania was a converted "Liberty Ship" hastily built during World War II to transport cargo to the war front. A steady supply of vessels was essential to the war effort, especially at the beginning of the war, when German submarines were sinking U.S. ships as fast as they could be built Thus the Liberty ships, like the T2 tankers, were constructed in the most expeditious manner possible. This meant that the hulls, made from inferior steel, were welded rather than riveted, further weakening them. The Pennsylvania was literally an accident waiting to happen, and all it needed was the power of an ocean storm to trigger its demise, just like the Pendleton and the Mercer." "The hood of my parka kept blowing off my head as we tried to shoot those lines over to the Mercer. At one point my head felt so numb I rubbed my hand over it and felt something. It was a big clump of ice, and when I pulled on it, a big patch of my hair came with it. But it was so cold I didn't even feel it." "The full impact of the storm was now reaching the masses as Monday evening newspapers reported on the ensuing ocean rescues as well as the onshore calamities. On the Boston Globe's front page a report detailed that the storm had killed fifteen people from New England in various accidents, mostly on the snow-covered roads or from heart attacks while shoveling. More than a thousand motorists had been stranded in their cars on the Maine Turnpike since the storm first hit one night earlier. State police organized a two-pronged rescue effort before hypothermia killed the motorists." "Police Chief Howard McFarland started clawing and digging the hard-packed snow away until he saw a car below him. Then, according to the Boston Herald, out stepped twenty-year-old George Delaney, 'stiff jointed and blinking but otherwise apparently in good shape.' Delaney had been entombed for more than two full days. His car had skidded off the road and into a ditch, and while waiting for help he fell asleep. When he awoke his car was completely buried and he was unable to open the doors." "Gouthro and crew approached the bow's forecastle, where they made a sad discovery. They entered the compartment slowly, their flashlights drawn to the figure of a man stretched out on a paint locker shelf. It was clear the man was dead. He was covered with newspaper in an apparent attempt to ward off hypothermia. His feet were stuck inside sawdust bags and his shoes and socks were found on the floor. The man had no access to blankets because all of the crew's quarters, bunks, and galley were in the stern. Apparently, the crew member had barricaded himself in the forward locker room and had not been able to hear or see the rescue boats that had come to save him six days earlier." "We learn from history that we learn nothing from history." —George Bernard Shaw "Despite the Coast Guard inquiry and subsequent recommendations, the Pendleton and Mercer would not be the last tankers to split in two. For example, the Spartan Lady cracked in half in 1975 south of Martha's Vineyard, and the Chester A. Poling met the same fate in 1977 off Gloucester, Massachusetts. But perhaps the most egregious example of a shipping company putting profits before the safety of its men occurred six years later, when thirty-one men drowned in the icy waters off Virginia." [the Marine Electric] "First Mate Clayton Babineau alerted the Coast Guard to the serious problems just months before the tragedy. He pleaded with officials to inspect the Marine Electric, which was then in dry dock at a Rhode Island repair yard. Babineau described the cracks in the deck and also asked the Coast Guard to inspect the ship's worn hatches. For some mysterious reason, Babineau's warning was never acted upon. Clayton Babineau would be among the thirty-one crewmen to perish when the rust bucket broke apart eighty-five miles off Rudee Inlet, Virginia." "No one was ever found criminally responsible for their deaths, but the disaster did lead to some of the most sweeping reforms in maritime history." "Cusick and two other crew members managed to get to a pair of life rafts, while another group of survivors clung to life rings as they bobbed up and down in twenty-six foot waves. It was not the heavy seas that were slowly killing them but the water temperature, which was just above freezing. The men kept contact with one another by sounding off in the darkness. They kept this up for several excruciating minutes until their voices grew silent. Of the six men holding on to the life rings, only one was still alive when a Coast Guard helicopter arrived thirty minutes later." "It was unlikely that the United States could shut down the Vietcong supply line completely, but a serious effort had to be made. The secretary of the treasury agreed to provide not only his Coast Guardsmen but his Coast Guard vessels for the mission. As a member of Coast Guard Squadron One, Bernie Webber was ordered to report to U.S. Navy Amphibious Base in Coronado, California, where he learned how to cope with booby traps and other methods the Vietcong used to kill. From there he went to Camp Pendleton, where the U.S. Marines taught Webber and his fellow Coasties how to use 81-millimeter mortars, .50-caliber machine guns, and hand grenades. Saving lives was no longer a priority for Coast Guardsmen like Bernie Webber; they were learning how to kill if they had to, and the training did not end there. Webber was also sent to Whidbey Island, Washington, where he learned how to survive water torture, being locked in a box, and other brutal techniques the enemy used to torment American servicemen."

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