In the summer of 1943, the Liberty Ship SS Corydon C. Snow is ordered on a dangerous voyage to transfer 400,000 gallons of highly explosive aviation gasoline from Midway Atoll to Port Moresby, New Guinea. En route, it becomes clear that the ship is plagued with a cantankerous engine. These pressures educe the best and worst from the crew. Notable among them is Victor Brenz, a misfit who somehow seems to be in the center of one conflict after another.
Lieutenant (JG) Robert Stark has reluctantly signed on as officer in command of the US Navy Armed Guard, a unit of fifteen men charged with defending the ship. His training does not prepare him for the diversity of the crew and events, particularly, the dangerous mission of the ship. He finds on board a solitary, troubled Captain, a First Mate with thoughts of suicide, a discredited Navy Chief, and Henry Baldwin, a young seaman he sees as a hick from Indiana.
On the other side of the Pacific a young student, Naoki Tamoro, is entering the Imperial Japanese Navy as a flight cadet. His training coincides with that of the Snow’s fifteen month cruise through the Southern Pacific until the two stories inevitably come together.
On the way to New Guinea, the Snow is attacked and badly damaged, just one of a long series of snafus preventing the off-loading of the volatile cargo. Subsequent events lead the ship into some of the most historic battle sites of World War II: New Britain, The Admiralties, The Marianas, Leyte and more. While in New Caledonia, Brenz is involved in the murder of a prostitute, the blame for which he successfully foists off on a shipmate. Rumors among the crew about his involvement grow.
That peril comes soon after the famous battles of Leyte Gulf, where the first of many suicide air attacks on US and Australian ships occur. Naoki Tamoro has graduated as a carrier pilot. Pride in his country and honor to his ancestors have induced him to volunteer for Tokubetsu Kōgekitai, or Tokkō, later to be known in the West as Kamimaze. But, Tamoro has now dishonored his country by pulling out of a dive on a US Navy convoy. Angry with himself, he sees the Corydon Snow, alone, steaming to catch up with the convoy and determines to atone for his inaction.
A courtroom in Honolulu is the backdrop for denouement. Charges of Brenz’ murder are heard by a judge in a preliminary hearing. Details of that last night in the Philippine Sea are given under oath after which Stark and Baldwin share the real truth.