How many people know of the USS Indianapolis? How many know what the crew went through? Why do we need to be reminded of their sacrifices?
The USS Indianapolis was a Portland – class heavy cruiser. She was 623 feet in lenght with a beam of 66 feet and was commissioned in November 15, 1932. Her last cruise ended on 30 July 1945. About 14 minutes past midnight she was hit by two torpedoes fired from I -58, a Japanese submarine.
The USS Indianapolis had 1196 men on board. When she went down, about 900 went into the water. A few of the life rafts were released. Most of the men wore the standard kapok life jackets.
This is their story – 5 days of terror and hell.
The men that went into the water didn’t know if there had been a distress signal had been sent. They knew that there were people in the water that were injured and tried to help them the best they could.
The first day they knew that they were supposed to be in the Philipines at 11am but when they didn’t show a rescue would be sent. They figured that one day would be no sweat. As night fell it got cold, very cold. During the day when the sun was beating down it was hot due to the reflection of the sun off the water and at night it was very cold.
The sharks started to show up, the water has a way of transmitting sound much further than in the air. Everything in the natural water world gives off a specific sound so when the Indianapolis went down the sounds were transmitted for miles.It would draw the sharks to the men in the water.
The sailors in the water, still expected to be rescued. They figured that it was taking time to get the rescue together and then they would be saved from the water. They watched as the sharks circled and waited for the rescue to come. That night it was praying that someone would have noticed that the Indianapolis was over due.
The third day, men were losing it. They had been drinking salt water. They were telling stories that the Indianapolis was down below. By now the men were begining to feed. It seemed like hundreds of them. They would hear the high pitched screams and know that another person had gotten bitten. Then it would go silent.
By the fourth day, more and more people were drinking the salt water and going crazy. They were praying for rescue at this time and a plane flew over head. They didn’t know it at the time but their prayers had been answered. Planes had gone by since day one but this was different. The pilot turned, they had been seen. The pilot landed the plane a PV1 Ventura after radioing in the location then the PBY came in and landed on the water. They started to pick up the survivors.
By the 5th day the ships started to show up. The survivors were given sweetened water and showers. They had survived hell. 316 men had survived hell.
The Navy made some mistakes as well.
Here is some of the evidence (as indicated in “The Story”):
Although naval authorities at Guam knew that on July 24, four days before the Indianapolis departed for Leyte, the destroyer escort USS Underhill had been sunk by a Japanese submarine within range of his path, McVay was not told.
Although a code-breaking system called ULTRA had alerted naval intelligence that a Japanese submarine (the I-58 by name which ultimately sank the Indianapolis) was operating in his path, McVay was not told. (Classified as top secret until the early 1990s, this intelligence — and the fact it was withheld from McVay before he sailed from Guam — was not disclosed during his subsequent court-martial.)
Although no capital ship (unequipped with antisubmarine detection devices such as the Indianapolis) had made the transit between Guam and the Philippines without a destroyer escort throughout World War II, McVay’s request for such an escort was denied.
Although the routing officer at Guam was aware of dangers in the ship’s path, he said a destroyer escort for the Indianapolis was “not necessary” (and, unbelievably, testified at McVay’s subsequent court-martial that the risk of submarine attack along the Indianapolis’s route “was very slight”).
Although McVay was told of “submarine sightings” along his path, none had been confirmed. Such sightings were commonplace throughout the war and were generally ignored by navy commanders unless confirmed.
Thus, the Indianapolis set sail for Leyte on July 26, 1945, sent into harm’s way with its captain unaware of dangers which shore-based naval personnel knew were in his path.
Captain McVay’s orders were to “zigzag at his discretion.” Zigzagging is a naval maneuver used to avoid torpedo attack, generally considered most effective once the torpedoes have been launched. No Navy directives in force at that time or since recommended, much less ordered, zigzagging at night in poor visibility.
Captain McVay was later court marshaled for failing to zigzag. That was in 1945. One of the people that the government used against Captain McVay was Mochitsura Hashimoto, the commander of the submarine that sank the Indianapolis. He wrote a letter in November of 1999 that stated is quoted here. “Perhaps it is time your peoples forgave Captain McVay for the humiliation
of his unjust conviction.” From November 24, 1999, letter by Mochitsura Hashimoto, commander of submarine which sank the Indianapolis,
to Senator John W. Warner, Chairman, Senate Armed Services Committee.
That wasn’t overturned until 2000.