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Last Updated: 10:47 AM GMT on December 03, 2013
— Last Comment: 4:14 AM GMT on December 10, 2013
||Remembering the men of the USS INDIANAPOLIS CA-35
|Posted by: Alleyoops, 12:51 AM GMT on August 19, 2012
The Indianapolis was laid down 31 March 1930 by the New York Shipbuilding Corp., Camden, New Jersey; launched 7 November 1931; sponsored by Miss Lucy Taggert, daughter of the late Senator Thomas Taggert, former mayor of the city of Indianapolis; and commissioned at the Philadelphia Navy Yard 15 November 1932, Captain John M. Smeallie commanding.
When Japanese bombs struck Pearl Harbor, Indianapolis, then making a simulated bombardment of Johnson Island, immediately joined Task Force 12 and searched for Japanese carriers reportedly still in the vicinity. She arrived Pearl Harbor 13 December and entered Task Force 11 for operations against the enemy.
Her first action came in the South Pacific deep in enemy dominated waters about 350 miles south of Rabaul, New Britain. Late in the afternoon of 20 February 1942, the American ships were attacked by 18 twin engine bombers, flying in two waves. In the battle that followed, 16 of the planes were shot down by accurate antiaircraft fire of the ship and fighter planes from Lexington. All ships escaped damage and they splashed two trailing Japanese seaplanes.
Throughout the spring and summer of 1943, Indianapolis operated in Aleutian waters escorting American convoys and covering amphibious assaults. In May the Navy took Attu, the first territory stolen by the Japanese to be reconquered by the United States. After Attu was proclaimed secure, the U.S. forces focused their attention on Kiska, the last enemy stronghold in the Aleutians.
She also was involved in fighting in the Pacific before she was commissioned for that fateful voyage.
The world's first operational atomic bomb was delivered by the Indianapolis, (CA-35) to the island of Tinian on 26 July 1945. The Indianapolis then reported to CINCPAC (Commander-In-Chief, Pacific) Headquarters at Guam for further orders. She was directed to join the battleship USS Idaho (BB-42) at Leyte Gulf in the Philippines to prepare for the invasion of Japan. The Indianapolis, unescorted, departed Guam on a course of 262 degrees making about 17 knots.
At 14 minutes past midnight, on 30 July 1945, midway between Guam and Leyte Gulf, she was hit by two torpedoes out of six fired by the I-58, a Japanese submarine. The first blew away the bow, the second struck near midship on the starboard side adjacent to a fuel tank and a powder magazine. The resulting explosion split the ship to the keel, knocking out all electric power. Within minutes she went down rapidly by the bow, rolling to starboard.
Of the 1,196 aboard, about 900 made it into the water in the twelve minutes before she sank. Few life rafts were released. Most survivors wore the standard kapok life jacket. Shark attacks began with sunrise of the first day and continued until the men were physically removed from the water, almost five days later.
Early in the morning, 12:15 A.M., 30 July 1945, two heavy explosions occurred against her starboard side forward, she capsized and sank in 12 minutes, at 12 degrees 02 minutes N., 134 degrees 48 minutes E. Indianapolis had been hit by two torpedoes from the Imperial Japanese Navy submarine I-58, Commander Machitsura Hashimoto commanding. The seas had been moderate; the visibility, limited, Indianapolis had been steaming at 17 knots. When the ship did not reach Leyte on the 31st, as scheduled, no report was made that she was overdue. This omission was due to a misunderstanding of the Movement Report System. Thus it was not until 1025 on 2 August that the survivors were sighted, mostly held afloat by life jackets, although there were a few rafts which had been cut loose before the ship went down. they were sighted by an aircraft on routine patrol; the pilot, Lieutenant Wilbur C. Gwinn, immediately dropped a life raft and a radio transmitter. All air and surface units capable of rescue operations were dispatched to the scene at once, and the surrounding waters were thoroughly searched for survivors.
Shortly after 11:00 A.M. of the fourth day, the survivors were accidentally discovered by LT. (jg) Wilbur C. Gwinn, piloting his PV-1 Ventura Bomber on routine antisubmarine patrol. Radioing his base at Peleiu, he alerted, "many men in the water". A PBY (seaplane) under the command of LT. R. Adrian Marks was dispatched to lend assistance and report. Enroute to the scene, Marks overflew the destroyer USS Cecil Doyle (DD-368), and alerted her captain, of the emergency. The captain of the Doyle, on his own authority, decided to divert to the scene.
Arriving hours ahead of the Doyle, Marks' crew began dropping rubber rafts and supplies. While so engaged, they observed men being attacked by sharks. Disregarding standing orders not to land at sea, Marks landed and began taxiing to pick up the stragglers and lone swimmers who were at greatest risk of shark attack. Learning the men were the crew of the Indianapolis, he radioed the news, requesting immediate assistance. The Doyle responded she was enroute.
Upon completion of rescue operations, 8 August, a radius of 100 miles had been combed by day and night, saving 316 of the crew of 1,199 men. Captain Charles Butler McVay III, commanding officer of the Indianapolis at the time of her sinking, was court marshaled for the loss of his ship. He was the only American captain to be court marshaled for the loss of his vessel due to enemy action during WW2.
Traditionally the flagship of the powerful 5th Fleet, she had served with honor from Pearl harbor through the last campaign of the war and had gone down in action a scant two weeks before wars end.
Indianapolis earned 10 Battle Stars for World War II service.
It is important to note at the outset that vital information pertinent to determining responsibility for the loss of the Indianapolis was not made public until long after the subsequent court-martial and conviction of Captain McVay. U.S. intelligence using a top secret operation labeled ULTRA had broken the Japanese code and was aware that two Japanese submarines, including the I-58, were operating in the path of the Indianapolis.
This information was classified and not made available to either the court-martial board or to Captain McVay's defense counsel. It did not become known until the early 1990s that - despite knowledge of the danger in its path - naval authorities at Guam had sent the Indianapolis into harm's way without any warning, refusing her captain's request for a destroyer escort, and leading him to believe his route was safe.
Captain McVay's request for a destroyer escort was denied despite the fact that no capital ship lacking anti-submarine detection equipment, such as the Indianapolis, had made this transit across the Philippine Sea without an escort during the entire war.
Captain McVay was not told that shortly before his departure from Guam a Japanese submarine within range of his path had sunk a destroyer escort, the USS Underhill.
Shortly after the Indianapolis was sunk, naval intelligence decoded a message from the I-58 to its headquarters in Japan that it had sunk an American battleship along the route of the Indianapolis. The message was ignored.
Naval authorities then and now have maintained that the Indianapolis sank too quickly to send out a distress signal. A radioman aboard the Indianapolis testified at the September 1999 Senate hearing, however, that he watched the "needle jump" on the ship's transmitter, indicating that a distress signal was transmitted minutes before the ship sank, and sources at three separate locations have indicated that they were aware of a distress signal being received from the sinking ship. Its very likely that these distress signals were received but ignored as a Japanese trick to lure rescue vessels to the area.
Confusion on the part of Navy communications and a faulty directive caused the failure of the Indianapolis to arrive on schedule to go unnoticed, leaving as many as 900 men at the mercy of a shark-infested sea. (The faulty directive - which required only reporting the arrival of non-combatant ships - was corrected days after the Indianapolis survivors were discovered to require reporting the arrival of combatant ships as well.)
The Court of Inquiry
A hastily convened closed-door court of inquiry had been convened in Guam on August 13 with the Judge Advocate (prosecutor), Captain William Hilbert, stating that they were "starting the proceedings without having available all the necessary data." Little was done to add to such data prior to the court's decision.
he Surface Operations officer at Guam who had sent the Indianapolis across the Philippine Sea without a destroyer escort and who was responsible for advising Captain McVay of any perils in his path testified that the danger was "practically negligible." (It is very likely that the Surface Operations officer was indeed aware of the dangers in the path of the Indianapolis revealed by the ULTRA code-breaking but not known to the court-martial board. Thus, his testimony that the dangers were "practically negligible" had the self-serving impact of diverting attention from his own culpability for not heeding Captain McVay's request for a destroyer escort.)
The court of inquiry ultimately recommended that Captain McVay be court-martialed on two vague charges: (1) culpable inefficiency in the performance of his duties and (2) negligently endangering the lives of others.
Over 350 Navy warships had been lost in combat during World War II, but none of their captains had been court-martialed. Both Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz and Vice Admiral Raymond Spruance for whom the Indianapolis served as Fifth Fleet flagship opposed court-martialing Captain McVay, and never had an officer been court-martialed over the objection of his superiors, much less such prominent flag officers.
With the war ended, the scene then shifted to Washington. When orders were given to proceed with the court-martial of Captain McVay, only days before the trial actually began on December 3 at the Wastington Navy Yard, he and his defense counsel learned for the first time of the charges against him.
The Navy finally had decided on two charges against Captain McVay. There was no evidence to substantiate the first charge which was failure to issue timely orders to abandon ship. The fact that it was even lodged against him was curious. Well before the trial began, the Navy was aware that the torpedo attack had knocked out the ship's electrical system and that orders to abandon ship could only be shouted by word of mouth in the din and confusion aboard the sinking ship.
The second charge against Captain McVay was that he had hazarded his ship by failing to zigzag in good visibility. Here are the facts which made this charge shamefully unjust.
The orders which Captain McVay received in Guam directed him to zigzag at his discretion.
No Navy directive in existence then or now requires zigzagging at night in limited visibility.
The charge against Captain McVay stated that the visibility was good on the night of the sinking (a fact never contested by the inexperienced defense counsel who was assigned to Captain McVay).
When Captain McVay issued orders to cease zigzagging shortly before midnight, the visibility, according to all eyewitnesses aboard the ship, was and remained very poor up to the time of the torpedoes struck, so bad that crew members could not identify their shipmates several yards away.
Statements taken by survivors immediately after rescue that the visibility was severely limited were not made available as evidence at the court-martial. And only recently surfaced as the result of research into old Navy records.
The commander of the Japanese submarine which sank the Indianapolis and who testified at the court-martial said that he could have sunk the ship whether it had been zigzagging or not.
A decorated U.S. submarine commander testified at the court-martial that, given the identical circumstances which faced the Japanese submarine that night, he could have sunk the Indianapolis whether it had been zigzagging or not.
As so the Navy court-martial found Captain Charles Butler McVay III guilty of hazarding his ship by failure to zigzag in good visibility, thus diverting attention from so many others whose negligence and misjudgments were the real cause of this tragedy, humiliating Captain McVay and damaging his promising naval career beyond repair.
In early 2000, only months before his death at the age of 91 in Kyoto, Japan, the commander of the Japanese submarine which sank the Indianapolis gave an interview and, referring to Captain McVay's court-martial at which he had been a witness, said, "I had a feeling it was contrived from the beginning."
That is the story. It remains a tarnish on the reputation of the United States Navy more than a half a century later. And it will remain a stain on the conscience of the Navy.
Copyright © 2013 Weather Underground, Inc.
Copyright © 2013 Weather Underground, Inc.