……..Pre-invasion bombardment of Okinawa began on 24 March. Indianapolis spent 7 days pouring 8 in (200 mm) shells into the beach defenses. During this time, enemy aircraft repeatedly attacked the American ships. Indianapolis shot down six planes and damaged two others. On 31 March, the ship’s lookouts spotted a Japanese Nakajima Ki-43 fighter as it emerged from the morning twilight and roared at the bridge in a vertical dive. The ship’s 20 mm guns opened fire, but within 15 seconds, the plane was over the ship. Tracers converged on it, causing it to swerve, but the enemy pilot managed to release his bomb from a height of 25 ft (7.6 m), crashing his plane into the sea near the port stern. The bomb plummeted through the deck, into the crew’s mess hall, down through the berthing compartment, and through the fuel tanks before crashing through the keel and exploding in the water underneath. The concussion blew two gaping holes in the keel which flooded nearby compartments, killing nine crewmen. The ship’s bulkheads prevented any progressive flooding. Indianapolis, settling slightly by the stern and listing to port, steamed to a salvage ship for emergency repairs. Here, inspection revealed that her propeller shafts were damaged, her fuel tanks ruptured, and her water-distilling equipment ruined. But Indianapoliscommenced the long trip across the Pacific, under her own power, to the Mare Island Navy Yard for repairs.
After major repairs and an overhaul, Indianapolis received orders to proceed to Tinian island, carrying parts and theenriched uranium (about half of the world’s supply of Uranium-235 at the time) for the atomic bomb Little Boy, which would later be dropped on Hiroshima. Indianapolis departed San Francisco’s Hunters Point Naval Shipyard on 16 July 1945, within hours of the Trinity test. USS Indianapolis set a speed record of 74 1⁄2 hours with an average speed of 29 knots (54 km/h; 33 mph) from San Francisco to Pearl Harbor which still stands today. Arriving at Pearl Harbor on 19 July, she raced on unaccompanied, delivering the atomic weapon components to Tinian on 26 July.
Indianapolis was then sent to Guam where a number of the crew who had completed their tours of duty were replaced by other sailors. Leaving Guam on 28 July, she began sailing toward Leyte where her crew was to receive training before continuing on to Okinawa to join Vice Admiral Jesse B. Oldendorf‘s Task Force 95.
At 00:14 on 30 July, she was struck on her starboard side by two Type 95 torpedoes, one in the bow and one amidships, from the Japanese submarine I-58, under the command of Mochitsura Hashimoto, who initially thought he had spotted an “Idaho-class battleship“. The explosions caused massive damage. Indianapolis took on a heavy list, and settled by the bow. Twelve minutes later, she rolled completely over, then her stern rose into the air, and she plunged down. Some 300 of the 1,196 crewmen went down with the ship. With few lifeboats and many without lifejackets, the remainder of the crew were set adrift.
Navy command had no knowledge of the ship’s sinking until survivors were spotted three and a half days later. At 10:25 on 2 August, a PV-1 Ventura fromVPB-152 flown by Lieutenant Wilbur “Chuck” Gwinn and copilot Lieutenant Warren Colwell spotted the men adrift while on a routine patrol flight. 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. A PBY Catalina flying boat under the command of Lieutenant R. Adrian Marks was dispatched to lend assistance and report. En route to the scene, Marks overflew USS Cecil J. Doyle and alerted her captain, future U.S. Secretary of the Navy W. Graham Claytor, Jr., of the emergency. On his own authority, Claytor decided to divert to the scene.
Arriving hours ahead of Cecil J. Doyle, Marks’ crew began dropping rubber rafts and supplies. Having seen men being attacked by sharks, Marks disobeyed standing orders and landed on the open sea. He began taxiing to pick up the stragglers and lone swimmers who were at the greatest risk of shark attack.Learning the men were the crew of Indianapolis, he radioed the news, requesting immediate assistance. Doyle responded while en route. When Marks’ plane was full, survivors were tied to the wings with parachute cord, damaging the wings so that the plane would never fly again and had to be sunk. Marks and his crew rescued 56 men that day, more than one-sixth of the 317 survivors.
Cecil J. Doyle was the first vessel on the scene. Homing in on Marks’s Catalina in total darkness, Doyle halted to avoid killing or further injuring survivors, and began taking Marks’ survivors aboard. Disregarding the safety of his own vessel, Captain Claytor pointed his largest searchlight into the night sky to serve as a beacon for other rescue vessels. This beacon was the first indication to most survivors that rescuers had arrived.
The destroyers Helm, Madison, and Ralph Talbot were ordered to the rescue scene from Ulithi, along with destroyer escorts Dufilho, Bassett, and Ringness of the Philippine Sea Frontier. They continued their search for survivors until 8 August.
Of the 880 who had survived the sinking, only 321 men came out of the water alive; 317 ultimately survived. They suffered from lack of food and water (leading to dehydration and hypernatremia; some found rations, such as Spam andcrackers, amongst the debris), exposure to the elements (leading to hypothermia and severe desquamation), and shark attacks, while some killed themselves or other survivors in various states of delirium and hallucinations.
“Ocean of Fear”, a 2007 episode of the Discovery Channel TV documentary series Shark Week, states that theIndianapolis sinking resulted in the most shark attacks on humans in history, and attributes the attacks to the oceanic whitetip shark species. Tiger sharks might have also killed some sailors. The same show attributed most of the deaths onIndianapolis to exposure, salt poisoning and thirst, with the dead being dragged off by sharks.
The Headquarters of Commander Marianas on Guam and of the Commander Philippine Sea Frontier on Leyte kept Operations plotting boards on which were plotted the positions of all vessels with which the headquarters were concerned. However, for ships as large as Indianapolis, it was assumed that they would reach their destinations on time, unless reported otherwise. Therefore, their positions were based on predictions, and not on reports. On 31 July, when she should have arrived at Leyte, Indianapolis was removed from the board in the headquarters of Commander Marianas. She was also recorded as having arrived at Leyte by the headquarters of Commander Philippine Sea Frontier. Lieutenant Stuart B. Gibson, the Operations Officer under the Port Director, Tacloban, was the officer responsible for tracking the movements ofIndianapolis. The vessel’s failure to arrive on schedule was known at once to Lieutenant Gibson, who failed to investigate the matter and made no immediate report of the fact to his superiors. Gibson received a letter of reprimand in connection with the incident. The acting commander and operations officer of the Philippine Sea Frontier also received reprimands, while Gibson’s immediate superior received a letter of admonition.
In the first official statement, the Navy said that distress calls “were keyed by radio operators and possibly were actually transmitted” but that “no evidence has been developed that any distress message from the ship was received by any ship, aircraft or shore station.”Declassified records later showed that three stations received the signals but none acted upon the call. One commander was drunk, another had ordered his men not to disturb him and a third thought it was a Japanese trap.
Immediately prior to the attack, the seas had been moderate, the visibility fluctuating but poor in general, and Indianapolis had been steaming at 17 kn (20 mph; 31 km/h). 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 theMovement Report System.
Court-martial of Captain McVay
Captain Charles B. McVay III, who had commanded Indianapolis since November 1944, survived the sinking and was among those rescued days later. In November 1945, he was court-martialed and convicted of “hazarding his ship by failing to zigzag“. Several things about the court-martial were controversial. There was evidence that the Navy itself had placed the ship in harm’s way, in that McVay’s orders were to “zigzag at his discretion, weather permitting”. Further, Mochitsura Hashimoto, commander of I-58, testified that zigzagging would have made no difference. Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitzremitted McVay’s sentence and restored him to active duty. McVay retired in 1949 as a rear admiral.…………………….