Just after midnight on July 30, 1945 the USS Indianapolis was torpedoed in the Philippine Sea by a Japanese submarine. The heavy cruiser was returning from Tinian, a tiny island in the West Pacific, where it had dropped off components for an atomic bomb. The ship sank in 11 minutes and led to the greatest loss of life at sea in the US Navy’s history.
The ship’s mission was classified and no one in the Navy’s chain of command missed them for four days. Of the 1,200 men serving on Indianapolis, approximately 900 survived the torpedo attack and were left to fend for themselves with little or no food or water for four days in shark-infested waters. By the time a seaplane spotted them and rescue ships arrived, only 317 men were still alive.
The Navy blamed the incident on Captain Charles V. McVay III. Higher ranks claimed that the captain’s decision not to zigzag in waters known to be patrolled by Japanese submarines led to the ship’s loss. Captain McVay was convicted in a controversial court martial but was returned to active duty by Admiral Chester Nimitz. He retired from the Navy, as a Rear Admiral, in 1949
The results of the court martial were overturned by Congress in 2000, but Captain McVay committed suicide in 1968. Although more than thirty years had passed since the loss of his ship, the effects of that loss were probably one of the reasons for his untimely death.
Even after 70 years, information is still being turned up that sheds new light on the sinking, the four days that some of the crew survived in the water and the rescue. A recent discovery by historian Richard Hulver has corroborated part of the testimony given by Captain McVay.
Although it isn’t known why the information wasn’t unearthed during the court martial, or in the 70 years since, the sighting of Indianapolis by a crewman from a landing ship is further proof that Captain McVay was in the area he was supposed to be in when the ship was sunk.
Correcting the historical record, though it won’t bring back the crew or Captain McVay, is important. There have been many instances where the truth behind historical events have been changed or forgotten. The sacrifice of the crew of USS Indianapolis should never be forgotten.
The crew of the USS Indianapolis are still with us. As of 2015, 32 crew men survive. Every year, they hold a reunion open to the general public. As the survivor’s numbers diminish, the number of visitors to the reunion increase.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are the authors own and do not reflect the policies of U.S. Patriot Tactical.
Latest posts by Matt Towns (see all)
- Paying the Price – 7 September, 2016
- Are Navy Carriers Vulnerable? – 30 August, 2016
- USS Indianapolis: After 71 Years, Information is Still Emerging – 24 August, 2016