USS Indianapolis is found after 72 years on the sea bed: Wreck of ship that delivered Hiroshima A-bomb components before being sunk by the Japanese - with loss of 879 lives - is discovered by Microsoft billionaire Paul Allen
- Paul Allen said Friday that his research vessel located wreckage from the USS Indianapolis
- The USS Indianapolis was destroyed by a Japanese submarine in July 1945 in the Philippine Sea
- Of the 1,197 men aboard the Indianapolis, a Portland-Class heavy cruiser, only 317 survived
- Roughly 300 men went down with the ship; hundreds more died of exposure and shark attacks
- Ship had just completed a secret mission delivering components of the nuclear weapons later used on Japan
- The sinking USS Indianapolis remains to be the most tragic maritime disaster in US naval history
On 7 December 1941, Indianapolis was on a training mission conducting a mock bombardment at Johnston Atoll during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Indianapolis immediately was absorbed into Task Force 12 and conducted a search for the Japanese carriers responsible for the attack, though the force did not locate them. She returned to Pearl Harbor on 13 December and joined Task Force 11.
New Guinea campaign
Main article: New Guinea campaign
With the task force, she steamed to the South Pacific, to 350 mi (560 km) south of Rabaul, New Britain, escorting the aircraft carrier Lexington. Late in the afternoon of 20 February 1942, the American ships were attacked by 18 Japanese aircraft. Of these, 16 were shot down by aircraft from Lexington while the remaining two were destroyed by antiaircraft fire from the ships.
On 10 March, the task force, reinforced by another force centered around the carrier Yorktown, attacked Japanese-held ports at Lae and Salamaua, New Guinea where the Japanese were marshaling amphibious forces. Attacking from the south through the Owen Stanley mountain range, the U.S. air forces surprised and inflicted heavy damage on Japanese warships and transports, losing few aircraft but inflicting what U.S. commanders considered heavy damage to the Japanese shipping and aircraft. Following this mission, Indianapolis returned to Mare Island Naval Shipyard for a brief refit, before escorting a convoy to Australia.
Aleutian Islands campaign
Main article: Aleutian Islands campaign
She then headed for the North Pacific to support American units in the Battle of the Aleutian Islands. On 7 August, Indianapolis and the task force attacked Kiska Island a Japanese staging area. Although fog hindered observation, Indianapolis and other ships fired their main guns into the bay. Floatplanes flown from the cruisers reported Japanese ships sunk in the harbor and damage to shore installations. After 15 minutes, Japanese shore batteries returned fire before being destroyed by the ships' main guns. Japanese submarines were spotted approaching the force, but were depth-charged by American destroyers before they could inflict any damage. Japanese seaplanes also made an ineffective bombing attack. In spite of a lack of information on the condition of the Japanese forces, the operation was considered a success. U.S. forces later occupied Adak Island, providing a naval base further out from the Dutch Harbor on Unalaska Island. In January 1943, Indianapolis, supporting a landing and occupation on Amchitka, part of an Allied island hopping strategy in the Aleutian Islands.
On the evening of 19 February, Indianapolis led two destroyers on a patrol southwest of Attu Island, searching for Japanese ships trying to reinforce Kiska and Attu. She intercepted a Japanese cargo ship, Akagane Maru. The cargo ship tried to make a reply to the radio challenge but was shelled by Indianapolis. Akagane Maru immediately exploded forcefully and sank with all hands. Presumably she had been carrying ammunition. Through mid-1943, Indianapolis remained near the Aleutian Islands escorting American convoys and providing shore bombardments supporting amphibious assaults. In May, the Allies captured Attu, then turned attention on Kiska, the final Japanese holdout in the Aleutians. Allied landings there commenced on 15 August, however the landed forces discovered that the Japanese had abandoned the Aleutian Islands by then.
After refitting at Mare Island, Indianapolis moved to Hawaii where she became the flagship of Vice Admiral Raymond A. Spruance, commanding the 5th Fleet. She sortied from Pearl Harbor on 10 November with the main body of the Southern Attack Force for Operation Galvanic, the invasion of the Gilbert Islands. On 19 November, Indianapolis bombarded Tarawa Atoll and next day pounded Makin (see Battle of Makin). The ship then returned to Tarawa and acted as a fire-support ship for the landings. That day her guns shot down an enemy plane and shelled enemy strong points as landing parties struggled against Japanese defenders in the bloody and costly battle of Tarawa. She continued this role until the leveled island was declared secure 3 days later. The conquest of the Marshall Islands followed hard on victory in the Gilberts. Indianapolis was again 5th Fleet Flagship.
USS Indianapolis off the coast of San Francisco in camouflage pattern.
The cruiser met other ships of her task force at Tarawa, and on D-Day minus 1, June 5, 1944, she was a unit of the cruiser group which bombarded the islands of Kwajalein Atoll. The shelling continued on D-Day with Indianapolis silencing two enemy shore batteries. Next day she obliterated a blockhouse and other shore installations and supported advancing troops with a creeping barrage. The ship entered Kwajalein Lagoon on 4 February, and remained until all resistance disappeared.
In March and April, Indianapolis, still flagship of the 5th Fleet, attacked the Western Carolines. Carrier planes struck at the Palau Islands on 30–31 March with shipping as their primary target. They sank three destroyers, 17 freighters, five oilers and damaged 17 other ships. In addition, airfields were bombed and surrounding waters mined to immobilize enemy ships. Yap and Ulithi were struck on the 31st and Woleai on 1 April. During these three days, Japanese planes attacked the U.S. fleet but were driven off without damaging the American ships. Indianapolis shot down her second plane, a torpedo bomber, and the Japanese lost 160 planes in all, including 46 destroyed on the ground. These attacks successfully prevented Japanese forces from the Carolines from interfering with the U.S. landings on New Guinea.
In June, the 5th Fleet was busy with the assault on the Mariana Islands. Raids on Saipan began with carrier-based planes on 11 June, followed by surface bombardment, in which Indianapolis had a major role, from 13 June. (See Battle of Saipan.) On D-Day, 15 June, Admiral Spruance received reports that a large fleet of battleships, carriers, cruisers, and destroyers was headed south to relieve their threatened garrisons in the Marianas. Since amphibious operations at Saipan had to be protected at all costs, Admiral Spruance could not draw his powerful surface units too far from the scene. Consequently, a fast carrier force was sent to meet this threat while another force attacked Japanese air bases on Iwo Jima and Chichi Jima in the Bonin and Volcano Islands, bases for potential enemy air attacks.
A combined U.S. fleet fought the Japanese on 19 June in the Battle of the Philippine Sea. Japanese carrier planes, which hoped to use the airfields of Guam and Tinian to refuel and rearm and attack American off-shore shipping, were met by carrier planes and the guns of the Allied escorting ships. That day, the U.S. Navy destroyed a reported 426 Japanese planes while losing only 29. Indianapolis herself shot down one torpedo plane. This day of aerial combat became known throughout the fleet as the "Marianas Turkey Shoot". With Japanese air opposition wiped out, the U.S. carrier planes pursued and sank Hiyō, two destroyers, and one tanker and inflicted severe damage on other ships. Two other carriers, Taihō and Shōkaku, were sunk by submarines.
Indianapolis returned to Saipan on 23 June to resume fire support there and six days later moved to Tinian to smash shore installations (see Battle of Tinian). Meanwhile, Guam had been taken, and Indianapolis was the first ship to enter Apra Harbor since that American base had fallen early in the war. The ship operated in the Marianas for the next few weeks, then moved to the Western Carolines where further landings were planned. From 12 to 29 September, she bombarded the Island of Peleliu in the Palau Group, both before and after the landings (see Battle of Peleliu). She then sailed to Manus Island in the Admiralty Islands where she operated for 10 days before returning to the Mare Island Navy Yard.
Overhauled, Indianapolis joined Vice Admiral Marc A. Mitscher's fast carrier task force on 14 February 1945. Two days later, the task force launched an attack on Tokyo to cover the landings on Iwo Jima, scheduled for 19 February. This was the first carrier attack on Japan since the Doolittle Raid. The mission was to destroy Japanese air facilities and other installations in the "Home Islands". The fleet achieved complete tactical surprise by approaching the Japanese coast under cover of bad weather. The attacks were pressed home for two days. The American Navy lost 49 carrier planes while claiming 499 enemy planes, a 10:1 kill/loss ratio. The task force also sank a carrier, nine coastal ships, a destroyer, two destroyer escorts, and a cargo ship. They destroyed hangars, shops, aircraft installations, factories, and other industrial targets.
Indianapolis off Mare Island, on 10 July 1945.
Immediately after the strikes, the task force raced to Bonin to support the landings on Iwo Jima. The ship remained there until 1 March, protecting the invasion ships and bombarding targets in support of the landings. Indianapolis returned to Admiral Mitscher's task force in time to strike Tokyo again on 25 February and Hachijō off the southern coast of Honshū the following day. Although weather was extremely bad, the American force destroyed 158 planes and sank five small ships while pounding ground installations and destroying trains.
The next target for the U.S. forces was Okinawa in the Ryukyu Islands, which were in range of aircraft from the Japanese mainland. The fast carrier force was tasked with attacking airfields in southern Japan until they were incapable of launching effective airborne opposition to the impending invasion. The fast carrier force departed for Japan from Ulithi on 14 March. On 18 March, it launched an attack from a position 100 mi (160 km) southeast of the island of Kyūshū. The attack targeted airfields on Kyūshū as well as ships of the Japanese fleet in the harbors of Kobe and Kure on southern Honshū. The Japanese located the American task force on 21 March, sending 48 planes to attack the ships. Twenty-four fighters from the task force intercepted and shot down all the Japanese aircraft.
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 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. The 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 the Indianapolis commenced the long trip across the Pacific to Mare Island under her own power.
After major repairs and an overhaul, Indianapolis received orders to proceed to Tinian island, carrying parts and the enriched 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 on 16 July.
The heavy cruiser Indianapolis steamed out of San Francisco Bay just after dawn on July 16 wrapped in a heavy cloak of secrecy. In her belly, she carried the atomic bomb that three weeks later would be dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. She raced, unescorted, to the island of Tinian where she unloaded her lethal cargo on July 26. Her mission accomplished, the Indianapolis then began a journey into Hell that would end with the worst naval disaster in U.S. history.
From Tinian she sailed to the island of Guam and from there she was ordered to the Leyte Gulf in the Philippines to prepare for the invasion of Japan. Traveling without an escort, her voyage would take her through an oceanic No Man's Land infested with Japanese submarines and sharks.
The USS Indianapolis
At a few minutes past midnight on July 30 two Japanese torpedoes tore into her side, igniting an explosion that broke the ship in two. It took only twelve minutes for the ship to dip her bow, roll to starboard and slip beneath the sea. Of her crew of 1,196, an estimated 900 survived the explosion - but the worst was yet to come.
A few of those in the water were able to reach a raft or debris from the ship to cling to. Many wore life jackets that provided minimal buoyancy. Just as many, however, had neither raft nor life jacket and were forced to continually tread water to survive, finding relief only when a life jacket became available through the death of a shipmate. The sharks began attacking when the sun rose and continued their assault throughout the ordeal.
No alarm was raised when the ship failed to arrive at its destination. No rescue forces were dispatched to find the missing ship - its sinking went unnoticed. For four days a dwindling number of survivors fought a losing battle of life and death. Then, lady luck intervened. A Navy reconnaissance plane on routine patrol happened to spot the survivors and broadcast their position. Near-by ships rushed to the scene and began to pluck the sailors out of the water. A tally made at the completion of the rescue revealed that only 317 of the original estimated 900 who escaped the sinking ship survived their ordeal.
"I knew I was dying but I really didn't care."
Dr. Lewis Haynes was the Chief Medical Officer aboard the Indianapolis. Shortly after his rescue, he dictated his recollections to a corpsman in order to preserve an accurate account of his experience. These notes became the basis of an article published in 1995. We join his story as his sleep is interrupted just after midnight on July 30 by the violent explosion of a Japanese torpedo:
"I awoke. I was in the air. I saw a bright light before I felt the concussion of the explosion that threw me up in the air almost to the overhead. A torpedo had detonated under my room. I hit the edge of the bunk, hit the deck, and stood up. Then the second explosion knocked me down again. As I landed on the deck I thought, ‘I've got to get the hell out of here!’ I grabbed my life jacket and started to go out the door. My room was already on fire.
I emerged to see my neighbor Ken Stout. He said, ‘Let's go,’ and stepped ahead of me into the main passageway. I was very close to him when he yelled, ‘Look out!’ and threw his hands up. I lifted the life jacket in front of my face, and stepped back. As I did, a wall of fire went ‘Whoosh!’ It burned my hair off, burned my face, and the back of my hands. That's the last I saw of Ken.
I started out trying to go to the forward ladder to go up on the fo'c'sle [forecastle - The section of the upper deck of a ship located at the bow forward of the foremast] deck, There was a lot of fire coming up through the deck right in front of the dentist's room. That's when I realized I couldn't go forward and turned to go aft. As I did, I slipped and fell, landing on my hands. I got third degree burns on my hands - my palms and all the tips of my fingers. I still have the scars. I was barefooted and the soles of my feet were burned off.
Then I turned aft to go back through the wardroom. I would have to go through the wardroom and down a long passageway to the quarterdeck, but there was a terrible hazy smoke with a peculiar odor. I couldn't breathe and got lost in the wardroom. I kept bumping into furniture and finally fell into this big easy chair. I felt so comfortable. I knew I was dying but I really didn't care.
Then someone standing over me said, ‘My God, I'm fainting!’ and he fell on me. Evidently that gave me a shot of adrenalin and I forced my way up and out. Somebody was yelling, ‘Open a porthole!’ All power was out and it was just a red haze.
The ship was beginning to list and I moved to that side of the ship. I found a porthole already open. Two other guys had gone out through it. I stuck my head out the porthole, gulping in some air, and found they had left a rope dangling. I looked down to see water rushing into the ship beneath me. I thought about going out the porthole into the ocean but I knew I couldn't go in there."
The Ship Goes Down
With great effort, Dr. Haynes manages to climb the rope to the deck above. He and an assistant begin to distribute life jackets to those around them. We rejoin his story as the ship lists violently signaling that she is about to sink:
"...I slowly walked down the side of the ship. Another kid came and said he didn't have a jacket. I had an extra jacket and he put it on. We both jumped into the water which was covered with fuel oil. I wasn't alone in the water. The hull was covered with people climbing down.
I didn't want to get sucked down with the ship so I kicked my feet to get away. And then the ship rose up high. I thought it was going to come down and crush me. The ship kept leaning out away from me, the aft end rising up and leaning over as it stood up on its nose. The ship was still going forward at probably 3 or 4 knots. When it finally sank, it was over a hundred yards from me. Most of the survivors were strung out anywhere from half a mile to a mile behind the ship.
Suddenly the ship was gone and it was very quiet. It had only been 12 minutes since the torpedoes hit. We started to gather together. Being in the water wasn't an unpleasant experience except that the black fuel oil got in your nose and eyes. We all looked the same, black oil all over -- white eyes and red mouths. You couldn't tell the doctor from the boot seamen. Soon everyone had swallowed fuel oil and gotten sick. Then everyone began vomiting.
At that time, I could have hidden but somebody yelled, ‘Is the doctor there?’ And I made myself known. From that point on -- and that's probably why I'm here today -- I was kept so busy I had to keep going. But without any equipment, from that point on I became a coroner.
The Japanese sub that sank the Indianapolis.
This photo was taken on April 1, 1946
just before the US Navy scuttled the
sub off the coast of Japan.
A lot of men were without life jackets. The kapok life jacket is designed with a space in the back. Those who had life jackets that were injured, you could put your arm through that space and pull them up on your hip and keep them out of the water. And the men were very good about doing this. Further more, those with jackets supported men without jackets. They held on the back of them, put their arms through there and held on floating in tandem.
When daylight came we began to get ourselves organized into a group and the leaders began to come out. When first light came we had between three and four hundred men in our group. I would guess that probably seven or eight hundred men made it out of the ship. I began to find the wounded and dead. The only way I could tell they were dead was to put my finger in their eye. If their pupils were dilated and they didn't blink I assumed they were dead. We would then laboriously take off their life jacket and give it to men who didn't have jackets. In the beginning I took off their dogtags, said The Lord's Prayer, and let them go. Eventually, I got such an armful of dogtags I couldn't hold them any longer. Even today, when I try to say The Lord's Prayer or hear it, I simply lose it.
...The second night, which was Monday night, we had all the men put their arms through the life jacket of the man in front of him and we made a big mass so we could stay together. We kept the wounded and those who were sickest in the center of the pack and that was my territory. Some of the men could doze off and sleep for a few minutes. The next day we found a life ring. I could put one very sick man across it to support him.
There was nothing I could do but give advice, bury the dead, save the life jackets, and try to keep the men from drinking the salt water when we drifted out of the fuel oil. When the hot sun came out and we were in this crystal clear water, you were so thirsty you couldn't believe it wasn't good enough to drink. I had a hard time convincing the men that they shouldn't drink. The real young ones - you take away their hope, you take away their water and food - they would drink salt water and then would go fast. I can remember striking men who were drinking water to try and stop them. They would get diarrhea, then get more dehydrated, then become very maniacal.
In the beginning, we tried to hold them and support them while they were thrashing around. And then we found we were losing a good man to get rid of one who had been bad and drank. As terrible as it may sound, towards the end when they did this, we shoved them away from the pack because we had to.
The water in that part of the Pacific was warm and good for swimming. But body temperature is over 98 and when you immerse someone up to their chin in that water for a couple of days, you're going to chill him down. So at night we would tie everyone close together to stay warm. But they still had severe chills which led to fever and delirium. On Tuesday night some guy began yelling, ‘There's a Jap here and he's trying to kill me.’ And then everybody started to fight. They were totally out of their minds. A lot of men were killed that night. A lot of men drowned. Overnight everybody untied themselves and got scattered in all directions. But you couldn't blame the men. It was mass hysteria. You became wary of everyone. Till daylight came, you weren't sure. When we got back together the next day there were a hell of a lot fewer.
I saw only one shark. I remember reaching out trying to grab hold of him. I thought maybe it would be food. However, when night came, things would bump against you in the dark or brush against your leg and you would wonder what it was. But honestly, in the entire 110 hours I was in the water I did not see a man attacked by a shark. However, the destroyers that picked up the bodies afterwards found a large number of those bodies. In the report I read 56 bodies were mutilated, Maybe the sharks were satisfied with the dead; they didn't have to bite the living.
We rejoin Dr. Haynes' story two days later:
Two survivors are brought
aboard the Cecil J. Doyle
"It was Thursday [2 Aug] when the plane spotted us. By then we were in very bad shape. The kapok life jacket becomes waterlogged. It's good for about 48 hours. We sunk lower down in the water and you had to think about keeping your face out of water. I knew we didn't have very long to go. The men were semicomatose. We were all on the verge of dying when suddenly this plane flew over. I'm here today because someone on that plane had a sore neck. He went to fix the aerial and got a stiff neck and lay down in the blister underneath. While he was rubbing his neck he saw us
The plane dropped life jackets with canisters of water but the canisters ruptured. Then a PBY [seaplane] showed up and dropped rubber life rafts. We put the sickest people aboard and the others hung around the side. I found a flask of water with a 1-ounce cup. I doled out the water, passing the cup down hand to hand. Not one man cheated and I know how thirsty they were.
Towards the end of the day, just before dark, I found a kit for making fresh water out of salt water. I tried to read the instructions, but couldn't make sense of it or get it to work right. My product tasted like salt water and I didn't want to take a chance so I threw it into the ocean. I then went to
I watched the PBY circle and suddenly make an open-sea landing. This took an awful lot of guts. It hit, went back up in the air and splashed down again. I thought he'd crashed but he came taxiing back. I found out later he was taxiing around picking up the singles. If he hadn't done this, I don't think we would have survived. He stayed on the water during the night and turned his searchlight up into the sky so theCecil J. Doyle (DE-368) could find us. The ship came right over and began picking us up."
Indianapolis's intended route from Guam to the Philippines
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 flown by Lieutenant Wilbur "Chuck" Gwinn and copilot Lieutenant Warren Colwell spotted the men adrift while on a routine patrol flight.Of the 880 that survived the sinking, only 321 men came out of the water alive; 317 ultimately survived. They suffered from lack of food and water (some found rations such as Spam and crackers amongst the debris), exposure to the elements (hypothermia, dehydration, hypernatremia,photophobia, starvation and dementia), severe desquamation, and shark attacks, while some killed themselves and/or one another in various states of delirium and hallucinations. The Discovery Channel stated in Shark Week episodes "Ocean of Fear" that the Indianapolis 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 of the survivors. The same show attributed most of the deaths on Indianapolis to exposure, salt poisoning and thirst, with the dead being dragged off by sharks.
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 seaplane under the command of Lieutenant R. Adrian Marks was dispatched to lend assistance and report. En route to the scene, Marks overflew 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 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.
The Doyle was the first vessel on the scene. Homing 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.
Navy failure to learn of the sinking[edit source | editbeta]
Operations plotting boards were kept at the Headquarters of Commander Marianas on Guam and of the Commander Philippine Sea Frontier on Leyte. On these boards, the positions of all vessels of which the headquarters was concerned were plotted. However, for ships as large as the 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 of Indianapolis. The non-arrival of that vessel 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.
The Indianapolis sent distress calls before sinking. Three stations received the signals; however, 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 prank. For a long time the Navy denied that a distress call had been sent. The receipt of the call came to light only after the release of declassified records.
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 the Movement Report System. Captain Charles B. McVay III, who had commanded Indianapolis since November 1944, survived the sinking, and was with those rescued days later. In November 1945, he wascourt-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 Nimitz remitted McVay's sentence and restored him to active duty. McVay retired in 1949. While many ofIndianapolis's survivors said McVay was not to blame for the sinking, the families of some of the men who died thought otherwise - "Merry Christmas! Our family's holiday would be a lot merrier if you hadn't killed my son", read one piece of hate mail. The guilt that was placed on his shoulders mounted until he committed suicide in 1968, using his Navy-issue revolver. McVay was discovered on his front lawn with a toy sailor in one hand.
In October 2000, the United States Congress passed a resolution that Captain McVay's record should state that "he is exonerated for the loss of Indianapolis." President Bill Clinton signed the resolution. The resolution noted that although several hundred ships of the U.S. Navy were lost in combat in World War II, McVay was the only captain to be court-martialed for the sinking of his ship. In July 2001, the Secretary of the Navy ordered McVay's record cleared of all wrongdoing
Survivors of 1945 sinking of the USS Indianapolis describe terrifying explosions and shark attacks during worst sea disaster in U.S. Naval history
More than a dozen men who survived the worst sea disaster in U.S. naval history - the World War II sinking of the USS Indianapolis - have gathered in the cruiser's namesake city for the final large-scale reunion of the famed ship's dwindling number of survivors.
Thirty-eight of the 317 men who survived the ship's July 1945 sinking and five days in the Pacific's shark-infested waters are still alive, but they're now in their late 80s and early 90s and many use wheelchairs.
Harold Bray, an 86-year-old from Benicia, Calif., said he and the 14 other survivors attending this year's reunion decided Friday that any future gatherings will be smaller and less frequent because so many of the survivors are in poor health.
Doomed: The USS Indianapolis was sunk by a Japanese torpedo in the South Pacific in 1945. Many crewman survived the blast only to be eaten by sharks
'We decided to stay together until the last guy's standing, but the goal is to continue at a smaller scale,' said Bray, chairman of the USS Indianapolis Survivors Organization. 'Some of the guys are in wheelchairs now and travel is pretty tough for them.'
Bray said the survivors will nonetheless keep telling the story of the ship's sinking, their survival and the role they played in helping bring the war to a close.The USS Indianapolis was halfway between Guam and the Philippines in shark-filled waters when a Japanese submarine sank it with torpedoes on July 30, 1945, in the war's closing weeks.
'Whoom. Up in the air I went,' Loel Dean Cox, who was just 19 when the ship was torpedo, told the BBC about the first explosion. 'There was water, debris, fire, everything just coming up and we were 81ft (25m) from the water line. It was a tremendous explosion. Then, about the time I got to my knees, another one hit. Whoom'
The second torpedo nearly tore the ship in half. Cox said fires raged below deck as the ship began listing onto its side.
Rescue: Of the 1,197 men aboard the Indianapolis when it sank, only 317 survived after nearly a week lost at sea
'I turned and looked back. The ship was headed straight down. You could see the men jumping from the stern, and you could see the four propellers still turning.
'Twelve minutes. Can you imagine a ship 610ft long, that's two football fields in length, sinking in 12 minutes? It just rolled over and went under.'
Just days earlier, the Indianapolis had visited the island of Tinian in a secret mission to deliver the uranium-235 and other components for the atomic bomb later dropped on Hiroshima by the Enola Gay, which took off from the remote island.
The Indianapolis' mission was so secret she sailed alone, unescorted by ships better equipped to detect and fight Japanese submarines. The ship's commander had even requested an escort but was denied by Navy officials.
Additionally, the Navy failed to pass on information that Japanese submarines were still active in the area.
Survivors: The crew of USS Ohio salute during a special burial ceremony at sea for Indianapolis survivor Eugene Morgan
'I never saw a life raft. I finally heard some moans and groans and yelling and swam over and got with a group of 30 men and that's where I stayed,' Cox said.
'We figured that if we could just hold out for a couple of days they'd pick us up.'
The Indianapolis sent several SOS signals before it became submerged, but the message wasn't taken seriously. Nor did Navy officials take much notice when the ship failed to arrive at its destination on time.
An estimated 900 of the ship's servicemen survived the vessel's nighttime sinking, but before rescuers arrived five days later, drowning, delirium, dehydration and shark attacks had claimed all but 317 of the men.
The Indianapolis' death toll - 880 members out of a crew of 1,197 died - is the U.S. Navy's worst single at-sea loss of life. But reports of the tragedy were buried by the news of the Japanese surrender, and interest in the ship's story was not revived until the 1975 movie "Jaws" featured a character who told of the sinking and the survivors' days of agony.
The sharks came from miles away to feast on the carnage from the wreck. They then started eating those who had survived the explosions.
'We were sunk at midnight, I saw [a shark] the first morning after daylight. They were big. Some of them I swear were 15ft long,' Cox said.
Justin Wray, left, a Navy recruiter in Indianapolis, speaks to USS Indianapolis survivor Clarence Hershberger
'They were continually there, mostly feeding off the dead bodies. Thank goodness, there were lots of dead people floating in the area.
'We were losing three or four each night and day,' Cox said. 'You were constantly in fear because you'd see 'em all the time. Every few minutes you'd see their fins - a dozen to two dozen fins in the water.
'They would come up and bump you. I was bumped a few times - you never know when they are going to attack you.'
As the sharks continued to attack, clouds of blood in the water grew and attracted more to the area, leading to even more attacks.
'In that clear water you could see the sharks circling. Then every now and then, like lightning, one would come straight up and take a sailor and take him straight down. One came up and took the sailor next to me. It was just somebody screaming, yelling or getting bit,' Cox said.
Edgar Harrell, an 89-year-old from Clarksville, Tenn., who is one of only two ex-Marines among the remaining survivors, said the horrors he witnessed - including sharks devouring men around him - became too much for him to bear after he returned home.
Reunion: 38 of the Indianapolis' 317 survivors are still alive. In their 80s and 90s, many are now in poor health
While many survivors kept what they saw and heard to themselves, Harrell said the lingering trauma he'd suffered left him unable to focus on the college courses he enrolled in immediately after the war.
'I learned early on that you had to get it out, you had to tell others what happened,' he said. 'Once I did it was a relief.'
Clarence Hershberger, an 87-year-old survivor from De Leon Springs, Fla., who uses a wheelchair, hadn't planned on attending the reunion, which ends Sunday. He'd been feeling poorly but decided Monday to make the trip to Indianapolis, where a black granite memorial honors the ship and its crew.
He said that when all of the survivors are gone he hopes the survivors' relatives and others keep reminding the public about the ship and its crew's sacrifice.
'Somebody's got to keep the story alive,' Hershberger said.
Among the roughly 250 friends and relatives of the survivors attending the reunion is Hunter Scott, whose seventh-grade history project as a 12-year-old from Pensacola, Fla., helped lead to a reassessment of the court-martial of the ship's commanding officer, Rear Admiral Charles B. McVay III.
McVay was court-martialed for not sailing a zigzag course to evade submarines, but his men believed he was made a scapegoat. In 2000, 32 years after McVay committed suicide, Congress passed an act clearing his name.
Scott is now a 28-year-old Navy helicopter pilot based in California and he said the men's incredible story of survival convinced him to enlist in the Navy.
'There's 38 of them left and I really wanted to see these guys and catch up. They're like grandfathers to me, it's like seeing family,' he said. "They're heroes."