would not have hesitated to serve under him again. His treatment
by the Navy was unforgivable and shameful."
statement submitted at September 1999 Senate hearing by Florian
Stamm, USS Indianapolis survivor
believe this whole ordeal about the sinking and especially
the outcome of the court-martial was and is a black
mark on the Navy and not the Captain."
statement submitted at September 1999 Senate hearing
by Lyle M. Pasket, USS Indianapolis survivor
1920 graduate of the US Naval Academy, Charles Butler McVay
III was a career naval officer with an exemplary record whose
father, Admiral Charles Butler McVay II, had once commanded
the Navy's Asiatic Fleet in the early 1900s. Before taking
command of the Indianapolis in November 1944, Captain
McVay was chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee of
the combined chiefs of staff in Washington, the Allies' highest
McVay led the ship through the invasion of Iwo Jima, then
the bombardment of Okinawa in the spring of 1945 during which
Indianapolis antiaircraft guns shot down seven enemy
planes before the ship was struck by a kamikaze on March 31,
inflicting heavy casualties, including 13 dead, and penetrating
the ship's hull. McVay returned the ship safely to Mare Island
in California for repairs.
16, 1945, the Indianapolis sailed from California with a top
secret cargo to Hawaii for refueling, then to Tinian where
it unloaded its cargo, the uranium and major components of
the atomic bomb to be dropped on Hiroshima by the Enola Gay
on August 6. The Indianapolis was then routed to Guam
enroute to Leyte in the Philippines.
at Guam that the seeds for the destruction of the Indianapolis
were laid. Hostilities in this part of the Pacific had long
since ceased. The Japanese surface fleet no longer existed
as a threat, and 1,000 miles to the north preparations were
underway for the invasion of the Japanese mainland. These
conditions resulted in a relaxed state of alert on the part
of those who were to route the Indianapolis across
the Philippine Sea.
is some of the evidence (as indicated in "The Story"):
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.
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.
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.)
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
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").
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
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.
11pm on Sunday night, July 29, the Indianapolis traveling
alone was about halfway across the Philippine Sea. There was
heavy cloud cover with visibility severely limited. Captain
McVay gave orders to cease zigzagging and retired to his cabin.
Minutes later the ship was spotted as an indistinct blur by
Japanese submarine commander Mochitura Hasimoto of the I-58.
It was coming directly toward him from the east.
after midnight the ship was struck by two torpedoes and sank
in about twelve minutes.
the ship failed to arrive at Leyte on Tuesday morning, a series
of blunders ensued. First, there was confusion as to which
area the Indianapolis was to report when it arrived.
Second, there was no directive to report the non-arrival of
a combatant ship. And, third, there was no request to retransmit
a garbled message which would have clarified the Indianapolis'
arrival time. As a result, the surviving crew of the Indianapolis
was left floating in shark-infested waters until 11am on Thursday,
August 2, when Lt. Wilbur C. Gwinn, the pilot of a Ventura
scout-bomber, lost the weight from his navigational antenna
trailing behind the plane, a loss which was to save the lives
of 316 men.
crawling back through the fuselage of his plane to repair
the thrashing antenna, Gwinn happened to glance down at the
sea and noticed a long oil slick. Back in the cockpit, Gwinn
dropped down to investigate, spotted men floating in the sea,
and radioed for help. At 3:30 that afternoon Lt. R. Adrian
Marks, flying a PBY Catalina, was the first to arrive on the
scene. Horrified at the sight of sharks attacking men below
him, Marks landed his flying boat in the sea, and, pulling
a survivor aboard, he was the first to learn of the Indianapolis
charge upon which he was convicted for failing to
zigzag contained a phrase 'in good visibility.' The
visibility that night was NOT good as all of us know
who were there that night."
statement submitted at September 1999 Senate hearing
by Paul J. Murphy, USS Indianapolis survivor
their rescue by different vessels, the Indianapolis
survivors were scattered at various Pacific bases. Captain
McVay was taken to Guam where he faced a board of inquiry
ordered by Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz (CINCPAC) which convened
on August 13, one day before the sinking of the ship was announced
to the public (simultaneously with the announcement that the
Japanese had surrendered, thus insuring minimum press attention).
that they "were starting the proceedings without having available
all the necessary data," the board nonetheless recommended
a general court-martial for McVay. Admiral Nimitz, however,
did not agree and on September 6, six weeks after the disaster,
wrote to the Navy's Judge Advocate General opposing a court-martial
and stating that at worst McVay was guilty of an error in
judgment, but not gross negligence. Nimitz recommended a letter
of reprimand which constituted a slap on the wrist but was
far from career-ending punishment.
CINCPAC report, Nimitz pointed out that the rule requiring
zigzagging would not have applied in any event since McVay's
orders gave him discretion on that matter and thus took precedence
over all other orders (a point which, unbelievably, was never
made by McVay's defense counsel during the subsequent court-martial).
the opposition of both Nimitz and Admiral Raymond Spruance
(for whom the Indianapolis had served as Fifth Fleet
flagship), naval authorities in Washington, specifically Secretary
of the Navy James Forrestal and Admiral Ernest King, Chief
of Naval Operations, directed that court-martial proceedings
be held against McVay, and the trial was scheduled to begin
on December 3, 1945, at the Washington Navy Yard.
McVay was notified but not told what specific charges would
be brought against him. The reason was simple. The Navy had
not yet decided what to charge him with. Four days before
the trial began they did decide on two charges. One, failing
to issue orders to abandon ship in a timely fashion. And,
two, hazarding his vessel by failing to zigzag during good
McVay was denied his first choice of defense counsel, and
a Captain John P. Cady was selected for him. McVay was also
denied a delay to develop his defense, and thus Cady, a line
officer with no trial experience, had only four days to prepare
difficult to understand why the Navy brought the first charge
against McVay. Explosions from the torpedo attacks had knocked
out the ship's communications system, making it impossible
to give an abandon ship order to the crew except by word of
mouth which McVay had done. He was ultimately found not guilty
on this count.
left the second charge of failing to zigzag. Incredibly, the
Navy brought the commander of the Japanese submarine, Mochitura
Hashimoto, to testify at the court-martial which was held
at the Washington Navy Yard. Hashimoto implied in pretrial
statements that zigzagging would not have saved the Indianapolis
but was not pressed on this point during the trial itself.
prosecution witness which they wished they had never called
was a veteran Navy submariner named Glynn Donaho. A four-time
Navy Cross winner during the way, Donaho was asked by McVay's
defense counsel whether "it would have been more or less difficult
for you to attain the proper firing position" if the Indianapolis
had been zigzagging under the conditions which existed that
night. His answer was, "No, not as long as I could see the
target." It was either deliberately ignored by (or passed
over the heads of) the court-martial board, and it was not
pursued by McVay's defense.
was also information withheld from McVay's defense counsel.
It involved the testimony of a Captain Oliver Naquin who had
been in charge of the routing instructions for the Indianapolis
from Guam to Leyte. When asked about the risk of enemy submarine
activity in the ship's path, Naquin replied "it was a low
order" and "the risk was very slight." Being responsible for
sending the Indianapolis across the Philippine Sea
without a destroyer escort, Naquin's response served him well.
Later it was learned that Naquin was aware of the submarines
in McVay's path, had not told McVay and denied McVay's request
for a destroyer escort.
the most egregious aspect of McVay's ultimate conviction for
failing to zigzag, however, was in the phrasing of the charge
itself. The phrase was "during good visibility." According
to all accounts of the survivors, including eye-witness accounts
of survivors only recently declassified and not made available
to McVay's defense at the trial, the visibility that night
was severely limited with heavy cloud cover. This is pertinent
for two reasons. First, as stated in an earlier section, no
Navy directives in force at that time suggested, much less
ordered, zigzagging at night with visibility limited. Second,
McVay's orders were "to zigzag at his discretion." Thus, when
he stopped zigzagging, he was simply following procedures
set forth by Navy directives.
reasonable to assume from the evidence that a decision to
convict McVay was made before his court-martial began. The
survivors of the Indianapolis are convinced that he
was made a scapegoat to hide the mistakes of others, mistakes
which included sending him into harm's way without warning
and failing to notice when the Indianapolis failed
to arrive on schedule, thus costing hundreds of lives unnecessarily
and creating the greatest sea disaster in the history o the
United States Navy.
was found guilty on the charge of failing to zigzag. The court
sentenced him to lose 100 numbers in his temporary rank of
Captain and 100 numbers in his permanent rank of Commander,
thus ruining his Navy career. In 1946, at the behest of Admiral
Nimitz who had become Chief of Naval Operations, Secretary
Forrestal remitted McVay's sentence and restored him to duty.
McVay served out his time in the New Orleans Naval District
and retired in 1949 with the rank of Rear Admiral. He took
his own life in 1968.
Remarkable Parallel to the Story of Captain McVay
Butler McVay III is not the only sea captain to be blamed
by authorities for a disaster beyond his control. There is
another officer, Captain William Thomas Turner of the Lusitania,
whose experience was remarkably similar following the 1915
sinking of his ship off the southern coast of Ireland with
the loss of more than 1,200 civilians and crew.
a disaster often given as the reason for the entrance two
years later of the United States into World War I.
the case with Captain McVay, Captain Turner's ship was sunk
by torpedoes, and he survived only to be summoned before a
British Admiralty board of inquiry anxious to find a scapegoat
for such a tragedy.
the case with Captain McVay, Captain Turner had not been adequately
warned of the submarine threat in his path, and the subsequent
inquiry -- at which evidence clearing him of blame for the
Lusitania's loss was withheld -- left a shameful smear
on his name for the rest of his life.
established contact with the Lusitania Historical Society,
and we are proud to salute them for their efforts to clear
Captain Turner's name. We both cherish the memories of two
gallant sea captains who suffered a similar injustice, but
whose reputations have been restored, albeit long after both
men were dead, by the passage of time and by the disclosure
of facts not revealed at their trials.
two sites are now linked, and you can access their site and
the story of Captain Turner (click
here). We highly recommend it to you.