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The following is a in-depth narrative of the history of the USS Indianapolis. It was provided by:

Patrick J. Finneran,patfinn@iquest.net
(Former) Executive Director USS INDIANAPOLIS CA-35
Survivors Memorial Organization, Inc.

© 1994 Patrick J. Finneran. All Rights Reserved
Permission to reprint is given provided the author is credited,
and statements made to acknowledge the author's copyright.

Questions or comments about the following should be directed to the author via e-mail at: patfinn@iquest.net

The tragedy of The USS INDIANAPOLIS (CA-35)

If the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, 7 December 1941, historically marks the entry of the United States into the conflict which became the Second World War, then surely the tragedy of The USS INDIANAPOLIS (CA-35), must stand as an historical mark of conclusion.

There are those who will argue the dropping of the atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki ended it. Without question. But the period of time from The USS ARIZONA to the USS INDIANAPOLIS stands as the alpha and omega of the war for the United States Navy. While ARIZONA, sunk at pier-side, has been fittingly memorialized at Pearl Harbor; INDIANAPOLIS, which fought the good fight throughout the war; played such a key role in ending the war in the Pacific, saving hundreds upon thousands of American and Allied lives- only to be the final casualty- is only now being so honored- more than 50 years after the fact.

The tragedy of The USS INDIANAPOLIS (CA-35), a proud and gallant ship, stands as the largest single disaster at sea ever suffered by the U.S. Navy in it's long and honorable history.

This is her story......

Indianapolis, named for the capital city of the state of Indiana, was built between the two World Wars. The public attitude in the United States following World War I--reflected in Congress and succeeding presidents, was one of isolation from the rest of the world. Complete indifference to military preparedness and concentration on so-called 'social issues' preoccupied the press and politicians. After all, the World War had just been fought to end all wars. Hadn't it? As a result the U.S. Navy remained in a 'no growth' posture for an entire decade, with an average complement of 108,000 officers and enlisted personnel manning about a million tons of warships.

Indianapolis was a "treaty cruiser". That is, she was built observing of the strictures laid down by the 1921-'22 Washington Conference Treaty following the First World War. Under that treaty, the United States eventually built eighteen heavy cruisers, (Designated CA under the U.S. Navy System adopted in 1918), in four classes. None of these was to be commissioned until 1930 or later.

The U.S. Navy was the last of the major naval powers to initiate heavy cruiser construction under the terms of the Treaty; because of this it had the advantage of surveying the development of contemporary vessels under construction around the world. The U.S. Navy began its heavy cruiser construction program in the 1930s, and when the war in Europe began in 1939 it had 18 heavy "treaty cruisers", the British 15, the Japanese 12, the French 7, the Italians 7, and the Germans 2.

The Pensacola Class -1929.
The first CAs built after the War and under the Treaty.
The Pensacola and the Salt Lake City

The Northhampton Class - 1929-1930
These succeeded the Pensacola Class, with minor changes in basic design, the main ones being a raised upper deck, three main battery turrets, an aircraft hangar amidships, and a more prominent tripod mainmast. Ships of this class were:
The Northhampton, The Chester, The Chicago, The Houston, The Louisville and The Augusta.

The Indianapolis / Portland Class - 1931-32
Only two ships of this "class" were built. The Indianapolis and The Portland embodied all the latest changes and modifications to the basic Northhampton Class.

The Astoria Class - 1933-1936
The final class of heavy cruisers built by the Navy under the Washington Treaty: the Astoria, the New Orleans, the Minneapolis, the Tuscaloosa, the San Francisco, the Quincy and the Vincennes. One additional ship, the Wichita, was authorized under this class, but she was so extensively modified she fell under the design class Brooklyn. a CL, (Light Cruiser). No Brooklyn Class keels were laid before 1935.

Treaty strictures limited "heavy" cruisers to ten thousand tons of displacement. (The treaty categorized warships by displacement--and armament.) To save displacement weight, Indianapolis was designed and built without much of the usual extra thick, heavy, armor plating--from above the plimsol line and covering a good portion of the bottom toward the keel- extending almost the full length of the ship ordinarily employed on capital ships of the line, as protection from mines and torpedoes. Indianapolis's armor, while inches thin, covered only her vital machinery spaces. While she was more vulnerable, she was also capable of great speed.

Indianapolis's keel was laid down on the 31st of March 1930, by the New York Shipbuilding Corp., Camden, New Jersey. She was launched on November 7th, 1931: sponsored by Miss Lucy Taggart, daughter of Senator Thomas Taggart, a former Mayor of Indianapolis.

From her inception, Indianapolis was the pride of the Navy; representing as she did, all the very latest technology of her day. She was 610 feet, 3 inches in length, and 66 feet 1 inch at the beam, (widest point). She drew 17 feet 6 inches of draft. (24 feet when fully armed, manned and provisioned). Her design flank speed was 32 knots. She was equipped with eight White-Forster boilers located amidship, driving four Parsons geared turbines. Total horsepower was rated at 107,000 delivered through four screws. Her armament consisted of nine 8-inch guns placed in three turrets; two fore and one aft. Additionally there were four 5-inch guns, twenty-four 40mm intermediate range guns and thirty-two 20mm Oerlikon guns; the latter being installed during several overhauls and refits accomplished during the war.

Following final fitting-out, Indianapolis was accepted by the Navy and Commissioned on the 15th of November, 1932 from the Philadelphia Navy Yard.

Her first Captain was John M. Smeallie, USN. Rear Admiral Lucius A. Bostwick, USN, commandant Fourth Naval District, read the orders placing the ship in commission. As a commissioning gift the State of Indiana presented Indianapolis with the silver service from the old battleship Indiana. The punch bowl from this service bore the mark of a fragment from a Spanish shell that hit Indiana during the Battle of Santiago in 1898.

Following commissioning, Indianapolis departed on the 10th of January, 1932 for Guantanimo Bay, Cuba and her shakedown cruise. She departed Guantanimo Bay on the 23rd of February in company with USS Babbitt, (DD-128) for the Panama Canal, conducting training and calling at Gonaives Bay, Haiti en route. Transiting the Canal, she exercised in the Pacific, visited Tongoy Bay, Chile and returned to Panama on April 1st. She then returned to Philadelphia for post shakedown repairs and modifications.

FDR's Ship of State-
Following her post shakedown period in the Philadelphia Navy Yard, Indianapolis steamed to Provincetown, Massachusetts, to Eastport and Bar Harbor, Maine to pick up President Franklin Roosevelt from his Campobello Island summer home on the 1st of July, 1933. She took the President to Annapolis, Maryland, the home of the U.S. Naval Academy. After entertaining dignitaries, she departed for Philadelphia.

On September 6, 1933 Secretary of the Navy, (SECNAV) Claude A. Swanson, embarked on Indianapolis at Annapolis for an inspection tour of Pacific bases, visiting the Canal Zone, Hawaii and the fleet at San Pedro and San Diego, California, debarking on the 27th of October.

On November 1st, 1933 Indianapolis became Flagship of Scouting Force, US Fleet, a position she would maintain throughout most of her peacetime service.

After a period of maneuvers off the West Coast, Indianapolis headed for the Atlantic once again, departing Long Beach, California on the 9th of April 1934 and arriving in New York on the 29th of May. There she again embarked President Roosevelt and numerous dignitaries for a Presidential Review of the US Fleet in the Hudson River on the 31st of May, 1934. She arrived back in Long Beach, California on the 9th of November. At the time of the Presidential Review Indianapolis had a complement of 51 officers, 12 warrant officers and 588 enlisted men. Captain W.S. McClintic, USN, relieved Captain Smeallie in December of 1934.

During 1935 Indianapolis participated in fleet war games and exercises in the Pacific traveling as far west as Midway Island and as far north as Alaska.

In March of 1936 Captain H. K. Hewitt, USN relieved Captain McClintic. Following the completion of Fleet Problem XVIII off Panama, Indianapolis called at Hampton Roads and Annapolis prior to her arrival at the New York Navy Yard on the 10th of June, 1936 for a scheduled overhaul.

Perhaps the highlight of Indianapolis's peacetime career was her Presidential cruise to South America in 1936. On the 18th of November of that year, she again embarked President Roosevelt at Charleston, South Carolina, for a Good Neighbor Tour cruise to South America, including the Pan American Conference in Buenos Aires. This was the first time in history that a serving President of the United States had visited outside North America.

Besides Buenos Aires, calls were made at Trinidad; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; and Montevideo, Uruguay. It was on this historic cruise that an event took place which was unique in the history of the US Navy.

It was the third crossing of the equator for Indianapolis--on this occasion Father Neptune visited the ship to initiate neophyte pollywogs into hardened shell-backs. Those lucky initiates received their shell-back certificates--signed by the President of The United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt! This cruise ended when the President debarked at Charleston on the 15th of December, 1936.

President Roosevelt chose the Indianapolis as his "Ship of State" using her as his personal transport for transatlantic and South American travel on numerous occasions. Many of the world's leaders and royalty toured her deck as guests of the United States. She became the symbol of a dynamic, young America wherever she went.

Indianapolis returned to Long Beach, California early in 1937. Through the rest of that year she went through normal peacetime exercises and war games, including a tour of the Hawaiian islands. Captain T.C. Kinkaid, USN, relieved Captain Hewett as commanding officer in June of 1937.

1938 saw Indianapolis repeating much the same routine. Carrying the flag of Vice Admiral Adolphus Andrews, Commander Scouting Force, she exercised off the West Coast and made another return visit to Hawaii. Following her summer cruise, Indianapolis spent a number of her days in gunnery practice on the firing range off Clemente Island. Captain Kinkaid was relieved by Captain J.F. Shaforth, USN in September of 1938. This was the routine as the thunderclouds of war gathered over Europe and the western Pacific.

The years 1939 and 1940 followed much the same pattern--with Indianapolis spending perhaps a bit more time operating out of Pearl Harbor as the tensions rose all across the Pacific. Indianapolis returned to Mare Island Navy Yard in San Francisco Bay in November of 1939. At the time she entered dry dock, her logs showed she had steamed a total of 215,140 nautical miles since her commissioning in 1932.

As a deterrent to Japanese aggression, in April of 1940, the US Fleet was moved from the West Coast to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Indianapolis went with it.

In 1941 the storm clouds grew more ominous. Europe was in the early stages of what would quickly become a world conflict. The pace began to quicken in the United States as preparations for war began to accelerate. Isolationist sentiment still held the upper hand in Congress and especially in the press. Great Britain alone among the Allies held on. President Roosevelt, realizing Great Britain was the last bulwark against German aggression, developed extralegal measures to help our beleaguered ally.

Early on, America 'sold' warships and other materials to England, but soon Lend-Lease replaced Cash and Carry, and the US Navy soon became actively engaged in convoy escort duty between the US and Europe.

Owing to the dual threat posed by Germany and Japan , on the First of February, 1941 the US Fleet was re-formed into three Fleets. The Pacific Fleet, The Atlantic Fleet and a smaller Asiatic Fleet. Under this new organization Vice Admiral Wilson Brown, Commander Scouting Force, also became Commander Task Force III, embarked on Indianapolis. The force consisted of one CV, eight CAs, (Indianapolis included), nine DDs, Six APDs and 13 mine vessels.

Officially, on the day the Japanese struck Pearl Harbor, December 7th, 1941, Indianapolis was conveniently out of her home port, Pearl Harbor, making a simulated bombardment of Johnson Island off to the West. Captain E.W. Hanson, USN was then in command. It is noteworthy to mention here that all of the carriers assigned to Pearl were also conveniently out of Pearl as well. Indianapolis immediately joined Task Force 12 to search for the attacking Japanese carrier force. Returning to Pearl Harbor Indianapolis was assigned to Task Force 11 for operations against the enemy.

What follows is the account of Daniel E. Brady of the V (Aviation) Division, aboard Indianapolis. It is recounted here for the historical record. Readers may draw their own conclusions.

"On December 5, 1941, I was a Seaman Second Class on board the heavy cruiser USS INDIANAPOLIS CA-35. On that day, we were docked at the mine dock in Pearl Harbor. This was next to the submarine base, and across from "Battleship Row".

It was Friday afternoon, and as normal routine on weekends in port, all our married men and liberty sections were ashore, leaving approximately one third of the crew on board with the duty. Then, a surprising word was passed: The ship would get underway in one hour.

'Impossible!', we commented among ourselves. Most of our crew were ashore and we could never recall them in time on such short notice. Soon, fifty marines in full battle gear came aboard, followed by forty or so civilian shipyard workers with their tool boxes. Next came truck loads of food and vegetables, which were dumped unceremoniously on the bleached, white, teak wood Quarter Deck!

The Quarter Deck was exclusively reserved for Admirals, Captains,and ceremonial occasions. Why, we didn't even walk across it with our shoes on! This was blasphemy! What was going on?

Just as the word was given, we got underway in one hour's time without our crew and steamed out of Pearl Harbor. We traveled Friday night and Saturday with no word as to our destination, Sunday morning at about seven thirty we anchored at Johnson Island, a small island about 700 miles South West of Hawaii. Hastily, we began unloading the marines, civilians and stores. Then the word was passed- "The Japs are bombing Pearl! This is no drill. Prepare the ship for battle action!"

Everything that could burn was thrown overboard. Lumber, paint, small boats, even President Roosevelt's great, ornate, bedroom suite he used when aboard the "Indy".

We then steamed back to Hawaiian waters and joined the old carrier, Lexington. After seven days and three attempts to enter Pearl, (Jap submarines were trying to sink the "Lex." in the entrance), we finally made it, and could not believe what havoc had been wrought. We picked up our crew and survivors from the battleship Nevada and departed the following morning. To this very day, you cannot convince me that somebody didn't know this attack would take place.

Consider this: We were President Roosevelt's favorite ship, and were also the flagship of Admiral Wilson Brown, head of Scouting Force, whose job it was to scout out and detect the enemy. And we were conveniently out of port at the time of the attack. Fate acts in funny ways at times. Being in the aviation unit, (Airdales), we usually disembarked our airplanes and their crews to Ford Island when we were in Pearl. This time (5 December, 1941) our aircraft were kept aboard. Had they been at Ford Island they would have been destroyed!

After many years in the pacific, I was transferred from the "Indy", before her tragic sinking, with the terrible loss of men- my shipmates, at the war's end."
Daniel E. Brady, AMCS, USN, (Ret.)

Indianapolis's first wartime action was in the enemy dominated waters of the South pacific some 350 miles south of Rabal, New Britain. Late on the afternoon of 20 February, 1942, the American force was attacked by two waves of twin-engined bombers totaling 18 aircraft. The ensuing battle saw 16 of the 18 Japanese bombers shot down by aircraft from the carrier Lexington and the combined antiaircraft fire of the screening ships. Later two more Japanese seaplanes were also 'splashed'.

Japan was marshaling amphibious forces for an attack on Port Moresby, New Guinea. To counter this threat, the US Task Force together with the carrier Yorktown struck the enemy ports at Lae and Salamaua, New Guinea. The carrier planes surprised the enemy by flying in from the south over the high Owen Stanley mountains, and striking the Japanese shipping. Heavy damage was inflicted on the enemy warships and shipping in the harbor and a large number of enemy aircraft were shot down with light losses inflicted on the American aircraft. In March of 1942 Indianapolis was relieved, and returned home for a much needed refit during which she would be outfitted with more firepower and a search radar. As soon as she was ready for sea she was assigned to escort a convoy to Australia, and was then ordered to North Pacific waters.

As a part of their Midway offensive the Japanese had occupied Attu and Kiska in the western most islands in the Aleutian chain- which stretch out into the North Pacific from mainland Alaska. By the fall of 1942 the Japanese advance in the Pacific had been stopped. The invasion of Guadalcanal in August began what became known as 'the offensive-defensive'. A strategy which would be followed until enough naval power in the form of new ships and men could be built and assembled to start an offensive toward the Japanese home islands. This started in November of 1943 with the invasion of Tarawa.

The year 1942-'43 saw no major fleet actions as both sides committed forces to the 'Solomon meat grinder', and a small naval force attempted- under terrible weather conditions, to dislodge the enemy from the Aleutians. Indianapolis was a part of that small force from July of 1942 through the spring of 1943.

Following Midway and for about nine months thereafter, operations in the north were a sequence of naval bombardments by US Navy forces which did little actual damage, and reinforcement missions by the Japanese--all of which accomplished nothing.

Indianapolis and her accompanying ships were finally presented an opening in the thick fog that usually blanketed Kiska on the 7th of August of '42. The force bombarded the island for several hours. Cruiser scout planes reported the fall of the shot--reporting that many enemy vessels were sinking in the fog-shrouded harbor and that shore installations were aflame. Although Japanese seaplanes attempted to bomb the ships, both they and submarine efforts were ineffective. Indianapolis again returned to California for a major overhaul and upgrade which included the addition of six AA mounts. Her bridge structure was modified to allow for the inclusion of a high angle fire control radar and a second similar unit abaft the mainmast.

Returning to the north Pacific, Indianapolis supported the occupation of Amchitka--giving the United States another forward base in the Aleutians.

Indianapolis and two destroyers were patrolling southwest of Attu on the night of 19 February. Their mission was to intercept Japanese shipping reinforcing Attu and Kiska. In the course of the night a ship was contacted and interrogated without a satisfactory reply. The ship which turned out to be the Japanese cargo ship Akagane Maru, came under Indianapolis' 8 inch guns. The ship, apparently loaded with ammunition, exploded with tremendous force, leaving no survivors.

Indianapolis returned to Mare Island in the spring of 1943 for a major overhaul preparatory to becoming the Flagship for Admiral Raymond Spruance, Commander, Fifth Fleet and the victor of the battle at Midway. While at Mare Island, Indianapolis had her bridge and flag deck further modified, and a modern Combat Information Center was installed. She received a modern long range surface-search radar, and more antiaircraft mounts were installed.

The Fifth Fleet was formed on the 15th of March 1943 from what had been the Central Component of the Pacific Fleet. It was the Fifth Fleet that pushed the Japanese from the central Pacific and carried the war to the Japanese homeland. The Fifth Fleet was activated in May of 1944. To expedite planning, a dual staff system was placed into operation. ADM Spruance and Fifth Fleet Staff commanded an operation while ADM Halsey and Third Fleet were ashore planning his next operation. The ships remained in operation at all times with only the Fleet and Task numbers changing as Flags aboard changed.

Indianapolis sortied from Pearl Harbor on the 10th of November 1943 under ADM Spruance's Flag for the opening of the Central Pacific Campaign, the invasion of the Gilbert Islands- Operation Galvanic.

On the 19th of November Indianapolis and a force of cruisers bombarded Tarawa and the next day Makin. She then gave fire support to the landing force. Her gunners splashed one enemy plane that day. She continued her fire support for an additional three days until Tarawa was secure. It was a costly battle for the Marines--But many lessons were learned with respect to pre-invasion bombardment, which would be applied in the very near future. Indianapolis departed the area on the 7th of December returning the Fifth Fleet Staff to Pearl Harbor to plan the Marshall Island invasion.

Indianapolis departed Pearl Harbor on the 19th of January 1944 for Tarawa where ADM Spruance was in conference. The force was moving toward the Marshall Islands and specifically the Kwajalein Atoll. D-Day was February 1st. On D-Day minus one, Indianapolis joined the cruiser group for the pre-invasion bombardment and gave fire support for the next two days. On the Second of February she anchored off Roi-Namur Islands in the atoll while ADM Spruance visited with SECNAV Forrestal aboard the Tennessee where he had been observing the operation. She entered Kwajalein Lagoon on the 4th of February and remained there until all resistance had ceased.

Indianapolis then carried the Flag in company with Task Force 58 which raided the Western Carolines in an effort to protect General MacArthur's operations in New Guinea. Most of the results were obtained by the naval aviators operating from the carriers. The Palau Islands were struck on the 30th and 31st of March. 25 enemy ships were sunk, enemy shore installations were severely damaged and the adjacent waters were mined. Yap and Ulithi were hit on the 31st and Woleai on the 1st of April.

During this penetration deep onto enemy territory, Japanese aircraft attacked in force with no success. Indianapolis got her second enemy plane, a torpedo bomber. During the three days 160 enemy planes were destroyed by Task Force 58.

The Force returned to Majuro in the Gilberts on the 6th of April. Indianapolis arrived back in Pearl Harbor on the 14th, where ADM Spruance began planning the conquest of the Marianas. It was sometime after her return in April that Indianapolis received her crazy quilt camouflage paint scheme.

Indianapolis, with ADM Spruance embarked, and escorted by two destroyers, left Pearl Harbor on the 26th of May for Majuro, Kwajalein and Eniwetok. On the 9th of June she joined Task Force 58. Their targets were Guam, Saipan and Tinian. Capture of these islands would bring Japan within the range of the new Boeing B-29 Super fortress bombers.

Indianapolis joined the pre-invasion bombardment group off Saipan on the 13th of June--D-Day minus two. On June the 14th, Indianapolis was hit by one shell from a Saipan battery. The shell was defective, and didn't explode- damage was minimal.

ADM Ozawa decided to commit the bulk of his Japanese Fleet for the first time since Midway, in an effort to drive off the US invasion forces. Coast watchers and submarine reports alerted ADM Spruance of the major enemy naval formations threading their way through the Philippines and heading for the Marianas across the Philippine Sea.

ADM Spruance decided to delay the invasion of Guam. He left minimal forces off Saipan, and moved the rest of his amphibious force east of Saipan out of harm's way. He then took Indianapolis and rejoined with his carrier boss, VADM Marc Mitscher with Task Force 58, to meet the oncoming Japanese Fleet.

On the 19th of June the fleets of both nations met in battle through their waves of carrier aircraft. The Battle of The Philippine Sea--or the Marianas Turkey Shoot as it is known in US Navy circles--was the greatest battle of the carriers. That day the US Navy destroyed 346 enemy carrier based aircraft, while losing only 30! Indianapolis was credited with another torpedo bomber.

The Japanese lost two carriers to US Navy submarines, while the Navy had sustained a single bomb hit on a battleship. The next day 65 more Japanese planes were shot down, one carrier sunk and one more severely damaged. Several lesser ships were sunk as well. Task Force 58 lost another 20 aircraft in combat, and many more ditched that night owing to fuel starvation--most of their crews were picked up, a number of them by Indianapolis. American losses for the two day battle were 130 aircraft from all causes and 76 airmen.

Indianapolis returned to Saipan on the 23rd of June to resume fire support. Six days later she moved to Tinian for a bombardment mission. She continued this mission of running ADM Spruance to conferences among his commanders and fire support on three invasions. On the 20th of July she returned to bombard Guam, supporting the invasion forces who went ashore on the 21st of July. She then returned to Tinian on the 24th of July to support the invasion landings there.

Indianapolis became the first US Navy ship to enter Apra Harbor, Guam since the start of the war, when on the 29th of July she took ADM Spruance there to meet with the Marine and Army generals for the flag raising ceremony.

On the 29th of August ADM Spruance turned over the forward area responsibilities to Commander Third Fleet, and departed, aboard Indianapolis, for Pearl Harbor. Back in action, Indianapolis participated in the bombardment of Peleliu Island in Palau from the 12th through the 29th of September--both before and after the landings on that island. She then moved to Manus in the Admiralty Islands for ten more days of operations before heading back to the States and Mare Island.

While in overhaul and refit Indianapolis underwent many changes. The air search radar was elevated an additional 20 feet; a smaller stick mast with an RDF (Radio Direction Finding) antenna was added to the mainmast; a new fire control dish replaced the more cumbersome "bedspring" antenna on the fire control directors; and two whip antennas were added to the forward funnel. Two quad 40mm mounts replaced the dual mounts on the fantail; and a total of five 20mm mounts were removed. The camouflage scheme was changed with a false waterline of dull black from the main deck down and the rest of the ship painted a light grey. With the work completed, Indianapolis departed for Pearl Harbor to embark ADM Spruance and his staff.

On the 14th of January, with ADM Spruance aboard, Indianapolis departed Pearl for Ulithi. At Ulithi ADM Halsey turned over command to ADM Spruance and Third Fleet became Fifth Fleet once again.

Indianapolis joined Task Force 58 off Japan on the 14th of February and two days later carrier strikes were launched against Tokyo for the first time since Jimmy Doolittle's B-25 raids in 1942. The attacks continued for two solid days against a very surprised Japan. The primary purpose of the mission was to neutralize Japan's air power and other defenses prior to the invasion of Iwo Jima which was scheduled for the 19th of February. Indianapolis joined the invasion force off Iwo Jima after the Tokyo raids and remained in the area providing fire support ashore until she returned to Task Force 58 which struck Japan again on the 25th of February.

With Iwo Jima secured, Okinawa was scheduled as the next invasion target. This large island was selected for its size and proximity to Japan. US Forces would use it as a jumping off base for the invasion of Japan itself. In an effort of reduce enemy air activity, particularly kamikazes, a fast carrier task force with Indianapolis in company departed from Ulithi on the 14th of March, 1945 to strike at installations in southern Japan. The force carried out attacks on the islands of Kyushu and Honshu from the 18th to the 21st of March.

On the 24th, Indianapolis joined the pre-invasion bombardment of Okinawa, and for seven solid days fired her 8 inch shells at the beach defenses under increasing Japanese air attacks. During this period she shot down six planes and assisted in splashing two others.

On the morning of March 31st, 1945, while Indianapolis was participating in the battle for Okinawa, a Japanese Kamikaze plane broke through the early morning clouds, survived a wall of antiaircraft fire, and crashed into the port side of the after-deck of the ship, and toppled into the sea--causing little actual damage. But the bomb the plane released just before crashing penetrated the deck armor on the port quarter; continued down through the crew's mess, a berthing compartment, the fuel tanks and on through the bottom, exploding under the hull. The bomb killed 9 men and injured 26. Two holes were blown in the ship's bottom and several compartments were flooded before damage control parties isolated the flooding. Indianapolis had a list to port and had settled at the stern but she was able to pull off the line under her own power and steamed to a salvage ship. Inspection revealed her propeller shafts were damaged, the water distilling plant was inoperative and a number of fuel tanks were ruptured.

This tragic event set the stage for Indianapolis' place in history. After emergency repairs, Indianapolis, under her own power, and screened by cargo vessels, limped back to Mare Island, Vallejo, California, for extensive repairs in dry-dock. She arrived in late April of 1945.

In anticipation of the invasion of Japan, Indianapolis received the most up-to-date equipment the Navy had available. The newest electronic equipment was installed, including new main-battery director radars, fire control radar on two 40 mm mounts near the after funnel, electronic countermeasure equipment and a new communications capability.

The 20 mm battery was again changed, with eight twin 20mm mounts replacing the singles. The starboard catapult was removed, the aircraft crane beefed-up, and the old biplane SOCs were replaced by two new SC-2 Curtiss Seahawks. The paint scheme remained the same; grey with a false waterline. Indianapolis took a few days for sea trials and then put into Hunter's Point Navy Yard, San Francisco.

While the Indianapolis was in Mare Island dry-dock, the War Department chose the ship to transport "The Bomb" even before they were certain it would work. Indianapolis, because of her great speed, her availability, and proximity to Los Alamos, New Mexico- where the Manhattan Project was based- had been tapped for history.

The Manhattan Project- America's top secret atom bomb effort, proved a success in the very early hours of July 16, 1945.

In the early morning hours of that very same day, shrouded in security and secrecy, but with a huge assembly of Admirals, Generals and many technicians at pier-side looking on, the atom bomb components were loaded aboard Indianapolis .Several large wooden crates were stowed in one of the ship's hangars, and guards were placed to keep all inquisitive souls away. The "heart" of two bombs, uranium-235, sealed in a lead-lined metal container, was lashed to cleats which had been tac-welded to the deck in the Admiral's Cabin. Orders were given that should the ship come under attack and find herself 'in extremis' the lead container was to be immediately thrown over the side. Even given the strangeness of this particular order, the nature of the cargo itself was kept secret from all aboard- including Indianapolis' Captain, Charles McVay. Indianapolis sailed into history on that fateful morning.

On that same fateful morning, one of the newest, largest, and most technologically advanced attack submarines, of the Japanese Imperial Navy got underway. It was the I-58, commanded by Mochitasura Hashimoto. His orders were to patrol the waters East of the Philippines; to find and sink, enemy shipping.

Following a record-setting run--average speed 29 knots--from California, stopping off at Pearl Harbor for 6 hours to refuel and replenish, Indianapolis anchored off the island of Tinian in the Western Pacific, and off-loaded its secret cargo. Tinian was one of several American held islands from which B-29 bombing raids were conducted. (Tinian Island is along the Marianas Trench, and about 100 nautical miles North of Guam Island- Nearly 5,300 nautical miles from California.)

From Tinian, Indianapolis sailed South, made a brief stop at Guam, (Headquarters for the Pacific Fleet, under the command of the Commander In Chief of The Pacific Fleet, Chester A. Nimitz), to replenish and receive new orders.

Her new orders were to sail to Leyte Gulf--on the East Coast of the Philippines, some 1,500 nautical miles West of Guam, and there to join with the battleship Idaho, for several days of gunnery practice and refresher training, (Many of Indy's crew, about 400, were green sailors fresh out of boot training). From Leyte she was to rejoin the fleet off Okinawa for the expected invasion of Japan. According to the official record, a single coded message was sent from Guam to Idaho advising her of Indianapolis' orders. Reportedly, the radio message was garbled at the receiving end. Idaho didn't ask for a repeat of the message. Consequently they didn't know Indianapolis was on her way--

Indianapolis steamed out of Guam on the 28th of July, unescorted--for she was now in the backwaters of the war--and planned a three day voyage to Leyte at an average speed of 15 knots. As the watch changed at midnight, Monday, July 29-30, Indianapolis was making 17 knots on a course of 262 degrees in a moderate sea with visibility poor but improving under overcast skies. She had secured from zigzagging earlier in the evening and had only four of her eight boilers on line.

The Imperial Japanese Submarine, I-58-
Shortly before midnight, local time in the Western Pacific, and approximately halfway between the Philippines and Guam, the Japanese submarine I-58, sweeping the surface with her long range periscope, and listening with her upgraded passive sonar, picked-up the Indianapolis. "We waited until it got close enough to see what it was. When we saw what a big ship it was, I aimed my torpedoes, and fired..." Said Captain Hashimoto. In fact Capt. Hashimoto recorded in his log that he had sunk a battleship of the Idaho Class with three hits from a torpedo spread of six.

It was just a few minutes after midnight, 12:14 AM to be exact, when the first torpedo struck--blowing away Indianapolis' bow. The second struck seconds later striking Indianapolis on the starboard side in the machinery spaces, near a powder magazine and one of her fuel oil bunkers. The explosion knocked out all electric power aboard ship--and any chance for an SOS. [Even though the radiomen on duty swore that at least three SOS messages had been sent before power was lost.] For many years it was believed the loss of electric power had prevented any SOS message from getting off the ship. However recent revelations would seem to support the Indy"s radiomen.

Indianapolis' 17 knot forward speed through the water continued--shipping thousands of tons of sea water through collapsing forward bulkheads. Sea water surged in through the gaping hole in her side. She began to go down by the bow and then to list to her port, (left), side. Officers began to shout--ordering all hands to abandon ship. By the hundreds they jumped into the ink-black, midnight sea, taking their burned and wounded shipmates with them. Within about twelve minutes, according to the survivors, Indianapolis rolled completely over to port and went rapidly down, bow first.

Of the approximately 1197 officers and men aboard, survivors estimate about 880 men, many badly burned, maimed and wounded--made it alive into the sea in the early minutes of July 30, 1945.

Luck. Fate--what ever you want to call it, played an important role in all the events in the lifetime of the Indianapolis. Time of day now played a key role in allowing so many men to getaway from the mortally wounded ship. The torpedo attack had taken place within minutes of a watch change--about half the ship's company was taking up their watch duties, the other half still awake, and preparing for their off duty hours.

880 men were now scattered over thousands of yards of open sea. They had no water and no food. Some had kapok life jackets--many did not. Life rafts were precious few. The rafts which were designed to float free of the ship, failed to do so. Fuel oil from the ships ruptured tanks coated the sea and the men, making most violently ill. When the sun rose on that first day, there was reason for optimism--after all, the crew knew they were due to join up with USS Idaho the next day for gunnery practice--surely they'd be missed and search missions would immediately be mounted.

However, such was not the case, and for the next four and a half days, the men of the Indianapolis would know terror, thirst, hunger and despair on a massive scale. Many would give up the struggle and slip quietly beneath the sea, never to be seen again by their shipmates. Prayer constantly assaulted Heaven. Some cursed the navy. It would be the quintessential struggle of man against nature.

Shark attacks began with the coming of daylight on Monday. One by one sharks began to pick-off the men on the outer perimeter of the clustered groups. Agonizing screams filled the air day and night. Blood mixed with the fuel oil. The survivors say the sharks were always there by the hundreds- swimming just below their dangling feet. It was a terror filled ordeal- never knowing if you'd be the next victim. By the third day, lack of water and food combined with the unrelenting terror began to take its effect on the mental stability of the men. Many began to hallucinate. Some, many who had taken in sea water, went slowly mad. Fights broke out. Hope faded. By Wednesday evening, the third day, survivors estimate that only 400 or so were still alive- the dead littered the surface of the sea.

At about 10:25 AM, Thursday morning, 24 year old Lieutenant Chuck Gwinn, piloting his Lockheed Navy Ventura PV-1 bomber based on the island of Palau, about 300 miles south of the location where Indianapolis went down, was on routine antisubmarine patrol. It was his second flight of the day; earlier while attempting to reel out his radio antenna, it broke away. He returned to base at Palau, installed a new one and immediately took off to start his antisubmarine patrol. On that second patrol, Gwinn was in the rear of the plane working with his crew to solve a binding problem with the antenna winch. He was leaning out of the plane, guiding the wire, when he chanced to glance down at the ocean- and changed the fate of 317 men. Gwinn had spotted a huge oil slick. Thinking the large oil slick indicated that an enemy sub had just submerged beneath his plane, he dropped down several hundred feet for a depth charge run. The bomb bay doors were opened, ready to drop depth charges on the suspected enemy sub. Gwinn glanced out the window just as he was about to release his depth charges--and there, spread out over the ocean, were hundreds of delirious men waiving to get his attention. Immediately Gwinn regained altitude and radioed his base at Palau. "Many men in the water." and gave his latitude and longitude. He orbited the location answering questions from Palau. After some hours were wasted in getting through the bureaucracy-They refused to believe him--some thought it was a prank.

Some three hours after Gwinn's first report, a Catalina PBY flying boat was eventually dispatched. At her controls, a 28 year old Navy pilot from Frankfort, Indiana named R. Adrian Marks. Enroute to the location reported by Gwinn, Lt. Marks overflew the USS Cecil Doyle, whose skipper was a close friend. Marks informed the skipper of his mission. On his own initiative, the Doyle's captain, Graham Claytor, diverted from his orders to proceed to Leyte Gulf, where his ship was to take part in the invasion of Japan, to lend assistance.

At this point, his fuel state near critical, Gwinn headed for his home base, little knowing the part fate had played in his life or the lives of 317 American sailors and marines.

Arriving at the survivors' location, Marks dropped to about 100 feet above the surface of the sea while his crew began dropping rafts, and supplies. While this was happening, his crew informed him they could see men being attacked and eaten alive by sharks!

Upon seeing these men under shark attack the crew voted to abandon standing orders prohibiting landing in open seas. This act of humanity is all the more remarkable when you realize Marks and his crew had no idea who these sailors might be--English, Aussies, Japanese or American. Marks landed the PBY. (Years later Marks related he knew the day might come when he'd be forced to make an open sea landing--so he had planned for the eventuality. On that day he would put his theory into practice). In a daring maneuver, he landed between swells in a power-on stall- tail low, nose high attitude. Although many hull rivets popped out from the force of the landing, his PBY made it! He taxied his plane as close as he could to the first large group of men and immediately began taking survivors aboard. Some nearby survivors were so weakened by their ordeal, that when they slipped out of their kapok life jackets, they drowned while attempting to swim to the plane.

Learning the men were from Indianapolis, a thoroughly shaken Marks, frantically, and now in plain English, repeatedly radioed for help. The Cecil Doyle replied she was on the way. When the PBY's fuselage was full, the crew carried men onto the wings. All night long, Marks and his crew fought to get as many men as possible out of the shark infested sea. The wings' fabric covering was soon filled with holes, and covered with survivors, tied in place with parachute cord.

Adrian Marks and his gallant an courageous flight crew saved 56 men that day. A record that has never been equaled for a sea plane of that size since!

By morning Lieutenant Mark's PB-Y was a floating unflyable hulk. The Cecil Doyle came along side and took off the rescued survivors. Marks stripped the plane of all instruments and secret gear, and transferred himself and his crew to the Doyle asking her skipper to destroy his plane by gunfire, lest if fall into enemy hands.

The PBY Marks used that day, as he put it, "was the duty PBY", one of those built toward the end of the war in which an experimental self-sealing gas tank had been fitted in the starboard wing. The port wing tank was the standard non-sealing type. In spite of two direct hits to the starboard tank, the plane refused to burst into flame. It wasn't until the Doyle trained her guns on the PB-Y's port side that they were successful in destroying the plane.

Responding to Marks' calls for help, the destroyers, Cecil Doyle, (DE-368), Talbot, (DD-390), and Dufilho, (DE-423), converged on the scene. The Auxiliary Ships Ringness, (APD-100) Bassett, (APD-73), and Register, (APD-92) also came to the rescue of the remaining Indianapolis crew. Following medical treatment on Guam, the 317 weary, but deliriously happy, survivors were returned to the US aboard the escort carrier, Hollandia, (CVU-97).

AUGUST 6TH 1945-
A solitary B-29, The Enola Gay, (A Boeing, four-engined, high altitude heavy bomber), a single bomb in its bomb-bay, headed for Hiroshima, Japan. Also aboard, were several of the 'brass' Indianapolis had transported from Mare Island to Tinian. These men actually armed the bomb en route to Hiroshima.

History records the flight of the Enola Gay, and the end of conventional war as mankind had understood it. Aboard the Enola Gay was one of the atomic bombs delivered by Indianapolis--destined to be dropped on Hiroshima, Japan. (Hiroshima is located on the main Japanese Island, Honshu; about 450 statute miles Southwest of Tokyo.) The Enola Gay, was named in honor of his mother by its pilot, U.S. Army Air Force Colonel Paul W. Tibbets.

Marine Detachments aboard U.S. Navy capital ships has been a tradition since the founding of the U.S. Navy in the war to gain America's freedom from England (1775-1783). There were 39 marines aboard Indianapolis when she went down. They comprised the Marine Detachment aboard. Marine Detachments are the spearhead of the Ship's Landing party--the first ashore- the first to fight and die if necessity calls for it. Marine Detachments are the armed "muscle" of the ship's Boarding Party, should the opportunity for boarding an enemy vessel present itself. They operate the Ship's Brig, and man various of the ship's weapons systems. They work and live side by side with the officers and sailors of the Ship's Company. They literally fight and die together. It was no less true aboard Indianapolis.

Of the 39 Marines aboard, only 9 survived the Indianapolis sinking and the subsequent ordeal. Captain McVay recommended the Navy Cross, (posthumously), for Captain Edward L. Parke, USMC, the Commanding Officer of the Indianapolis' Marine Detachment. Writing of Captain Parke, Captain McVay's recommendation read in part,"... For extraordinary heroism in rescuing and organizing a large group of men following the sinking of the USS INDIANAPOLIS... Finally collapsing himself from exhaustion. His unselfish conduct in the face of the greatest personal danger was outstanding and in keeping with the highest tradition of the Naval Service."

Even though the Indianapolis had been sunk on 30 July 1945. the navy did not release the news to the press until April 15th. The day Japan surrendered. News of the surrender all but overshadowed the loss of Indianapolis.

The Indianapolis was a very high profile ship. Owing to her pre-war fame and her wartime service as the Flagship of ADM Spruance and ADM Halsey, she was the center of attention in the Pacific. The media of the day, radio and print all strove to get reporters aboard Indianapolis to record the news. Young men just out of Anapolis and the various V-12 and NROTC programs all wanted to be assigned to Indianapolis. That's where the "action" was, and consequently enhanced chances for recognition and promotion. Politically influential fathers pulled strings to get their sons assigned to the Indianapolis.

When the ship was lost, these same influential families began to pressure the navy about the loss of their sons. The navy reacted badly. ADM Earnest King then the Chief of Naval Operations, (the navy's TOP Admiral), ordered a Court Marshal for the INDY'S captain, Charles B. McVay.

On 19 December 1945 Charles Butler McVay III was found guilty of the specification of the first charge: Hazarding his vessel by failing to zig-zag. He was found innocent of the second specification: Failing to sound a timely order to abandon ship. McVay's punishment was to be dropped 100 point numbers on the promotions list--effectively ending what had been by all accounts an absolutely brilliant naval career.

Following the proceedings, an unprecedented thing happened. Almost to a man, the officers sitting in judgment signed a petition asking the court to set aside the verdict in light of McVay's record. As Admiral King had retired in the interim, it fell to ADM Chester Nimitz to grant the petition of the court, and he set aside the punishment. He could not set aside the fact of the conviction. Admiral Nimitz restored Captain McVay to duty and posted him as commandant of the New Orleans Naval district where he was promoted to Rear Admiral (lower half), where he finished his career and retired.

Tragedy continued to stalk McVay even in retirement. What could only be termed "hate mail" was constantly sent to his home, he was the recipient of emotionally charged phone calls from parents and loved ones of those who lost their lives in the tragedy of the Indianapolis. His wife contracted cancer and passed away within a few short years of their move home to Litchfield Connecticut. Eventually the weight of loneliness and calumnious phone calls and mail took its toll on the man.

In the fall of 1968 Charles Butler McVay III, last Captain of the USS INDIANAPOLIS (CA-35), stepped out on his front stoop, and using his navy issued service revolver, took his own life. The Indianapolis had claimed her final victim.

And bureaucracy is the same the world over. Believe it or not, some low level navy functionary in the Pacific actually began the paperwork preparatory to a court marshal for Lt. Marks. It was proceeding through the chain of command until somebody realized who Lt. Marks was and what he'd done by disregarding the order not to land on the open sea, and killed the paperwork!

1999 Patrick J. Finneran. All rights reserved.

If you have questions or comments about this narrative please contact the author via e-mail at :patfinn@iquest.net