following is a in-depth narrative of the history of the USS
Indianapolis. It was provided by:
Patrick J. Finneran,email@example.com
(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.
or comments about the following should be directed to the
author via e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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
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
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......
The USS INDIANAPOLIS, (CA-35)
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
THE PREWAR HEAVY CRUISER CLASSES
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
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
JOINING THE FLEET
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
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.
THE SURPRISING ORDER TO GET UNDERWAY- 5 December 1941
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
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
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.)
INDY'S FIRST COMBAT
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.
THE ALEUTIAN CAMPAIGN
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
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.
ADMIRAL SPRUANCE'S FLAGSHIP
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
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
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
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.
THE MARIANAS TURKEY SHOOT
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
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
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.
HIT BY KAMIKAZE!
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.
OVERHAUL MAY THROUGH JUNE 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.
THE ATOMIC BOMB-
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.
THE JAPANESE SUBMARINE, I-58-
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.
JULY 26TH, INDIANAPOLIS ARRIVES AT TINIAN-
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.)
INDIANAPOLIS ORDERED TO LEYTE GULF
"JOIN THE IDAHO FOR GUNNERY PRACTICE."
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.
MIDNIGHT, JULY 29-30 ABOARD INDIANAPOLIS-
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
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.
THE RESCUE BEGINS
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,
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
THE MARINES ABOARD INDIANAPOLIS:
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
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
J. Finneran. All rights reserved.
If you have
questions or comments about this narrative please contact
the author via e-mail at :email@example.com