Through World War II there were many naval ships that were sunk. One of the major naval ships that sunk was the U. S. S. Indianapolis. This ship was an important factor in winning the war but she tragically sunk during her mission. Of the one thousand one hundred and ninety-six men aboard, only three hundred and seventeen survived (Field). The “Indy” was written down as the worst naval disaster in history. The U. S. S Indianapolis was built in Camden, New Jersey. It was launched and commissioned in 1931.
The “Indy” was six hundred and ten feet and three inches, or one hundred eightysix meters, and was displaced at nine thousand nine hundred and fifty tons. The main battery consisted of nine eight-inch guns and eight five-inch anti-aircraft guns. The U. S. S Indianapolis was powered by eight boilers and operated in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. She also had the honor to carry United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt on three cruises (Field). When the United States entered World War II, the U. S. S Indianapolis was listed to be an aircraft-carrier.
Then in 1943, it became a flagship for the U. S. Fifth Fleet under Vice Admiral Raymond Spruance. During the spring of 1945, she participated in the invasion of Iwo Jima and the bombardment of Okinawa. Through the bombardment, the “Indy” was able to shoot down seven enemy planes before it was struck by a kamikaze on March 31. On July 16, 1945, the U. S. S Indianapolis, consisting of one thousand one hundred ninety-six men, sailed from San Francisco, California. The ship carried top secret cargo to the island of Tinian. The cargo was uranium and other major components for the atomic bomb that was to be dropped on Hiroshima on August 6.
After making it to Tinian, the “Indy” sailed on to Guam then to the Leyte Gulf with no escort (Field). On July 30, 1945, fourteen minutes past midnight, the ship was hit by two out of six torpedoes. The torpedoes were fired by an 1-58 Japanese submarine. The first torpedo took out the bow, and the second struck near the midship on the starboard side adjacent to fuel tank and powder magazine. This caused the explosion to split the ship to the keel, resulting in the loss of all power. Within twelve minutes the U. S. S. Indianapolis sank in between the Leyte Gulf and Guam.
Of the one thousand one hundred and ninety-six men aboard the ship, around nine hundred made it to the water (“The Indy Story’). On the fourth day of being out on the water, the survivors were accidentally discovered by L. T. Wilbur C. Gwinn. Gwinn was a pilot for a PV-1 Ventura Bomber, who was doing a routine antisubmarine patrol. During his patrol, he saw many men in the water and radioed into his base at Peleliu. A seaplane (PBY) was under the command of Lt. R. Adrian Marks was dispatched to lend help and report back. On his way to lend his support, he saw the destroyer, USS Cecil Doyle.
Marks then alerted the captain and he too decided to travel to the scene. Arriving hours before the Doyle, Marks’ crew dropped rubber rafts and supplies. While above the water they saw many men being mutilated by sharks. Disregarding the orders to not land on the sea, Marks landed and began helping men onto the wings of the ship (“The Indy Story’). On the report, it showed that around fifty-six men were rescued that day by Mark and his men. The first vessel on the scene was Doyle, to avoid killing or further injuring the survivors they began to rescue those men on Marks’ PBY.
Not caring for the safety of his own ship, the captain of Doyle pointed his brightest and largest searchlight into the night sky so it could be a beacon for those survivors around. Of the nine hundred that made it to the sea, only three hundred and seventeen were alive. After nearly five days or one hundred and ten hours, of constant shark attacks, starvation, terrible thirst, suffering from exposure, and wounds, the men of the U. S. S. Indianapolis were rescued from the sea (“The Indy Story’). The disaster left many naval circles in the South Pacific in shock.
The announcement of the sinking of the Indianapolis was delayed for almost two weeks. On August 15, the tragedy was finally announced which ensured that it would be overshadowed by the surrender of Japan. The Navy was trying to gather the facts to determine the one responsible for this sinking. Though the one whom they had set to blame was the captain, Charles McVay III (“The Indy Story’). Captain Charles McVay III was a 1920 graduate of the United States Naval Academy. He led the invasion of Iwo Jima, as well as the bombardment of Okinawa. After the Indianapolis was sunk the survivors were scattered across many Pacific Naval bases.
McVay was sent to a base in Guam where he was faced with the board of inquiry. This inquiry was ordered by Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz which convened August 13. Which is the day right before the tragedy was announced to the public. Conceding that they “were starting the proceedings without having available all the necessary data,” the board still advised a general court-martial for McVay (“Captain Mcvay”). However, Admiral Nimitz did not agree and on September 6 he wrote to the Navy’s Judge Advocate General opposing the court-martial. He stated that McVay may have been guilty of error in judgment but not gross negligence.
The Admiral wrote that Captain McVay deserved a slap on the wrist, but not a career-ending punishment. Nimitz pointed out that the rule requiring zigzagging did not apply to this event because McVay’s orders gave him discretion on that and all other orders related (“Captain McVay’). Overriding the disagreement of Nimitz and Admiral Raymond Spruance (for whom the Indianapolis serves as Fifth Fleet flagship), the naval authorities of Washington (specifically Secretary of Navy James Forrestal and Admiral Ernest King, Chief of Naval Operations), decided on the continuous court-martial proceedings.
The trial was to start on December 3, 1945, in Washington Navy Yard. McVay was not notified on the exact thing he was being charged with until four days before the trial. The Navy decided on two charges. One being failing to issue orders to abandon ship in a timely fashion. The second being hazarding the vessel by failing to zigzag during good visibility (“Captain McVay”). The first charge brought up against McVay was confusing. Why had the Navy brought up this charge? The explosions from the attack knocked the communication system out.
Meaning the only means of communication was by word of mouth, which the Captain carried out. Since that wouldn’t be pursued, it left the second charge of failing to zigzag. The Navy brought in the commander of the Japanese submarine that sunk the ship, Mochitura Hashimoto, to testify at the court-martial. During the pretrial statements, he states that zigzagging would not have saved the Indianapolis. One prosecution witness was a veteran Navy submariner named Glynn Donaho.
A four-time Navy Cross winner during the way, Donaho was asked by McVay’s defense counsel whether “it would have been more or less difficult for you to attain the proper firing position” if the Indianapolis had been zigzagging under the conditions which existed that night. His answer was, “No, not as long as I could see the target (“Captain McVay”). “Although with all of the accounts that zigzagging would not have saved the “Indy”, McVay still was charged guilty for failing to zigzag.
The court sentenced him to lose one hundred numbers in his temporary rank of Captain and one hundred numbers in his permanent rank of Commander, thus ruining his Naval career. In 1946, at the orders of Admiral Nimitz who had become Chief of Naval Operations, Secretary Forrestal remitted McVay’s sentence and restored him to duty. McVay served his time at New Orleans Naval District until 1949 with the rank of Rear Admiral. In November of 1968, he took his own life (“Captain McVay’). ” In conclusion, the sinking of the U. S. S. Indianapolis was a tragedy.
The sinking had greatly affected the families as well as the Navy itself. Captain McVay was a scapegoat for the Navy, someone to blame for this sinking. He may have taken his life but his crewmen have never given up on exonerating him. They finally had hope in 1998, when a twelve year old boy started to research the topic for a history project. Hunter Scott of Pensacola, Florida had proven that zigzagging would not of save the ship. Finally after years of seeking justice, the men of the Indianapolis along with the help of Hunter Scott were able to exonerate their captain (Alvarez).