MartiniPundit

Random thoughts and insights – always shaken, never stirred

The Sinking of the USS Indianapolis

leave a comment »

Not quite six decades ago tonight, a US Navy warship, the USS Indianapolis was torpedoed and sunk by a Japanese submarine in the waning days of World War II.  Germany had already been defeated, and in July, the Allied Forces were preparing for the invasion of mainland Japan. Although everyone knew that Japan had been beaten, no one expected them to surrender less than a month later.  At Iwo Jima in February 1945 the Japanese had fought bravely and tenaciously to the death.  More than 20,000 of them perished defending a tiny sulfurous rock that they considered Japanese native soil against the US Marine Corps. Planners for Operation Downfall expected American casualties in a battle to take the Japanese home islands to be numbered in the hundreds of thousands, and General Douglas MacArthur’s intelligence chief anticipated a million killed or wounded by the fall of 1946.  The invasion was considered necessary to bring about the surrender of Japan, which few believed could be induced to surrender on a blockade alone. Accordingly, in July 1945, President Truman ordered the new atomic bomb to be used against Japan. The first was dropped on Hiroshima on August 6 and the second on Nagasaki on August 9. The USS Indianapolis carried both bombs to Tinian Island in the Mariannas, from whence the B-29s were launched.

The Indianapolis was what was known as a ‘treaty cruiser.’ After World War I, the victorious powers had agreed to limit their fleets.  Heavy cruisers, like the Indianapolis, could be no more than 10,000 tons displacement for example.  When she was commissioned in 1932, the 9950 ton Indy was one of the most modern cruisers in the world – fast and sporting 9 eight inch guns in three turrets.  She would gain fame when she served as the conveyance for President Roosevelt on numerous occasions, and was involved in many battles during the war. Additional information in her career can be found here.

This is the Indianapolis shortly before she was lost:

On her return from Tinian, the Indianapolis had been ordered to rendezvous with the battleship USS Idaho to engage in gunnery practice.  The radio communications to the Idaho had been garbled, and she did not know to expect the Indianapolis, and so no one seemed to notice when the cruiser failed to show up.

Instead, she had run afoul of a Japanese submarine, I-58, commanded by a veteran of the Pearl Harbor attack, who launched a half a dozen torpedoes at her just after midnight.  At least two of the torpedoes hit home, one tearing the bow off the cruiser and the other striking her amidships and causing multiple explosions which knocked out electrical power and split the ship down to her keel.  Less than fifteen minutes later, the Indianapolis had sunk beneath the waves, taking more than 300 of her 1196 man crew with her.  The remaining 900 or so ended up in the oil-choked water with very few life rafts, no food, and only a few in life jackets.  And no one knew they were there.

Many of the wounded did not survive the night, and with the coming dawn came sharks.  Massive numbers of Great White Sharks circled the defenseless sailors and marines who bobbed in the water.  The sharks picked off stragglers, and those unfortunate enough to become detached from the main group.  With no water, many drank the sea water, and began to go mad.  All of them prayed as the sharks swam around the periphery and a few feet below.  No one could know when he might be the next one eaten alive. It was estimated that by the third day, there were only 400 or so left.

On Thursday, a Navy bomber was flying over the area and its commander noticed a large oil slick in the water.  Moving in for a closer look, he spotted the men in the water, and radioed his base in Palau.  But it was three hours before anyone believed it was more than a prank and dispatched a Catalina PBY to investigate.  As the PBY approached, it flew by a destroyer, the USS Cecil Doyle, and Lt. Marks, in command of the PBY, radioed his mission to the tin can whose Captain diverted to the position of the ‘men in the water.’ Meanwhile, Lt. Marks in his PBY arrived at the site where the survivors of the Indianapolis were.  His crew dropped them rafts and supplies, but when Marks saw that they were still being attacked by sharks, he made the decision to land his PBY and pick up as many survivors as possible.  This risky move saved at least 56 sailors and marines who were hauled aboard and even climbed onto the wings of the PBY. Marks repeatedly radioed for help, and the Doyle steamed towards them. Eventually the Doyle and other ships saved 317 sailors and marines – all that remained of the crew of the Indianapolis.

Link to the USS Indianapolis Organization

Advertisements

Written by martinipundit

July 29, 2004 at 3:56 pm

Posted in History, Military, Ships

Tagged with

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: