Skip to comments.This Day In History - World War II July 29, 1945 Japanese sink the USS Indianapolis
Posted on 07/29/2007 4:56:24 AM PDT by mainepatsfan
1945 : Japanese sink the USS Indianapolis
On this day in 1945, Japanese warships sink the American cruiser Indianapolis, killing 883 seamen in the worst loss in the history of the U.S. navy.
As a prelude to a proposed invasion of the Japanese mainland, scheduled for November 1, U.S. forces bombed the Japanese home islands from sea and air, as well as blowing Japanese warships out of the water. The end was near for Imperial Japan, but it was determined to go down fighting. Just before midnight of the 29th, the Indianapolis, an American cruiser that was the flagship of the Fifth Fleet, was on its way, unescorted, to Guam, then Okinawa. It never made it. It was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine. Interestingly, the sub was commanded by a lieutenant who had also participated in the Pearl Harbor invasion.
There were 1,196 crewmen onboard the Indianapolis; over 350 died upon impact of the torpedo or went down with the ship. More than 800 fell into the Pacific. Of those, approximately 50 died that first night in the water from injuries suffered in the torpedo explosion; the remaining seamen were left to flounder in the Pacific, fend off sharks, drink sea water (which drove some insane), and wait to be rescued. Because there was no time for a distress signal before the Indianapolis went down, it was 84 hours before help arrived. This was despite the fact that American naval headquarters had intercepted a message on July 30 from the Japanese sub commander responsible for sinking the Indianapolis, describing the type of ship sunk and its location. (The Americans assumed it was an exaggerated boast and didn't bother to follow up.) Only 318 survived; the rest were eaten by sharks or drowned. The Indianapolis's commander, Captain Charles McVay, was the only officer ever to be court-martialed for the loss of a ship during wartime in the history of the U.S. Navy.
Had the attack happened only three days earlier, the Indianapolis would have been sunk carrying special cargo-the atom bomb, which it delivered to Tinian Island, northeast of Guam, for scientists to assemble.
Quint from Steven Spielberg’s 1975 film Jaws
The Discovery Channel kicks off it’s 20th anniversary of Shark Week with an episode dealing with this event. It’s not going to be a pleasant viewing experience.
To allow a heavy cruiser to leave port without destroyers to escort it was criminal.
Wasn’t the Indianapolis running straight, no zig zagging, when she was torpedoed? IIRC the Captain wasn’t even taking normal anti submarine precautions at the time because he believed the area was free of Japanese subs.
I think you’re right about the no evasive zig-zagging,assuming no subs turned out to be a costly mistake.If only there had been one destroyer with her-they could have saved a whole lot of lives.
62 years later, still a tragic loss for America!
to this day, I cannot fathom how some people still question the morality of our dropping the Bomb on Japan.
You won’t find many veterans of the Pacific war who do.
One of my favorite scenes from a favorite movie.
It was also disgraceful how the navy used McVay as a scapegoat. Amazingly it took 55 years for that to be corrected, many many years too late.
He ended up committing suicide.
And unfortunately, the court-martial is still on his record even though Congress and the Navy admit he was not at fault. Would have been nice on this anniversary if Bush took that off his record.
The sub captain testified it would not have mattered.
Some surface ships, like this cruiser, had such speed that it was felt that zig zagging was unnecessary under certain conditions. IIRC, the cruiser was running in & out of storm fronts & so ceased zig zagging for safety reasons -- I could be wrong on that point.
Submerged submarines were generally too slow to get into firing position once detecting such a ship unless they got lucky. OTOH, if the sub was running surfaced, where it would be faster, the firing solution would be easier.
All that being said, Japanese I-boats were some of the fastest subs around in WW2. They were designed to keep pace with our battleline and attrite it prior to a big gun battle.
WW-II submarines intercepted ships, like the Indianapolis, which have a speed advantage by steering an intercept course, the prey ship has to have a component of its velocity in the direction of the submarine. Submarines often pursued victims for hours, on the surface, maneuvering to a position in the path of the ship and submerging (or often times not) and waiting for the victim to come into a favorable firing position.
If the prey suddenly turned away, the submarine would lose any chance of inception. However, randomly making course changes made it just as likely that a ship would encounter a submarine that she would otherwise have avoided.
BTW, the QE-I routinely crossed the Atlantic carrying thousands of troops without escort because her speed far exceeded that of destroyers and it was felt she was safer just steaming fast without escorts. (Yes, she “zig-zagged”.) Submarines trying to catch a fast surface ship is like Randy Moss being covered by a dozen grandmothers. I think destroyer escorts for the Indy would have been pretty useless, she was better off relying on her speed.
In the event, the Indy was silhouetted by a full moon and had the bad luck to run into a submarine directly in her course.
Many people (including the vast majority of the Indianapolis' survivors) felt Capt. McVeigh was scapegoated. A passing plane reported seeing survivors in the water shortly after the sinking and it was couple of days after she was overdue before a rescue was mounted. Incompetence and inertia on the part of the Navy brass lead to unnecessary causalities and someone had to pay. Logically enough, after visiting punishment on the innocent there was praise and rewards for the nonparticipants.
“While this training was taking place, the disassembled components of the first two atomic bombs were transshipped to Tinian by various means. For the uranium bomb code-named Little Boy, the U-235 projectile and bomb pre-assemblies left Hunters Point Naval Shipyard, California, on July 16 aboard the cruiser USS Indianapolis, arriving July 26. That same day three C-54s of the 320th TCS left Kirtland Army Air Field each with one of the U-235 target rings and landed at North Field on July 28.
“The components for the bomb code-named Fat Man all arrived by air. On July 26 the bomb’s plutonium core (encased in its insertion capsule) and the beryllium-polonium initiator were transported from Kirtland by C-54 in the custody of Project Alberta couriers, also arriving July 28. The pre-assemblies of Fat Man F-31 were picked up by B-29 at Kirtland on July 28 and reached North Field on August 2.
“The final item of preparation for the operation came on July 29, 1945. General Carl Spaatz, commanding all strategic bombers in the Pacific, arrived at Tinian with the order for the attack. Drafted by Brig.Gen. Leslie Groves and sent by Gen. George C. Marshall from Potsdam on July 25, the order designated four targets: Hiroshima, Kokura, Niigata, and Nagasaki, and ordered the attack to be made “as soon as weather will permit after about 3 August.”
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