A Second Navy Ship in Two Days: USS INDIANAPOLIS

by HB Auld, Jr. and Guest Author Tara Ross

Two Navy ship disasters in two days: Yesterday was the USS FORRESTAL and today is the USS INDIANAPOLIS. I knew this one was coming; it’s been on my calendar all year.

Several years ago, my landlord was an INDIANAPOLIS survivor. During World War II, Lieutenant (Junior Grade) Charles McKissick served in INDIANAPOLIS and survived the sinking. We used to sit and talk in McKinney, TX, about our times in the Navy and he would talk about the days and nights he spent in the water after the sinking before being rescued. Every year, Charles would travel to Indianapolis, IN, each July for the ship’s reunion. When he returned, he would tell me that many of his shipmates were missing that year. The numbers continued to dwindle down at each reunion. This was in the early 1990s. LTJG Charles McKissick is also gone now. Rest In Peace, Sir. You and your Shipmates earned your reward. “Rest your oars, Sir. We have the Watch, now.” God bless these brave men and God bless America.

Here is Guest Author and Historian Tara Ross’ essay today on the sinking of the USS INDIANAPOLIS (CA 35) on July 30, 1945:

On this day in 1945, USS Indianapolis is sunk by Japanese torpedoes. The survivors would float in the ocean for days before they were found.

There was just one silver lining to the tragedy. Indianapolis had already performed the most important part of its mission: It had successfully carried parts for the Little Boy atomic bomb across the Pacific. American bombers would soon carry Little Boy toward Hiroshima. In combination with the bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Little Boy would ultimately force an end to World War II.

If only crew members had known what they were carrying! But they didn’t. Instead, Indianapolis completed its delivery of the bomb components on July 26. The ship’s captain, Captain Charles McVay, then continued on to Guam. He was ordered to continue on to the Leyte Gulf.

Unfortunately, the seeds for tragedy were already being sown.

A transmission containing Indianapolis’s expected route was sent ahead to the Leyte Gulf. Unfortunately, a radio staff member there decoded part of the message incorrectly. As a result, the senior officer to whom McVay was to report had no idea that Indianapolis was coming.

Thus, he would not miss her when she failed to arrive on time a few days later. But that wasn’t the only problem. McVay had requested an escort to the Philippines, but he would not get one. Indianapolis had no sonar capabilities, limiting McVay’s ability to detect Japanese submarines on its own. When McVay heard that he wouldn’t have an escort, he took the news calmly. He’d traveled alone before, and the intelligence report for his voyage indicated that the trip should be routine.

“…two critical pieces of information were missing from that intelligence report.”

It turns out that two critical pieces of information were missing from that intelligence report. Japanese submarines were known to be operating along his planned path.

Thus, no one was really worried—even if they should have been. It was assumed that Indianapolis could travel safely through these backwaters from Guam to the Leyte Gulf. The ship and its crew left Guam, alone, on July 28.

The voyage was uneventful at first, but the evening of July 29 brought difficulties. Visibility became limited. Indianapolis had been zigzagging through the water, theoretically making it more difficult for a submarine to attack her. But as visibility worsened, Captain McVay ordered a stop to the zigzagging. He had been given discretion to make such a decision, although he was later criticized for making that call.

A little before midnight, a Japanese submarine spotted Indianapolis. Six torpedoes were fired at her just after midnight. Two of these torpedoes found their mark and tore their way through the American ship.

One sailor later described the impact: “Whoom. Up in the air I went. There was water, debris, fire, everything just coming up and we were 81ft (25m) from the water line. It was a tremendous explosion. Then, about the time I got to my knees, another one hit. Whoom.”

One torpedo blew away the bow of the ship. A second torpedo hit near the fuel compartment. The ship exploded—it sank in only 12 minutes! At least one distress signal was sent as the ship went down, but the signal was ignored. Possibly Americans thought that the distress signal was a Japanese ruse to lure rescue ships out to sea.

Of the nearly 1,200 men on board, about 900 men survived the initial explosion and went overboard into the water. They would not be rescued for days.

The story continues early next week.


Guest author, Tara Ross, is a mother, wife, writer, and retired lawyer. She is the author of The Indispensable Electoral College: How the Founders’ Plan Saves Our Country from Mob Rule,Enlightened Democracy: The Case for the Electoral College, co-author of Under God: George Washington and the Question of Church and State (with Joseph C. Smith, Jr.), & We Elect A President: The Story of our Electoral College. She is a constitutionalist, but with a definite libertarian streak! Stay tuned here for updates on pretty much anything to do with the Electoral College, George Washington, & our wonderfully rich American heritage.

History posts are copyright © 2013-2020 by Tara Ross. Please use the share feature instead of cutting/pasting.


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