In 1945, on July 30, 1,196 men were on boar the U.S.S. Indianapolis that determined the fate of 800. The ships mission was the first of the sequence of the events that put an end to the WWII. Richard F. Newcomb in his book Abandon Ship: The Saga of the U.S.S. Indianapolis, the Navys Greatest Sea Disaster describes the events that led to the catastrophe paying tribute to American Navy honour, courage, and commitment.
The U.S. Navy Cruiser, the Indianapolis, was chosen by Franklin Roosevelt to be the ship of the state in 1932 and was sent on a mission on July 15, 1945 the exact purpose of which remains unknown. Captain Charles Butler McVay was in charge of the ship and even though he had done everything possible from his side, the ship sank with 11 hundred men going under water, 316 survivors and the remainder eaten by sharks: It was some hours before they began to realize that sharks were among them. Suddenly a man screamed, his head bobbed for a moment, and he began flailing the water with his arms.
Blood welled to the surface, and other men took up the cry, (Newcomb, 2001). Two torpedoes hit Indianapolis: Japanese submarine I-58 and its captain, Mochitsura Hashimoto, launched 6 torpedoes with two of those reaching their final destination. All of 1,196 men struggled to save their burning and destroyed ship, but Indianapolis sank in 10,000 feet of water in the Philippine Sea. Only 316 were rescued after 4 and a half days of drifting in the open sea. Captain McVay was court-martialed for his failure to practice manoeuvres to prevent attack in the enemy waters.
Loss of Indianapolis set the beginning of the end of WWII. Loss of so many people was the worst in the history of U.S. Navy, even more then during the Perl Harbour and still the story is not widely known. In just a few days Hiroshima was bombed, and Nagasaki followed, the war then was over. The book raises questions about the secrecy of the U.S. Navy practices. Captain McVay never knew about the mission of the shop and even though the distress signals were sent and received, they were ignored. In the recent version of the book with Peter Maas writing the preface, facts about the role of Navy officials are revealed with an attempt to restore the good name of Captain charged by court in vain.
Commitment in the group of swimmers who managed to get to the surface was omnipresent. Lieutenant Commander Coleman, who was in charge of the group and a member of Spruances staff, worked day and night to keep the people together. He swam back and forth to bring in to the floating rafts new stragglers drifting in the sea overfilled with sharks. Eventually, lieutenant became so weak that he dies of exhaustion. Lieutenant until the very last minutes of his life cared for the well being of his people.
Lt. Wilbur C. Gwinn, pilot of a two-engine Ventura that was on a routine patrol from Peleliu, was the first one to find out about the disaster on Thursday, 4 days after the ship sank. He simply happened to glance down and notice a lick of oil on the surface and when getting down on the airplane, he spotted at least 150 heads over the water. He reacted fast, with honour, radioed for help and dropped all life rafts, water kegs, and life jackets to give people help. Gwinn took the responsibility for own actions and reported the bad news fast; he kept also his moral responsibilities by doing everything he could to give those people hope.
Lt. R. Adrian Marks arrived then and decided to land his large airplane on the surface to rescue the men. The decision was courageous and risky, as the airplane was designed for landing in smooth water and not in 12 foot swells.
The airplane bounced several times on landing and partially ruptured a fuel tank. Crew of airplane managed to rescue 56 men from the water by tying them to the wings and then placing them in the fuselage. Many of those saved had severe injuries and when rolling in pain kicked so many holes in the wings and fuselage that the plane had to be abandoned as soon as people were transferred to the rescue ships that finally arrived.
Abandon Ship! by Richard F. Newcomb is definitely a worthy reading. It tells a story of the American honour, commitment, and courage that is not widely known by the American people; depicts the first one of the sequence of the events that led to the end of WWII.
Newcomb, R. F. (2001) Abandon Ship: The Saga of the U.S.S. Indianapolis, the Navys Greatest Sea Disaster, Harpercollins.