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- THE SAGA OF THE USS. Indianapolis -

At 12:14 a.m. on July 30, 1945, the USS Indianapolis was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine in the Philippine Sea and sank in 12 minutes. Of 1,196 men on board, approximately 300 went down with the ship. The remainder, about 900 men, were left floating in shark-infested waters with no lifeboats and most with no food or water. The ship was never missed, and by the time the survivors were spotted by accident four days later only 316 men were still alive.


The USS. Indianapolis

The world's first operational atomic bomb was delivered by the Indianapolis, (CA-35) to the island of Tinian on 26 July 1945. The Indianapolis then reported to CINCPAC (Commander-In-Chief, Pacific) Headquarters at Guam for further orders. She was directed to join the battleship USS Idaho (BB-42) at Leyte Gulf in the Philippines to prepare for the invasion of Japan. The Indianapolis, unescorted, departed Guam on a course of 262 degrees making about 17 knots.

At 14 minutes past midnight, on 30 July 1945, midway between Guam and Leyte Gulf, she was hit by two torpedoes out of six fired by the I-58, a Japanese submarine. The first blew away the bow, the second struck near midship on the starboard side adjacent to a fuel tank and a powder magazine. The resulting explosion split the ship to the keel, knocking out all electric power. Within minutes she went down rapidly by the bow, rolling to starboard.

Of the 1,196 aboard, about 900 made it into the water in the twelve minutes before she sank. Few life rafts were released. Most survivors wore the standard kapok life jacket. Shark attacks began with sunrise of the first day and continued until the men were physically removed from the water, almost five days later.

The ship's captain, the late Charles Butler McVay III, survived and was court-martialed and convicted of "hazarding his ship by failing to zigzag" despite overwhelming evidence that the Navy itself had placed the ship in harm's way, despite testimony from the Japanese submarine commander that zigzagging would have made no difference, and despite that fact that, although over 350 navy ships were lost in combat in WWII, McVay was the only captain to be court-martialed. Materials declassified years later adds to the evidence that McVay was a scapegoat for the mistakes of others.

Charles Butler McVay III
Charles Butler McVay III

A Survivor's Story, In Woody's Words

Day 1

"The next morning we kind of counted heads the best we could. There was about 150 people in the group. We were scattered around quite a bit. Well this isn't too bad, we thought, we'll be picked up today. They knew we were out here after all we were due in the Philippines this morning at 11:00 so when we don't show they'll know. If they didn't get a message off, but we're sure they got a message off, they'll still know where we are so no sweat, we'll be picked up before the days over.

So the day passed, night came and it was cold. IT WAS COLD. The next mornin the sun come up and warmed things up and then it got unbearably hot so you start praying for the sun to go down so you can cool off again."

Woody Eugene James

Day 2

"When the sharks showed up, in fact they showed up the afternoon before but I don't know of anybody being bit. Maybe one on the second day but we just know we'll be picked up today. They've got it all organized by now, they'll be out here pretty soon and get us, we all thought. The day wore on and the sharks were around. Come night time and nobody showed up. We had another night of cold, prayin for the sun to come up. What a long night.

Day 3

"The sun finally did rise and it got warmed up again. Some of the guys been drinkin salt water by now, and they were goin bezerk. They'd tell you big stories about the Indianapolis is not sunk, its' just right there under the surface. I was just down there and had a drink of water out of the drinkin fountain and the Geedunk is still open. The geedunk bein the commissary where you buy ice cream, cigarettes, candy, what have you, "it's still open" they'd tell ya. "Come on we'll go get a drink of water", and then 3 or 4 guys would believe this story and go with them.

The day wore on and the sharks were around, hundreds of them. You'd hear guys scream, especially late in the afternoon. Seemed like the sharks were the worst late in the afternoon than they were during the day. Then they fed at night too. Everything would be quiet and then you'd hear somebody scream and you knew a shark had got him.

It didn't ever get any cooler in the daytime. In fact, Newhall asked me, he said, "James, do you think it's' any hotter in hell than it is here?" I said, "I don't know, Jim, but if it is, I ain't goin."

We were hungry, thirsty, no water, no food, no sleep, getting dehydrated, water logged and more of the guys were goin bezerk. There was fights goin on so Jim and I decided to heck with this, we'll get away from this bunch before we get hurt. So he and I kind of drifted off by ourselves. We tied our life jackets together so we'd stay together. Jim was in pretty good shape to begin with, but he was burned like crazy. His hand was burned, he couldn't hold on to anything, couldn't touch anything."

Day 4

"Then the next day arrived. By this time I would have give my front seat in heaven and walked the rotten log all the way through hell for just one cool drink of water. My mouth was so dry it was like cotton. How I got up enough nerve to take a mouth full of salt water and rinse my mouth out and spit it out I don't know but I did. Did it a couple of times before the mornin was over. That's probably why I ended up with salt-water ulcers in my throat. When we got picked up my throat was bigger than my head.

Anyway, we're out there in the sun prayin for it to go down again, then low and behold there's a plane. Course there had been planes everyday since day one. They were real high and some of the floaters had mirrors that tried to attract them, but nothing. Anyway, this one showed up and flew by and we thought, "Oh hell, he didn't see us either. He's gone." Then we seen him turn and come back and we knew we had been spotted. What a relief that was.

So he did, he came back and flew over us. It was a little PV1 Ventura. It was out on submarine patrol and he spotted us. He radioed back to his base and instead of sending some help out, the Navy sent one plane out. One PBY that came out and circled and radioed back to the base that there was a bunch of people in the water and he needed more assistance and more survival gear. The pilot ended up landin in the water and picked up a lot of guys, the single guys, one or two guys that were together so the afternoon went on. Late in the afternoon before dark there was another PBY on the scene. He dropped his survival gear and he dropped a little three-man rubber raft. Jim and I tried to swim to it. He made it but I didn't. I was just so wore out from holding him up and hangin on to him all day and the night before, I just couldn't make it but he did. About the time he got on it there was two other guys so there is three of them total in it and that's all it was made for, three.

Anyway, the other direction there was two guys in the water and the two guys in the raft told Jim, "we'll go over there and pick those two up". Jim said, "No, we're goin go pick Woody up then we'll go get those two guys." They said "Nope, we're goin to do it the other way." The raft contained those little aluminum oars that come in two pieces and Jim put one of them together and threw the other one over board. "Okay you guys, I don't want to be mean but we're goin over to get Woody and you guys are goin to do the paddling by hand. If you don't things, are goin to happen with this oar that you ain't agoin to like." So they came over and picked me up and that's how I owe Jim Newhall my life. If it had not been for that I wouldn't be here tellin this story.

So they picked me up, then we went and got the other two guys. Now there's six of us on this raft. It's getting pretty crowded but we run onto three other guys and we picked them up. Now there's nine of us on this little raft. It's just about dark and figure we'll make it through the night one way or another. About midnight, a little bit before there was a light shining off of the bottom of the cloud and we knew then we were saved. That was the spotlight of the Cecil Doyle. The Navy is on the scene. There's a ship comin. You can't believe how happy we were, guys screamin and yellin, "We're saved, We're saved."


Delayed Rescue

Shortly after 11:00 A.M. of the fourth day, the survivors were accidentally discovered by LT. (jg) Wilbur C. Gwinn, piloting his PV-1 Ventura Bomber on routine antisubmarine patrol. Radioing his base at Peleiu, he alerted, "many men in the water". A PBY (seaplane) under the command of LT. R. Adrian Marks was dispatched to lend assistance and report. Enroute to the scene, Marks overflew the destroyer USS Cecil Doyle (DD-368), and alerted her captain, of the emergency. The captain of the Doyle, on his own authority, decided to divert to the scene.

Arriving hours ahead of the Doyle, Marks' crew began dropping rubber rafts and supplies. While so engaged, they observed men being attacked by sharks. Disregarding standing orders not to land at sea, Marks landed and began taxiing to pick up the stragglers and lone swimmers who were at greatest risk of shark attack. Learning the men were the crew of the Indianapolis, he radioed the news, requesting immediate assistance. The Doyle responded she was enroute.

As complete darkness fell, Marks waited for help to arrive, all the while continuing to seek out and pull nearly dead men from the water. When the plane's fuselage was full, survivors were tied to the wing with parachute cord. Marks and his crew rescued 56 men that day. The Cecil Doyle was the first vessel on the scene. Homing on Marks' PBY in total darkness, the Doyle halted to avoid killing or further injuring survivors, and began taking Marks' survivors aboard.

Disregarding the safety of his own vessel, the Doyle's captain pointed his largest searchlight into the night sky to serve as a beacon for other rescue vessels. This beacon was the first indication to most survivors, that their prayers had been answered. Help had at last arrived. Of the 900 who made it into the water, only 317 remained alive. After almost five days of constant shark attacks, starvation, terrible thirst, suffering from exposure and their wounds, the men of the Indianapolis were at last rescued from the sea.

The impact of this unexpected disaster sent shock waves of hushed disbelief throughout Navy circles in the South Pacific. A public announcement of the loss of the Indianapolis was delayed for almost two weeks until August 15, thus insuring that it would be overshadowed in the news on the day when the Japanese surrender was announced by President Truman.

The Navy, however, was rushing to gather the facts and to determine who was responsible for the greatest sea disaster in its history . who, in effect, to blame. It was a faulty rush to judgment.


USS Indianapolis
USS Indianapolis
Underwater shot of Caribbean Reef sharks circling the legs of sailors . As seen on Ocean of Fear: Worst Shark Attack Ever.




Added by Sehrus July, 25, 2008



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