July 30, 1945 - Sinking of the USS Indianapolis

A Day in Indiana History - July
July 30, 1945 - Sinking of the USS Indianapolis
The Memorial pays tribute to the last US Navy ship to sink in World War II. The USS Indianapolis had delivered the components to the first operational atomic bomb to the island of Tinian on July 26. After delivery, Captain McVay requested further orders from the naval headquarters at Guam.  Headquarters ordered McVay to join the USS Idaho in the Leyte Gulf. The Navy was assembling a fleet to invade Japan.
Sub Infested Waters
The USS Indianapolis' orders directed the ship to proceed without an escort, an unprecedented event during the war. Unknown to McVay, two Japanese submarines lay in his path. As the ship proceeded through the sea, one of the submarines sighted the unescorted, defenseless ship and fired two torpedoes. The first torpedo struck the bow of the ship, obliterating it. The second struck the hull near a fuel tank and powder magazine. The ship sank quickly. About 900 of the 1116 crewmen made it into the water. The radioman sent three distress calls before sinking. However, no one reacted. One receiving station commander had gotten drunk and was inebriated, so did not answer the call. Another had ordered his radio operator not to disturb him. The third suspected a Japanese trap and sent no help.
Shark Infested Waters
The men remained in the water for almost five days, held aloft by their life vests. Sharks found the helpless survivors and began to feed. The horror lasted until a PV-1 Ventura Bomber on submarine patrol discovered the flotsam from the wreckage and survivors still clinging to life in the water. He radioed for help. A PBY seaplane was dispatched to aid the stricken survivors. Lieutenant R. Adrian Marks first over flew the target and alerted the USS Cecil Doyle, who whose captain overlooked his orders and sailed to the scene. meanwhile, Marks arrived and started deploying life rafts. He could see that sharks were devouring many of the men and, against Navy procedure, landed his plane and taxied about the water's surface trying to pull as many as he could from the waters. He soon filled the plane and tied many others to the wings. Marks managed to save fifty-six of the men. The Doyle arrived at dark, and, seeing the PBY, stopped his ship to avoid harming any survivors. he pulled Mark's survivors onto the ship. Knowing more ships were on the way, the captain of the Doyle shone his beacon light into the night sky, knowing this would alert any Japanese in the area to his presence. Only 317 men would survive the horror of hunger, thirst, shark attacks and exposure to the elements. It would go down as one of the greatest Navy disasters.
USS Indianapolis Memorial
Walnut St. & Senate Ave., Central Canal
Indianapolis, IN 46202
Excerpted from the author’s book: