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calendar   Sunday - July 31, 2005

On This Day In History

Sixty years ago, in the warm waters of the Pacific Ocean, nearly 1,200 men were in the water after their ship had been sunk by a Japanese submarine on the evening of July 29-30, 1945. Their ship, the USS Indianapolis, had just delivered the atomic bomb to the island of Tinian, where it would be assembled and later dropped on Hiroshima, ending World War II. For these men of the USS Indianapolis, however, the worst ordeal was yet to come. Through a series of communications errors, their plight would not be known for several more days and in the meantime .... the sharks circled ....

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.
-- The History Channel

“Japanese submarine slammed two torpedoes into our side, chief. It was comin’ back, from the island of Tinian to Leyte, just delivered the bomb. The Hiroshima bomb. Eleven hundred men went into the water. Vessel went down in 12 minutes. Didn’t see the first shark for about a half an hour. Tiger. Thirteen-footer. You know, you know that when you’re in the water, Chief? You tell by lookin’ from the dorsal to the tail. Well, we didn’t know, ‘cause our bomb mission had been so secret, no distress signal had been sent. Huh-huh. They didn’t even list us overdue for a week. Very first light, chief. The sharks come cruisin’. So we formed ourselves into tight groups. You know it’s ... kinda like ‘ol squares in a battle like a, you see on a calendar, like the Battle of Waterloo. And the idea was, the shark would go for nearest man and then he’d start poundin’ and hollerin’ and screamin’ and sometimes the shark would go away. Sometimes he wouldn’t go away. Sometimes that shark, he looks right into you. Right into your eyes. You know the thing about a shark, he’s got ... lifeless eyes, black eyes, like a doll’s eye. When he comes at ya, doesn’t seem to be livin’. Until he bites ya and those black eyes roll over white. And then, ah then you hear that terrible high-pitch screamin’ and the ocean turns red and in spite of all the poundin’ and the hollerin’ they all come in and rip you to pieces. Y’know by the end of that first dawn, lost 100 men. I don’t know how many sharks, maybe 1,000. I don’t know how many men, they averaged six an hour. On Thursday mornin’, Chief, I bumped into a friend of mine, Herbie Robinson from Cleveland. Baseball player, bo’sun’s mate. I thought he was asleep, reached over to wake him up. Bobbed up and down in the water, just like a kinda top. Up ended. Well ... he’d been bitten in half below the waist. Noon the fifth day, Mr. Hooper, a Lockheed Ventura saw us, he swung in low and he saw us. He’d a young pilot, a lot younger than Mr. Hooper, anyway he saw us and come in low. And three hours later a big fat PBY comes down and start to pick us up. You know that was the time I was most frightened? Waitin’ for my turn. I’ll never put on a life jacket again. So, 1,100 men went in the water, 316 men come out, the sharks took the rest. Anyway, we delivered the bomb.”
-- Captain Quint, “Jaws”

The USS Indianapolis, as she looked in 1937, prior to World War II

image


Further Reading:
The Official Site Of The USS Indianapolis, CA-35
The US Navy Historical Center: The Sinking Of The USS Indianapolis
The Discovery Channel: Search For The USS Indianapolis
“In Harms Way” by Doug Stanton


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Posted by The Skipper   United States  on 07/31/2005 at 09:04 AM   
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