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Sinking of the USS Indianapolis: July 30, 1945

In the early morning of July 30, 1945, the USS Indianapolis, on its way from Guam to the Philippines, was struck by two torpedoes fired by a Japanese submarineFold3 Image - First page of summary of USS Indianapolis's service and quickly sank, resulting in the largest loss of life at sea in U.S. Navy history.

On July 16, the Indianapolis, a cruiser, left San Francisco headed for the island of Tinian in the Marianas. On board was a secret cargo that included parts to be used in the atomic bombs that would be dropped on Japan. Having received repairs in San Francisco for damage done by a kamikaze attack, the Indianapolis made record time to Tinian, then headed for the Philippines by way of Guam.

Forced to sail without an escort—and uninformed that there was a likelihood of Japanese subs in the area—the Indianapolis generally maintained the mandated zigzagging course, except on the night of the 29–30, when visibility was poor.

Just after midnight, in the early morning of the 30th, 300 miles from the closest land, the Indianapolis was hit by two torpedoes from a Japanese sub. After the extent of the damage to the ship became clear, the commander, Charles McVay III, gave the orders to send out distress signals and abandon ship.

The ship sank fast, going under in 12 minutes. The speed at which it sank meant that about 300 men of the crew of nearly 1,200 went down with the ship; the remaining roughly 900 made it into the water. Although about half of the men had life jackets and 12 of the ship’s 35 life rafts (as well as some floater nets) were deployed, many men drowned or died of injuries, dehydration, or exposure while they were in the water. Others were killed in attacks by the sharks that swarmed the area.

Fold3 Image - Rescue of the men of the USS Indianapolis
The men were in the water for four days, since the Navy had not found it remarkable that the Indianapolis had not arrived to the Philippines on time and did not know to look for them. Finally, on the afternoon of August 2, the men were noticed by chance by an American patrol plane that observed first the oil slick, then the men in the water. Once the men of the Indianapolis were spotted, a rescue effort was launched, but the length of time since the sinking meant that when the last man was pulled from the ocean on August 3, only 317 men had survived.

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132 Comments

  1. Our Community of Broomfield, Colorado saw the passing of local hero and Indianapolis Survivor Paul Murphy just this past Feb. He was a special and active part of our community and will be missed.

  2. The commonly accepted number of seamen, officers and Marines who were among the ship’s complement of the Indy at the time of her sinking on July 30, 1945, is 1196. The well-sourced, published list for which I previously provided a link includes the names of 39 Marines and 1157 officers and seamen of the U.S. Navy, for a total of 1196 men (by my recent count, which I only performed once, without repeating).

    I now again post the foregoing link: http://www.indysurvivor.com/categories/128EA17D-E73B-9BD5-96F9B3EB5EA5D2D0/the_final_crew.html

    To all these men I give my profound thanks and all due honor.

    And my highest respect and regards to all who hold them in their memory and hearts.

    From a long-retired U.S. Army officer.

    • Thank you for your service. My husband is a long retired U.S. Army SFC. and I personally thank you for keeping my family safe.

    • thank you Donald, much appreciated for your service and this link

  3. A complete and moving account of this tragedy is contained in a book, Ordeal by Sea, written by Thomas Helm in 1963. Dodd, Mead & Company is the publisher, and the Library of Congress card number is 63-14375. My father’s first cousin, Lieut. R. Adrian Marks, was commander of the PBY that landed beside the survivors and pulled 56 men onto its wings. The final sailing list for the U.S.S. Indianapolis is listed in the book’s Appendix.

  4. My thanks to all who serve/served and my profound love and respect for all who have perished serving our country. Just know that you are not forgotten and while you may be unknown personally to myself, I love you beyond words just the same.

  5. One of the saddest footnotes to this disaster is the conduct of the U.S. Navy for immediately deciding to court martial Captain McVay. The most unforgivable thing they did, I think, was to have the enemy Sub Commander, Mochitura Hashimoto, testify against McVay at his court martial. Monday morning quarterbacks with insufficient information making decisions makes me a bit nauseous. Unfortunately, Captain McVay took his own life in the 1960’s. I can only imagine how the loss of so many shipmates must have haunted him the rest of his life.

    • I don’t understand what other choice he had

    • as far as I know, Hashimoto’s postwar testimony – to the effect that he had a perfect firing solution on the Indianapolis, and would have hit her whether or not the ship had been zig-zagging – favored McVey. Brotherhood of the Sea and all that. Had I been c/o of the Indianapolis, irrespective of information about Jap submarines, I would have been zig-zagging like a scared rabbit. The greater delinquency is, however, the USN’s: for having no overall system in place to track ships and report when overdue

  6. The US NAVAL INSTITUTE PHOTO COLLECTION has the photos taken by USS INDIANAPOLIS (CA35) official Navy photographer Alfred Joseph Sedivi, Photo Mate 1c. Part of Sedivi’s collection, over 1,600 photos, were donated 3 years ago to the Naval Institute and most can be seen on their web site. NAVAL HISTORY MAGAZINE has also featured several articles on the INDIANAPOLIS, most recently in their June, 2016 issue. The August 2014 issue features photos from the collection and a bio on Sedivi and his collection. Alfred Sedivi went down with the ship, in his lab, developing photos.
    The Naval Institute also has a traveling exhibit of a select number of Sedivi’s photographs which is available to museums. The collection includes life on the ship from 1942 to 3 days before the sinking: combat photos, recon photos of the Pacific islands, how the crew worked, lived, prayed and played – 24/7.

  7. There is a great book called “all the drowned sailors” written by Ray Lech. around the early 1980’s ?

  8. Frankly, I don’t remember ever hearing about the Indianapolis either during the war or after.
    In WWII I served from June 1942 to Dec 21, 1945. Except for boot camp I served
    aboard the USS Mervine DD 489. We crossed the Atlantic Ocean 32 times (16 over and 16 back). We were in the invasion of North Africa and Sicily.
    We escorted Battleships (Texas, Massachusetts and N Y) and several Cruisers
    including The Philadelphia and Boston.
    I don’t have a clue about the Indianapolis but it boggles my mind that she took sail
    without Destroyer escort. As a matter of fact on July 16 the Mervine was in New York getting ready for duty in the Pacific. We were in the Panama Canal on Aug 15
    when the Japs surrendered. If the Captain took the Indianapolis out without escort,
    I think that was wrong.
    A tragic loss many brave men.

    • John, the USS INDIANAPOLIS (CA 35) earned 10 battle stars in the Pacific and in the Aleutians during WW!! from 1942 – 1945. She was the Flag Ship of the Pacific Fleet under Admiral Nimitz and Admiral Spruance until Admiral Spruance removed his staff after the Kamikaze attach in the battle of Okinawa, March 30th, 1945. She returned to California for repairs and was assigned the ill fated task of delivering the A Bomb to Tinian. Fortunately, she was not torpedoed and sunk until after that task had been carried out or all hands might have been lost. Before WWII, the INDIANAPOLIS had been the Ship of State for a time for President Franklin Roosevelt, where he received his Neptune’s Crossing initiation. The Hyde Park Museum has photos of FDR on Board the INDIANAPOLIS.

    • They were without escort because it was a top secret mission. Same reason no one noticed that they didn’t port: There was no log of their arrivals or departures for this mission due to its sensitivity. They were en route to observe the A-Bomb (for which they had delivered parts) drop… still part of the top secret mission.

      It was due to this top secret nature that no one noticed their absence. I can assure you it’s not because it was found ‘unremarkable’ as this blog states.

    • As a military person, surely you understand that when you are given orders, you obey. You don’t second guess the brass and you certainly don’t refuse! I wonder if the Captain had continued to zigzag and had hit something, would he still have been court martialed? If he’d had escort (which was not his call), would he have been court martialed? I feel that he did the best he could by his men, but what about the person(s) that gave those orders that sent them out without escort? Still getting that brass retirement pay? My heart cries for each and every one that was lost, but it bleeds for those that survived. Peace does not come easily for those that physically “made it”.

    • This is so true. I’ll bet good money that Mcvay did only what he was told to do. In the Pacific there were many shoals and reefs that were in charted that a ship could be put upon due to current changes or other unexpected weather changes . Some like an El Niño effects could certainly put a ship without GPS (non-existant at the time) into a different location than expected. With the lack of visibility that was occurring that day could have certainly driven the Indianapolis IN to another ship or vice versa. This did happen a lot during the war. As a final word on whether the lack of zigzagging had any effect in the sinking, the court martial board called the Japanese submarine Commander Hashimoto (brought in from Japan after the war) on to the witness stand and asked him if the lack of zigzagging had any effect in the sinking. Hashimoto said no it wouldn’t have made no difference to him he. He still would have been able to sink the Indianapolis since when a ship is zigzagging it does not make as much forward progress so all Hashimoto would have had to do was parallel the course for a while and be waiting for the ship to be put in his sites.

    • Yes, you are right. When given an order you have to follow through with it even though you agree with or do not agree with it.
      Yes, what about the Brass? I just wonder in the back of my mine, with the survivors, did they make a report about it? If they did, what was done, if anything about it.
      Was there a hearing? If so, was the big brass acquitted? I do not know if we will ever know about it.

    • Some of the escorts were sunk in Typhoon Cobra.
      Bill Huffman
      I was aboard SubChaser733. We servived. We were 110ft long & all wood. I have pictures of the SC, lut.jg our Captain & the Cook that didn’t read nor right, but he was a great Cook.
      [email protected].
      Wenatchee Washington 98801

  9. I was a boy of 12 when the war ended and had built a model of the USS Indianapolis which sat on my desk all during the war. While I was an avid reader of two daily newspapers during the war, I was disappointed in rarely seeing any news about my favorite cruiser.
    As I best recall, it was probably in the 1950’s that I learned the whole story of the fate of the Indianapolis and a thousand sailors that went into the ocean for four days.

  10. This indeed is a tragic story, and all thanks, and honor due to these brave men. My uncle, Lt. Densmore Collins went down on the USS Reid, in Leyte Bay, and our family still mourns his loss. Our heartfelt sympathies to the families of those who perished on the Indianapolis.

  11. My uncle, Calvin Seamands, was serving on the Hilandia who was assigned to bring the survivors of the Indianapolis tragedy from Guam to Hawaii to continue their recovery. The patients often sat on the deck sunning themselves and resting. One day, my uncle was walking out on the deck when he heard someone call his name. He turned and saw that it was one of the survivors calling to him. As they talked, they realized that they had played basketball against each other in high school. Now these two boys each came from a small town in Nebraska (Population approximately 350) about 30 miles apart. How ironic that these two sailors came together in te middle of the Pacific Ocean to remember better times and, for a few minutes, escape the horror of war.

  12. Fiancées’ great uncle was on the Indianapolis, he was a survivor. From the stories I heard, that wasn’t s good thing for him. The protestors wanting free stuff have no idea the price pre-paid for them….. I had the opportunity to hold his service medals, and explain what had happened to these men. Brought tears to my eyes. Very moving.

  13. The movie Jaws grew out of the stories of this sinking. An eleven-year old Florida school boy named Hunter Scott saw the movie, in which Quint retold the story of the USS Indianapolis. With his parent’s encouragement he read about the subject and entered his school History Day competition in 1997. He interviewed survivors, read original material, became convinced the captain was wrongly court-marshialled. The next year, along with the survivors organization (who had been trying to clear McVay’s name) he presented detailed information before a Congressional committee asking for a reversal of McVay’s conviction. Scott’s work, along with that of the Idianapolis survivors, succeeded and a resolution exonerating the Captain was passed by Congress and signed by Clinton in 2000.

  14. So tragic that so may perished. I can’t begin to imagine what they endured. I pray the day will come when there will be no more wars.

  15. What is really tragic, is that distress signals were ignored.

    The troop transport BUCKINGHAM , at the time INDIANAPOLIS was struck – was 60 miles away and heading in the direction of the sinking ship. Two hours later BUCKNGHAM was 40 miles away. These distances were calculated by the BUCKINGHAM officers after news of the INDIANAPOLIS sinking broke out.

    Perhaps…by 5 or 6 AM, the ship was how close to INDIANAPOLIS ?

    My Papa, a Boat Officer on the BUCKINGHAM, was standing watch that night. He told me, weather wise, it was the darkest night he ever saw at sea. Meaning, you could not see anything out there over the ocean.

    As to the signals…I was told by a Coxswain who was on BUCKINGHAM , that the Captain was jittery and thought the signals were a Japanese trick.

  16. My grandfather, Ralph Ellis Underwood, was one of the survivors. My 15 yr old son, Graeme, found a book on the floor of his classroom at school. The name is
    LEFT FOR DEAD, A Young Man’s Search for Justice for the USS Indianapolis

    This book chronicles a 12 yr old boy, Hunter Scott, curiosity into the sinking of this ship. Hunter ends up interviewing the last hundred or so survivors and inadvertently starts a process of healing for all generations involved. It’s a must read! I’ve posted a picture of the book and the trailer to the movie starring Nicolas Cage as McVay, coming out November 11, 2016.

    http://www.facebook.com/kerriunderwoodhorton

    • this link isn’t working….but the two links I was trying to post are posted below by Donald…..thank Donald!

  17. For those folks who still have enough interest in the Indy to continue monitoring this thread, I now provide a link to a 4-minute YouTube video of Robert Shaw’s mesmerizing monologue from the movie Jaws about the tragic ordeal of the men coping with the sharks. Although there are a few details that are not quite right, the piece is chilling, given it is mostly true. (BTW, the video may begin with a brief advertisement.)

    Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u9S41Kplsbs

  18. And here is a link to a 3-minute YouTube video having the trailer for the upcoming movie about the Indy starring Nicholas Cage. (Again, there will be a brief advertisement at the beginning):

  19. i am english and have always known the story of the indianappolis and am proud that my nans cousin ALLEN CHARLES STRICH WO2 and a radioman 2nd class served and died on her.we do not know if he was killed in the torpedo attack or in the water.during th e war there was a three way correspondence between my nan and her family in the US and Australia.all famillies fought but sadly on the US side cousins were killed at PEARL HARBOR andTARAWA but we have no details of them but a post war letter mentioned ALLEN and HIS cousin LYLE who was killed at vella levellas in the solomons .we had dates of death their mothers names and grandp;arents but no surnames.luckily thanks to the indianapplois forum and the us military attache in London i have confirmed that Allens surname was streich and lyles was Weidner as was our cousin Ralph who stayed with the family while flying in the 8th Air force.We are and have always been proud of them.the letter from Allens aunt gertrude stated that Allen had been in 10 major actions and on his last leave prior to sailing to Tinian had a premonition that he wouldnt return.his father also drowned accidentally on 15 jun 1947 in mishawaka indiana. the families lost contact in the 1950’s but i have traced our australian family but sadly cannot contact the streichs or weidners.the saddest thing is our cousin GERTRUDE GEHIKE gave us all the info that helped us trace Allen and Lyle,and who gave us allher details including addresses and dates of birth for herselfher husband and her children cant be traced outside of the 1920 chicago census.if anyone could put me in touch with her children rex who joined the US COAST GUARD in 1948,ruth,george and mary louise i would be deeply grateful and can fill them in on their English roots.also if Ralph Weidner has any surviving relatives it would be great to hear from them.please contact me JOHN KENNEDY on [email protected].

  20. Read “In Harms Way”. Solid account of the Indianapolis & her crew; before during & after the sinking. You won’t put it down. On a footnote. In the movie Jaws Quint played by legendary actor Robert Shaw erroneously gives the date of the sinking as June 29, 1945. “Anyway…… We delivered the bomb”