While the Indianapolis sent distress calls before sinking, the Navy long claimed that they were never received because the ship was operating under a policy of radio silence; declassified records show that three SOS messages were received separately, but none were acted upon because one commander was drunk, another had ordered his men not to disturb him and a third thought it was a Japanese prank.
The subsequent delay of the rescue mission led to the loss of hundreds of sailors. About 300 of the 1,196 men on board died in the attack. The rest of the crew, 880 men, floated in the water without lifeboats until the rescue was completed four days later. Three hundred and twenty-one crew came out of the water alive, with 317 ultimately surviving. They suffered from lack of food and water, exposure to the elements, severe desquamation, and shark attacks. The Discovery Channel has stated that the Indianapolis sinking resulted in the most shark attacks on humans in history, and attributes the attacks to the oceanic whitetip shark species. The same show attributed most of the deaths on the Indianapolis to exposure, salt poisoning and thirst, with the dead being dragged off by sharks.
Immediately prior to the attack, the seas had been moderate; the visibility fluctuating but poor in general; Indianapolis had been steaming at 17 knots (31 km/h). When the ship did not reach Leyte on the 31st, as scheduled, no report was made that she was overdue. This omission was due to a misunderstanding of the Movement Report System. Thus it was not until 10:25 on August 2 that the survivors were accidentally sighted by pilot Lieutenant Wilber (Chuck) Gwinn and copilot Lieutenant Warren Colwell on a routine patrol flight. The survivors were mostly held afloat by life jackets, although there were a few rafts which had been cut loose before the ship went down. Gwinn immediately dropped a life raft and a radio transmitter. All air and surface units capable of rescue operations were dispatched to the scene at once.
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 escort USS Cecil J. Doyle (DE-368) and alerted her captain, future U.S. Secretary of the Navy W. Graham Claytor, Jr., of the emergency. On his own authority, Claytor 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. When the plane’s fuselage was full, survivors were tied to the wings with parachute cord, damaging the wings so that the plane would never fly again and had to be sunk. 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, Captain Claytor 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 rescuers had arrived.
Destroyers USS Helm (DD-388), USS Madison (DD-425) and USS Ralph Talbot (DD-390) were ordered to the rescue scene from Ulithi, along with the destroyer escort USS Dufilho (DE-423) plus attack transports USS Bassett (APD-73) and USS Ringness (LPR-100) from the Philippine Frontier. They searched thoroughly for any survivors until August 8. Of the 900 sailors who made it into the water, only 317 were pulled out 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.
Captain Charles Butler McVay III, who had commanded Indianapolis since November 1944, survived the sinking, and was with those rescued days later. In November 1945, he was court-martialed and convicted of "hazarding his ship by failing to zigzag." Several things about the court-martial were controversial. There was evidence that the Navy itself had placed the ship in harm’s way, in that McVay’s orders were to "zigzag at his discretion, weather permitting." Further, Mochitsura Hashimoto, commander of I-58, testified that zigzagging would have made no difference.
Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz remitted McVay’s sentence and restored him to active duty. McVay retired in 1949. While many of the Indianapolis survivors said McVay was not to blame for the sinking, the families of some of the men who died did. The guilt that was placed on his shoulders mounted until he committed suicide in 1968.
The exact location of the Indianapolis is unknown. In July and August 2001 an expedition sought to find the wreckage through the use of side-scan sonar and underwater cameras mounted on a remotely operated vehicle; four Indianapolis survivors accompanied the expedition, which was not successful. In June 2005, a second expedition was led to find the wreck; National Geographic covered the story and released it in July. Submersibles were launched to find any sign of wreckage. The only things ever found—which have not been confirmed to have belonged to the Indianapolis—were many chunks of metal found in the area of the reported sinking position (this was included in the National Geographic program Finding of the USS Indianapolis).
Many have claimed that the Indianapolis cannot be found. She was carrying quite a few explosives on board and was reported to have gone down burning. Many believe that she perhaps exploded after sinking beneath the waves. On top of this, the area in which she sank has some of the deepest spots in the world. The expedition led in 2005 found no actual bulk of the wreck, no deckhouses, turrets, or hull. This has not discouraged some shipwreck hunters who are bent on finding one of World War II’s most famous ships.
Well……..! After That!! (Sorry but I had to post it!!), at least one more Moody Blues song!! Thinking……………………!
Wait!!! I have to play this one!! ’10 CC’!! Obscure (One hit wonder!) , but I LOVE it and after all, it’s my space!! Right?? LOVE THIS!!!!!!!!!!! BTW! The background vocalists?? Justin Hayward and John Lodge from the Moody Blues!! Both LEAD SINGERS!!!
Interesting!! Amatuer musicologist that I am!! LISTEN!!