REPORT FROM THE DEPARTMENT OF THE NAVY, NAVAL HISTORICAL CENTER
THE USS INDIANAPOLIS (CA-35)
An estimated 300 men were killed upon impact; close to 900 sailors were cast into the Pacific Ocean, where they remained, undetected by the Navy, for nearly five days. Battered by a savage sea, they struggled to survive, fighting off hyperthermia, sharks, physical and mental exhaustion, and, finally, hallucinatory dementia. By the time rescue-which was purely accidental-arrived, all but 321 men had lost their lives; 4 more would die in military hospitals shortly thereafter.
The captain's subsequent and highly unusual court-martial left many questions unanswered: How did the Navy fail to realize the Indianapolis was missing? Why was the cruiser traveling unescorted in enemy waters? And perhaps most amazing of all, how did these 317 men manage to survive?
JAPANESE SUBMARINE I-58
I-58, a 2140-ton "B(3) Type" submarine, was built at Yokosuka, Japan. Completed in September 1944, she was modified in 1945 to carry the "KAITEN" manned torpedo. On 30 July 1945, while operating between the Marianas and the Philippines, she encountered the U.S. heavy cruiser INDIANAPOLIS and sank her with conventional torpedoes. I-58 was surrendered at the end of World War II, and was scuttled off GOTO, Japan, on 1 April 1946.
JAPANESE SUBMARINE I-58
CAPTAIN CHARLES BUTLER McVAY III
The following is the personal opinion of the writer and presents his view of what happened in the USS Indianapolis tragedy.
The 1945 sinking of the armored cruiser USS Indianapolis by the Imperial Japanese Submarine I-58 has been called the last great Naval tragedy of World War II.
The war was over, and the big news in all the newspapers was the sinking of the warship, and most blamed the Captain for putting the ship " in harms way". But someone had to take the blame, and McVay seemed to be the likely one. The Navy saw it was obvious the public at large would never give up, so an announcement was made that Captain McVay would face a court martial. The notice appeared on the front page of most newspapers. The Navy was convinced that McVay was to blame, and announced that it would bring the enemy Sub Commander who had actually sunk the Indianapolis to Washington to testify. This was an unprecedented procedure.
THE COURT MARTIAL
COURT MARTIAL FINDING
In the end the court found Captain McVay guilty of the charge "Through Negligence Suffering A Vessel Of The Navy To Be Hazarded". Since all communications were inoperative he was not found guilty of the "Abandon Ship" command. It is still not known if or to whom the order was given.The hearings continued and charges and counter charges were filed. McVay admitted that he was 100 % responsible for the tragedy. The argument was strong that a Commander should be court martialed for a failing that results in members of his crew being injured or killed. Captain McVay was the son of an Admiral, a second generation Naval Academy graduate, and he knew very well his responsibilities. He said, "I was in command of the ship and I am responsible for it's fate."In his Court Martial he testified," I know I cannot shirk the responsibility of command." The jury gave McVay a light sentence. He did not get demoted as commonly thought he would be. He was merely set back in line for promotion. However his career was sufficiently tarnished that he felt compelled to retire in 1949, with a promotion to Rear Admiral, consistent with the practice of the day. He never stopped receiving hate mail from relatives of sailors killed in the sinking. His conviction rendered him not only legally culpable for their deaths, but a felon as well. His wife died of cancer, leaving him a lonely defeated man. He was never the same again. On 6 November 1968 he dressed in his best Navy uniform, walked onto his front porch, put the barrel of a handgun in his mouth, and pulled the trigger. His service record would continue to list him as a felon.
NAVY EXONERATES CAPTAIN OF THE USS INDIANAPOLIS
The story finally comes to an end. When the above headlines appeared in all the newspapers there were many who felt, and still feel that an injustice had been done and that McVay was guilty and had a fair trial. Others considered that he was absolutely not guilty of anything. As the years pass I am sure that none of these people will change their mind, so his guilt or innocence will remain a matter of personal opinion. This latest newspaper article will serve as the final word on the subject, and like the entire story this article too will become an extension to the controversy.
Captain Charles Butler McVay III, who was court-martialed decades ago for failing to evade the Japanese submarine that sank the Indianapolis, committed suicide 33 years ago. His son, Kimo Eilder McVay, fought for years to clear his father's record. The younger McVay died two weeks ago.
A directive from Navy Secretary Gordon England orders a document exonerating the elder McVay to be placed in his file, Cmdr. Greg Smith. Director of the Navy's media operations in Washington, said Thursday.
"This comes as a complete surprise to all the survivors and me, though I think there was always the hope that it would happen," said Doug Stanton, who spent 18 months interviewing dozens of survivors and researching Navy documents and trial records for his book, "In Harms Way." "it's the right thing to do and should have been done."
The order follows a congressional resolution signed into law last fall by President Clinton that changes McVay's record to show he is exonerated to award the ship and crew a Navy Unit Commendation.
The Navy had refused to lift the conviction from McVay's record, saying he got a fair trial.
Survivors were grateful for the news. " I was overjoyed" Giles McCoy said Thursday. "I've been working on trying to get him exonerated since 1964. He was not guilty of anything except the misfortune of war."
The heavy cruiser sank after being torpedoed by a Japanese submarine in July 1945, near the close of World War II. The ship had just delivered atomic bomb parts at the island of Tinian, where the Enola Gay would later take off for its run over Hiroshima.
Only 315 of the 1,196 men aboard survived the attack and subsequent five-day ordeal adrift at sea, making for the worst sea disaster in U.S. Naval history. Many died from dehydration, drowning or shark attacks. The ships radio was knocked out and the sinking went unnoticed for four days and five nights.
McVay was convicted in February 1946 of "suffering a vessel to be hazarded through negligence," but he remained on active duty until his mandatory retirement in June 1949. He used his Navy pistol to commit suicide in November 1968 at his home in Litchfield, Conn.
Survivor Giles McCoy, 76, of Palm Coast, Florida, said he first broached the idea of an exoneration to McVay at the survivor's first reunion in Indianapolis in 1960 but the captain told him not to pursue it. McVay gave the go-ahead four years later but said he doubted the Navy would agree. He was right, the Navy never did agree. It was the Congressional Resolution that President Clinton signed into law that exonerated McVay.
More USS Indianapolis pictures here