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Under Water Warfare The Struggle Against the Submarine Menace 1939 -1945
The Sinking of the U.S. Cruiser Indianapolis

The Sinking of the U.S. Cruiser "Indianapolis."
The U.S.S. "Indianapolis" with Captain C.B.McVay. U.S.N. in command, had transported the heavy sections of the two "Atom Bombs" from the United States to Tinian in the Marianas. It was from this base that the B29 took off to drop the first bomb on Hiroshima.

The Japanese Submarine I58, commanded by Lieutenant. Commander. Hashimoto, was on patrol, on the 29th. of July 1945, at 2308 (11.08 P.M. ) whilst in the area of the intersection of the Leyte- Guam- Palau- and Okinawa routes., he sighted a blacked out ship, which turned out to be the "Indianapolis".

A salvo of 6 Torpedoes was prepared, with a half moon behind him, and at a range of 1,500 yards, Hashimoto fired his 6 Fish and scored 3 hits.

I58 deep-dived to reload her Torpedoes, and returned to periscope depth to find absolutelynothing. Subsequently her Captain learned that Captain MecVay, and 315 of his crew had eventually been rescued, out of a total ship's company of 1199 men. It is interesting that Blair, in his book "Silent Victory" reports that "Indianapolis" was sunk on the 30th of July by either Torpedoes, or by Kaitens launched from I58, whereas tIe Captain of I58 states he did not make use of the Human Torpedoes he carried, much to their disappointment, and that he fired all his Torpedoes before midnight on the night of the 29th of July.

Although the report of I58's sinking of the "Indianapolis" had been read by US authorities, no credence was given to it. No one in the Philippines really noticed that the "Indianapolis" had not turned up - as a result, survivors had to wait 84 hours before they were sighted by a routine Navy Patrol Aircraft.

As it turned out, the "Indianapolis" was the last U S ship to be sunk in the war, and the last victim of the almost extinct Imperial Japanese Navy.

Hashimoto, a veteran of the attack on Pearl Harbour, recalled later, on the day after this sinking of "lndianapolis" --- "We celebrated our haul of the previous day, with our favourite Rice with beans, Boiled Eels, and Corned Beef; (all of it tinned )"

The loss of "Indianapolis"
Fleet Admiral Chester W Nimitz, Commander in Chief U.S Pacific Fleet, and Pacific Ocean Areas on the 9th of August, 1945, ordered Vice Admiral Charles Lockwood, U S N to be President of a Court of Inquiry - his fellow members to be, Vice Admiral George Murray, U S N , Rear Admiral Francis Whiting, U S.N. with Captain William Hilbert, U S N as Judge Advocate.

Their orders were to inquire into all the circumstances connected with the sinking of the U S S "Indianapolis" (CA-35), and the delay in reporting the loss of that ship.

The closed door inquiry began on the 13th of August 1945. The next day, the public learned that this ship had been lost in the Philippine Sea as a result of enemy action, and that the next of kin had been notified. It so happened that at the same time, President Truman announced Japan's surrender. One most only believe, the timing of the loss of this Cruiser was designed to create the least possible waves.

This inquiry lasted one week, having interviewed 43 witnesses, the Court made several recommendatious, but the first one made headlines, namely that Captain Charles B McVay Ill, U.S.N. be brought to trial by General Court Martial on the following charges:

1. Culpable inneficiency in the performance of his duty under Article 8, Section 10.

Articles for the Government or the Navy.

2. Negligently endangering lives of others under Article 22. Articles for the Government of the Navy.

Nimitz did not agree with these recommendations, and ordered the Judge Advocate to address a Letter of Reprimand to Captain McVay in lieu of a Court Martial.

It is most unusual for an order of a Fleet Admiral to be countermanded, but on the 25th. of September, the Chief of Naval Operations, Ernest King, wrote to the Secretary of the Navy, Forrestal, saying he disagreed with Nimitz, and recommended that McVay be brought to trial by General Court Martial.

The Chief of Naval Personnel, Admiral Denfield, wrote to both King and Forrestal suggesting that the bringing of McVay to trial be witheld pending a supplemental investigation being conducted by the Inspector General of the Navy.

Admiral Ernest J. King

Admiral Ernest J. King

King supported Denfield's proposal to wait - and wrote accordingly to Forrestal on Saturday morning the 10th. of November, but, by that afternoon had changed his mind. The record discloses that King, as a junior officer, had served with McVay's father, who had reprimanded him. There was public pressure for responsibility for this debacle to be placed somewhere. We will never know why King so quickly did an about face on the 10th. of November, but, on the 12th., after Forrestal had agreed to hold up the Court Martial, he too, changed his mind, or it was changed by King, who that day wrote the following memo:

"The Secretary directs that General Court Martial of Commanding Officer "Indianapolis" be proceeded with at once - the G. C. M. ( General Court Martial) to comprise selected officers."

The die was cast to find a scape goat, and Captain. McVay, was in the box seat.

McVay's trial was due to start on the 3rd. of December. 1945, and just 4 days before, the Navy was still struggling to decide what charges to bring against him. Finally, on the 29th. of November, McVay was informed he would face a Court Martial on the following two charges.

1 "Through negligence suffering a vessel of the Navy to be hazarded. (the main thrust of this charge was that McVay had failed to cause a zig-zag course to be steered, and thus hazarded his command, the United States being in a state of war)

2. "Culpable inefficiency In the performance of his duty." (it was alleged that McVay took too long to order abandon ship, and by his inefficiency, many persons on board perished with the sinking of the ship, the United States then being in a state of war.)

The 29th~of November, was a Thursday, and McVay was only given until Monday morning to prepare his defence.

King also ordered that the Captain of the Japanese Submarine I58, Lieutenant Commander Iko Hashimoto, be found in Japan, and brought to Washington by the 1st of December as a Prosecution Witness. This was an unprecedented action, never before had a Naval Officer ( albeit an enemy one ) been used as a witness against the Captain of a shiphe had sunk. It appeared that King was really going for a kill.

After 123 working days, it was all over - the findings were, on

Charge 1. Proven, (that is, failure to zig-zag, but then MecVay had admitted prior to the Court Martial, that the "Indianapolis" was not zig-zagging at the time of the sinking.)

Charge 2. Not Guilty.

The Sentence. To lose 100 nunbers in his temporary grade of Captain- and to lose 100 numbers in his permanent grade of Commander. (this meant he slipped down the Captain's and Commander's list of seniority by 100 places.)

McVay, and his Naval career were ruined
The Court, in view of McVay's previous outstanding record and the fact that never before had a Commanding Officer who lost his ship by enemy action been Court Martialed recommanded clemency by the Reviewing Authority.

The Chief of Naval Personnel recommended to Forrestal that McVay's sentence be remitted and that he be returned to duty, but Forrestal did not wish to make a unilateral decision, and asked King for his opinion. King, I believe, having done the damage, now concurred with the Chief of Naval Personnel that McVay be restored to duty, having his sentence remitted

The farce was finally over, but Captain McVay had to live with this stigma imposed upon him, and the general public considered him responsible for the loss of the "lndianapolis"

McVay was appointed Chief of Staff and Aide to the Commandant, Eighth Naval District, and Commander of the Gulf Sea Frontier, in New Orleans.

He served 3 years- was placed on the retired list as a Rear Admiral on the 30th. of June, 1949.

In retirement, he lived at Litchfield, in Connecticut until, on the 6th. of November, l968, when McVay finally took his own life, shooting himself in the head with a .38 revolver. His gardener, Al Dudley, found him on the front lawn, with his Labrador dog beside him. This sorry episode was finally closed, and the "Indianapolis" had claimed another victim.

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