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World War II: USS Indianapolis

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World War II: USS Indianapolis

USS Indianapolis off Mare Island, CA, July 10, 1945

Photograph Courtesy of the US Naval Historical Center

USS Indianapolis - Overview:

  • Nation: United States
  • Type: Portland-class heavy cruiser
  • Shipyard: New York Shipbuilding Co.
  • Laid Down: March 31, 1930
  • Launched: November 7, 1931
  • Commissioned: November 15, 1932
  • Fate: Sunk July 30, 1945 by I-58

Specifications:

  • Displacement: 33,410 tons
  • Length: 639 ft., 5 in.
  • Beam: 90 ft. 6 in.
  • Draft:: 30 ft. 6 in.
  • Propulsion: 8 White-Foster boilers, single reduction geared turbines
  • Speed: 32.7 knots
  • Complement: 1,269 (wartime)

Armament:

Guns

  • 8 x 8-inch (3 turrets with 3 guns each)
  • 8 x 5-inch guns

Aircraft

  • 2 x OS2U Kingfishers

USS Indianapolis - Construction:

Laid down on March 31, 1930, USS Indianapolis (CA-35) was the second of two Portland-class built by the US Navy. An improved version of the earlier Northampton-class, the Portlands were slightly heavier and mounted a larger number of 5-inch guns. Built at the New York Shipbuilding Company in Camden, NJ, Indianapolis was launched on November 7, 1931. Commissioned at the Philadelphia Navy Yard the following November, Indianapolis departed for its shakedown cruise in the Atlantic and Caribbean. Returning in February 1932, the cruiser underwent a minor refit before sailing to Maine.

USS Indianapolis - Prewar Operations:

Embarking President Franklin Roosevelt at Campobello Island, Indianapolis steamed to Annapolis, MD where the ship entertained members of the cabinet. That September Secretary of the Navy Claude A. Swanson came aboard and used the cruiser for an inspection tour of installations in the Pacific. After participating in a number of fleet problems and training exercises, Indianapolis again embarked the President for a "Good Neighbor" Tour of South America in November 1936. Arriving home, the cruiser was dispatched to the West Coast for service with the US Pacific Fleet.

USS Indianapolis - World War II:

On December 7, 1941, as the Japanese were attacking Pearl Harbor, Indianapolis was conducting fire training off Johnston Island. Racing back to Hawaii, the cruiser immediately joined Task Force 11 to search for the enemy. In early 1942, Indianapolis sailed with the carrier USS Lexington and conducted raids in Southwest Pacific against Japanese bases on New Guinea. Ordered to Mare Island, CA for an overhaul, the cruiser returned to action that summer and joined US forces operating in the Aleutians. On August 7, 1942, Indianapolis joined in the bombardment of Japanese positions on Kiska.

Remaining in northern waters, the cruiser sank the Japanese cargo ship Akagane Maru on February 19, 1943. That May, Indianapolis supported US troops as they recaptured Attu. It fulfilled a similar mission in August during the landings on Kiska. Following another refit at Mare Island, Indianapolis arrived at Pearl Harbor and was made flagship of Vice Admiral Raymond Spruance's 5th Fleet. In this role, it sailed as part of Operation Galvanic on November 10, 1943. Nine days later, it provided fire support as US Marines prepared to land on Tarawa.

Following the US advance across the central Pacific, Indianapolis saw action off Kwajalein and supported US air strikes across the western Carolines. In June 1944, the 5th Fleet provided support for the invasion of the Marianas. On June 13, the cruiser opened fire on Saipan before being dispatched to attack Iwo Jima and Chichi Jima. Returning, the cruiser took part in the Battle of the Philippine Sea on June 19, before resuming operations around Saipan. As the battle in the Marianas wound down, Indianapolis was sent to aid in the invasion of Peleliu that September.

After brief refit at Mare Island, the cruiser joined Vice Admiral Marc A. Mitscher's fast carrier task force on February 14, 1945, shortly before it attacked Tokyo. Steaming south, they aided in the landings on Iwo Jima while continuing to attack the Japanese home islands. On March 24, 1945, Indianapolis took part in the preinvasion bombardment of Okinawa. A week later, the cruiser was hit by kamikaze while off the island. Hitting Indianapolis' stern, the kamikaze's bomb penetrated through the ship and exploded in the water underneath. After making temporary repairs, the cruiser limped home to Mare Island.

Entering the yard, the cruiser underwent extensive repair to the damage. Emerging in July 1945, the ship was tasked with the secret mission of carrying the parts for the atomic bomb to Tinian in the Marianas. Departing on July 16, and steaming at high speed, Indianapolis made record time covering 5,000 miles in ten days. Unloading the components, the ship received orders to proceed to Leyte in the Philippine and then on to Okinawa. Leaving Guam on July 28, and sailing unescorted on a direct course, Indianapolis crossed paths with the Japanese submarine I-58 two days later. Opening fire around 12:15 AM on July 30, I-58 hit Indianapolis with two torpedoes on its starboard side. Critically damaged, the cruiser sank in twelve minutes forcing around 880 survivors into the water.

Due to the rapidity of the ship's sinking, few life rafts were able to be launched and most of the men had only lifejackets. As the ship was operating on a secret mission, no notification had been sent to Leyte alerting them that Indianapolis was en route. As a result, it was not reported as overdue. Though three SOS messages were sent before the ship sank, they were not acted on for various reasons. For the next four days, Indianapolis' surviving crew endured dehydration, starvation, exposure, and terrifying shark attacks. Around 10:25 AM on August 2, the survivors were spotted by a US aircraft conducting a routine patrol. Dropping a radio and life raft, the aircraft reported its position and all possible units were dispatched to the scene. Of the approximately 880 men who went into the water, only 321 were rescued with four of those later dying from their wounds.

Among the survivors was Indianapolis' commanding officer, Captain Charles Butler McVay III. After the rescue, McVay was court-martialed and convicted for failing to follow an evasive, zig-zag course. Due to evidence that the Navy had put the ship in danger and the testimony of Commander Mochitsura Hashimoto, I-58's captain, which stated that an evasive course would not have mattered, Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz remitted McVay's conviction and restored him to active duty. Despite this, many of the crewmembers' families blamed him for the sinking and he later committed suicide in 1968.

Selected Sources

  1. About.com
  2. Education
  3. Military History
  4. Naval Warfare
  5. Ship Profiles
  6. World War II
  7. USS Indianapolis - World War II USS Indianapolis - Atom Bomb

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