Success and Tragedy:

The Final Mission of the USS Indianapolis

and the Men Involved

 Douglas R. Wolf

Senior Seminar paper - Franklin College, Franklin, Indiana
December 5, 2002 - (A- Grade)
footnotes and Bibliography listed at end of writing

* * * * ALL RIGHTS RESERVED * * * *
Permission to reprint this personal writing,
in any form or media, in part or whole,
with full credit given to Douglas R. Wolf,
must be obtained from Doug Wolf, who can be reached by E-mailing his father.
Also, any correspondence received for the author will be forwarded onto him.
    On July 30, 1945, 1,196 men were on board the USS Indianapolis while venturing on a daring mission that determined the tragic fate of approximately 800 men. The ship’s mission was the first in a series of sequential events that helped to bring about the end of World War II.  The Indianapolis left San Francisco with orders to sail to Tinian Island, in the Philippines, where it dropped off certain components needed for the first atomic bomb that later was exploded at Hiroshima in Japan.  Unfortunately, its journey to Guam from Leyte was cut short by an attack from the Japanese sub I-58 that sunk the Indianapolis after it fired a series of torpedoes that ended in direct hits.

    There were only 316 survivors after three to four days of starvation, dehydration, and shark bites.  One of those survivors, Captain Charles Butler McVay III, was blamed for the horrible destruction of the Indianapolis and its crew.  Why was he blamed for the loss of life? Was he the only man accused of making mistakes that changed the future of so many?

    Warning signs were evident everywhere from the time the Indianapolis left Guam until it was hit by Japanese torpedoes.  There were also many different men involved with the ship’s whereabouts, its orders, and direct verbal contact with those in charge of communications.  These men had important roles in the success of this particular mission, having responsibilities for carrying out specific duties.  There is little room for error when dealing with a high priority mission of this caliber.

    As decisions were made, problems surfaced that revealed many signs of potential disaster and, thus, the eventual outcome for this magnificent vessel.  These navy men played a crucial role in the drama of the USS Indianapolis and the rescue of its survivors.  At the end of the war, some of their decisions were examined.  As a result, the reputations of a few men were either strengthened or destroyed.  Some of the accusations made against each were reasonable and some were not.  Ultimately, something was not right about the way things unfolded at McVay’s naval hearing when it was time to figure out who was responsible for one of the worst sea disasters in history.

    Before the much-anticipated mission began, the Indy was docked at Mare Island off the coast of Northern California where it underwent a massive amount of repairs after a kamikaze flew straight into it on a previous mission.  The devastating blows caused stability problems in the ship.  Technicians estimated that it would take about “four months” to complete repairs to the ship.1

    Naval command made the first questionable decision concerning this affair.  Instead of finishing repairs in the amount of time allotted, Captain McVay’s superiors ordered him to gather his crew together and prepare for a quick departure.  The time to make repairs was shortened by three months.

    Before the Indy sailed to San Francisco from Mare Island, it underwent some very intense tests that examined the way it maneuvered and how well its “radar alerts” were working.2   A lieutenant named Richard Redmayne experienced the attack of the kamikaze on the Indy’s former mission when he was in the engine room of the ship.  He worked on the small repairs right after the collision.  He also finished up some “last minute repairs” before departure.3

    No one knew whether the USS Indianapolis could withstand a severe disaster if one were to occur on the way to her arranged destination.  From the very beginning, the Indy was put in a vulnerable position that showed signs of jeopardizing her success in completing the task at hand.  McVay worried about the problems related to the ship’s performance and kept wondering if he would make it back home after the mission.  It was scary to think that naval command rushed the fixing of severe damages in only a month and a few weeks.

    Only the priority of delivering the bomb was on everybody’s mind at that moment in time.  Navy officials did not take the safety of the men on this trip very seriously right from the beginning.  The events in Guam also caused McVay and others to worry about the defense of the sailors on board the Indy.

    Guam was one of the stops made before sailing to Leyte.  The Indy had a smooth ride all the way to Tinian where it delivered the materials needed for the A-bomb.  Admiral Chester Nimitz, who was the Commander-in-chief of the Pacific (CINCPAC), ordered McVay to Guam where he received orders telling him to take his crew to Leyte in the Philippines where they would receive training and then proceed to Okinawa to report to Admiral Oldendorf’s Task Force 95.

    Regrettably, this information never got to Admiral McCormick, who had earlier received the message to expect the appearance of the Indy, due to unclear and fuzzy communication between the Indy and the Idaho where McCormick was stationed.  One of McCormick’s radiomen thought the code was for another officer, and as a result, stopped translating it. Although McCormick did receive a second code which told him the information he needed to know, he did not take it into serious consideration because he never received the first code.  He assumed that the reason for this was because the Indy was unexpectedly “diverted” north to carry out other duties.  Others received the message and understood the plan but, like Admiral Oldendorf, did not know what the date of arrival would be.4

    This meant that nobody was anticipating the arrival of the Indy on the assigned day.  It seemed that, because of the confusion, the Indy was technically on its own, without anyone protecting her or making sure she was on course.  If communications would have been reliable, and the location of ship was known at all times, the sinking of the Indy would not have been as big of a disaster. Hundreds more sailors would have been saved because they would not have been in the water more than a day.  Besides poor communication, there were dangers that lurked in the naval command involving a few officers.

    The Intelligence report given to Captain McVay failed to indicate that the ship Underhill had been sunk in the same area into which they were heading en route to Leyte.  However they were made aware of the possibility of enemy subs within “100 miles of the ship’s projected route.”5  It is a possibility that information was withheld in order to ease the minds of the captain and the crew, or to protect their naval communications from the enemy.  It was apparent that the “intelligence report” was missing causal details.

    McVay was also ordered to go along the "Peddie" convoy route, which was an estimated “1,300 miles” to Leyte.6   It would later prove to be an unlucky move on the part of Nimitz for giving the order.  This prompted insecurity among officers such as McVay who knew that once a cruiser like the Indy left for Leyte, the reliability it had on communications was very essential to her safety.  There were other insecurities provoked by certain officers, two in particular.

    There was much tension between Admiral Nimitz and General Douglas MacArthur over who was truly running the Navy in the Philippines.  The dispute was still going on even when the Indianapolis was ready to leave.  It put all the Indy’s contacts in a scary position because, in the midst of all the tension, it was not uncommon for information on “a ship’s whereabouts” to be lost due to the confusion.7

    These were all major warnings overlooked by naval authorities and critical decisions made that put the Indy in further danger.  The personal battle between MacArthur and Nimitz was a distraction to naval operations in the Philippines and set up a lot of confusion with contact between ships and naval bases.  Withholding information from the officers of the Indy about possible Japanese subs near the Indy’s route to Leyte and a previous sunken American ship was a bold decision that could have, in the end, easily haunted the individuals involved.  This needed closer examination after the war was over, but did not get as much as it should have.  This decision and an unnecessary feud could have been prevented and therefore strengthened the chances of the Indy’s survival in the waters of its specific route.  McVay felt very uncomfortable about these next few decisions made by certain officers.

    Captain McVay began to feel uneasy after all that he had heard concerning his upcoming mission.  As a result of his fears, McVay desired an escort to protect him and his crew.  He also wanted one so he could use it for the training that the Indy would undergo when it got to Leyte.  In the training process, it would play the role of an enemy vessel.  Unfortunately, Admiral George Dominic Murray turned down McVay’s request for an escort after Lieutenant Waldron called the office of Captain Oliver Naquin and asked him about it.  There was a great possibility that if Murray had allowed an escort, the Indy could have avoided an attack.  Murray made his decision on the basis that any ship “north of Guam” was quite safe by itself.  Murray concluded this from an invisible line set up in these waters to show what was hazardous for ships and what was not.8

    Usually there would be no danger to any “cruiser” without an escort in submarine infested waters, unless the ship was going 20 knots or more.  Again, another warning sign was in effect, since the Indy only traveled at 15.7 knots throughout the trip before it was attacked by the Japanese sub.  Some also felt that an escort would draw attention to itself and put it in a worse position for attack.  Either option could have been fatal, but the fact that the Indy only had radar gear and no sonar gear to spot submarines was clearly dangerous.

    The Indy probably had better odds of safety with an escort that could scare away the enemy than taking its chances and sailing alone.  One of the main reasons Murray denied McVay an escort was the fact that many escort vessels were already occupied and serving other purposes.  They were “being used to convoy reinforcements and supply echelons, or to patrol up the ladder of the Bonins to pick up B-29 crews.”9

    It is odd that the Indy was denied an escort through one officer’s jurisdiction over another.  If this mission was as important as its prioritization, then a decision to consider an escort needed careful deliberation on the part of more than one authority figure.  The atomic bomb was seen as an alternative to ending the war.  If it was that important to hurry the mission in order to deliver the bomb components and get them there safely, then why did the navy not recommend or order an escort for the Indy?

    The bomb materials arrived safely at Tinian without an escort, but why were they denied an escort to Leyte when it was known that enemy subs were in the area?  It is true that the mission was a success, but the Indy still had its own duties to carry out, which were worthy enough to sail beside a partner until her mission was completely over.  Murray made the excuse that escorts were limited in number because they had other burdens of their own to worry about.  However, a ship that carried 1,196 lives could have been considered more carefully with a priority of life over duty in mind.  Could it be that the navy’s priority was really duty over life as it measured the USS Indianapolis’s success?

    The fact that the Indy did not have proper gear to classify unidentified ships or subs brings about the same question for the need of a protector.  In the end, it is no surprise that all the odds were stacked against the Indy when she took off for Leyte.  Proper precautions just like these were overlooked by CINCPAC and denied many times before the USS Indianapolis’s final voyage ended tragically.

    The Navy blamed this shortened voyage on Captain McVay for a few reasons.  The Navy accused McVay, for instance, of putting the Indy in jeopardy by discontinuing its zigzagging pattern.  By zigzagging, it was tougher for a sub to target a vessel with its torpedoes.  He was ordered that anytime during “day or night” he could choose to “zigzag,” which was a movement that exhausted many people on board.  This meant that, constantly, the crew had to steer and make sure all the proper controls were functioning at all times.10   This increased the length of time it would take the Indy to get to Leyte.

    Later on, Captain McVay noticed that visibility from fog was worsening as time went on.  He felt that since his orders were to do what was necessary, he would do what was safest at the time.  This is when he decided to stop zigzagging.  He made this decision based on the conditions of the “rough” sea and how the clouds were becoming thick and “low.”11

    The level of “visibility was so poor” that the moon could not be seen in the sky.  McVay gave orders to Commander Lipski to sail forward, but said nothing about resuming zigzagging later on if the visibility got better.  He also knew that the seas were clear of the enemy because he was told that no other “traffic” was near.12   He did not have to worry about being attacked; or at least he thought so. McVay never saw the attack coming, since he decided to retire for sleep just after he stopped the cruiser from zigzagging.

    Unfortunately, without underwater radar gear, McVay never knew that a Japanese submarine called the I-58 was nearby.  The Commander on the sub was Mochitsura Hashimoto.  Hashimoto could not decide whether to use the Kaiten pilots to attack this mystery ship or use torpedoes to see if they sank the ship.  The Kaitens were known as Japanese kamikazes.  Finally, Hashimoto came up with a solution.  Because of the way the moon was positioned in the sky, it seemed more difficult to use the pilots to assure total destruction.

    Hashimoto decided that he would use torpedoes and, then, if that failed, he would launch the Kaitens.  He felt that if the ship started sinking after he launched the Kaitens, then they would die for no reason. Luckily for him patience was a virtue because of the rapidity of the sinking and the explosion that it caused beforehand.  He never sent the pilots to reassure a victory to the already demolished ship.13

    Perhaps if Hashimoto had decided to use the alternative to the torpedoes, the ship may have been able to send off distress signals faster to naval authorities.  Chances are, Hashimoto still would have used torpedoes if the kamikazes failed.  This means that, either way, the Indy was going to be destroyed.

    Time was a factor in the order Hashimoto gave. The torpedo attack gave the Indy twelve minutes to make sure help would come to its aid. The Kaiten attack however, could have saved hundreds more lives because more time meant a greater chance of sending off better communication for naval assistance and rescuers to save more lives within one day’s time, not four days.  It also meant that the amount of time spent to abandon ship was longer and a few hundred more sailors’ lives would have been spared instead of lost by going down with the ship.  Twelve minutes was not adequate to determine if or when to abandon ship.  The man who would be held accountable for this difficult choice in the end was the Captain, who, like everyone else on board, was startled when it happened.

    The two explosions came one after the other and shook the Indy so hard that it abruptly threw McVay from his bed.  He was immediately concerned and went to find out if there were any communications from the engine room.  There was not, because by that point in time the electricity was out everywhere.  Lieutenant Commander Casey Moore had already surveyed the damage and then asked McVay if he wanted to give the order to abandon ship.  McVay said “No.”14

    Just minutes later, Commander Flynn, who was second in command, strongly urged McVay to order everyone to abandon ship.  McVay had much confidence in Flynn, so he told him to “pass the word.”  McVay already figured that the crew knew that this was a case for abandonment and most everyone was already at topside or heading that way.15

    The decision to get off the ship and have everyone follow was not a hard one to make, but for some reason McVay took more time than necessary to decide.  A lot of researchers do not understand this.  To defend McVay, one could say that the small amount of time allotted the Captain to make his choice would not have been enough to save many lives anyway.  It took a lot of time just to get to a place on the ship where it was safe enough to jump off.

    If the ship would have taken twenty minutes or more to sink, and McVay wasted ten of those minutes to decide whether to abandon, then it would be more understandable to question him as to why he took so long to give the order to abandon ship.  Twelve minutes could not have been enough time for any sailor to focus, think, and then take action by making sure everyone received the order.

    During abandonment McVay and the rest of the crew had only one thought going through their minds.  All they could ponder is whether the distress signal was sent in time.  If it was sent off, had anyone received it at headquarters or at another ship in the Pacific?  Jack Miner, a sailor, claims that he witnessed the radioman, L.T. Woods, sending the message three times.  The needle even moved, proving that it was sent.  Miner hoped that someone saw it.16  He was right, but that meant nothing because CINCPAC decoded Hashimoto’s message that a Japanese sub had sunk an American ship.  Officials at Leyte’s naval operating base ignored it and made a misleading decision to do nothing about it because the Japanese were known to “deceive” their enemies from time to time.

    Nimitz made the choice not to look into it and, by doing so, forced a delay of the rescue of the Indy survivors.  The likelihood is that the survivors could have been rescued “within twenty-four hours of the time of the sinking of the ship and many lives would have been saved.”  No one in CINCPAC took the time to check what Hashimoto’s position was. If they had, they would have found that McVay and Hashimoto were in the same area, proving that this was not a misleading message.17

    There were also others who received the message that the USS Indianapolis was in danger.  On Leyte, there was a little shack set up for communications. Clair Young worked there.  He received this message and immediately took it to Commodore Jacob Jacobson, the ranking officer at that particular base.  Jacobson read it, but had nothing to say about it at that moment.  Young, confused, left Jacobson’s quarters.  No one made the effort to determine the importance of the SOS.18   Jacobson acted like it was not worth investigating because he told Young to notify him if he received another message later.  Also, he made his decision after Young woke him up from his slumber.  Perhaps carelessness was the basis of Jacobson’s order.

    The SOS also arrived at another location on Leyte.  Here, the officer in charge immediately took action and sent out two navy tugs to the coordinates of the Indy’s supposed sinking.  Unfortunately, a Commodore named Gillette heard about this “dispatch” of the tugs and called them back to shore because he had never authorized it. As a result of Gillette’s response, no one knew that the Indy’s crew was helpless.

    A sailor aboard a landing craft in the Leyte Harbor read a “third” SOS.  His ship responded by sending the message through to the Leyte naval operating base, but no one there did anything about it and it was overlooked intentionally.19   Why did these officers make so many irresponsible decisions about such a crucial alert?

    Other occurrences involving particular officers become even more questionable once it came time for the Indy to arrive at Leyte Harbor.  As a result of the two different dispatches Admiral McCormick and Admiral Oldendorf received, McCormick knew the Indy was supposed to be in Leyte at a scheduled time, but never knew the reason for it.  Oldendorf knew why, but not when.  Since the Indy never showed up at the harbor when it was supposed to, it was not a surprise that more bad luck would strike.  McCormick decided to go out for training exercises with other ships at the same time the Indy was supposed to be there.  He never knew if the Indy arrived or not.  On the other hand, Oldendorf did not worry about it because he did not know the scheduled time of its arrival.

    He later commented that even if he had been aware of the arrival, he still would not have “worried” about it, because of the assumption that the Indy was diverted somewhere else without his being informed about it.20   Ignoring a serious arrival time and purpose for the Indy was no reason to forget about it and shove the responsibility onto someone else.  Stranded for four days, not all the survivors on the Indy gave up hope, and eventually they saw why when another of many planes flew overhead.

    This time was different.  Instead of flying right over and disappearing, this plane, piloted by Wilbur Gwinn, became one of the saviors for the remainder of the floating crew.  He was on a routine patrol mission.  He spotted oil in the ocean and decided to take a look.  This is when he saw heads emerged out of the water.  Gwinn called in to a base at Peleliu.21

    Adrian Marks, a pilot who was on the “Catalina Squadron," was one of the few men who intercepted this message.  He had to make a quick decision whether to go help in the rescue, since his plane was the only one at the base and was needed for emergencies.  He decided “this was an emergency.”  His plane was only to be used in “calm waters,”22  which meant that rescuing survivors in the Pacific would be dangerous.

    Marks had to make one of the toughest decisions of his life when it was time to rescue the crew.  He disobeyed a navy rule that prohibited the landing of certain planes on rough seas.  He had a small plane and it would not hold all of the survivors.  After the rescue of about sixty or so men, his plane had to be destroyed because it was not mechanically able to take off from the water.

    Years later, at the USS Indianapolis survivors’ reunion, Marks talked about how tough it was to make his decision about which survivors to temporarily bring aboard the plane until more help arrived.  His experience was a critical moment for a pilot:

I decided that the men in groups stood the best chance of survival.  They could look after one another, could splash and scare away the sharks, and could lend one another moral support and encouragement.  But the single swimmers had no one else to turn to, 
and without the support of comrades, were the most likely to succumb to the despair of the night. . . I therefore decided that we would concentrate on picking up the single swimmers, and the groups would have to wait for other rescue.  But now that I realized the full gravity of the men’s condition, I was beginning to doubt the wisdom of my decision. . . (Haynes) had seen my airplane land and slowly taxi toward him.  And then as we came near. . . deliberately passed them by. . . The responsibility for my decision to pick up the singles first was weighing heavily upon me; and I feared that I had been wrong. . . Maybe, if I had gone after the groups, I would have been able to take more men aboard in the time available to me.23

 After it was all over, Marks asked Doctor Haynes if he had done the right thing.  Haynes reassured him that he had.24   What Marks did that day saved many lives--the lives of men who only could have hung on for a few more hours.  If Marks and Gwinn had not shown up at that moment, there could have been some men who might have given up because of lost hope shortly after the time Marks came.  Because of Gwinn’s and Marks’s discovery, other ships were sent out to do a search and rescue.

    McVay recalled in an interview how lucky it was that a ship named the Ringness found them when it did:

. . .everybody was suffering from exhaustion, most people had quite bad sinus problems from salt water and oil that had been washed up their noses.  A lot of people had burns, everybody had those salt water ulcers which are very painful and take quite a while to heal up, and my personal feeling is that had we not been sighted when we were, within another 24 hours, we would probably have had only 50% and 24 hours after that we might not have had hardly any in that life preserver group, because even we, on the rafts, were getting very uncomfortable.25

In the end, Marks was commended for his extraordinary efforts and for risking his life to save many others even though he broke a naval regulation in his attempt.  What he did boosted his reputation and gave him recognition for the rest of his days in the navy.  This was a fair assessment on the part of the navy.

    Weeks after the rescue, naval authorities had to investigate and weigh all the evidence of this mysterious tragedy to determine who was responsible.  There were many others who played a role in the endangerment of the Indy and were not punished enough for what they did.  Captain McVay, on the other hand, got by far the worst punishment and was treated unfairly for what happened to the ship and its crew.  McVay was blamed for the disaster and the lost lives.  He was brought up on two different charges after being court-martialed by the naval authorities.  Because of this, he was found guilty and, as a punishment, “he was sentenced to lose 100 numbers in his temporary grade of captain, and another 100 numbers in his permanent grade of commander.”  Before the tragedy took place, McVay had an “outstanding” “record”26  and his performance enabled him to serve as Captain for the USS Indianapolis on its last mission.

     The first charge against McVay was the only one that stayed on his permanent record for the next fifty years.  This allegation said that McVay put the ship in jeopardy because he halted the Indy’s zigzagging pattern and this was why the enemy sub was able to spot it and eventually attack it.  The second charge said that McVay took too long to give the order to abandon ship.  This second accusation was dropped very quickly after many survivors testified, though there was one survivor, Harlan Twible, who claimed that “Captain McVay never gave the order to abandon ship.”27

    The survivors, who sided with McVay at the trial, assured everyone that communications failed and that was why no one received the order very rapidly throughout the ship, but that there was a great effort to spread the word to everyone by “word of mouth”.28   This could explain why Twible thought that McVay never gave the order, since he was never told at the time that the ship was submerging. The court deliberated over the testimonies and finally dropped the charge.  McVay was still not cleared, however, because the first charge destroyed McVay’s career until his death about twenty or so years later.

     There are a few distinct reasons why McVay’s failure to zigzag was an unfair and questionable accusation.  First, A surprising testimony came from an unusual witness.  Admiral Hashimoto was brought to the United States to testify before the court about what he saw and did on the night of July 30, 1945.  Many were expecting Hashimoto to suggest that zigzagging would have saved the Indy from an attack with his sub.  Instead, Hashimoto defended McVay’s decision to cease the movement by insisting that it did not matter if the Indy was zigzagging because he still was looking for a ship and would have attacked anyway.29

    Even though Hashimoto said it did not matter whether McVay zigzagged, there were arguments from the navy that claimed zigzagging was an effective method.  Hashimoto’s supposition was deliberately ignored.  An investigative report of the Indy in 1996 says that zigzagging was a useful method because it was tougher for a sub to “target them.”  Torpedoes back then could not be “steered” or adjusted after being fired and it depleted the chances of a hit if a ship was involved in a good amount of movement.  This was because the torpedoes had no “acoustic seekers.”30

    Secondly, McVay was unjustly accused of this charge for the fact that he had an order to follow; an order from CINCPAC saying that it was to McVay’s own discretion to continue zigzagging, how long, and when the time was right to stop, if at all.  McVay never “completely” defied the order given to him.  If he had disobeyed, there would have been strong reason to fairly accuse him of it.31   Perhaps possible zigzagging was requested because intelligence knew something that McVay didn’t.  McVay must have felt a sense of insecurity after being denied an escort and not knowing this information.  It is no wonder that he decided zigzagging was not that important for them to finish their mission on time.

    This brings about the third reason for McVay’s misrepresented guilt.  Sometime in the 1990’s there was information that got out to the public about the discovery of “declassified documents” containing vital information.  This information held that the “Navy’s high command” knew about the I-58 and another Japanese sub traveling around the area where the Indy was sailing on the way to Leyte.  It is still undecided who was to blame for not warning McVay of this essential information.  Today, the navy still claims that there is no written evidence of the individuals who were involved.  Furthermore, they explain that none of them are still living today.32   Even though these officers may be deceased, it does not mean that there are not survivors who understood what was going on when naval officials pinned the blame on McVay for what happened.

    One survivor, Harlan Twible testifies that zigzagging slows down the progress and the time it takes to reach a certain destination.  He thinks no matter what, there was no need for zigzagging.  “It had been proven that maneuver made a ship a sitting duck if the enemy was in the waters.  Zigzagging would not have saved our ship or our crew.”33

    Dr. Lewis Haynes, the ship physician, was another survivor who took charge of a group while stranded in the ocean.  He wrote a letter talking about McVay:

The “Survivors” for the most part liked McVay, felt he was only court-martialed as a cover up for Admiral King and Nimitz et al who had their minds on the Atomic Bomb etc. and not on the Indianapolis.

 I feel the court-martial of McVay was also used to get the information out to the public about the Atomic Bomb and also because of pressure from the families of some men lost who were influential people.34

    Haynes mentions two names he feels are responsible for a big part of the mystery as to why the Indy was kept in the dark for much of the journey.  However, these are not the only two who should have taken some blame for their decisions and actions.

    One of the men, Fleet Admiral Ernest King, was the chief of naval operations.  Six months before the tragedy, he ordered that there would be no reports of the “arrival of combatant ships,” meaning also that no information on “non-arrivals” would be reported.  Consequently, it was unclear to all men who were working under King whether to take the arrival of ships very seriously.  King, then, bore responsibility for his poor judgement in giving this order.  Unfortunately, he was not punished, but merely replaced by order of Admiral Nimitz.35

    Nimitz’s name was also cleared from the list of those deserving discipline.  He was in a position of authority that was accountable for the approval of the order confirming the arrival of the Indy at its scheduled time.  He, too, was not disciplined for his decision to ignore the Indy’s entry into Leyte.  These two men had previous disciplinary action taken against them for decisions they made in earlier naval service.36   How they escaped punishment for another misjudgment was and still is hard for many people to understand.  Other men were put on a list of those who made errors in good judgement, but not all were brought to justice for them.

    As mentioned earlier, McCormick and Oldendorf each had different pieces of information about the time of arrival for the Indy.  Oldendorf knew that the ship was on its way to Leyte, “but not when” it was to arrive.  McCormick knew when, but after the Indy never showed up, did not investigate as to why.  The navy brought disciplinary action down on McCormick’s staff, but not too severe.37   It was fair to set forth punishment against these two men for the unreliable performance of their duties, but the degree of it was unreasonable.

    There were other roles played by lower status officers who escaped severe punishment.  Captain E.T. Layton showed no concern when he “intercepted” a Japanese code stating that the I-58 sank an enemy ship.  Likewise, Captain William Smedberg declined all efforts to “investigate” this message about the possible sinking of an American ship.  One key task of naval operations was to make sure it reported any signs of enemy activity in range of an American ship like the USS Indianapolis.  However, Admiral Murray and assistant Naquin failed to work together to insure this kind of security.  As a result, this “submarine menace” went unrecognized.38

    One Survivor, Dan Kurzman, said that the amount of intelligence that Naquin had was more than anyone knew concerning the “dangers” that lay ahead for the Indy.  Kurzman supposed that Naquin’s failure to making this information known “was worth” it to risk the security of the Indy to assure that the Japanese did not find out how they got the information.  It could also be that they did not want anyone to know how the naval authorities got their hands on this information about the submarines.39

    There were six other men involved in placing the Indy in danger.  Commodore Norman Gillette and Captain Alfred Granum were given “Letters of Reprimand” for not reporting that the Indy was missing.  Lieutenant Stewart Gibson and Lieutenant Commander Jules Sancho, one receiving a Reprimand and the other a “Letter of Admonition” were both punished.  This was a justifiable decision until Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal withdrew the “four letters” and had “Frontier Headquarters” purge their records “clean.”40   Two sailors mentioned earlier, Young and Jacobson, failed to investigate the message declaring that the Japanese had sunk an American ship and also received no punishment for it.  They were both careless in their efforts, as were all the other men, but only McVay reaped all the guilt.

    The decisions of these men proved sufficient enough to provide credibility to McVay, rather than place more blame on him for the decisions he made.  It was obvious that the court only handed out minimal punishment to these men whose reputations were saved.  Sadly, the results of all their mistakes and faults were placed solely on the shoulders of McVay, whose reputation was destroyed by the navy.

    As McVay’s reputation worsened, he frequently received hate mail.  Family members of men who lost their lives on that tragic night sent most of them.  McVay never fully recovered from his court-martialing or the tremendous amount of lives lost under his command.  Not only was his dignity destroyed, but so eventually was his life.  On November 6, 1968 he committed suicide.41

    The USS Indianapolis had a proud crew whose lives were shattered by death and confusion after that fateful night in 1945.  One man should not be blamed for what happened.  The fact remains that many officers made decisions that caused disorientation throughout the Indy’s journey until its end.  The men who were supposed to be in charge of keeping the Indy’s crew safe failed in their attempts, because some made honest mistakes, but because most made careless, intentional mistakes that cost the lives of hundreds.

    A simple investigation as to when and where the Indy was to be at all times was not an impossible job. Nor were many other responsibilities of the navy, and there was not one that took too much effort to find answers on the part of the commanders and officers in charge of the many posts and bases.  It was just that these individuals only acted on what they knew and what they were only responsible for doing at the time.  From the information gathered, it seems that most did not go the extra distance or take voluntary responsibility for unanswered questions.

    In the end, reputations were ruined and justice was not properly attained.  Only one man, the captain of the ship who was there when tragedy struck, became the scapegoat and a victim of deceit.  Men like Gwinn and Marks were praised for risking their lives to rescue the survivors.  Not McVay, who risked his life to command a secret mission to end the war by delivering what became the Atomic bomb, only to be ripped apart and shamed for the rest of his life for something over which he had no control.  Indeed, decisions were made creating a clear path to the death of the Indianapolis, lives were ruined, and officials turned their heads when it came time to do what was right. With the passing of time, and the passing of many lives, truth finally emerged decades later and survivors were there to attest to it--and fairly this time.


1) Doug Stanton, In Harm’s Way (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2001), 15-16.
2) Ibid., 17.
3) Dan Kurzman, Fatal Voyage: The Sinking of the USS Indianapolis (New York: Antheneum, 1991), 18.
4) Richard Newcomb, Abandon Ship! Death of the USS Indianapolis (New York: Henry Holt, 1958), 35; Samuel Eliot Morison, Victory in the Pacific 1945 (Boston: Little, Brown, 1964), 320; Stanton, In Harm’s Way, 69, 82.
5) Morison, Victory in the Pacific 1945, 320.
6) Stanton, In Harm’s Way, 73-74.
7) Ibid., 74.
8) Carl Boyd,  “Attacking the Indianapolis: A Reexamination,” Warship International, no. 1 (1976), 17; Kurzman, Fatal Voyage, 47.; Stanton, In Harm’s Way, 74; Newcomb, Abandon Ship, 40.
9) Carl Boyd,  “Attacking the Indianapolis: A Reexamination,” 17; Kurzman, Fatal Voyage, 48; Morison, Victory in the Pacific 1945, 320-321.
10) Thomas Helm, Ordeal By Sea: The Tragedy of the USS Indianapolis (New York: Dodd, Mead, and Company, 1963), 22.
11) Stanton, In Harm’s Way, 86.
12) Newcomb, Abandon Ship, 54-55; Stanton, In Harm’s Way, 86.
13) Mochitsura Hashimoto, Sunk! The Story of the Japanese Submarine Fleet, 1942-1945 (New York: Henry Holt, 1954), 164-165.
14) “Recollections of Captain Charles B. McVay, III, USN, Commanding Officer of the USS Indianapolis (CA35) which was sunk by Japanese submarine I-58 on 30 July 1045 near the Philippines,” Oral History- The Sinking of the USS Indianapolis,
15) Ibid.
16) L. Peter Wren, Those in Peril on the Sea: USS Bassett rescues 152 survivors of the USS Indianapolis (Richmond, VA: L. Peter Wren, 1999), 137.
17) Raymond B. Lech, All the Drowned Sailors (New York: Stein and Day, 1982), 68-69.
18) Stanton, In Harm’s Way, 132-133.
19) Ibid., 133-134.
20) Kurzman, Fatal Voyage, 123-125.
21) Newcomb, Abandon Ship, 139; Pete Nelson, Left for Dead: A Young Man’s Search For Justice For the USS Indianapolis (New York: Random House, 2002), 59,67.
22) Ibid., 91; Stanton, In Harm’s Way, 223; Richard Goldstein, “Adrian Marks, 81, War Pilot Who Led Rescue of 56, Is Dead,” The New York Times, 15 March 1998.
23) Adrian Marks, Selected Speeches of R. Adrian Marks, 33-34.
24) Ibid., 35.
25) “Recollections of Captain Charles B. McVay,”
26) Robert Reed, “Gallant Ship, Brave Men- the story of the U.S.S. Indianapolis”, World War II Times, June-July 1986.
27) Helm, Ordeal by Sea, 207; “ A Letter from Harlan Twible to Colleen C. Mondor, February 16, 1995,” U.S.S. Indianapolis Correspondence 1995-1996, Indiana Historical Society.
28) Helm, Ordeal by Sea, 208.
29) Stanton, In Harm’s Way, 265-66.
30) “USS Indianapolis Investigation of 1996,” p. 30, General Collection, Indiana Historical Society.
31) Ibid., 32.
32) Peter Mass, “The Untold Story of an American Tragedy,” Parade Magazine, 20 August 2000.
33) Letter from Twible to Mondor.
34) “A Letter from Lewis Haynes, M.D., to Colleen C. Mondor, March 19, 1996,” U.S.S. Indianapolis Correspondence, 1995-1996, Indiana Historical Society.
35) Stanton, In Harm’s Way, 175.
36) Kurzman, Fatal Voyage, 191, 193, 255.
37) Ibid., 252-53.
38) Ibid.
39) “The Sinking of the USS Indianapolis and the subsequent court martial of Rear Adm. Charles B. McVay III, USN,” Hearing before the committee on Armed Services, United States Senate, One Hundred Sixth Congress, First Session, 14 September 1999 (IUPUI Library, Indianapolis), text-fiche, p. 56.
40) Lech, All the Drowned Sailors, 203.
41) Stanton, In Harm’s Way, 3, 7.



Hashimoto, Mochitsura. Sunk!: The Story of the Japanese Submarine Fleet, 1942-1945. New York: Henry Holt, 1954.

Helm, Thomas. Ordeal by Sea: The Tragedy of the USS Indianapolis. New York: Dodd, Mead and Co., 1963.

Kurzman, Dan. Fatal Voyage: The Sinking of the USS Indianapolis. New York: Atheneum, 1990.

Lech, Raymond B. All the Drowned Sailors. New York: Stein and Day, 1982.

Marks, Adrian. Selected Speeches of R. Adrian Marks, Frankfort Public Library, Frankfort, Indiana (courtesy of Robert W. Marks).

Morison, Samuel Eliot. Victory in the Pacific 1945. Boston: Little, Brown, 1964.

Nelson, Peter. Left for Dead: A Young Man’s Search for the USS Indianapolis. Bantam, 2002.

Newcomb, Richard. Abandon Ship: The Saga of the USS Indianapolis, The Navy’s Greatest Sea Disaster. New York: Henry Holt, 1958.

Stanton, Doug. In Harm’s Way: The Sinking of the USS Indianapolis and the Extraordinary Story of its Survivors. Henry Holt and Company, 2001.

Wren, L. Peter. Those in Peril on the Sea: USS Bassett Rescues 152 Survivors of the USS Indianapolis. Richmond, VA: L. Peter Wren, 1999.


Boyd, Carl. “Attacking the Indianapolis: A Reexamination,” Warship International, no. 1 (1976).

Goldstein, Richard. “Adrian Marks, 81, World War II Navy Pilot,” New York Times, March 15, 1998.

Litz, Leo M. “Sinking of Indianapolis,” World War II Times, June-July, 1986.

Mass, Peter. “The Untold Story of an American Tragedy,” Parade Magazine, August, 20 2000.

Reed, Robert.  “Gallant Ship, Brave Men- the Story of the U.S.S. Indianapolis,” World War II Times, June-July, 1986.

Zink, Brian. “World War II Horrors Part of Mark’s Full Life,” The Frankfort Times, February 7, 1987.

“USS Indianapolis Investigation of 1996.” General Collection, Indiana Historical Society.

“The Sinking of the USS Indianapolis and the subsequent court martial of Rear Adm. Charles B. McVay III, USN.” Hearing before the committee on Armed Services, United States Senate, One Hundred Sixth Congress, First Session, September 14, 1999. IUPUI Library, Indianapolis. Text-fiche.

“Recollections of Captain Charles B. McVay, III, USN, Commanding Officer of the USS Indianapolis (CA35) which was sunk by Japanese submarine I-58 on 30 July 1045 near the Philippines.” Oral History- The Sinking of the USS Indianapolis,

“A Letter from Harlan Twible to Colleen C. Mondor, February 16, 1995.” U.S.S. Indianapolis Correspondence 1995-1996, Indiana Historical Society.

“A Letter from Lewis Haynes, M.D., to Colleen C. Mondor, March 19, 1996.” U.S.S. Indianapolis Correspondence 1995-1996, Indiana Historical Society.

* * * * ALL RIGHTS RESERVED * * * *
Permission to reprint this personal writing,
in any form or media, in part or whole,
with full credit given to Douglas R. Wolf,
must be obtained from Doug Wolf, who can be reached by E-mailing his father.
Also, any correspondence received for the author will be forwarded onto him.
Personal note:  the author's mother, Denise Wolf,
worked for Adrian Marks at Clinton Abstract, in Frankfort, Indiana,
from May 1972 to February 1979.

Return to home page