At fourteen minutes past midnight on July 30, 1945, a torpedo blew away the bow of the USS Indianapolis CA-35. A second torpedo struck the starboard side near mid-ship, changing the course of the lives of one thousand one hundred and ninety-six men forever. Nine-hundred sailors made it into the waters between Guam and Leyte. One of these men was my great-uncle Dick, Richard B. Redmayne, who served as the ship’s Chief Engineer.
The USS Indianapolis had dropped the first-ever operational atomic bomb at Tinian Island, four days before its sinking. It then received orders to return to the Philippines to await the imminent assault on Japan. The USS Indianapolis’ mission was veiled in a cloak of secrecy due to its nature. Many controversies surround the sinking. According to court documents released in 1990, Naval authorities sent USS Indianapolis Captain Charles B. McVay III and his crew into harm’s way with the knowledge that there were two submarines in the area. One of these submarines, the I-58, targeted the USS Indianapolis.
The daring survivors
The sinking of the USS Indianapolis led to one worst shark attacks in history. Only 316 of the 900 men that jumped into the water survived. They would await rescue for more than four days, protected only by their life jackets and a few lifeboats.
The days leading up to their rescue were horrific. It is a testament to each man’s bravery and courage that there were any survivors of this disaster. The personal tales are gripping. You may remember Quint’s scene in “Jaws” where he admits to being a survivor of the USS Indianapolis.
As a result of the sinking, Captain McVay was court-martialed. The charges were culpable inefficiency in the performance of his duties and negligently endangering the lives of others. The Navy insisted Capt. McVay had failed to give orders to abandon ship, even though many of the survivors who attended the court martial said he had given these orders. He was also charged with deciding not to follow a zigzag pattern as the ship crossed the water—a decision usually made at the captain’s discretion depending on weather conditions and other factors.
His crew again testified on his behalf, stating that visibility was low and therefore it was not necessary to order the ship to follow a zigzag pattern. Regardless of their testimony, a jury found Capt. McVay guilty, damaging his future in the US Navy and humiliating him for the remainder of his life. Capt. McVay committed suicide in 1968. Survivors of the sinking of the USS Indianapolis successfully fought to have his charges exculpated. In 2001, the United States Congress posthumously exonerated Captain McVay, thirty-three years after his death
A bold rescue
There are many fascinating stories surrounding USS Indianapolis incident. For instance, survivors were accidentally spotted by Lieutenant Wilbur C. Gwinn, who was on a routine anti-submarine patrol aboard a PV-1 Ventura Bomber. The pilot alerted his base that there were “many, many men in the water.”
Piloting a seaplane, Lieutenant R. Adrian Marks headed to the site and informed the USS Cecil Doyle of the situation. As the Doyle approached, Marks dropped life vests and supplies into the surrounding water. Upon observing several shark attacks on the survivors, he landed his plane in the water, disregarding standing orders, saving fifty-six men. The USS Cecil Doyle arrived during the night and began to shine a spotlight in the air to guide other ships to the rescue.
When LT. Marks landed, survivors informed him that they were from the USS Indianapolis and he sent word back to the base. Due to a “faulty directive” the ship’s failure to arrive as scheduled had gone unnoticed for four days. The US Navy also decided not to make the news public for almost two weeks after the incident, thereby ensuring the story would not be overshadowed by news of the Japanese surrender.
My uncle was unable to talk about the events other than a few conversations he had with his wife, his father (my grandfather), and a very few select others. Reliving memories of the sinking was terribly painful for him. Seventy-two years have passed since the sinking of the USS Indianapolis, and many of the survivors have since passed on, but I feel that their stories are timeless and need to be told.
Out2Sea.com believes the story of the USS Indianapolis is worth sharing with our members and guests. To help you learn more, we’ve provided the links below.
Books about the USS Indianapolis:
Left for Dead: A Young Man’s Search for Justice for the USS Indianapolis By Pete Nelson with Hunter Scott
Hunter Scott was eleven years old when he saw a scene in the movie “Jaws” referring to the sinking of the USS Indianapolis. His research into the tragedy led to the truth surrounding the disaster, and ultimately to Capt. McVay’s exoneration
Films, Television, and Plays about the USS Indianapolis:
Ocean of Fear – Worst Shark Attack Ever
TV Documentary- You can watch all eight parts on YouTube. Includes interviews with the survivors.
Failure To Zigzag
Focuses on the drama surrounding the court martial of Capt. McVay.
In Search of the U.S.S. Indianapolis
History — U.S.S. Indianapolis Resurfaced
History Channel DV