July 30, 2013

"When USS Indianapolis was hit by Japanese torpedoes in the final weeks of WWII, hundreds of crewmen jumped into the water..."

"... to escape the burning ship. Surrounded by sharks, they waited for a response to their SOS. But no one had been sent to look for them."
"They were continually there, mostly feeding off the dead bodies. Thank goodness, there were lots of dead people floating in the area. But soon they came for the living, too.


"We were losing three or four each night and day.... You were constantly in fear because you'd see 'em all the time. Every few minutes you'd see their fins - a dozen to two dozen fins in the water. They would come up and bump you. I was bumped a few times - you never know when they are going to attack you....

"In that clear water you could see the sharks circling. Then every now and then, like lightning, one would come straight up and take a sailor and take him straight down. One came up and took the sailor next to me...."

28 comments:

Gahrie said...

One of the senseless, but necessary tragedies of war.Keeping the ship's mission and location a secret ranks up there with Churchill's decision not to warn the people of Coventry about an impending air raid.

Tom said...

It amazing what these men and other did to preserve our nation. We are very lucky.

k said...

Do you remember the (as I recall) Time-Life hardcover reference books, with American history and science and other topics? I remember the USS Indianapolis story in those books, way back in the '70s when I was jr/sr high school. You talk about seared in your memory. It was so horrible, at that age, to read those men's stories. Will never forget.

SCOTTtheBADGER said...

One July 30, I was walking by a swimming pool, and there was a single life jacket floating in it. I was aware of the anniversary, and found it kind of creepy.

I remember having seen some color film footage taken from the bridge wing of a ship in a convoy. You do NOT stop to help survivors if another ship gets torpedoed, as you will be the next victim.In the film, Oceanic Whitetips were busy cleaning up the remains. Not a pleasant sight.

Unknown said...

Anyway, we delivered the bomb.

Zach Cedar said...

Like most people, the first thing I think of whenever there's a story about the USS Indianapolis is Quint's monologue in Jaws.

surf-ed said...

As a surfer I live with them. Have for 50 years now. Big hammerheads and bull sharks here in Florida. Your asshole does pucker when a large hammie cruises by giving you the stinkeye. Luckily humans are not part of the menu. We're an awfully big thing for a shark to mess with if there are plenty of tasty fish on the banks. Just the other day some Japanese tourists caught a harmless shovel shark while surf fishing. Deb and I took it from them and returned it to the ocean. Good karma for when his bigger cousins come calling.

Gahrie said...

I've scuba dived with sharks. Most of them won't mess with you. I was far more worried about barracuda and moray eels.

Bob Boyd said...

Remember the scene in "Jaws"?
Quint talks about the Indianapolis.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5nrvMNf-HEg

Carl said...

The sharks are icky, to be sure, but doing the math "3 or 4 a night" times 4 nights is 12-16 lost to sharks. Let's round up generously to 20. The article says 600 -- 150 a night -- were lost to dehydration, drowning, and exposure.

So why pick out the sharks? Human nature, of course, to zero in on the 20 horrible screaming deaths and skip over the 600 less horrible ends, if drowning can be considered all that less horrible. I guess it's quieter -- is that it?

traditionalguy said...

Thank God we had the accidental President Harry Truman's testosterone leading our military from the front and making the most momentous decisions ever made in the world for 7 years and 9months.

Truman was a fair and honest man, but being of a Scots-Irish descent he was also a believer, in putting fire upon the enemy, just as every successful Artillery commander does without hesitation.



Harriet said...

I heard this from a classmate in grade school in the late 70s.

No, you never forget.

cubanbob said...

Surf just saying but did you know bull sharks have the highest level of testosterone of any known creature?

As for the Indianapolis I never understood why the Navy would have sent a cruiser on one of the most important missions of the war without a sonar and an escort with ASW capabilities.

altered states said...

Just finished reading a book about this event - Abandon Ship! by Richard Newcomb. A great read which includes details of the disgusting treatment of the captain.

sonicfrog said...

One of the great scenes from Jaws was when Quint reveals he was one of the survivors of the Indianapolis.

As unknown said:

"Anyway, we delivered the bomb."

David said...

Nobody told it better than Robert Shaw.

Rich Rostrom said...

Gahrie said...Churchill's decision not to warn the people of Coventry about an impending air raid.

Which never happened. Churchill was warned of an air raid on London. The target being Coventry was determined only at the last minute. No defensive measures or warnings were withheld.

The story originated in F.W. Winterbotham's The Ultra Secret, but why he invented it is unknown. It has been refuted in Top Secret ULTRA by Peter Calvocoressi and ULTRA Goes to War by Ronald Lewin.

Guimo said...

My father was on the Indianpolis the year before, but luckily got shipped to Pensacola to be a flight instructor. He lost a lot friends.

Big Mike said...

I think that if the Indianapolis had been sunk ten months before, or even perhaps six months earlier, the rear echelon MF-ers (that's what we called them in a later war) probably would not have come down on McVay the way they did given that the war was over. The loss of over 800 men, and the horrible way so many of them died, sent the REMFs scrambling for a scapegoat.

But ten months earlier I think it would have just been written down as part of the cost of winning the war.

Paul said...

I can understand secret missions. Tipping off the Nazi's their codes were broken with the British ULTRA organization or the Japanese Purple codes by US codebreakers would have lengthen the war considerably.

You can't underestimate the importance of reading your enemy's mail while they can't read yours (and I'm sure the NSA loves reading our mail.)

The Indianapolis tragedy was, well war. If Japanese spies had found out how our nukes were coming across the ocean they would have put as many subs they could to stop them.

War is hell folks. Always has been.

EDH said...

"Black... like a doll's eye."

David said...

My dad lost a high school classmate on that ship. The loss of the Indianapolis was no more horrible than many thousands of events in the war. Tens of thousands.

But it came to sailors who certainly were home free if not torpedoed that day. The would not have seen action again, the end or the war was so near.

And of course the irony of the ship's last mission--delivery of the atomic bomb.

All that and circling sharks, a metaphor for the entire terrible war.

No wonder this event stands out.

Scott M said...

My grandfather was among the sharks after the USS Indy went down. The way he used to tell the story, it was absolutely horrible. He caught the scent of blood from almost five miles away (he was a bit of an exaggerator) and got to the site as quickly as possible, but there were already too many of his contemporaries going at it. He couldn't get a dead-eyed chomp in edgewise.

Mitch H. said...

David, like the Sultana disaster? After a while, it seemed like every narrative of the Civil War had to end with the survivors of Andersonville drowning after that overloaded steamboat went down.

Bill said...

Big Mike said... "I think that if the Indianapolis had been sunk ten months before, or even perhaps six months earlier, the rear echelon MF-ers (that's what we called them in a later war) probably would not have come down on McVay the way they did given that the war was over. The loss of over 800 men, and the horrible way so many of them died, sent the REMFs scrambling for a scapegoat."

What happened to Indianapolis is not dissimilar to what had happened to Juneau in 1942.

"In the event, approximately 100 of Juneau's crew had in fact survived the torpedo attack and the sinking of their ship and were left in the water. The B-17 bomber crew, under orders not to break radio silence, did not pass the message about searching for survivors to their headquarters until they had landed several hours later. The crew's report of the location of possible survivors was mixed in with other pending paperwork actions and went unnoticed for several days. It was not until days later that headquarters staff realized that a search had never been mounted and belatedly ordered aircraft to begin searching the area. In the meantime, Juneau's survivors, many of whom were seriously wounded, were exposed to the elements, hunger, thirst, and repeated shark attacks.
Eight days after the sinking, ten survivors were found by a PBY Catalina search aircraft and retrieved from the water." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sullivan_brothers

Cedarford said...

"The Indianapolis tragedy was, well war. If Japanese spies had found out how our nukes were coming across the ocean they would have put as many subs they could to stop them."

That's pretty ridiculous. Of course the Japanese knew how 100% of our supplies were coming in - by ship. They did not have the sub firepower to array them to cover 10% of the shipping lane approaches and when they did deploy, they had no great luck taking on a protected convoy of vessels.

Frankly, the Navy totally fucked it up.
After the Indianapolis carted the bomb in in a convoy of some 20 other vessels...some idiot decided to send the EMPTY ship back ...without escort and under an entirely unecessary "ultra secret" radio silence.
There were no more bombs for the cruiser, or a sub, or Liberty vessel to ferry, in any case.

The same geniuses decided to send it well outside the usual returning US ship lanes, order the ship to zig-zag despite the Navy long ago abandoning that as stupid as it slowed ships down and wasted fuel and gave subs a better target plot.
And to top it all, left all knowledge of the ships planned movement and destination with a couple of admirals and their butt-kisser top staffers, and a single Harbormaster who didn't realize he was the only one who could tell the rest of the Navy that the ship had arrived as scheduled.

When the Indianapolis didn't show, the Harbormaster simply assumed it had been ordered elsewhere..as was commonplace...and if there was any trouble, of course the other ships since cruisers never sailed alone, would have radio'd in.

The Admirals and butt-kissers had moved on to other matters and simply assumed the Indianapolis was fine because no one contacted them to the contrary.

The survivors were spotted purely by accident by a patrol plane that had deviated from normal patrol routes on sketchy intel that some Japs escaping the Philippines might have gone in that sector to throw off subs and patrol planes out to pick them off when they used more direct routes to Japan. The survivors were initially thought to be Japs, and the plane only landed because no one had an idea how the Japs were in the sea, and it was deemed very important to land and find out.

Of course, being the Navy, and not the Air Force or Marines, the idiot higher-ups that contrived the whole misadventure evaded responsibility...since the time honored way the British Admiralty did things for 300 years and the US emulated, was to keep the aristocrats shielded and single out the captain.

Seeing Red said...

Bless them and their families.

exhelodrvr1 said...

This. ^^^^^^