USS Indianapolis: A Historic Look at One of the Most Decorated Ships in Naval History

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The USS Indianapolis was built before World War II in 1930 and commissioned into the Navy in 1932.  She was of the Portland class of heavy cruisers and there was one other ship of her class, the USS Portland.  In her pre-war years she shuttled President Franklin D. Roosevelt on a goodwill cruise to South American countries. It was on this ship that Roosevelt was made a Shell-back from a Pollywog because the ship crossed the equator. Although details are obscure, Roosevelt mentioned it was two days of intense hazing and initiation that should not be talked about.

Photos: Franklin D. Roosevelt on the USS Indianapolis

Photo Credit: “LC-USZ62-96632”, © 2015 National Museum of the U.S. Navy, Flickr | PD-MK | via Wylio

LC-USZ62-96632: President Franklin D. Roosevelt, (center), onboard USS Indianapolis (CA-35). The President is shown with, (left to right): Eleanor Roosevelt; Mrs. James (Betsy Cushing); the President; James Roosevelt; and President Roosevelt’s mother, Mrs. James (Sara) Roosevelt, during the fleet review off New York City, May 31, 1934. They are standing infront of the second eight-inch gun turret. U.S. Navy Photograph, donated by Harold L. Ickes. Courtesy of the Library of Congress. (2015/12/11).

photo credit: FDR Presidential Library & Museum 48-22 3627(5) via photopin (license)

President Roosevelt waves to the crowds from the USS Indianapolis upon arrival in Uruguay. December 1936.

Pacific Tours of Iwo Jima and Okinawa.

When World War II began, the USS Indianapolis served one time as the flag ship for Admiral Raymond Spruance. In 1942 and 1943 operations, the USS Indianapolis was involved in various task forces and special missions. Several times the USS Indianapolis was docked for repairs and refit due to battle damage from fighting the Imperial Japanese Navy.

Involved in the invasion of the Gilbert and Marshall Islands, the USS Indianapolis engaged Japanese ships and gave support to U.S. invasion forces.  The Indianapolis even went as far up as the Aleutian Islands to dislodge Japanese forces. In 1944, Operations saw the Indianapolis support the landings at Tarawa and Palau Islands. She was then sent to participate in the Battle of the Marianna Islands and the Battle of Philippine Sea. In 1945, the USS Indianapolis was sent with a large Naval Task Force to support the landings at Iwo Jima, where she slugged it out with Japanese guns on Iwo.

Following her service at Iwo Jima, she was sent to participate in the Battle of Okinawa. This is when a Japanese fighter plane bombed the ship. The bomb went deep into the ship and exploded in the mess hall killing her sailors, rupturing fuel tanks and causing extensive damage. Damaged, the Indianapolis limped back to Mare Island in California for extensive repairs and was then sent back into the Pacific to participate in more battles.

USS Indianapolis docked at Mare Island for repairs (U.S. Navy photo/Released):

USS Indianapolis at Mare Island, California in 1937 (U.S. Navy photo/Released) US Navy Photo

The Indianapolis was sent on a secret mission from Hunters Point in California to the Island of Tinian. In her hold was Uranium 235 and the arming mechanism for “Little Boy” (the Hiroshima bomb).  After delivering the parts to complete the bomb, the Indianapolis was to join Admiral Oldendorf’s Task Force 95. However, after midnight on July 28th a Japanese submarine shot 6 torpedo’s at her with two of them hitting her.  In twelve minutes the Indianapolis went to the bottom with 300 hands and about 900 sailors on the surface.  Unfortunately, the Navy was unaware she had gone down even when she was overdue.

 

Photo: Sailors Under the Eight Inch Gun Turret

Photo Credit: “80-G-287122”, © 2015 National Museum of the U.S. Navy, Flickr | PD-MK | via Wylio

80-G-287122: Admiral Raymond A. Spruance, USN, Commander Fifth Fleet on board flagship USS Indianapolis (CA 35), July 18, 1944. Left to right, Lieutenant Junior Grade H.B. Chessher, Jr., USNR; Lieutenant G.R. Stratman, USNR; Lieutenant Junior Grade T.L. Stevens, Jr., USNR; Lieutenant Junior Grade H.W. Hinkle, USNR; Lieutenant Junior Grade A.F. Lenertz, USNR; Lieutenant Junior Grade J.Q. Adams, USNR; Lieutenant Junior Grade A.R. Bell, USNR. (Second Row, Left to right): Lieutenant Junior Grade B. McInerney, USNR; Lieutenant C.R.. Huie, USNR; Lieutenant A.S. Lane, USNR; Lieutenant C.F. Fodd, USNR; Lieutenant J.C. Tillotso, USNR; Lieutenant W.M. Crickard, USNR; Lieutenant H.F. Parker, USNR; Lieutenant Junior Grade L.S. Myers, USNR. (Third Row, left to right): Commander (unidentified); Captain R.W. Morse, USN; Captain B.B. Biggs, USN; Captain C.J. Moore, USN; Admiral R.A. Spruance, USN; Captain E.P. Forrestal, USN; Captain C.H. Murphy, USN; Colonel J.E. Jones, USMC. (Fourth Row, left to right): Lieutenant Commander C.F. Barber, USNR; Lieutenant Commander C.F. Coleman, USNR; Lieutenant Commander G.M. Slonim, USNR; Commander M. C. Burns, USN; Commander J.R. Armstrong, USN; Lieutenant Colonel G.S. Eckhardt, AUS; Lieutenant Commander W. B. McCormick, USNR; and Lieutenant E.H. McKissick, USN. (6/18/2015).
On August 2, Lieutenant Junior Grade W.G. Gwinn was piloting a passing PV-1 Ventura and spotted the sailors. He immediately radioed their position to the Navy. Ships and planes were immediately sent to the rescue, but managed to only pick up a little over 300 survivors. The rest died due to various reasons such as succumbing to their wounds, exposure, dehydration, drowning, shark attack, and suicide.

Photo: Lieutenant Junior Grade W.G. Gwinn


Photo Credit: “80-G-490324”, © 2015 National Museum of the U.S. Navy, Flickr | PD-MK | via Wylio

80-G-490324: Lieutenant Junior Grade W.G. Gwinn, USNR, was the pilot of the PV-1 Ventura patrol bomber which sighted the survivors of the USS Indianapolis (CA-35) sunk by Japanese submarine I-58, July 30, 1945. Photograph released August 15, 1945. (2015/11/10)
A Naval board of inquiry found several officers negligent for not reporting the Indianapolis was overdue.  The Captain, Charles B. McVay, received a Court Martial for negligence. This was due to him not “zig-zagging” his ship which was a wartime evasive maneuver to lower the chance of a successful attack.  However, McVay’s Navy defense lawyers tracked down Mochitsura Hashimoto who was the commanding officer of the submarine that sunk the Indianapolis.  Mochtsura was assured he would be treated as a naval officer and not a war criminal. Flown to San Francisco, he testified for McVay stating that zig-zaggin would not have helped the ship because he had a clear and close shot.  Hashimoto then angrily chastised the court for going after McVay. He felt McVay did nothing wrong because evasive maneuvers in low visibility weather is hazardous.  The Court Martial concluded that McVay was not negligent. Ironically, thanks to the Japanese Commanding Officer that sank the Indianapolis, Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz restored McVay to active duty and he retired as a Rear Admiral. McVay was haunted by the death of his men until he committed suicide in 1968.

 

The wreck of the USS Indianapolis was located by Paul Allen’s “USS Indianapolis Project” aboard Research Vessel Petrel on 19 August 2017 at a depth of 18,000 feet.  The U.S. Navy maintains the Indianapolis is still the property of the U.S. Navy and still in service.

 

Before he died in 2000, Mochitsura Hashimoto went to a USS Indianapolis reunion in 1999. In tears, Mochitsura asked the survivors for forgiveness, they all replied: “We forgive you.”
“The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement.”
Author - Jerry Avalos
Title Photo Credit: USS Indianapolis in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii in 1937. US Navy Photo
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