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USS Indianapolis CA-35.jpg
Indianapolis at Pearl Harbor in 1937
Career (United States)
Name: USS Indianapolis (CA-35)
Laid down: March 31, 1930
Launched: November 7, 1931
Commissioned: November 15, 1932
Honors and
10 Battle Stars
Fate: Sunk on July 30, 1945 by Japanese submarine I-58. 317 of 1,196 crew members survived.
General characteristics
Displacement: 9,800 tons
Length: 610 ft (190 m)
Beam: 66 ft (20 m)
Draft: 17 ft 4 in (5.28 m)
Propulsion: 8 × White-Foster boilers, single reduction geared turbines, 107,000 shp
Speed: 32.7 kn (37.6 mph; 60.6 km/h)
Complement: 629 officers and enlisted (peace), 1,269 officers and enlisted (wartime)
Armament: 9 × 8 in (200 mm)/55 cal guns (3x3)
8 × 5 in (130 mm)/25 cal AA guns[1]
8 × .50 in (12.7 mm) machine guns
Aircraft carried: 2 × OS2U Kingfisher floatplanes

USS Indianapolis (CA-35) was a Portland-class cruiser of the United States Navy. She holds a place in history due to the circumstances of her sinking, which led to the greatest single loss of life at sea in the history of the U.S. Navy.

On 30 July 1945, shortly after delivering critical parts for the first atomic bomb to be used in combat to the United States air base at Tinian, the ship was torpedoed by the Imperial Japanese Navy submarine I-58, sinking in 12 minutes. Of 1,196 crew aboard, approximately 300 went down with the ship. The remaining crew of 800 faced exposure, dehydration and shark attacks as they waited for assistance while floating with few lifeboats and almost no food or water. The Navy learned of the sinking when survivors were spotted four days later by the crew of a PV-1 Ventura on routine patrol. Only 316 sailors survived.[2] Indianapolis was one of the last US Navy ships sunk by enemy action in World War II. (USS Bullhead was attacked by Japanese aircraft with depth charges and probably sunk on 6 August 1945.)

The second ship named for Indianapolis, Indiana, she was laid down on 31 March 1930 by New York Shipbuilding, Camden, New Jersey; launched on 7 November 1931; sponsored by Miss Lucy Taggart, daughter of the late Senator Thomas Taggart, a former mayor of Indianapolis; and commissioned at the Philadelphia Navy Yard on 15 November 1932, Captain John M. Smeallie in command.


Inter-war period

Following shakedown in the Atlantic and Guantánamo Bay until 23 February 1932, Indianapolis trained in the Panama Canal Zone and in the Pacific off the Chilean coast. After overhaul at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, the heavy cruiser sailed to Maine to embark President Franklin Roosevelt at Campobello Island, in the Canadian province of New Brunswick, on 1 July 1933. Getting underway the same day, Indianapolis arrived at Annapolis, Maryland two days later where she entertained six members of the cabinet. After disembarking the President, she departed Annapolis on 4 July, and returned to the Philadelphia Navy Yard.

Onboard Indianapolis looking aft from the forward superstructure as the Sturtevant comes alongside, during the Presidential fleet review off New York City on 31 May 1934. An OS2U Kingfisher scout plane is on Indianapolis' starboard catapult. The Presidential Flag is flying from the mainmast peak.

Indianapolis acted as flagship for the remainder of her peacetime career, and again welcomed President Roosevelt at Charleston, South Carolina, on 18 November 1936 for a "Good-Neighbor" cruise to South America. After carrying President Roosevelt to Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, and Montevideo for state visits, she returned to Charleston on 15 December where the presidential party left the ship.

World War II


Her first action came in the South Pacific, deep in Japanese-dominated waters about 350 mi (560 km) south of Rabaul, New Britain. Late in the afternoon of 20 February 1942, the American ships were attacked by 18 twin-engine bombers, flying in two waves. In the battle that followed, 16 of the planes were shot down by anti-aircraft fire of the ships and fighter planes from Lexington. All ships escaped damage, and they shot down two trailing Japanese seaplanes. On 10 March, the Task Force, reinforced by Yorktown, attacked enemy ports at Lae and Salamaua, New Guinea where the Japanese were marshaling amphibious forces. Carrier-based planes achieved complete surprise by flying in from the south, crossing the high Owen Stanley mountain range, and swooping in to strike Japanese shipping. As they inflicted heavy damage on Japanese warships and transports, the American fliers shot down many Japanese planes which rose to protect the ports. American losses were light but crucial.

Indianapolis then returned to the United States for overhaul and alterations in the Mare Island Navy Yard. Following the refit, Indianapolis escorted a convoy to Australia, then headed for the North Pacific where Japanese landings in the Aleutian Islands had created a precarious situation. The weather along this barren chain of islands is noted for continuous coldness, persistent and unpredictable fog, constant rain and sleet, and sudden storms with violent winds and heavy seas.

On 7 August, the task force to which Indianapolis was attached finally found an opening in the thick fog which hid the Japanese stronghold at Kiska Island, and imperiled ships in the treacherous and partially uncharted nearby coasts. Indianapolis' 8 in (200 mm) guns opened up along with those of the other ships. Although fog hindered observation, floatplanes flown from the cruisers reported seeing ships sinking in the harbor and fires burning among shore installations. So complete was the tactical surprise that it was 15 minutes before shore batteries began to answer, and some of them shot into the air, believing they were being bombed. Most of them were silenced by accurate gunnery from the ships. Japanese submarines then appeared but were promptly depth-charged by American destroyers. Japanese seaplanes also made an ineffective bombing attack. The operation was considered a success despite the scanty information on its results. It also demonstrated the necessity of obtaining bases nearer the Japanese-held islands. Consequently, US forces occupied Adak Island later in the month, providing a base suitable for surface craft and planes further along the island chain from Dutch Harbor on Unalaska Island.



In January 1943, Indianapolis supported the occupation of Amchitka, which gave the Allies another base in the Aleutians. On the night of 19 February, while Indianapolis and two destroyers patrolled southwest of Attu Island, hoping to intercept enemy ships running reinforcements and supplies into Kiska and Attu, she contacted a Japanese cargo ship, Akagane Maru. The cargo ship tried to make a reply to the challenge but was shelled by Indianapolis. Akagane Maru exploded with great force and left no survivors, presumably because she was laden with ammunition. Throughout the spring and summer, Indianapolis operated in Aleutian waters escorting American convoys and covering amphibious assaults. In May, the Allies captured Attu, the first territory occupied by the Japanese to be reconquered by the United States. After Attu was secure, the US forces focused their attention on Kiska, the last enemy stronghold in the Aleutians. However, the Japanese managed to evacuate their entire garrison under cover of persistent, thick fog before the Allied landings there on 15 August.

After refitting at Mare Island, Indianapolis moved to Hawaii where she became the flagship of Vice Admiral Raymond A. Spruance commanding the 5th Fleet. She sortied from Pearl Harbor on 10 November with the main body of the Southern Attack Force for Operation Galvanic, the invasion of the Gilbert Islands. On 19 November, Indianapolis bombarded Tarawa Atoll and next day pounded Makin (see Battle of Makin). The ship then returned to Tarawa and acted as a fire-support ship for the landings. That day her guns shot down an enemy plane and shelled enemy strong points as landing parties struggled against Japanese defenders in the bloody and costly battle of Tarawa. She continued this role until the leveled island was declared secure 3 days later. The conquest of the Marshall Islands followed hard on victory in the Gilberts. Indianapolis was again 5th Fleet Flagship.


The cruiser met other ships of her task force at Tarawa, and on D-Day minus 1, 31 January 1944, she was a unit of the cruiser group which bombarded the islands of Kwajalein Atoll. The shelling continued on D-Day with Indianapolis silencing two enemy shore batteries. Next day she obliterated a blockhouse and other shore installations and supported advancing troops with a creeping barrage. The ship entered Kwajalein Lagoon on 4 February, and remained until all resistance disappeared. (See Battle of Kwajalein.)

In March and April, Indianapolis, still flagship of the 5th Fleet, attacked the Western Carolines. Carrier planes struck at the Palau Islands on 30-31 March with shipping as their primary target. They sank three destroyers, 17 freighters, five oilers and damaged 17 other ships. In addition, airfields were bombed and surrounding waters mined to immobilize enemy ships. Yap and Ulithi were struck on the 31st and Woleai on 1 April. During these three days, Japanese planes attacked the US fleet but were driven off without damaging the American ships. Indianapolis shot down her second plane, a torpedo bomber, and the Japanese lost 160 planes in all, including 46 destroyed on the ground. These attacks successfully prevented Japanese forces from the Carolines from interfering with the US landings on New Guinea.

In June, the 5th Fleet was busy with the assault on the Mariana Islands. Raids on Saipan began with carrier-based planes on 11 June, followed by surface bombardment, in which Indianapolis had a major role, from 13 June. (See Battle of Saipan.) On D-Day, 15 June, Admiral Spruance received reports that a large fleet of battleships, carriers, cruisers, and destroyers was headed south to relieve their threatened garrisons in the Marianas. Since amphibious operations at Saipan had to be protected at all costs, Admiral Spruance could not draw his powerful surface units too far from the scene. Consequently, a fast carrier force was sent to meet this threat while another force attacked Japanese air bases on Iwo Jima and Chichi Jima in the Bonin and Volcano Islands, bases for potential enemy air attacks.

A combined US fleet fought the Japanese on 19 June in the Battle of the Philippine Sea. Japanese carrier planes, which hoped to use the airfields of Guam and Tinian to refuel and rearm and attack American off-shore shipping, were met by carrier planes and the guns of the Allied escorting ships. That day, the US Navy destroyed a reported 426 Japanese planes while losing only 29.[3] Indianapolis herself shot down one torpedo plane. This day of aerial combat became known throughout the fleet as the "Marianas Turkey Shoot". With Japanese air opposition wiped out, the US carrier planes pursued and sank Hiyō, two destroyers, and one tanker and inflicted severe damage on other ships. Two other carriers, Taihō and Shōkaku, were sunk by submarines.

Indianapolis returned to Saipan on 23 June to resume fire support there and six days later moved to Tinian to smash shore installations (see Battle of Tinian). Meanwhile, Guam had been taken; and Indianapolis was the first ship to enter Apra Harbor since that American base had fallen early in the war. The ship operated in the Marianas for the next few weeks, then moved to the Western Carolines where further landings were planned. From 12-29 September, she bombarded the Island of Peleliu in the Palau Group, both before and after the landings (see Battle of Peleliu). She then sailed to Manus Island in the Admiralty Islands where she operated for 10 days before returning to the Mare Island Navy Yard.


Overhauled, Indianapolis joined Vice Admiral Marc A. Mitscher's fast carrier task force on 14 February 1945. Two days later, the task force launched an attack on Tokyo to cover the landings on Iwo Jima, scheduled for 19 February. This was the first carrier attack on Japan since the Doolittle Raid. The mission was to destroy Japanese air facilities and other installations in the "Home Islands". The fleet achieved complete tactical surprise by approaching the Japanese coast under cover of bad weather. The attacks were pressed home for two days. The American Navy lost 49 carrier planes while shooting down or destroying 499 enemy planes, a 10:1 kill/loss ratio. The task force also sank a carrier, nine coastal ships, a destroyer, two destroyer escorts, and a cargo ship. They destroyed hangars, shops, aircraft installations, factories, and other industrial targets.

Immediately after the strikes, the Task Force raced to Bonin to support the landings on Iwo Jima. The ship remained there until 1 March, protecting the invasion ships and bombarding targets in support of the landings. Indianapolis returned to Admiral Mitscher's Task Force in time to strike Tokyo again on 25 February and Hachijo off the southern coast of Honshū the following day. Although weather was extremely bad, the American force destroyed 158 planes and sank five small ships while pounding ground installations and destroying trains.

The next target for the US forces was Okinawa in the Ryukyu Islands, which were in range of aircraft from the Japanese mainland. The fast carrier force was tasked with attacking airfields in southern Japan until they were incapable of launching effective airborne opposition to the impending invasion. The fast carrier force departed for Japan from Ulithi on 14 March. On 18 March, it launched an attack from a position 100 mi (160 km) southeast of the island of Kyūshū. The attack targeted airfields on Kyūshū as well as ships of the Japanese fleet in the harbors of Kobe and Kure on southern Honshū. The Japanese located the American Task Force on 21 March, sending 48 planes to attack the ships. 24 fighters from the task force intercepted and shot down all the Japanese aircraft.

Indianapolis off Mare Island, on July 10, 1945.

Pre-invasion bombardment of Okinawa began on 24 March. Indianapolis spent 7 days pouring 8 in (200 mm) shells into the beach defenses. During this time, enemy aircraft repeatedly attacked the American ships. Indianapolis shot down six planes and damaged two others. On 31 March, the ship's lookouts spotted a Japanese fighter as it emerged from the morning twilight and roared at the bridge in a vertical dive. The ship's 20 mm guns opened fire, but within 15 seconds, the plane was over the ship. Tracers converged on it, causing it to swerve, but the enemy pilot managed to release his bomb from a height of 25 ft (7.6 m), crashing his plane into the sea near the port stern. The bomb plummeted through the deck, into the crew's mess hall, down through the berthing compartment, and through the fuel tanks before crashing through the keel and exploding in the water underneath. The concussion blew two gaping holes in the keel which flooded nearby compartments, killing nine crewmen. The ship's bulkheads prevented any progressive flooding. The Indianapolis, settling slightly by the stern and listed to port, steamed to a salvage ship for emergency repairs. Here, inspection revealed that her propeller shafts were damaged, her fuel tanks ruptured, her water-distilling equipment ruined. The Indianapolis made the long trip across the Pacific to Mare Island under her own power.


Indianapolis' intended route from Guam to the Philippines

After major repairs and an overhaul, Indianapolis received orders to proceed to Tinian island, carrying parts and the Uranium for the atomic bomb Little Boy which would later be dropped on Hiroshima. Indianapolis departed San Francisco on 16 July. Arriving at Pearl Harbor on 19 July, she raced on unaccompanied, reaching Tinian on 26 July. Indianapolis was then sent to Guam where a number of the crew who had completed their tours of duty were replaced by other sailors. Leaving Guam on 28 July, she began sailing toward Leyte where her crew was to receive training before continuing on to Okinawa to join Vice Admiral Jesse B. Oldendorf's Task Force 95. At 0014 on 30 July, she was struck by two torpedoes from Japanese submarine I-58 under the command of Mochitsura Hashimoto. The explosions caused massive damage, causing Indianapolis to sink in just 12 minutes. The Japanese submarine had gone undetected prior to the attack due to the lack of effective submarine detection equipment on the American ship.

About 300 of the 1,196 men on board died in the sinking. The rest of the crew, 880 men, with few lifeboats and many without lifejackets, floated in the water awaiting rescue.[4] However, the Navy command had no knowledge of the sinking until survivors were spotted four and a half days later, at 1025 on 2 August by pilot Lieutenant Wilbur (Chuck) Gwinn and copilot Lieutenant Warren Colwell on a routine patrol flight.[5]. Only 321 crew came out of the water alive, with 316 ultimately surviving. They suffered from lack of food and water (some found rations such as Spam and crackers amongst the debris), exposure to the elements (hypothermia, dehydration, hypernatremia, photophobia, starvation and dementia), severe desquamation, and shark attacks, while some of the men killed one another in various states of delirium and hallucinations. [6] The Discovery Channel has stated that the Indianapolis sinking resulted in the most shark attacks on humans in history, and attributes the attacks to the oceanic whitetip shark species. The same show attributed most of the deaths on Indianapolis to exposure, salt poisoning and thirst, with the dead being dragged off by sharks.

Gwinn immediately dropped a life raft and a radio transmitter. All air and surface units capable of rescue operations were dispatched to the scene at once. A PBY Catalina seaplane under the command of Lieutenant R. Adrian Marks was dispatched to lend assistance and report.[5] En route to the scene, Marks overflew Cecil J. Doyle and alerted her captain, future US Secretary of the Navy W. Graham Claytor, Jr., of the emergency. On his own authority, Claytor decided to divert to the scene.

Arriving hours ahead of Doyle, Marks' crew began dropping rubber rafts and supplies. Having seen men being attacked by sharks, Marks disobeyed standard orders and landed on the open sea. He began taxiing to pick up the stragglers and lone swimmers who were at the greatest risk of shark attack.[5] Learning the men were the crew of Indianapolis, he radioed the news, requesting immediate assistance. Doyle responded she was en route. When Marks' plane's fuselage was full, survivors were tied to the wings with parachute cord, damaging the wings so that the plane would never fly again and had to be sunk.[5] Marks and his crew rescued 56 men that day.[5]

Survivors of Indianapolis on Guam, in August 1945.

USS Cecil Doyle was the first vessel on the scene.[5] Homing on Marks' Catalina in total darkness, Doyle halted to avoid killing or further injuring survivors, and began taking Marks' survivors aboard. Disregarding the safety of his own vessel, Captain Claytor pointed his largest searchlight into the night sky to serve as a beacon for other rescue vessels.[5] This beacon was the first indication to most survivors that rescuers had arrived.[5]

The USS Helm, USS Madison and USS Ralph Talbot were ordered to the rescue scene from Ulithi, along with USS Dufilho, USS Bassett and USS Ringness from the Philippine Frontier. They searched thoroughly for any survivors until 8 August.

Navy failure to learn of the sinking

Operations plotting boards were kept at the Headquarters of Commander Marianas on Guam and of the Commander Philippine Sea Frontier on Leyte. On these boards, the positions of all vessels of which the headquarters was concerned were plotted. However, for ships as large as the Indianapolis, it was assumed that they would reach their destinations on time, unless reported otherwise. Therefore, their positions were based on predictions, and not on reports. On 31 July, when she should have arrived at Leyte, Indianapolis was removed from the board in the headquarters of Commander Marianas. She was also recorded as having arrived at Leyte by the headquarters of Commander Philippine Sea Frontier. Lieutenant Stuart B. Gibson, the Operations Officer under the Port Director, Tacloban, was the officer responsible for tracking the movements of Indianapolis. The non-arrival of that vessel on schedule was known at once to Lieutenant Gibson who failed to investigate the matter and made no immediate report of the fact to his superiors.[7]

The Indianapolis sent distress calls before sinking. Three stations received the signals; however, none acted upon the call. One commander was drunk, another had ordered his men not to disturb him and a third thought it was a Japanese prank.[8] For a long time the Navy denied that a distress call had been sent. The receipt of the call only came to light after the release of declassified records.

Immediately prior to the attack, the seas had been moderate, the visibility fluctuating but poor in general, and Indianapolis had been steaming at 17 kn (20 mph; 31 km/h). When the ship did not reach Leyte on the 31st, as scheduled, no report was made that she was overdue. This omission was due to a misunderstanding of the Movement Report System. Captain Charles Butler McVay III, who had commanded Indianapolis since November 1944, survived the sinking, and was with those rescued days later. In November 1945, he was court-martialed and convicted of "hazarding his ship by failing to zigzag." Several things about the court-martial were controversial. There was evidence that the Navy itself had placed the ship in harm's way, in that McVay's orders were to "zigzag at his discretion, weather permitting." Further, Mochitsura Hashimoto, commander of I-58, testified that zigzagging would have made no difference.[9]

Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz remitted McVay's sentence and restored him to active duty. McVay retired in 1949.[10] While many of Indianapolis's survivors said McVay was not to blame for the sinking, the families of some of the men who died did. The guilt that was placed on his shoulders mounted until he committed suicide in 1968, using his Navy-issue revolver. McVay was discovered with a toy sailor in one hand on his front lawn.[11]

In October 2000, the United States Congress passed a resolution that Captain McVay's record should state that "he is exonerated for the loss of Indianapolis." President Bill Clinton signed the resolution.[12] Although 700 ships of the US Navy were lost in combat in World War II, McVay was the only captain to be court-martialed for the sinking of his ship.[citation needed]


Indianapolis earned 10 battle stars for World War II service.

The wreck

The exact location of Indianapolis is unknown. In July-August 2001, an expedition sought to find the wreckage through the use of side-scan sonar and underwater cameras mounted on a remotely operated vehicle. Four Indianapolis survivors accompanied the expedition, which was not successful. In June 2005, a second expedition was led to find the wreck. National Geographic covered the story and released it in July. Submersibles were launched to find any sign of wreckage. The only things ever found, which have not been confirmed to have belonged to Indianapolis, were many chunks of metal found in the area of the reported sinking position (this was included in the National Geographic program Finding of the USS Indianapolis).[citation needed]


Navy firing detail as part of a burial-at-sea in 2008 for one of the 316 survivors of the USS Indianapolis (CA-35) sinking on July 30, 1945.

The USS Indianapolis National Memorial was dedicated on 2 August 1995. It is located on the Canal Walk in Indianapolis. The heavy cruiser is recreated in limestone and granite and sits adjacent to the downtown canal. The crewmembers' names are listed on the monument, with special notations for those who lost their lives.

Some material relating to Indianapolis is held by the Indiana State Museum. Her bell and a commissioning pennant are located at the Heslar Naval Armory.

The swim training center at United States Navy Recruit Training Command is named USS Indianapolis.


The USS Indianapolis Museum had its grand opening 7 July 2007 with its gallery at the Indiana World War Memorial Plaza.

See also


  • This article includes text from the public domain Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships.
  • Fahey, James C. (1941). The Ships and Aircraft of the U.S. Fleet, Two-Ocean Fleet Edition. Ships and Aircraft. 
  • David Harrell (as told by Edgar Harrell), Out of the Depths. 2005. ISBN 1-59781-166-1
  • Raymond B. Lech, All the Drowned Sailors, Jove Books, New York, ASIN: B000UE9796
  • Marks, R. Adrian (April 1981). America was Well Represented. United States Naval Institute Proceedings. 
  • Richard F. Newcomb, "Abandon Ship!: The Saga of the U.S.S. Indianapolis, the Navy's Greatest Sea Disaster" ISBN 0-06-018471-X
  • Doug Stanton, In Harm's Way: The Sinking of the USS Indianapolis and the Extraordinary Story of Its Survivors ISBN 0-8050-7366-3


  1. ^ Fahey 1941 p. 9
  2. ^
  3. ^ Marianas Turkey Shoot
  4. ^ Lewis L. Haynes (Jul.-Aug. 1995). "Recollections of the sinking of USS Indianapolis (CA-35) by CAPT Lewis L. Haynes, MC (Medical Corps) (Ret.), the senior medical officer on board the ship.". Navy Medicine. Retrieved 2009-04-04. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h Marks(April 1981)pp.48-50
  6. ^ In Harm's Way: The Sinking of the USS Indianapolis and the Extraordinary Story of Its Survivors
  7. ^ "The Sinking of USS Indianapolis: Navy Department Press Release, Narrative of the Circumstances of the Loss of USS Indianapolis, 23 February 1946". US Navy. February 23, 1946. Retrieved 2008-06-16. 
  8. ^ Timothy W. Maier (June 5, 2000). "For The Good of the Navy". Insight on the News. Retrieved 2008-07-13. 
  9. ^ Commander Hashimoto's testimony from
  10. ^ Biography of Admiral McVay from
  11. ^ Admiral McVay's suicide
  12. ^ McVay's exoneration from]

External links


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