Indianapolis: The True Story of the Worst Sea Disaster in U.S. Naval History and the Fifty-Year Fight to Exonerate an Innocent Manby Published 10 Jul 2018
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NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER * “GRIPPING…THIS YARN HAS IT ALL.” —USA Today * “A WONDERFUL BOOK.” —Christian Science Monitor * “ENTHRALLING.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review) * “A MUST-READ.” —Booklist (starred review)
A human drama unlike any other—the riveting and definitive full story of the worst sea disaster in United States naval history.
Just after midnight on July 30, 1945, days after delivering the components of the atomic bomb from California to the Pacific Islands in the most highly classified naval mission of the war, USS Indianapolis is sailing alone in the center of the Philippine Sea when she is struck by two Japanese torpedoes. The ship is instantly transformed into a fiery cauldron and sinks within minutes. Some 300 men go down with the ship. Nearly 900 make it into the water alive. For the next five nights and four days, almost three hundred miles from the nearest land, the men battle injuries, sharks, dehydration, insanity, and eventually each other. Only 316 will survive.
For the better part of a century, the story of USS Indianapolis has been understood as a sinking tale. The reality, however, is far more complicated—and compelling. Now, for the first time, thanks to a decade of original research and interviews with 107 survivors and eyewitnesses, Lynn Vincent and Sara Vladic tell the complete story of the ship, her crew, and their final mission to save one of their own.
It begins in 1932, when Indianapolis is christened and launched as the ship of state for President Franklin Roosevelt. After Pearl Harbor, Indianapolis leads the charge to the Pacific Islands, notching an unbroken string of victories in an uncharted theater of war. Then, under orders from President Harry Truman, the ship takes aboard a superspy and embarks on her final world-changing mission: delivering the core of the atomic bomb to the Pacific for the strike on Hiroshima. Vincent and Vladic provide a visceral, moment-by-moment account of the disaster that unfolds days later after the Japanese torpedo attack, from the chaos on board the sinking ship to the first moments of shock as the crew plunge into the remote waters of the Philippine Sea, to the long days and nights during which terror and hunger morph into delusion and desperation, and the men must band together to survive.
Then, for the first time, the authors go beyond the men’s rescue to chronicle Indianapolis’s extraordinary final mission: the survivors’ fifty-year fight for justice on behalf of their skipper, Captain Charles McVay III, who is wrongly court-martialed for the sinking. What follows is a captivating courtroom drama that weaves through generations of American presidents, from Harry Truman to George W. Bush, and forever entwines the lives of three captains—McVay, whose life and career are never the same after the scandal; Mochitsura Hashimoto, the Japanese sub commander who sinks Indianapolis but later joins the battle to exonerate McVay; and William Toti, the captain of the modern-day submarine Indianapolis, who helps the survivors fight to vindicate their captain.
A sweeping saga of survival, sacrifice, justice, and love, Indianapolis stands as both groundbreaking naval history and spellbinding narrative—and brings the ship and her heroic crew back to full, vivid, unforgettable life. It is the definitive account of one of the most remarkable episodes in American history.
"Indianapolis: The True Story of the Worst Sea Disaster in U.S. Naval History and the Fifty-Year Fight to Exonerate an Innocent Man" Reviews
Phenomenal, engrossing, riveting, devastating---all of these (and more) apply to Vincent's book about the USS Indianapolis. Following the ship from just a little while before it was attacked by a Japanese sub and ending as recently as last year, Vincent has arranged an amazingly coherent narrative that gives intricate insight into mission details, the actions and personalities of the crew, and pointed answers, almost in a paint-by-numbers fashion, as to just how the sinking of this ship blossomed into such an untold catastrophe.
It would be easy to focus for the most part on the men's struggles at sea (as that is the most publicized part); I mean, isn't that right? As the book is quick to point out, a great majority of today's awareness of the ship comes from the film Jaws, and I'll raise my hand to that effect, as I'm definitely one among that particular crowd. Vincent seems to be quite aware of the fascination of this part of the story, and gives it proper due without giving in to the temptation of sensationalizing the ordeal. Many pages will be turned over to reveal heart-wrenching deaths, survival against the odds, and humbling conclusions that further cement these men (and their loved ones) as champions beyond comprehension.
The final third of the book outlines the court-martial trial of the captain of the Indianapolis and subsequent attempts to reinstate him, despite the verdict and the shaky, shady events that preceded it. Modern proponents and allies of the survivors are highlighted as they take up the mantle, working in tandem with what's left of the crew to secure the ship's legacy, writhing in the agony of a stubborn bureaucracy, and celebrating in the ecstasy of legal victory.
You'll close the book and likely have a somber moment (or several) in remembrance for the crew and what they had to endure for over half a century. A lesser book might have either been too clinical or weighed too heavily on the survival at sea (as mentioned earlier); Vincent wonderfully reveals the story in its entirety, showing what adversity can cause us to become, for better or for worse, warts and all.
A most supreme recommendation from me. You'll be floored.
Many thanks to NetGalley, as well as to Simon & Schuster for the advance read.
A few days ago, I was sitting on the beach with a few friends and we began discussing the 1970s film “Jaws.” Someone referred to Robert Shaw’s crusty performance and a monologue he gave about the disaster that befell the USS Indianapolis at the conclusion of the World War II. Since I was familiar with Doug Stanton’s work, IN HARMS WAY written in 2003 about the sinking of the ship it immediately peaked my interest. When I returned home I saw an advertisement for a new book on the worst naval disaster in American naval history, entitled of course, INDIANAPOLIS: THE TRUE STORY OF THE WORST SEA DISASTER IN U.S. NAVAL HISTORY AND THE FIFTY-YEAR FIGHT TO EXONERATE AN INNOCENT MAN by Lynn Vincent and Sarah Vladic. This phenomenal new book updates Stanton’s effort and presents a more in-depth account based on significant new documentation, interviews, and takes the story through the exoneration of the ship’s Captain, Commander Charles B. McVay III, who for decades was the navy’s scapegoat for the events that occurred at the end of July and early August, 1945.
In 1932 the USS Indianapolis was christened by President Franklin D. Roosevelt as the flagship of the US Pacific Fleet. In the summer of 1945 it was chosen to complete the most highly classified naval mission of the war by delivering two large cannisters of material that was needed to assemble the Atomic bomb that was to be dropped in Hiroshima to the Tinian Islands. Four days after completing its mission it was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine and sunk resulting in over 1193 men either going down with the ship or being thrown overboard with only 316 surviving. The result was a national scandal as the government pursued its investigation and reached a conclusion that was both unfair and completely wrong.
Vincent and Vladic’s incremental approach in developing the story is very important as it allows the reader to understand the scope of the tragedy, the individuals involved, and the conclusions reached. The authors delve into the background history of the ship’s actions during the war, mini-biographies of the personnel aboard the ship, and the military bureaucracy that was responsible of the ship’s manifest and orders that consume the first third of the book.
After getting to know the important characters in the drama Vincent and Vladic transition to the actual delivery of the weapon components and follows the Indianapolis as she transverses through the Philippine Sea. Capt. McVay asked for a destroyer escort which was standard for this type of operation but was denied, in part because of availability, and in part because he was informed by Admiral Nimitz’s assistant chief of staff and operations officer James Carter that “things were very quiet…. [and] the Japs are on their last legs and there’s nothing to worry about.” What Carter did not mention was that ULTRA intelligence came across the deployment of four Japanese submarines on offensive missions to the Philippine Sea.” Later, Acting Commander of the Philippine Sea Front, Commodore Norman Gillette would characterize the same intelligence as a “recognized threat.” In addition to presenting the American side of events, the authors follow Japanese preparations for the defense of the home islands, and zeroes in on Mochitsura Hashimoto, the Commander of the Japanese submarine I-58 which would sink the Indianapolis.
The authors follow the movements of the Indianapolis and Hashimoto’s submarine the days and hours leading up to the attack. Five minutes before midnight on July 30, six torpedoes were fired at the Indianapolis and three hit the ship. Parts of the book read as an adventure story as the authors review calculations dealing with location and speed as the possible target begins to become clearer and clearer. After taking the reader through the attack and resulting sinking of the ship, the reader is presented with at times a quite graphic description of the plight of the sailors who died during the attack, those who jumped off the ship, and the others who abandoned ship under Capt. McVay’s orders. This section of the monograph can be heart wrenching as the men fight for their survival. The carnage and psychological impact of the attack is very disconcerting. After enduring shark attacks, living with no water and little food they resorted to cannibalism, theft, murder, and suicide. The conditions were appalling but others formed groups employing whatever could be salvaged from the ship to create islands of men linked together by netting, rafts, life jackets, or anything else that would float. Apart from men who became delirious and suffered from hallucinations, others found their main enemies to be hunger, dehydration, and sharks who seemed to circle everywhere, and sadly, when it seemed that an individual might be saved a shark attack would take another life.
The most chilling part of the narrative is the description of rescue operations that began on August 2nd. At 11:18 am Lt. Wilbur Gwinn flying a routine patrol in a PBM Mariner noticed a huge oil slick below, and after careful observation noticed a 25-mile oil slick. The spotting of the men below sends chills down the spine of readers as the authors details of the rescue as word spread that there were hundreds of men over an 80-mile area. Sadly, many men would die even as rescue operations commenced as they had little reserve after four days in the water. The question must be asked, when the Indianapolis went missing from July 30 onward no one was tracking the ship carefully to report that she had not arrived at her destination? The navy would investigate and reach a conclusion that the authors would totally discredit.
The last third of the book is devoted to the legal battle that surrounded who was responsible for the sinking of the Indianapolis and once the decision was reached the authors spend their time describing how a wrongful conviction was finally overturned. The authors follow the investigation and different hearings and the final court martial and analyze the testimony, conclusions, and final reports that were issued. They point out the inconsistencies and outright lies offered by certain naval officers as they tried to rest all the blame on Capt. McVay to cover their own “asses.” In describing the conclusions reached by the navy Vincent and Vladic point out “what was not discussed was the string of intelligence and communication failures that led to something being amiss in the first place—failures of Carter, Gillette, and Naquin, as well as Vice Admiral Murray, a member of the court, were well aware.” (317)
The authors dissect the report that called for McVay to be court martialed, especially the information that was left out. For the navy brass that had two ships sunk in the waning moments of the war resulting in over 1000 casualties, someone had to be found responsible. The materials presented reflect where the real blame should have fallen. At Guam, failure to provide an escort for the Indianapolis. Further, Guam took no action when Fleet Radio Unit Pacific intelligence indicated a Japanese submarine had sunk a vessel in the area that the Indianapolis was known to be present. At Leyte, the Philippine Sea Frontier Organization failed to keep track of the Indianapolis and take action when the vessel failed to appear at its scheduled time when a Japanese submarine was located near its line of course.
One of the most interesting aspects of the book is the weak defense put up by Navy Captain John Parmelee Cady who by this time had little interest in being a lawyer and was given little time to prepare a defense. Cady’s approach is highlighted by the testimony submarine combat expert Captain Glynn Robert Donaho whose statement should have helped exonerate McVay, but did not. The entire transcript of witness testimony is interesting particularly that of the man whose ship sank the Indianapolis, Mochitsura Hashimoto. Other fascinating components of the book are some of the heroes involved in publicizing and working behind the scenes to bring about justice for the McVay family and those of the survivors and men lost at sea. Chief among them was Commander William Toti who stood at the helm of the namesake submarine the Indianapolis. Another is Hunter Scott, an eleven year old boy who worked assiduously on the history of the disaster and in the end testified before a Senate Committee. Without their efforts and numerous others, one wonders if the degree of closure that was finally achieved would have come about.
As one reads the narrative, you grow angrier and angrier at the US Navy for its malfeasance and outright culpability in ruining a man’s life and providing false information for the families of the victims of the disaster. As the authors press on with their account the redemption that is finally earned it does not reduce the uncalled for actions of so many in the Navy and the US government. The authors do a nice job ferreting out those responsible, but that does not detract from the fact that the lies were seen as truth for decades.
First, congratulations to the authors Lynn Vincent and Sara Vladic for the many, many hours of research, interviews, and patience putting this true full account of the sinking of the ship and the court-martial of Captain Charles McVay.
I usually get tired or worn out reading books that are over 350 pages or so. This one is well over 400 and every bit of it was an adventure for me - a page turner.
This story is well defined about the stuff that took place before, during and after the sinking of the INDIANAPOLIS.
Suspense all the way on this true story.
Won this book from Goodreads.com and I thank you. One of the best books I have read, PERIOD.
Wow! Lynn Vincent and Sara Vladic have crafted an amazing read in "Indianapolis" that puts you in the middle of a seemingly unbelievable tale of war, loss, brotherhood, victory, faith and determination as they unpack the story of the USS Indianapolis. From the time at sea through the secret journey to deliver components for Little Man to the heart-pounding torpedo attack and sinking of the ship through the survivors time adrift waiting for rescue days later, a clear visual picture is drawn of the surroundings as well as the people involved in this heroic tale. As fascinating as the story was leading up to the rescue, what happened in the months, years and decades since is also an amazing tale unto its own. The dogged determination of survivors and their families to right the record about what happened combined with the involvement of the final USS Indianapolis submarine commander make for a compelling read. Sara Vladic became enthralled with this story as a teenager and she has made it a key part of her life to capture and share the story of this crew - that passion was evident within the pages. Lynn Vincent and Sara Vladic pull from myriad sources to tell a story that keeps you interested from the first page until the end (and even the end pages are an interesting read, too) - this book is a great example of a well crafted narrative nonfiction that I find to be some of the best writing around. In the days since reading it, I have already recommended it to at least 3 people and keep coming back to the story in conversation with others.
I received an ARC through NetGalley and Simon & Schuster to read in exchange for my honest review. This book is released July 10th. I look forward to buying my own copy of this in hardback for my personal library.
A wholly American ship, she was built between 1930 and 1932. She first sailed in 1932 and was christened the USS Indianapolis. By 1945, the Indianapolis became master of the seas from Pearl Harbor all the way to Japan. The end of the Pacific War was fast coming when she was tasked with a top secret mission at the end of July to deliver the core of the bomb that was to fall on Hiroshima. Her commander was Captain Charles B. McVay. Four days later, the Indianapolis was struck by two Japanese torpedoes and she went down. Three hundred men went down with the ship. Nearly nine hundred made it into the sea. Only three hundred and sixteen men survived the harrowing tale of endurance, determination and sheer luck.
What follows in this remarkable tale is the story of the Indianapolis’ war in the Pacific. It tells the story of the grit and determination of Admiral Spruance, the sharp wits of Captain McVay and the bravery of her men. It also tells of McVay’s court martial and the fifty-year battle to clear his name. It speaks of the lack of the Navy’s ability to admit their responsibility in the disaster, the survivors’ struggle to survive in the water against all odds in a sea surrounded by sharks and the loyalty of the surviving men to their Captain is joining the fight to clear his name.
This is an extremely well-researched story. The two authors did everything in their power to tell the real story of the Indianapolis – from her birth to her death. It is written in a clear and concise manner, not in overly technical or legalese in language. It is easy for anyone to read, whether an historian or a casual reader who is interest in the Indianapolis’ history. It is a wonderful book and very informative and interesting. I am glad that I read it. Of course, I’ve seen the Spielberg film about the ship and have seen the Jaws film where Robert Shaw speaks his immortal lines.
I want to thank NetGalley and Simon & Schuster for forwarding to me a copy of this most remarkable history to read, enjoy and review.