USS Indianapolis (CA-35)

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USS Indianapolis off Mare Island, on 10 July 1945.
Career Missing image
USN Jack

Laid down: 31 March 1930
Launched: 7 November 1931
Commissioned: 15 November 1932
Fate: Sunk by Japanese submarine I-58 on 30 July 1945. Only 316 of 1,199 crew members survived.
General Characteristics
Displacement: 9,800 tons
Length: 610 ft (186 m)
Beam: 66 ft (20 m)
Draught: 17 ft 4 in (5.28 m)
Speed: 32 knots (59 km/h)
Complement: 1,269 officers and enlisted
Armament: Nine 8 inch (200 mm), eight 5 inch (120 mm) guns

USS Indianapolis (CA-35) was a Portland-class heavy cruiser of the United States Navy. She holds a place in history due to the notorious circumstances of her demise, which was the worst single loss of life in the history of the United States Navy. After delivering the first atomic bomb to the United States air base at Tinian Island on 26 July 1945, she was in the Philippine Sea when attacked at 00:14 on 30 July 1945, by a Japanese submarine. Most of the crew was lost to shark attacks, as they floated helplessly for several days, waiting for assistance.


Service before World War II

Indianapolis was laid down on 31 March 1930 by the New York Shipbuilding Corp., 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.

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

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USS Indianapolis at Pearl Harbor in 1937

On 6 September 1933, Secretary of the Navy Claude A. Swanson broke his flag in Indianapolis for an inspection tour of the Pacific, visiting the Canal Zone, Hawaii, and the fleet in the San Pedro-San Diego area. He debarked at San Diego 27 October, and Indianapolis became flagship of the Scouting Force on 1 November 1933. Following maneuvers off the West Coast, she departed Long Beach, Calif., on 9 April 1934 and arrived New York City on 29 May 1934. There she again embarked the President and his party for a review of the Fleet. She arrived Long Beach on 9 November 1934 for tactical war problems with the Scouting Fleet.

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.

Service during World War II

Indianapolis was making a simulated bombardment of Johnston Island when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. She immediately joined Task Force 12 and searched for Japanese carriers reportedly still in the vicinity. She arrived Pearl Harbor on 13 December 1941 and joined Task Force 11.

South Pacific

Her first action came in the South Pacific deep in Japanese-dominated waters about 350 miles (563 km) south of Rabaul, New Britain. Late in the afternoon of on 20 February 1942, the American ships were attacked by 18 twin-engined bombers, flying in 2 waves. In the battle that followed, 16 of the planes were shot down by accurate antiaircraft fire of the ships and fighter planes from Lexington. All ships escaped damage and they splashed two trailing Japanese seaplanes.

On 10 March 1942 the Task Force, reinforced by the carrier Yorktown, attacked enemy ports at Lae and Salamaua, New Guinea, where the Japanese were marshalling 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 harbor shipping. As they inflicted heavy damage on Japanese warships and transports, the American flyers shot down many Japanese planes which rose to protect the ports. American losses were light.

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Closeup view of her well deck area, from the port side, at the Mare Island Navy Yard, on 19 April 1942, following overhaul.

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 fogs; constant rain, snow, and sleet; and sudden storms with violent winds and heavy seas.

Kiska and Attu

By 7 August 1942, 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's 8 inch (200 mm) guns opened up along with those of the other ships. Although fog hindered observation, scout planes 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 fired 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, U.S. forces occupied the island of Adak 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 1943, while Indianapolis and two destroyers patrolled southwest of Attu, 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 fake a reply to the challenge but was shelled by Indianapolis. Akagane Maru exploded with great force and left no survivors, she was presumably laden with ammunition.

Throughout the spring and summer of 1943, 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 U.S. 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.

Flagship of the 5th Fleet

After refitting at Mare Island, Indianapolis moved to Hawaii where she became the flagship of Vice Admiral Raymond A. Spruance commanding the U.S. 5th Fleet. She sortied from Pearl Harbor on 10 November 1943 with the main body of the Southern Attack Force of the Assault Force for Operation Galvanic, the invasion of the Gilbert Islands. On 19 November 1943, Indianapolis, in a force of cruisers bombarded Tarawa 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 splashed 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. She rendezvoused with 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 4 February and remained until all resistance disappeared. (See Battle of Kwajalein.)

USS Indianapolis painted in pattern camouflage at a Pacific base in 1944.
USS Indianapolis painted in pattern camouflage at a Pacific base in 1944.
During March and April of 1944, Indianapolis, still flagship of the 5th Fleet, attacked the Western Carolines. Carrier planes struck at the Palau Islands on 30 and 31 March with shipping as their primary target. They sank 3 destroyers, 17 freighters, 5 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 3 days, enemy planes attacked the U.S. fleet but were driven off without damaging the American ships. Indianapolis shot down her second plane, a torpedo bomber, and the enemy lost 160 planes in all, including 46 destroyed on the ground. These attacks successfully prevented enemy forces from the Carolines from interfering with the U.S. landings on New Guinea.

During June 1944, 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 dangerous potential enemy air attacks.

A combined fleet met the enemy 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 our off-shore shipping, were met by carrier planes and the guns of the Allied escorting ships. That day the Navy destroyed about 400 Japanese planes while losing only 17. Indianapolis, which had operated with the force which struck Iwo Jima and Chichi Jima, 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 U.S. carrier planes pursued and sank two carriers (Shokaku and Hiyo), two destroyers, and one tanker and inflicted severe damage on other ships. Another carrier, Taiho was sunk by a submarine.

Indianapolis returned to Saipan on 23 June to resume fire support there and 6 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 Mariana Islands for the next few weeks, then moved to the Western Carolines where further landings were planned. From 12 to 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 in the Admiralty Islands where she operated for 10 days before returning to the Mare Island Navy Yard.

Iwo Jima

Overhauled, Indianapolis joined Vice Admiral Marc A. Mitscher's fast carrier task force on 14 February 1945, two days before it made an attack on Tokyo — the first since the Doolittle Raid in April 1942. The operation covered American landings on Iwo Jima, scheduled for on 19 February 1945, by destroying Japanese air facilities and other installations in the "Home Islands". Complete tactical surprise was achieved by approaching the Japanese coast under cover of bad weather, and attacks were pressed home for 2 days. On 16 and 17 February, the American Navy lost 49 carrier planes while shooting down or destroying on the ground 499 enemy planes. Besides this 10-to-l edge in aircraft victories, Mitscher's Force sank a carrier, 9 coastal ships, a destroyer, 2 destroyer escorts, and a cargo ship. Moreover, they wrecked hangers, shops, aircraft installations, factories, and other industrial targets. Throughout the action, Indianapolis played her vital role of support ship.

Immediately after the strikes, the Task Force raced to the Bonins to support the landings on Iwo Jima. The ship remained there until 1 March, protecting the invasion ships and training her guns on any targets spotted on the beach. The ship returned to Admiral Mitscher's Task Force in time to strike Tokyo again on 25 February and Hachijo off the southern coast of Honshu the following day. Although weather was extremely bad, the Americans destroyed 158 planes and sank 5 small ships while pounding ground installations and demolishing trains.


A large base close to the home islands was needed to press the attack, and Okinawa in the Ryukyus seemed ideal for the part. To capture it with minimum losses, airfields in southern Japan had to be pounded until they were incapable of launching effective airborne opposition to the impending invasion.

Indianapolis, with the fast carrier force, departed Ulithi on 14 March 1945, and proceeded toward the Japanese coast. On 18 March, from a position 100 miles (160 km) southeast of Kyushu, the flat-tops launched strikes against airfields on the island, ships of the Japanese fleet in the harbors of Kobe and Kure on southern Honshu. After locating the American Task Force 21 March, Japan sent 48 planes to attack the ships, but 24 planes from the carriers intercepted the enemy aircraft some 60 miles (97 km) away. At the end of the battle, every one of the enemy planes was in the sea.

Preinvasion bombardment of Okinawa began on 24 March and for seven days Indianapolis poured 8 inch (200 mm) shells into the beach defenses. Meanwhile, enemy aircraft repeatedly attacked the ships; and Indianapolis shot down six planes and assisted in splashing two others. On 31 March, the day before the invasion, the ship's sky lookouts spotted a Japanese single-engined fighter plane 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 less than 15 seconds after it was spotted the plane was over the ship. Tracer shells crashed into the plane, causing it to swerve; but the enemy pilot managed to release his bomb from a height of 25 ft (7.6 m) and crash his plane on the port side of the after main deck. The plane toppled into the sea, causing little damage; but the bomb plummeted through the deck armor, the crew's mess hall, the berthing compartment below, and the fuel tanks still lower before crashing through the bottom of the ship and exploding in the water under the ship. The concussion blew two gaping holes in the ship bottom and flooded compartments in the area, killing nine crewmen. Although Indianapolis settled slightly by the stern and listed to port, there was no progressive flooding; and the plucky cruiser 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; nevertheless, the battle-proud cruiser made the long trip across the Pacific to the Mare Island Navy Yard under her own power.

A secret mission, and destruction

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Indianapolis's intended route from Guam to the Philippines.
After repairs and overhaul, Indianapolis received orders to proceed at high speed to Tinian, carrying parts and nuclear material to be used in the atomic bombs which were soon to be dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Due to the urgency of her mission, Indianapolis departed San Francisco on 16 July, foregoing her postrepair shakedown period. Touching at Pearl Harbor 19 July, she raced on unescorted and arrived Tinian 26 July, having set a record in covering some 5,000 miles (8,000 km) from San Francisco in only 10 days.

After delivering her top secret cargo at Tinian, Indianapolis was dispatched to Guam where she disembarked men and reported for onward routine to Leyte. From there she was to report to Vice Admiral Jesse B. Oldendorf for further duty off Okinawa. Departing Guam on 28 July, Indianapolis proceeded by a direct route, unescorted. Early in the morning, at 00:15 on 30 July 1945, two heavy explosions occurred against her starboard side forward, and she capsized and sank in twelve minutes, at 12°2′ N, 134°48′ E. Indianapolis had been hit by two torpedoes from the Japanese submarine I-58, Commander Machitsura Hashimoto in command.

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Survivors of the USS Indianapolis on Guam, in August 1945.
About 300 of the 1,196 men on board died in the attack. The rest of the crew, nearly 900 men, floated in the water without lifeboats until the rescue was completed five days later. The rescue came after they were spotted by pilot Lieutenant Wilber (Chuck) Gwinn and copilot Lieutenant Warren Colwell. They suffered from lack of food and water, but the worst hazard came from constant shark attacks. Only 316 men survived. The horrific tale was made famous by Quint's soliloquy in the movie Jaws.

The seas had been moderate; the visibility, good; Indianapolis had been steaming at 17 knots (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. Thus it was not until 10:25 on 2 August that the survivors were sighted, mostly held afloat by life jackets, although there were a few rafts which had been cut loose before the ship went down. They were sighted by a plane on routine patrol; the pilot 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.

Future U.S. Secretary of the Navy W. Graham Claytor Jr. was commander of the destroyer U.S.S. Cecil J. Doyle. After receiving the location from the seaplane, Captain Claytor sped without orders to check reports of men floating in the water. As he approached at night, he turned searchlights on the water and straight up on low clouds, lighting up the night and exposing his ship to possible attack by Japanese submarines but rescuing almost 100 survivors of the sunken cruiser. Destroyers Madison and Ralph Talbot were ordered from Ulithi and attack transports Bassett, DDE Dufilho and the Ringness from the Philippine Frontier to the rescue scene, searching throughly for any survivors.

Upon completion of rescue operations, 8 August, a radius of 100 miles (160 km) had been combed by day and by night, saving 316 of the crew of 1,199 men.

Indianapolis earned 10 battle stars for World War II service.

Captain Charles Butler McVay III

Captain Charles Butler McVay III, commander of Indianapolis since November 1944, survived. In November 1945, he was court-martialed and convicted of "hazarding his ship by failing to zigzag." Several circumstances of the court-martial were controversial: there was overwhelming evidence that the United States Navy itself had placed the ship in harm's way; the commander of I-58, Machitsura Hashimoto, testified that zigzagging would have made no difference [1] (; and although 700 ships of the U.S. Navy were lost in combat in World War II, McVay was the only captain to be court-martialed. The conviction ended McVay's career in the Navy, and he was hounded and blamed the rest of his life by grief-stricken relatives of the dead crewmen and he committed suicide in 1968. [2] (

Just over fifty years after the tragedy, Hunter Scott (12 years old at the time) was instrumental in raising awareness of the miscarriage of justice carried out at the captain's court-martial. Source: Detroit News, April 23, 1998

In October of 2000 the United States Congress passed a resolution that Captain McVay's record should reflect that "he is exonerated for the loss of the USS Indianapolis." President Clinton also signed the resolution. [3] (

Quint's story

The Steven Spielberg movie Jaws made the fate of the Indianapolis's crew infamous all over again. The backstory of the hardbitten captain Quint included his service on the doomed ship. His terrifying narrative was as follows:

Hooper: "You were on the Indianapolis?"
Brody: "What happened?"
Quint: "Japanese submarine slammed two torpedoes into our side, chief. It was comin' back, from the island of Tinian to Leyte, just delivered the bomb. The Hiroshima bomb. Eleven hundred men went into the water. Vessel went down in 12 minutes. Didn't see the first shark for about a half an hour. Tiger. Thirteen-footer. You know, you know that when you're in the water, Chief? You tell by lookin' from the dorsal to the tail. Well, we didn't know, 'cause our bomb mission had been so secret, no distress signal had been sent. Huh-huh. They didn't even list us overdue for a week. Very first light, chief. The sharks come cruisin'. So we formed ourselves into tight groups. You know it's ... kinda like 'ol squares in a battle like a, you see on a calendar, like the Battle of Waterloo. And the idea was, the shark would go for nearest man and then he'd start poundin' and hollerin' and screamin' and sometimes the shark would go away. Sometimes he wouldn't go away. Sometimes that shark, he looks right into you. Right into your eyes. You know the thing about a shark, he's got ... lifeless eyes, black eyes, like a doll's eye. When he comes at ya, doesn't seem to be livin'. Until he bites ya and those black eyes roll over white. And then, ah then you hear that terrible high-pitch screamin' and the ocean turns red and in spite of all the poundin' and the hollerin' they all come in and rip you to pieces. Y'know by the end of that first dawn, lost 100 men. I don't know how many sharks, maybe 1,000. I don't know how many men, they averaged six an hour. On Thursday mornin', Chief, I bumped into a friend of mine, Herbie Robinson from Cleveland. Baseball player, bo'sun's mate. I thought he was asleep, reached over to wake him up. Bobbed up and down in the water, just like a kinda top. Up ended. Well ... he'd been bitten in half below the waist. Noon the fifth day, Mr. Hooper, a Lockheed Ventura saw us, he swung in low and he saw us. He'd a young pilot, a lot younger than Mr. Hooper, anyway he saw us and come in low. And three hours later a big fat PBY comes down and start to pick us up. You know that was the time I was most frightened? Waitin' for my turn. I'll never put on a life jacket again. So, 1,100 men went in the water, 316 men come out, the sharks took the rest, June the 29, 1945. Anyway, we delivered the bomb."

Note Quint's misplacement of the date of the incident: this was either an error by the filmmakers or an intoxicated blunder by his character.

See also


External links

Portland-class cruiser
Portland | Indianapolis

List of cruisers of the United States Navy
de:USS Indianapolis (CA-35)

fr:USS Indianapolis


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