The Barnes & Noble Review
How does a U.S. battle cruiser, torpedoed by a Japanese sub in the Pacific, go completely undetected by the Navy for five days? How did the 900 survivors of the blast -- thrown into the water and left to fight off hypothermia, sharks, and mounting despair -- get through the ordeal? In the compelling pages of In Harm's Way, Doug Stanton draws on previously unknown information and has conducted extensive interviews with the survivors of the USS Indianapolis in order to bring this amazing WWII tale of courage and sacrifice to the reader.
Stanton begins by presenting a look at
Indianapolis captain Charles McVay, the only captain of a sunken ship to be court-martialed for "negligence." Stanton presents McVay as a precise and thoughtful commander who cared deeply for his crew -- and who wound up emotionally devastated by the sinking and its aftermath.
Ship's doctor Lewis Haynes is also profiled. When the ship is hit, Haynes's life is saved by an officer who warns him of imminent danger -- before being incinerated before Haynes's eyes by the force of an explosive flash fire. When the crew then abandons ship and winds up in the Pacific, Haynes does all he can to attend to the wounded while (literally) trying to talk them out of suicide.
Meanwhile Giles McCoy, a young marine private eager for some military action, finds his military toughness tested when he finds himself trying to herd the crewmembers -- scattered and drifting randomly through the oil-slicked waters -- together into a cohesive group.
Stanton alternates between relating the experiences of these three key men and detailing the frustratingly complex behind-the-scenes bureaucracy of the Navy. The Navy, amazingly, allowed the cruiser, which had just delivered the integral components of the "Little Boy" atomic bomb to Tinian Island in the South Pacific, to cross the Pacific
unescorted -- a decision practically unheard of in wartime. The position of the Indianapolis was unknown to the Navy because of a series of snafus that defy belief -- each naval division, basically, thought another knew where the ship was!
The centerpiece of the book -- one that will chill every reader to the bone -- is the nearly five-day ordeal experienced by the 300 men adrift in the ocean: no food, no water, some burned so badly that their flesh hung off their bodies, some blinded, all at the mercy of hundreds of hungry sharks! It's an ordeal that is simply unthinkable and unbelievable -- but it happened.
After the rescue of the survivors -- only 317 out of the original crew complement of 1,196 survived -- came the court-martial of McVay, a man already consumed with grief and loss. What was the primary charge? "Failure to abandon ship in a timely manner." Since the ship had been torpedoed and sunk in a matter of moments, this was a bitter pill indeed. But McVay -- who would eventually take his own life -- felt responsible for the ship and his men, so he didn't contest his punishment. Based on Stanton's spellbinding account, however, it seems that it was the Navy itself which should have been on trial.
Nicholas Sinisi is the Barnes & Noble.com History Editor.
. . . thoroughly researched, powerfully-written account of a nightmare at sea, one of the most poignant tragedies . . . of World War II . . .
Doug Stanton has done this country a service by bringing the incredible yet almost-forgotten story of the USS
Indianapolis. . .
A haunting story of valor, iniquity, and young men in peril on the sea . . .
...a stunning book.
. . . For Captain Charles McVay and his crew, their five days in the ocean were gruesome and terrible almost beyond description . . .
Given the stringent precision of the U.S. Navy and military during wartime, how could a WWII battleship carrying over 1,000 men be torpedoed by a Japanese submarine and sink, leaving the survivors to bob in the Pacific Ocean at the mercy of elements and predators, without anyone realizing the loss for more than four days? Stanton not only offers a well-researched chronicle of what is widely regarded as the worst naval disaster in U.S. history, but also vividly renders the combatants' hellish ordeal during the sinking, and the ensuing days at sea as well as attempts to cope with the traumatic aftermath. Stanton documents the facts of the case, embellishing his story with lurid details gleaned from interviews with survivors. Though the ship's captain would become the first and only in U.S. naval history to be court-martialed for the loss of his ship, Stanton offers a solid body of evidence to justify the survivors' partially successful efforts to exonerate him. Stanton's omniscient narrative shifts among the individual perspectives of several principal characters, a successful technique that contributes to the book's absorbing, novelistic feel. Readers, of course, must trust Stanton and his research in order to be truly consumed, but the authority of his voice should win over all but the most obsessive skeptics. Illuminating and emotional without being maudlin, Stanton's book helps explain what many have long considered an inexplicable catastrophe. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
On the cloudy night of July 30,1945, the heavy cruiser USS Indianapolis slipped out of the darkness into a patch of bright moonlight—and squarely in front of one of Japan's few remaining submarines. Traveling at high speed, the big warship was ripped by torpedoes and sank beneath the waves before an alarm could be raised. Incredibly, it took days for the naval command to realize that one of its major fleet units had vanished. When rescuers finally reached the scene, five interminable days later, they found a scant 300 dazed survivors scattered over the sea. The Navy's response to the debacle was to court-martial the Indianapolis' captain. Of some 400 American skippers who lost their vessels to enemy action during the war, Captain Charles B. McVay was the only one to be punished. The tragedy of the Indianapolis can be approached in several ways: as an ironic footnote to a vast sea war that was already won; as a story of the cruel role that chance plays in warfare; or as an indictment of the U.S. Navy's bungling of the rescue and its shameful scapegoating of Captain McVay. Stanton has chosen instead to focus on the victims. The heart of the book is virtually a man-by-man and minute-by-minute account of the five-day ordeal of the survivors amid the sharks and the pitiless sun. The story makes for grim reading. A reader can enjoy the vicarious horrors of a Jaws-type thriller, always comfortably aware that the story is pure fiction. Not so in this case. Author Stanton immersed himself in interviewing the dwindling number of Indianapolis survivors to the point where the project nearly took over his life. Each fact, each nuance in the book came directly from someone's hard-won experience. Thereare no winners in a life drama such as this: a taut, beautiful ship destroyed; hundreds of men dead who might have been rescued; a captain dishonored to the point of suicide—and a Japanese submarine skipper well aware that his victory meant absolutely nothing to the course of the war. Category: History & Geography. KLIATT Codes: SA*—Exceptional book, recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2001, St. Martin's, 330p. illus. map. bibliog. index., ; Historian, Edwards Air Force Base, CA
Who can forget the crusty, narrow-eyed shark hunter Quint, played by Robert Shaw, in the blockbuster movie Jaws? He growls out the story of the USS Indianapolis he had been a member of its crew, he says a battle cruiser that was sunk in the South Pacific in 12 minutes by torpedoes from a Japanese submarine. The ship had just finished a secret run to Tinian with parts of the Hiroshima atom bomb. The Navy refused to provide a destroyer escort, even though there was solid intelligence about the presence of the sub. Three hundred men were killed outright; 900 were thrown into the sea. Five days later, when the Navy accidentally figured out that the ship was missing, only 321 men were left; sharks, hypothermia, starvation and thirst, and hallucinatory dementia had taken the rest. The story of Captain Charles Butler McVay is particularly heart-wrenching: he became the only ship's captain to be court-martialed during the war. Many years later he committed suicide, with the Navy still insisting upon his guilt in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. A fascinating, horrible tale, and Stanton brings it off well, supported skillfully by American-voiced Boyd Gaines. For collections of military and World War II history. Don Wismer, Cary Memorial Lib., Wayne, ME Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Adult/High School-On July 16, 1945, the battle cruiser USS Indianapolis left San Francisco for Tinian Island in the South Pacific. The secret mission, the identity of which was unknown to even Captain Charles Butler McVay, was to deliver parts for the atomic bomb "Little Boy" that was to be dropped on Hiroshima. After the delivery, the ship headed to Guam where it was to rejoin the fleet for the proposed invasion of Japan. It never made it. On July 29, 1945, the cruiser was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine. Stanton begins this harrowing true story with Captain McVay's suicide in 1968, and continues in a style that reads like an adventure novel. More than 1200 men were aboard the Indianapolis when it left San Francisco; approximately 300 were killed by the torpedoes. The rest were tossed into the South Pacific and remained there for nearly five days facing dehydration, starvation, exposure, and recurring shark attacks. Due to a series of tragic errors, no rescue operation was mounted. The 321 men who ultimately survived (four of whom subsequently died) were found purely by accident. Captain McVay, scapegoated by the Navy, was court-martialed and convicted of negligence, despite the ongoing protests of his remaining crew. At the time, their story was lost in the euphoria of Japan's surrender and the Navy's desire to ignore their errors. It is time their story is told and Stanton has done it magnificently, with meticulous research and great poignancy.-Carol DeAngelo, Kings Park Library, Burke, VA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
A crisp, well-executed reconstruction of naval warfare's darkest chapter: the sinking and abandonment of the
USS Indianapolis. Men's Journal editor Stanton sets out to vindicate Captain Charles McVay and to force the navy to declassify information relating to one of the worst disasters in naval history. After fulfilling a secret mission (the delivery of atomic bomb parts from Guam to Tinian) in July 1945, the cruiser Indianapolis was sent for gunnery practice in Leytewithout destroyer escort, and without classified information regarding Japanese submarine activity. The ship was torpedoed and sank in approximately 12 minutes, spilling about 900 sailors into the Pacific. On shore, her hurried SOS message was intercepted, then disregarded, by the radioman's commanding officer. Furthermore, she was not noted missing by naval administrators for more than five days. Following a suspenseful account of the sinking, Stanton assembles a detailed chronology of the horrors endured by the floating survivors via a risky device: He narrates the sinking and its aftermath by assuming the voices of Captain McVay, the ship's doctor, and one of the few surviving Marine guards. The latter two (and other survivors) were interviewed by Stanton; McVay, the only Navy captain ever court-martialed for losing his ship in wartime, shot himself in 1968 after years of torment. The author's minute depiction of their privationsfrom shark attacks that killed an estimated 200 to homicidal dementiais appropriately terrifying; he captures his characters' surreal horror at watching their comrades needlessly perish prior to a belated rescue (which is also dramatically rendered). The conclusionexplores the remaining survivors' efforts to officially clarify what really happened (and McVay's actual heroism), but the dark heart of the tale lies in its sustained, gruesome survival narrative. Stanton's prose has qualities of jittery brightness, but this dramatic recreation plays to his strengths and feels passionate and correct. His personal veneration of the survivors sustains a positive tone, despite uglier historical truths.