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.
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About the Author
Sara Vladic, an acclaimed documentary filmmaker, is one of the world’s leading experts on the USS Indianapolis, having become obsessed with the story at the age of thirteen. Over the next two decades, Vladic met and interviewed 108 of the ship’s survivors, and in 2016 she released an award-winning documentary film on the disaster, USS Indianapolis: The Legacy. She has published new research on Indianapolis in Proceedings, the official journal of the US Navy, and appeared as an expert commentator on PBS’s USS Indianapolis: Live from the Deep, which explored the ship’s wreckage. She and her husband, Ben, live in San Marcos, California.
Read an Excerpt
SHE WAS BORN FROM soil as American as the men who sailed her. Ore mined near the Great Lakes and in the Tennessee Valley. Transported by barge and train to steel mills in Detroit and Pittsburgh. Machined and welded and hammered together in Camden, New Jersey, by tradesmen from across the forty-eight states. From her keel—forged red-hot and laid in 1930—she rose amid clang and clamor and showering sparks, unfolding bow to stern in 147 bands of high-strength steel, her superstructure climbing toward the sun until, in 1932, she parted water for the first time and was christened USS Indianapolis.
Indy was grand but svelte. Franklin Delano Roosevelt made her his ship of state and invited world leaders and royalty to dance under the stars on her polished teak decks. When war came, many of the sailors she carried into battle were still teenagers. They slept in bunks three high, went to chapel on Sunday mornings, and shot dice on the fantail on Sunday afternoons. They danced to Glenn Miller and sang along with the Andrews Sisters. They referred to Indy as their first love and the Queen. At least one of their wives called her “the other woman.”
Indianapolis was the flagship of the World War II Pacific fleet—the largest naval fleet in the history of the modern world. Along her centerline she carried three 250-ton turrets, each hefting three eight-inch guns that could reach out eighteen miles to rake beaches, destroy pillboxes, and punch through the armor of enemy ships. Her hull bristled with two dozen 40 mm Bofors guns, some radar-aimed for lethal precision, along with thirty-two machine guns that could cloak a mile-wide circle around her in a hail of 20 mm rounds. From her decks, Fifth Fleet commander Admiral Raymond Spruance would build an island bridge that stretched west from Pearl Harbor to Japan and was mortared in the blood of nations.
By the summer of 1945, the Pacific war was churning toward its fiery climax. A new weapon had been born, a “destroyer of worlds.” During the last week of July, under the command of Captain Charles B. McVay III, Indianapolis delivered the core of this weapon to its launch point, completing the most highly classified naval mission of the war. Four days later, just after midnight, a Japanese submarine spotted Indy and struck her with two torpedoes. Three hundred men went down with the ship. As Indy sank into the yawning underwater canyons of the Philippine Sea, nearly nine hundred men made it into the water alive. Only 316 survived.
The sinking of Indianapolis was the greatest sea disaster in the history of the American Navy. It was also a national scandal that would bridge two centuries. There would be a controversial court-martial. An enemy witness. Lies and machinations by men of high rank. Broken lives. Suicides.
Decade after decade, the survivors would fight for their captain, battling to correct a vulgar injustice. As Indy’s story rolled forward, spanning thirteen presidents, from FDR to George W. Bush, it would inspire a filmmaker named Spielberg, an eleven-year-old boy named Hunter Scott, a maverick lawmaker named Bob Smith, and Captain William Toti, skipper of her namesake submarine. Men fought over her for decades, and no victor emerged for fifty years.
Indianapolis is a war grave now. But don’t think of her that way. Roll the film backward. Watch her rise.
Table of Contents
Prologue: The Ship 1
Book 1 The Kamikaze 3
Book 2 The Mission 87
Book 3 The Deep 183
Book 4 Trial and Scandal 295
Book 5 An Innocent Man 395
Final Log Entry: August 19, 2017 441
Final Sailing List 449
Appendix A Rescue Ships 465
Appendix B Journey with Indianapolis 467
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
maritime, WW2, nonfiction, historical-research, historical-places-events Reads like fiction: big time admiralty SNAFU allowing an important USN ship, cargo, and crew to be torpedoed and sunk without support so that too many died then and there and those who were alive weren't rescued for nearly a week. Then came the cover up, wrongful accusations, driving the captain to opt out of life. But it's not fiction, it's a well researched documentation of a very shameful event near the end of WW2. The survivors suffered badly without water in the remorseless South Pacific Ocean waiting for rescue and continued to suffer even afterwards. Extremely well written and meticulously researched, it brings it all to life and reality. A rewarding read. I requested and received a free review copy via NetGalley. Thank you!
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. starts with an eighth grader watching the movie "JAWS." Anyone who has watched the movie knows the scene where Quint talks about his being one of the survivors of the Indianapolis. But this eighth grader wanted to learn more. And he did learn, and so did the two authors of this book. They contacted the survivors, the families of the survivors and the Japanese people of this disaster, the captain of the sub that sank the Indi. This book starts where all true stories should start: at the beginning. The history of the building, and launching and the whole story . The Indianapolis is famous or infamous for carrying the makings of the first atomic bomb, code name Big Boy. A very very ultra classified cargo , the men of the Indianapolis dropped the bomb & its scientists off at a secluded island and left to go in for a refresher training, but she never showed. She was sunk by a Japanese sub and her men left out in the ocean, some very critically burned to fight off the sharks and the elements. The captain of the ship was rescued, court marshalled and found guilty and suffered for many years while his crew tried and tried again to overturn the court-marshall , for they knew he was a hero ,not responsible for the death of the ship & so many of the crew. But the Navy does not like to admit its was wrong. Along comes an eighth grader: Hunter Scott & he takes up the survivors cause and advocates on national television after deep research into the ship & the disaster. The rest of the story you all are going to have to read to find out. Never before have I read such a moving book of life on board a ship during WWII as this one. Watching these men work day after day, each of them real people, with families ,fighting what was then an enemy. The jokes the boredom & life aboard the Indianapolis coming to an abrupt end. The death by the elements, by sharks and yes by suicide. These men who respected their captain and knew he was innocent and knew that the system let them down when they needed help , fought for decades to vindicate not only the captain but their beloved Indianapolis ! I laughed , I cried and I, for a time lived with those brave men who served aboard the Indianapolis & I really hope you pick up this book and take a bit of time with them as well, you will not be sorry. I recieved this book free from goodreads in exchange for a honest review.
Amazing story of courage and tragedy. What these men went through was beyond belief. Was honored to have one of the survivors, Marine Edgar Harrell, sign my book.
So well written! A must read part of history. Im embarrassed I had no knowledge of this tragedy until now. So well written! A must read for anyone and especially those i
A very well written and captivating story. Hard to put down.
Read it -- even if you are not a WWII history buff -- the story and this book is that good.