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Sinking of USS Indianapolis (CA-35) : A Naval Tragedy On The Open Water

30 July 1945: Sinking of USS Indianapolis (CA-35)

Following completion of her top secret mission to deliver components of the Hiroshima atomic bomb to Tinian in a record-breaking transit, the heavy cruiser Indianapolis was steaming from Guam to Leyte when she encountered Japanese submarine I-58 on the night of 29–30 July.

80-G-463063: USS Indianapolis (CA 35) entering the Hudson River, New York City, New York, May 31, 1934. (4/14/2015).
Aerial photograph of Balboa harbour, Panama Canal Zone, on 23 April 1934, with U.S. Fleet cruisers and destroyers moored together. Ships present include (left to right in lower left): USS Elliot (DD-146); USS Roper (DD-147); USS Hale (DD-133); USS Dorsey (DD-117); USS Lea (DD-118); USS Rathburne (DD-113); USS Talbot (DD-114); USS Waters (DD-115); USS Dent (DD-116); USS Aaron Ward (DD-132); USS Buchanan (DD-131); USS Crowninshield (DD-134); USS Preble (DD-345); and USS William B. Preston (DD-344). (left to right in center): USS Yarnall (DD-143); USS Sands (DD-243); USS Lawrence (DD-250); (unidentified destroyer); USS Detroit (CL-8), Flagship, Destroyers Battle Force; USS Fox (DD-234); USS Greer (DD-145); USS Barney (DD-149); USS Tarbell (DD-142); and USS Chicago (CA-29), Flagship, Cruisers Scouting Force. (left to right across the top): USS Southard (DD-207); USS Chandler (DD-206); USS Farenholt (DD-332); USS Perry (DD-340); USS Wasmuth (DD-338); USS Trever (DD-339); the destroyer tender USS Melville (AD-2); USS Truxtun (DD-229); USS McCormick (DD-223); USS MacLeish (DD-220); USS Simpson (DD-221); USS Hovey (DD-208); USS Long (DD-209); USS Litchfield (DD-336); USS Tracy (DD-214); USS Dahlgren (DD-187); the repair ship USS Medusa (AR-1); USS Raleigh (CL-7), Flagship, Destroyers Scouting Force; USS Pruitt (DD-347); and USS J. Fred Talbott (DD-156); USS Dallas (DD-199); (four unidentified destroyers); and USS Indianapolis (CA-35), Flagship, Cruisers Scouting Force.
Closeup view of her well deck area, from the port side, at the Mare Island Navy Yard, 19 April 1942, following overhaul. Note her forward smokestack, catapults, and Curtiss SOC Seagull aircraft. USS Raleigh (CL-7) is in the background. Photograph from the Bureau of Ships Collection in the U.S. National Archives.

In an ideal attack position just as the moon broke through the heavy cloud cover, I-58 hit Indianapolis with two of six torpedoes. Indianapolis went down in about 12 minutes. Although distress transmissions were made, none made it off the ship due to loss of power and damage.

U.S. Navy Admiral Raymond A. Spruance, Vice Admiral Marc Mitscher, Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz and Vice Admiral Willis A. Lee, Jr. (listed from left to right) aboard the heavy cruiser USS Indianapolis (CA-35) in February 1945.

Of 1,195 men aboard, only 316 survived. As many as 200 to 300 went down with the ship and another 600 to 700 perished in a horrific four-day-plus ordeal of scorching sun, hypothermia, deadly salt water–induced hallucinations, and shark attacks.

Indianapolis (Heavy CA35), Aerial, Starboard Bow, Underway – NARA – 513030
Survivors of the heavy cruiser USS Indianapolis (CA-35) are brought ashore from the U.S. Navy hospital ship USS Tranquillity (AH-14) at Guam, 8 August 1945. In addition, nurses and sailors are watching from the hospital ship’s deck. Note Tranquillity‘s nested lifeboats and the busses on the pier.

The survivors were first discovered by accident by a PV-1 Ventura on 2 August. This was followed by a risky open-ocean landing by a PBY Catalina flying boat.

80-G-490316: Loss of USS Indianapolis (CA-35), July 1945. Survivors from USS Indianapolis (CA-35), sank by Japanese submarine I-58, July 30, 1945, are shown in a hospital on Peleliu Island. Photographed August 15, 1945. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. (2015/11/10).

The tragedy was compounded due to missed communications, faulty assumptions, and faulty operating procedures. No one ashore knew that Indianapolis was lost until destroyer escort Cecil J. Doyle (DE-368) arrived on scene at midnight, 2–3 August.

Original Caption: “A landing craft takes a number of injured survivors of the USS Indianapolis (CA-35) ashore for hospitalization at Peleliu.”

The magnitude and circumstances of the loss just days before the Japanese surrender resulted in intense criticism of the U.S. Navy that reverberated for decades.

Survivors of the heavy cruiser USS Indianapolis (CA-35) are brought ashore from the U.S. Navy hospital ship USS Tranquillity (AH-14) at Guam, 8 August 1945. They are being placed in ambulances for immediate transfer to local hospitals.
100912-N-8374E-439 FORT WORTH, Texas (Sept. 12, 2010) Chief petty officer selectees from various commands at Naval Air Station Fort Worth Joint Reserve Base float in Lake Worth under the attentive guidance of members of the Fort Worth Chief Petty Officer Association. The selectees are participating in the pre-dawn event to commemorate the USS Indianapolis (CA 35), which sank after being torpedoed by a Japanese submarine on July 30, 1945. (U.S. Navy photo by Senior Chief Mass Communication Specialist Maria R. Escamilla/Released)

Sinking of USS Indianapolis (CA-35) by US Navy Admiral Sam Cox

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