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33 Litig. 51 (2006-2007)
Zigzag - The Loss of the USS Indianapolis

handle is hein.journals/laba33 and id is 53 raw text is: Legal
Lore

Zigzag-The Loss of
the USS Indianapolis
by Robert and Marilyn Aitken

War never suffers a shortage of tragedy.
The toll of lives taken by the sinking of
the USS Indianapolis increased dramat-
ically when the Navy failed to search for
survivors. Then came the general court-
martial of Captain Charles B. McVay
III, filled with failure and loyalty, sur-
prises and secrecy. At the end, there
was only loss.
On July 16, 1945, the U.S. Navy heavy
cruiser Indianapolis left San Francisco
with a secret cargo. Commanded by
Captain McVay and with a crew of 1,196,
the Indianapolis sped in record time to the
Pacific island of Tinian. She arrived on
July 26 and delivered a canister of ura-
nium 235 and a large crate containing
integral components of Little Boy the
first atomic bomb. World War II would
end less than a month later. S. Howarth, To
Shining Sea (1999); D. Stanton, In
Harm's Way (2001).
By then, the Indianapolis had been
destroyed by a Japanese submarine.
Although almost 900 crew members sur-
vived, only 316 were still alive after the
rescue. In the worst sea disaster in the
history of the U.S. Navy, according to
Congress, the men spent four and one-
half days adrift in the open sea, the
remainder having perished from battle
wounds, drowning, predatory shark
attacks, and lack of food and potable
water Rescue was delayed because the
Navy did not know the ship was missing.
Congressional Resolution (2000).
The Indianapolis had won ten battle
stars, but the cruiser, commissioned in
1932, was not considered safe by
Admiral Raymond A. Spruance, who
remarked that her metracentric height
Robert Aitken, an associate editor of LmGATION,
practices law in Palos Verdes Estates, California.
Marilyn Aitken is a freelance writer.
N Fall 2006    5   1         Volume 33
LmGATIC                              lum..r

was less than one foot and if she ever
took a clean torpedo, she would capsize
in short order. After serving as
Spruance's flagship in the Iwo Jima cam-
paign, she was hit by a Kamikaze suicide
plane in March 1945 during the battle for
Okinawa, and underwent repairs in
California. S.E. Morison, History of U.S.
Naval Operations in World War II,
Victory in the Pacific (1960); B.M. Petty,
Voices from the Pacific War (2004);
Spruance, Letter to Morison (Dec. 25,
1959).
Captain McVay, known as Charlie,
was a handsome 1920 Naval Academy
graduate and admiral's son. He became
skipper of the Indianapolis in November
1944. McVay was considered an ami-
able, popular and competent officer, and
the Indianapolis had been a happy
ship. Morison, supra.
With the Tinian mission completed,
the Indianapolis proceeded to Guam,
where McVay received routing orders.
On July 28, the ship started a 1,300-mile
run on Code Route Peddie to Leyte. She
was scheduled to arrive at 11:00 AM, July
31. The port director at Guam informed
Rear Admiral Lynde D. McCormick that
the Indianapolis was en route to train
with his unit at Leyte Gulf before joining
the massive fleet gathering for the inva-
sion of Japan. The port director also
notified the commander, Philippines Sea
Frontier, and the port director at Tacloban
in the Phillipines.
The message to McCormick was gar-
bled after it arrived at his flagship, so
when another dispatch informed him
when the Indianapolis would arrive,
McCormick did not know why. Rear
Admiral Jesse B. Oldendorf, in charge of
the task force, knew why the ship was
coming but never saw a second dispatch
from CinCPAC (Commander in Chief,

LM'GAT1O

Number I

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