This national memorial was dedicated 50 years after the fateful day when the USS Indianapolis was attacked and sunk by Japanese forces during what was to be a secret mission. On July 30, 1945, after delivering vitals parts needed for the first atomic bomb, the USS Indianapolis sunk by a torpedo attack. Of the close to 1,200 crew members, 300 went down with the ship while over 900 were left in the water, exposed, dehydrated, and open to shark attacks. These survivors waited for three days for a rescue that was not immediate due the the secrecy of their mission. 317 would ultimately survive. After 50 years, over 5 of which were used to gather funds and designing a fitting memorial, and an act of Congress, this national memorial to the crew of the Indianapolis was dedicated on August 2, 1995...50 years to the day of the rescue.


  • USS Indianapolis in 1939
    USS Indianapolis in 1939
  • USS Indianapolis off Mare Island in 1944
    USS Indianapolis off Mare Island in 1944
  • Indianapolis's intended route from Guam to the Philippines.
    Indianapolis's intended route from Guam to the Philippines.
  • Survivors of Indianapolis on Guam, in August 1945.
    Survivors of Indianapolis on Guam, in August 1945.
  • The USS Indianapolis Memorial
    The USS Indianapolis Memorial
  • Indianapolis's commander, Captain Charles McVay III
    Indianapolis's commander, Captain Charles McVay III
  • Survivors speaking to reporters in 199 in D.C. as they seek funds and congressional help/recognition for the memorial
    Survivors speaking to reporters in 199 in D.C. as they seek funds and congressional help/recognition for the memorial

History of the USS Indianapolis:


The Indianapolis was the second of two ships in the Portland class; the third class of "treaty cruisers" constructed by the United States Navy following the Washington Naval Treaty of 1922, following the two vessels of the Pensacola class ordered in 1926 and the six of the Northampton class ordered in 1927. Ordered for the U.S. Navy in fiscal year 1930. Indianapolis was originally designated as a light cruiser, because of her thin armor, and given the hull classification symbol CL-35. She was reclassified a heavy cruiser, because of her 8-inch guns, with the symbol CA-35 on July 1, 1931, in accordance with the London Naval Treaty.

As built, the Portland-class cruisers were designed for a standard displacement of 10,258 tonnes (10,096 long tons; 11,308 short tons), and a full-load displacement of 12,755 tonnes (12,554 long tons; 14,060 short tons).[6] However, when completed, she did not reach this weight, displacing 9,950 tonnes (9,790 long tons; 10,970 short tons). The ship had two distinctive raked funnels, a tripod foremast, and a small tower and pole mast aft. In 1943, light tripods were added forward of the second funnel on each ship, and a prominent Naval director was installed aft.

The ship had four propeller shafts and four Parsons GT geared turbines and eight White-Forster boilers. The 107,000 shaft horsepower  gave a design speed of 32.7 knots. She was designed for a range of 10,000 nautical miles (12,000 miles) at 15 knots. She rolled badly until fitted with a bilge keel.

The cruiser had nine Mark 9 8"/55 caliber guns in three triple mounts, a superfiring pair fore and one aft. For anti-aircraft defense, she had eight 5"/25 caliber guns and two QF 3 pounder Hotchkiss guns. In 1945, she received 24 Bofors 40mm guns, arrayed in six quad mounts. Both ships were upgraded with 19 Oerlikon 20 mm cannons. No torpedo tubes were fitted on her.

The Portland class originally had 1-inch armor for deck and side protection, but in construction they were given belt armor between 5 inches (around the magazines) and 3.25 inches in thickness. Armor on the bulkheads was between 2 inches and 5.75 inches; that on the deck was 2.5 inches , the barbettes 1.5 inches, the gun-houses 2.5 inches, and the conning tower 1.25 inches.

Portland-class cruisers were outfitted as fleet flagships, with space for a flag officer and his staff. The class also had two aircraft catapult amidships. They could carry four aircraft. The total crew varied, with a regular designed complement of 807, a wartime complement of 952, which could increase to 1,229 when the cruiser was a fleet flagship.

Indianapolis was laid down by New York Shipbuilding Corporation on March 31,1930. The hull and machinery were provided by the builder. Indianapolis was launched on November 7,1931 and commissioned on November 15,1932. She was the second ship named for Indianapolis, Indiana following the cargo ship of the same name in 1918. She was sponsored by Lucy Taggart, daughter of former Mayor of Indianapolis Thomas Taggart.

Under her first captain, John M. Smeallie, Indianapolis undertook her shakedown cruise through the Atlantic and into Guantánamo Bay until February 23,1932. Indianapolis then transited the Panama Canal Zone for training off the Chilean coast. After overhaul at Philadelphia Navy Yard, she sailed to Maine to embark President Franklin Delano Roosevelt at Campobello Island in New Brunswick on July 1, 1933. Getting underway the same day, Indianapolis arrived at Annapolis, Maryland on July 3rd. She hosted six members of the Cabinet along with Roosevelt during its stay there. After disembarking Roosevelt, she departed Annapolis on July 4th, and steamed for Philadelphia Navy Yard.

On September 6th, she embarked Secretary of the Navy Claude A. Swanson for an inspection of the Navy in the Pacific. Indianapolis toured the Canal Zone, Hawaii, and installations in San Pedro and San Diego. Swanson disembarked on October 27th. On November 1, 1933, she became flagship of Scouting Force 1, and maneuvered with the force off Long Beach, California. She departed on April 9, 1934 and arrived at New York City and embarked Roosevelt a second time, for a naval review. She returned to Long Beach on November 9, 1934 for more training with the Scouting Force. She remained flagship of Scouting Force 1 until 1941. On November 18, 1936, she embarked Roosevelt a third time at Charleston, South Carolina, and conducted a goodwill cruise to South America with him. She visited Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Buenos Aires, Argentina, and Montevideo, Uruguay for state visits before returning to Charleston and disembarking Roosevelt's party on December 15th.

On December 7, 1941, Indianapolis was conducting a mock bombardment at Johnston Atoll during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Indianapolis was absorbed into Task Force 12 and searched for the Japanese carriers responsible for the attack, though the force did not locate them. She returned to Pearl Harbor on December 13th and joined Task Force 11.

With the task force, she steamed to the South Pacific, to 350 mi south of Rabaul, New Britain, escorting the aircraft carrier Lexington. Late in the afternoon of February 20, 1942, the American ships were attacked by 18 Japanese aircraft. Of these, 16 were shot down by aircraft from Lexington and the other two were destroyed by anti-aircraft fire from the ships.

On March 10th, the task force, reinforced by another force centered on the carrier Yorktown, attacked Lae and Salamaua, New Guinea, where the Japanese were marshaling amphibious forces. Attacking from the south through the Owen Stanley mountain range, the U.S. air forces surprised and inflicted heavy damage on Japanese warships and transports, losing few aircraft. Indianapolis returned to Mare Island shipyard for a refit before escorting a convoy to Australia.

Indianapolis then headed for the North Pacific to support American units in the Battle of the Aleutian Islands. On August 7th, Indianapolis and the task force attacked Kiska Island, a Japanese staging area. Although fog hindered observation, Indianapolis and other ships fired their main guns into the bay. Floatplanes from the cruisers reported Japanese ships sunk in the harbor and damage to shore installations. After 15 minutes, Japanese shore batteries returned fire before being destroyed by the ships' main guns. Japanese submarines approaching the force were depth-charged by American destroyers. Japanese seaplanes made an ineffective bombing attack. In spite of a lack of information on the Japanese forces, the operation was considered a success. U.S. forces later occupied Adak Island, providing a naval base further from the Dutch Harbor on Unalaska Island.

In January 1943, Indianapolis supported a landing and occupation on Amchitka, part of an Allied island hopping strategy in the Aleutian Islands. On the evening of February 19th, Indianapolis led two destroyers on a patrol southwest of Attu Island, searching for Japanese ships trying to reinforce Kiska and Attu. She intercepted a Japanese cargo ship, Akagane Maru laden with troops, munitions, and supplies. The cargo ship tried to reply to the radio challenge but was shelled by Indianapolis. Akagane Maru exploded and sank with all hands. Through mid-1943, Indianapolis remained near the Aleutian Islands escorting American convoys and providing shore bombardments supporting amphibious assaults. In May, the Allies captured Attu, then turned on Kiska, thought to be the final Japanese holdout in the Aleutians. Allied landings there began on August 15th but the Japanese had already abandoned the Aleutian Islands, unbeknownst to the Allies.

After refitting at Mare Island, Indianapolis moved to Hawaii as flagship of Vice Admiral Raymond A. Spruance, commanding the 5th Fleet. She sortied from Pearl Harbor on November 10th with the main body of the Southern Attack Force for Operation Galvanic, the invasion of the Gilbert Islands. On November 19th, Indianapolis bombarded Tarawa Atoll and next day pounded Makin. The ship then returned to Tarawa as fire-support for the landings. Her guns shot down an enemy plane and shelled enemy strongpoints as landing parties fought Japanese defenders in the bloody and costly battle of Tarawa. She continued this role until the leveled island was secure three days later. The conquest of the Marshall Islands followed victory in the Gilberts. Indianapolis was again 5th Fleet flags.

The cruiser met other ships of her task force at Tarawa, and on D-Day minus 1, January 31, 1944, she was one of the cruisers that 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 on February 4th, and remained until resistance disappeared.

In March and April, Indianapolis, still flagship of the 5th Fleet, attacked the Western Carolines. Carrier planes at the Palau Islands on March 30-31 sank three destroyers, 17 freighters, five oilers and damaged 17 other ships. Airfields were bombed and surrounding water mined. Yap and Ulithi were struck on the 31st and Woleai on April 1st. Japanese planes attacked but were driven off without damaging the American ships. Indianapolis shot down her second plane, a torpedo bomber, and the Japanese lost 160 planes, including 46 on the ground. These attacks prevented Japanese forces from the Carolines from interfering with the U.S. landings on New Guinea.

In June, the 5th Fleet was busy with the assault on the Mariana Islands. Raids on Saipan began with carrier-based planes on June 11th, followed by surface bombardment, in which Indianapolis had a major role, from June 13th. On D-Day, June 15th, Admiral Spruance heard that battleships, carriers, cruisers, and destroyers were headed south to relieve threatened garrisons in the Marianas. Since amphibious operations at Saipan had to be protected, Admiral Spruance could not withdraw too far. 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 potential enemy air attacks.

A combined U.S. fleet fought the Japanese on June 19th in the Battle of the Philippine Sea. Japanese carrier planes, which hoped to use the airfields of Guam and Tinian to refuel and rearm, were met by carrier planes and the guns of the Allied escorting ships. That day, the U.S. Navy destroyed a reported 426 Japanese planes while losing 29. Indianapolis shot down one torpedo plane. This day of aerial combat became known as the "Marianas Turkey Shoot". With Japanese air opposition wiped out, the U.S. carrier planes sank Hiyō, two destroyers, and one tanker and damaged others. Two other carriers, Taihō and Shōkaku, were sunk by submarines.

Indianapolis returned to Saipan on June 23rd to resume fire support and six days later moved to Tinian to attack shore installations. Meanwhile, Guam had been taken, and Indianapolis was the first ship to enter Apra Harbor since early in the war. The ship operated in the Marianas for the next few weeks, then moved to the Western Carolines where further landings were planned. From September 12th to the 29th, she bombarded the Peleliu in the Palau Group, before and after the landings. She then sailed to Manus Island in the Admiralty Islands where she operated for 10 days before returning to the Mare Island Naval Shipyard in California for refitting.

Overhauled, Indianapolis joined Vice Admiral Marc A. Mitscher's fast carrier task force on February 14th 1945. Two days later, the task force launched an attack on Tokyo to cover the landings on Iwo Jima, scheduled for February 19th. This was the first carrier attack on Japan since the Doolittle Raid. The mission was to destroy Japanese air facilities and other installations in the "Home Islands". The fleet achieved complete tactical surprise by approaching the Japanese coast under cover of bad weather. The attacks were pressed home for two days. The American Navy lost 49 carrier planes while claiming 499 enemy planes, a 10:1 kill/loss ratio. The task force also sank a carrier, nine coastal ships, a destroyer, two destroyer escorts, and a cargo ship. They destroyed hangars, shops, aircraft installations, factories, and other industrial targets.

Immediately after the strikes, the task force raced to the Bonin Islands to support the landings on Iwo Jima. The ship remained there until March 1st, protecting the invasion ships and bombarding targets in support of the landings. Indianapolis returned to Admiral Mitscher's task force in time to strike Tokyo again on February 25th and Hachijō off the southern coast of Honshū the following day. Although weather was extremely bad, the American force destroyed 158 planes and sank five small ships while pounding ground installations and destroying trains.

The next target for the U.S. forces was Okinawa in the Ryukyu Islands, which were in range of aircraft from the Japanese mainland. The fast carrier force was tasked with attacking airfields in southern Japan until they were incapable of launching effective airborne opposition to the impending invasion. The fast carrier force departed for Japan from Ulithi on March 14th. On Marhc 18th, it launched an attack from a position 100 mi southeast of the island of Kyūshū. The attack targeted airfields on Kyūshū as well as ships of the Japanese fleet in the harbors of Kobe and Kure on southern Honshū. The Japanese located the American task force on March 21st, sending 48 planes to attack the ships. Twenty-four fighters from the task force intercepted and shot down all the Japanese aircraft.

Pre-invasion bombardment of Okinawa began on March 24th. Indianapolis spent 7 days pouring 8 in shells into the beach defenses. During this time, enemy aircraft repeatedly attacked the American ships. Indianapolis shot down six planes and damaged two others. On March 31st, the ship's lookouts spotted a Japanese Nakajima Ki-43 fighter 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 within 15 seconds, the plane was over the ship. Tracers converged on it, causing it to swerve, but the enemy pilot managed to release his bomb from a height of 25 ft, crashing his plane into the sea near the port stern. The bomb plummeted through the deck, into the crew's mess hall, down through the berthing compartment, and through the fuel tanks before crashing through the keel and exploding in the water underneath. The concussion blew two gaping holes in the keel which flooded nearby compartments, killing nine crewmen. The ship's bulkheads prevented any progressive flooding. Indianapolis, settling slightly by the stern and listing to port, steamed to a salvage ship for emergency repairs. Here, inspection revealed that her propeller shafts were damaged, her fuel tanks ruptured, and her water-distilling equipment ruined. But Indianapolis commenced the long trip across the Pacific, under her own power, to the Mare Island Navy Yard for repairs.

After major repairs and an overhaul, Indianapolis received orders to proceed to Tinian island, carrying parts and the enriched uranium (about half of the world's supply of Uranium-235 at the time) for the atomic bomb Little Boy, which would later be dropped on Hiroshima. Indianapolis departed San Francisco's Hunters Point Naval Shipyard on July 16, 1945, within hours of the Trinity test. Arriving at Pearl Harbor on July 19th, she raced on unaccompanied, delivering the atomic weapon components to Tinian on 26 July 26th.

Indianapolis was then sent to Guam where a number of the crew who had completed their tours of duty were replaced by other sailors. Leaving Guam on July 28th, she began sailing toward Leyte where her crew was to receive training before continuing on to Okinawa to join Vice Admiral Jesse B. Oldendorf's Task Force 95.

At 00:14am on July 30th, she was struck on her starboard side by two Type 95 torpedoes, one in the bow and one amidships, from the Japanese submarine I-58, under the command of Mochitsura Hashimoto, who initially thought he had spotted an "Idaho-class battleship".The explosions caused massive damage. Indianapolis took on a heavy list, and settled by the bow. Twelve minutes later, she rolled completely over, then her stern rose into the air, and she plunged down. Some 300 of the 1,196 crewmen went down with the ship. With few lifeboats and many without lifejackets, the remainder of the crew were set adrift.

Navy command had no knowledge of the ship's sinking until survivors were spotted three and a half days later. At 10:25am on August 2nd, a PV-1 Ventura from VPB-152 flown by Lieutenant Wilbur "Chuck" Gwinn and copilot Lieutenant Warren Colwell spotted the men adrift while on a routine patrol flight. Gwinn 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. A PBY Catalina flying boat under the command of Lieutenant R. Adrian Marks was dispatched to lend assistance and report. En route to the scene, Marks overflew USS Cecil J. Doyle and alerted her captain, future U.S. Secretary of the Navy W. Graham Claytor, Jr., of the emergency. On his own authority, Claytor decided to divert to the scene.

Arriving hours ahead of Cecil J. Doyle, Marks' crew began dropping rubber rafts and supplies. Having seen men being attacked by sharks, Marks disobeyed standing orders and landed on the open sea. He began taxiing to pick up the stragglers and lone swimmers who were at the greatest risk of shark attack. Learning the men were the crew of Indianapolis, he radioed the news, requesting immediate assistance. Doyle responded while en route. When Marks' plane was full, survivors were tied to the wings with parachute cord, damaging the wings so that the plane would never fly again and had to be sunk. Marks and his crew rescued 56 men that day, more than one-sixth of the 317 survivors.

Cecil J. Doyle was the first vessel on the scene. Homing in on Marks's Catalina in total darkness, Doyle halted to avoid killing or further injuring survivors, and began taking Marks' survivors aboard. Disregarding the safety of his own vessel, Captain Claytor pointed his largest searchlight into the night sky to serve as a beacon for other rescue vessels. This beacon was the first indication to most survivors that rescuers had arrived.

The destroyers HelmMadison, and Ralph Talbot were ordered to the rescue scene from Ulithi, along with destroyer escorts DufilhoBassett, and Ringness of the Philippine Sea Frontier. They continued their search for survivors until August 8th. Two of the rescued survivors, Robert Lee Shipman and Frederick Harrison, died in August 1945.

Of the 880 who had survived the sinking, only 321 men came out of the water alive; 317 ultimately survived. They suffered from lack of food and water (leading to dehydration and hypernatremia; some found rations, such as Spam and crackers, amongst the debris), exposure to the elements (leading to hypothermia and severe desquamation), and shark attacks, while some killed themselves or other survivors in various states of delirium and hallucinations.

Aftermath and Legacy:

"Ocean of Fear", a 2007 episode of the Discovery Channel TV documentary series Shark Week, states that the Indianapolis sinking resulted in the most shark attacks on humans in history, and attributes the attacks to the oceanic whitetip shark species. Tiger sharks might have also killed some sailors. The same show attributed most of the deaths on Indianapolis to exposure, salt poisoning and thirst, with the dead being dragged off by sharks.

The Headquarters of Commander Marianas on Guam and of the Commander Philippine Sea Frontier on Leyte kept Operations plotting boards on which were plotted the positions of all vessels with which the headquarters were concerned. However, for ships as large as Indianapolis, it was assumed that they would reach their destinations on time, unless reported otherwise. Therefore, their positions were based on predictions, and not on reports. On July 31st, when she should have arrived at Leyte, Indianapolis was removed from the board in the headquarters of Commander Marianas. She was also recorded as having arrived at Leyte by the headquarters of Commander Philippine Sea Frontier. Lieutenant Stuart B. Gibson, the Operations Officer under the Port Director, Tacloban, was the officer responsible for tracking the movements of Indianapolis. The vessel's failure to arrive on schedule was known at once to Lieutenant Gibson, who failed to investigate the matter and made no immediate report of the fact to his superiors. Gibson received a letter of reprimand in connection with the incident. The acting commander and operations officer of the Philippine Sea Frontier also received reprimands, while Gibson's immediate superior received a letter of admonition.

In the first official statement, the Navy said that distress calls "were keyed by radio operators and possibly were actually transmitted" but that "no evidence has been developed that any distress message from the ship was received by any ship, aircraft or shore station." Declassified records later showed that three stations received the signals; however, none acted upon the call. One commander was drunk, another had ordered his men not to disturb him and a third thought it was a Japanese trap.

Immediately prior to the attack, the seas had been moderate, the visibility fluctuating but poor in general, and Indianapolis had been steaming at 17 knots. 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.

Captain Charles B. McVay III, who had commanded Indianapolis since November 1944, survived the sinking and was among those rescued days later. In November 1945, he was court-martialed and convicted of "hazarding his ship by failing to zigzag". Several things about the court-martial were controversial. There was evidence that the Navy itself had placed the ship in harm's way, in that McVay's orders were to "zigzag at his discretion, weather permitting." Further, Mochitsura Hashimoto, commander of I-58, testified that zigzagging would have made no difference. Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz remitted McVay's sentence and restored him to active duty. McVay retired in 1949 as a rear admiral.

While many of Indianapolis's survivors said McVay was not to blame for the sinking, the families of some of the men who died thought otherwise: "Merry Christmas! Our family's holiday would be a lot merrier if you hadn't killed my son", read one piece of mail. The guilt that was placed on his shoulders mounted until he committed suicide in 1968, using his Navy-issue revolver. McVay was discovered on his front lawn with a toy sailor in one hand. He was 70 years old.

In 1996, sixth-grade student Hunter Scott began his research on the sinking of Indianapolis, which led to a United States Congressional investigation. In October 2000, the United States Congress passed a resolution that Captain McVay's record should state that "he is exonerated for the loss of Indianapolis." President Bill Clinton signed the resolution. The resolution noted that, although several hundred ships of the U.S. Navy were lost in combat in World War II, McVay was the only captain to be court-martialed for the sinking of his ship. In July 2001, the Secretary of the Navy ordered McVay's record cleared of all wrongdoing.

Indianapolis is located in the Philippine Sea. In July–August 2001, an expedition sought to find the wreckage through the use of side-scan sonar and underwater cameras mounted on a remotely operated vehicle. Four Indianapolis survivors accompanied the expedition, which was not successful. In June 2005, a second expedition was mounted to find the wreck. National Geographic covered the story and released it in July. Submersibles were launched to find any sign of wreckage. The only objects ever found, which have not been confirmed to have belonged to Indianapolis, were numerous pieces of metal of varying size found in the area of the reported sinking position.

In July 2016, new information came out regarding the possible location of Indianapolis when naval records said that USS LST-779 passed by the ship 11 hours before the torpedoes struck. Using this information, National Geographic plans to mount an expedition to search for the wreck in summer 2017. Reports estimate that Indianapolis is actually 25 miles west of the reported sinking position, is in water three miles deep and is likely on the side of an underwater mountain.

Since 1960, surviving crew members have been meeting for reunions in Indianapolis. For the 70th reunion, held July 23–26, 2015, 14 of the 32 remaining survivors attended. The reunions are open to anyone interested, and have more attendees each year, even as the number of survivors decreases from death. Held only periodically at first, biannually later on, the reunions have been held annually for the last several years. Every year, the survivors, most of them in their nineties, vote whether to continue.

References to the Indianapolis sinking and aftermath have been adapted to film, stage, television, and popular culture. The incident itself was the subject of 1991 made-for-television movie Mission of the Shark: The Saga of the USS Indianapolis, with Stacy Keach portraying Captain Charles Butler McVay III.

Arguably the most well known fictional reference to the events occurs in the 1975 thriller film Jaws in a monologue by actor Robert Shaw, whose character Quint is depicted as a survivor of the Indianapolis sinking. The monologue emphasizes the numerous deaths caused by shark attacks after the sinking. John Milius was specifically brought into the production to write lines for this scene and he based them on survivor stories. However, there are several historical inaccuracies in the monologue: the speech states the date of the sinking as 29 June 1945, when the ship was actually sunk on 30 July, that they were spotted at noon of the fifth day rather than the third day, that 1,100 men went into the water and 316 came out (nearer 900 went in and 321 came out, of whom 317 survived) and that because of the secrecy of the atom bomb mission no distress call was broadcast, while declassified Navy documents prove the contrary.

Sara Vladic directed USS Indianapolis: The Legacy, which tells the fate of USS Indianapolis using exclusively first-person accounts from the survivors of the sinking. This film was released in December 2015. A new film, USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage, starring Nicolas Cage, was released in September 2016, and directed Mario Van Peebles.









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