'Indianapolis' sheds new light on World War II naval disaster that cost nearly 900 lives
With diligent reporting and sharp writing, Lynn Vincent and Sara Vladic have accomplished a daunting chore facing writers of historic nonfiction: take a story whose outline is known to the public and craft an account that is compelling yet comprehensive. Through negligence and bureaucratic incompetence, the Navy seemingly forgot about the Indianapolis for days and launched a rescue effort only when survivors were spotted accidentally by a Navy plane on routine patrol. By the time the last survivor was pulled from the choppy ocean, three-quarters of the crew were dead or dying. An estimated crew members went down with the ship, another plus died in the water desperately waiting for rescue. The total number of dead was ; there were survivors. The last survivors were pulled aboard a rescue ship, the Doyle, thanks to the brave actions of rescue pilot Adrian Marks, on the night of Aug.
Launched in , the vessel served as the flagship for the commander of Scouting Force 1 for eight years, then as flagship for Admiral Raymond Spruance in and while he commanded the Fifth Fleet in battles across the Central Pacific during World War II. In July , Indianapolis completed a top-secret high-speed trip to deliver parts of Little Boy , the first nuclear weapon ever used in combat, to the United States Army Air Force Base on the island of Tinian , and subsequently departed for the Philippines on training duty. At on 30 July, the ship was torpedoed by the Imperial Japanese Navy submarine I , and sank in 12 minutes. Of 1, crewmen aboard, approximately went down with the ship. The Navy only learned of the sinking four days later, when survivors were spotted by the crew of a PV-1 Ventura on routine patrol. Only survived. 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 , after the two vessels of the Pensacola class , ordered in , and the six of the Northampton class , ordered in
Given the stringent precision of the U. Navy and military during wartime, how could a WWII battleship carrying over 1, 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. 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. 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.