United States Navy (USN)
Naval Forces (non-specific)
Did the navy use the skipper of the USS Indianapolis as a scapegoat?
, former Taught Nuclear Reactor Physics and Protection at United States Navy (1972-1974)
The captain of the ship owns the ship. He was court martialed for failing to zigzag in a combat zone with known submarine presence. The court martial, in my humble opinion, was a farce orchestrated by Admiral King. The end result was the suicide of Captain McVay.
Capt. Charles McVay
The Indy controversy erupted in August 1945, just after the atomic bombs were dropped. The American public was outraged at the loss of more than 800 lives in the waning days of the war, and a Navy court of inquiry was convened to investigate. Its recommendation was that Captain McVay be court-martialed for hazarding his vessel by failure to zigzag, but Admiral Chester Nimitz disagreed and instead issued the captain a letter of reprimand. Admiral Ernest King later overturned Nimitz’s decision and recommended a court-martial, which Secretary of the Navy Forrestal later convened.
In doing so, King intervened directly with the Secretary of the Navy to move forward with the court-martial in parallel with an investigation by the Inspector General (IG). But a court-martial is a trial, not an investigatory tool. If King’s problem was simply a lack of information, why didn’t he allow the Inspector General to issue his report before ordering the court-martial? Some believe it is because King was not satisfied that the IG’s conclusions would support his decision to court-martial.
The Navy Judge Advocate General also was asked to review the referral. His response contained the curious statement that the charges included in the initial referral were “the only ones that can be supported,” as if an agenda was at work to establish a greater foundation for prosecution. Whatever the truth, this statement certainly creates the perception that the Judge Advocate General was under direction to discover more charges to refer against McVay.
In the end, McVay was charged with two counts: suffering his vessel to be hazarded by failing to zigzag, and failure to order abandon ship in a timely manner. His counsel, reportedly hand-picked by King, had never argued a case in court before.
The court claimed that McVay was not being charged for any deficiency that led to the sinking of his ship. They made a strong case that the “Indianapolis was hazarded before she was ever detected by I-58, and would have been hazarded if she had never been detected by I-58.” In essence, McVay could have been found guilty in a court– martial even if his ship had not been sunk. This is a meaningless legal distinction, however, since absent the sinking, there would have been no way for anyone to know that the vessel had been hazarded.
Hence, despite the fact that McVay was convicted only on the first count—for suffering his vessel to be hazarded by not zigzagging—there is no way to escape the fact that Captain McVay was court-martialed for having his ship sunk.
On a gray day in 1966, he dressed in his Navy uniform, picked up a toy figure of a sailor, walked onto his front porch, put a handgun into his mouth, and pulled the trigger—yet another victim of a battle that claimed too many.
For further reading on this sad tale you can go to;
The Legacy of USS Indianapolis – USNI News
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, studied at Brooklyn College
Ultimate responsibility for the safety of the ship rests with the captain. The U.S. Navy lost upward of 200 combat ships (not counting gunboats and PT boats) in World War II. Thousands more were damaged by enemy action, groundings, weather, and collisions. In every case there was an investigation of the circumstances, regardless of whether the captain survived, and responsibility was assigned for the loss or damage if the ship, and for the loss of life.
Among the factors formally considered were weather, enemy action and size of opposing force, the captain’s actions and orders during the incident, the captain’s standing orders and directions in the night order book, and the number of drills held and level of training among the crew. Among the informal factors considered were the captain’s Navy pedigree (all things being equal, the sons of admirals advanced more quickly), whether they were Annapolis graduates or Reserve officers, and how well known and well liked they were by their superiors.
There were likely hundreds and hundreds of findings that, in restrospect, could have exonerated the captains involved, or assigned greater responsibility to the captain. No justice system is perfect, and the Navy’s imperfections were magnified by the high stakes of a global shooting war.
That said, Captain McVay was the only officer court martialed for the loss of a ship in combat during World War II, almost certainly because of the high loss of life at the end of the war, and the gruesome accounts of surviving crew being preyed upon by sharks. I believe he was convicted unfairly, and so did many of his Navy contemporaries. McVay committed suicide in 1968, and was belatedly exonerated by Congress in 2000.
Captain William J. Toti’s article for the U. S. Naval Institute is a professional and nuanced look at the case, and I recommend it highly:
The Legacy of USS Indianapolis – USNI News
"EP5 Nightmares of Indianapolis" from Dan Carlins Hardcore History: Addendum by Wizzard Media on Apple Podcasts The best retelling of the sinking of the USS Indianapolis. Absolutely gripping and terrifying in equal measure. It shows without doubt Charles McVay was made a scapegoat by the navy for the single biggest loss of life in US Naval history.
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Charles B. McVay III
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Charles B. McVay III
McVay talks to war correspondents in Guam about the sinking of his ship in August 1945
|Birth name||Charles Butler McVay III|
|Born||July 30, 1898|
|Died||November 6, 1968 (aged 70)|
|Place of burial|
Bayou Liberty, Louisiana
|Allegiance||United States of America|
|Service/||United States Navy|
|Years of service||1920–1949|
|Commands held||USS Indianapolis (CA-35)|
|Battles/wars|| World War II |
|Awards|| Silver Star |
Navy Unit Commendation
|Spouse(s)||Kinau Wilder |
Louise Graham Claytor
|Children|| Kimo Wilder McVay |
Charles Butler McVay IV
Charles B. McVay III (July 30, 1898 – November 6, 1968) was an American naval officer and the commanding officer of USS Indianapolis (CA-35) when it was lost in action in 1945, resulting in a massive loss of life. Of all captains in the history of the United States Navy , he is the only one to have been subjected to court-martial for losing a ship sunk by an act of war, despite the fact that he was on a top secret mission maintaining radio silence (the testimony of the Japanese commander who sank his ship also seemed to exonerate McVay).  After years of mental health problems, he took his own life aged 70 years. Following years of efforts by some survivors and others to clear his name, McVay was posthumously exonerated by the 106th United States Congress and President Bill Clinton on October 30, 2000.
- 1 Education and career
- 2 Sinking of Indianapolis
- 3 Delayed rescue
- 4 Controversy
- 5 Suicide
- 6 Exoneration
- 7 Awards and decorations
- 8 In popular culture
- 9 See also
- 10 References
- 11 External links
Education and career[ edit ]
Charles Butler McVay III was born in Ephrata, Pennsylvania on July 30, 1898 to a Navy family. His father, Charles Butler McVay Jr. (September 9, 1868 – October 28, 1949), who had commanded the tender Yankton during the cruise of the Great White Fleet (1907–1909), was an admiral in the United States Navy during World War I , and served as Commander-in-Chief of the Asiatic Fleet in the early 1930s.
Charles III was a 1920 graduate of the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland . Before taking command of Indianapolis in November 1944, McVay was chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee of the Combined Chiefs of Staff in Washington, D.C. , the Allies ‘ highest intelligence unit. Earlier in World War II , he was awarded the Silver Star for displaying courage under fire.
McVay led the ship through the invasion of Iwo Jima , then the bombardment of Okinawa in the spring of 1945, during which Indianapolis anti-aircraft guns shot down seven enemy planes before the ship was struck by a kamikaze on March 31, inflicting heavy casualties, including 13 dead, and penetrating the ship’s hull. McVay returned the ship safely to Mare Island in California for repairs.
Sinking of Indianapolis[ edit ]
Later that year, Indianapolis received orders to carry parts and nuclear material to Tinian to be used in the atomic bombs which were soon to be dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki . After delivering his top secret cargo, the ship was en route to report for further duty off Okinawa .
Early in the morning of July 30, 1945, she was attacked by the Japanese submarine I-58 under Commander Mochitsura Hashimoto . Hashimoto launched six torpedoes and hit Indianapolis twice, the first removing over forty feet of her bow, the second hitting the starboard side at frame forty (below the bridge). Indianapolis immediately took a fifteen degree list, capsized and sank within 12 minutes. Of the crew of 1,196 men, 879 men died.
Delayed rescue[ edit ]
About 300 of the 1,196 men on board died in the initial attack. The rest of the crew, 900 men, were left floating in the water without lifeboats until the rescue was completed four days (100 hours) later. Because of Navy protocol regarding secret missions, the ship was not reported “overdue” and the rescue came only after survivors were spotted by pilot Lieutenant Wilber (Chuck) Gwinn and co-pilot Lieutenant Warren Colwell on a routine patrol flight. Most of the casualties of the survivors in the water were due to injuries sustained aboard the ship, dehydration, exhaustion, drinking salt water and shark attacks  The seas had been moderate, but visibility was not good. Indianapolis had been steaming at 15.7 knots (29 km/h). When the ship did not reach Leyte on the 31st, as scheduled, no report was made that she was overdue. This omission was officially recorded later as “due to a misunderstanding of the Movement Report System “.  
Controversy[ edit ]
McVay was wounded but survived, and was among those rescued. He repeatedly asked the Navy why it took four days to rescue his men but never received an answer. The Navy long claimed that SOS messages were never received because the ship was operating under a policy of radio silence; declassified records show that three SOS messages were received separately, but none were acted upon because one commander was drunk, another thought it was a Japanese ruse, while the third had given orders not to be disturbed. 
After a Navy Court of Inquiry recommended that McVay be court-martialed for the loss of Indianapolis, Admiral Chester Nimitz disagreed and instead issued the captain a letter of reprimand . Admiral Ernest King overturned Nimitz’s decision and recommended a court-martial, which Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal later convened. McVay was charged with failing to zigzag and failure to order abandon ship in a timely manner. He was convicted on the former. Prior knowledge of Japanese submarines being identified in the area was withheld from the court and from McVay, prior to sailing, as well. Following McVay’s conviction for hazarding Indianapolis by failing to zigzag, Admiral King recommended setting aside the punishment.   Hashimoto, the Japanese submarine commander who had sunk the Indianapolis, was on record as describing visibility at the time as fair (which is corroborated by the fact that he was able to target and sink the Indianapolis in the first place). American submarine experts testified that “zigzagging” was a technique of negligible value in eluding enemy submarines. Hashimoto also testified to this effect.  Despite that testimony, the official ruling was that visibility was good, and the court held McVay responsible for failing to zigzag.
An additional point of controversy is evidence that the admirals in the United States Navy were primarily responsible for placing the ship in harm’s way. For instance, McVay requested a destroyer escort for the Indianapolis,  but his request was denied because the priority for destroyers at the time was escorting transports to Okinawa and picking up downed pilots in B-29 raids on Japan. Also, naval command assumed McVay’s route would be safe at that point in the war.  Many ships, including most destroyers, were equipped with submarine detection equipment, but the Indianapolis was not so equipped, which casts the decision to deny McVay’s request for an escort as military incompetence.
On 24 July 1945, just six days prior to the sinking of the Indianapolis, the destroyer Underhill had been attacked and sunk in the area by Japanese submarines. Yet McVay was never informed of this event, and several others, in part due to issues of classified intelligence.  McVay was warned of the potential presence of Japanese subs, but not of the actual confirmed activity.
Although about 380 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 loss of his ship.  It was widely felt that he had been a fall guy for the Navy.  The conviction effectively ended McVay’s career as he lost seniority, although the sentence was overturned by Secretary James Forrestal owing to McVay’s bravery prior to the sinking, and McVay was finally promoted to rear admiral when he retired from the navy in 1949, although he apparently never got over his treatment.  
In his book Abandon Ship, author Richard F. Newcomb posits a motive for Admiral King’s ordering McVay’s court-martial. According to Captain McVay III’s father, Admiral Charles B McVay Jr., “‘King never forgot a grudge,” he exploded. King had been a junior officer under the old man’s command when King and other officers sneaked some women aboard a ship. Admiral McVay had a letter of reprimand placed in King’s record. “Now,” he raged, “King’s used you to get back at me.'” 
Suicide[ edit ]
On 6 November 1968, McVay took his own life by shooting himself with his service pistol at his home in Litchfield , Connecticut , holding in his hand a toy sailor he had received as a boy for a good luck charm.  He was found in his back porch by his gardener.  Though a note was not left, McVay was known by those close to him to have suffered from loneliness, particularly after losing his wife to cancer.  McVay also struggled throughout his life from vitriolic letters and phone calls he periodically received from grief-stricken relatives of dead crewmen who served aboard the Indianapolis. 
Exoneration[ edit ]
USS Indianapolis survivors organized, and many spent years attempting to clear their skipper’s name. Many people, from McVay’s son Charles McVay IV (1925–2012) to author Dan Kurzman, who chronicled the Indianapolis incident in Fatal Voyage, to members of Congress, long believed McVay was unfairly convicted. Paul Murphy, president of the USS Indianapolis Survivors Organization, said: “Captain McVay’s court-martial was simply to divert attention from the terrible loss of life caused by procedural mistakes which never alerted anyone that we were missing.”
Over fifty years after the incident, a 12-year-old student in Pensacola, Florida , Hunter Scott , was instrumental in raising awareness of the miscarriage of justice carried out at the captain’s court-martial. As part of a school project for the National History Day program, the young man interviewed nearly 150 survivors of the Indianapolis sinking and reviewed 800 documents. His testimony before the U.S. Congress brought national attention to the situation.   
In October 2000, the United States Congress passed a resolution that McVay’s record should reflect that “he is exonerated for the loss of the USS Indianapolis.” President Clinton also signed the resolution.  Commander Hashimoto died five days before the exoneration (on 25 October).
In July 2001, Secretary of the Navy Gordon R. England ordered McVay’s official Navy record purged of all wrongdoing. 
Awards and decorations[ edit ]
|Navy Unit Commendation|
|Navy Expeditionary Medal|
|World War I Victory Medal|
|China Service Medal|
American Defense Service Medal with one bronze service star
|American Campaign Medal|
European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with one bronze service star
Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with three bronze service stars
|World War II Victory Medal|
In popular culture[ edit ]
McVay’s ship, but not McVay himself, is mentioned in the 1975 blockbuster movie Jaws , in which the character of Quint is portrayed as a survivor of the incident.
In 1978, the events surrounding McVay’s court-martial were dramatized in The Failure to ZigZag by playwright John B. Ferzacca. The 1991 made-for-television movie Mission of the Shark: The Saga of the U.S.S. Indianapolis depicts the ordeal of the men of the Indianapolis during her last voyage (with McVay portrayed by Stacy Keach ), as does the 2016 film USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage (with McVay portrayed by Nicolas Cage ). Also in 2016, USS Indianapolis: The Legacy was released. It is an in-depth film where the survivors tell the story of what really happened and they speak about the aftermath of the tragic event.
See also[ edit ]
- W. Graham Claytor Jr.
- List of U.S. Navy losses in World War II for other Navy ships lost in World War II
References[ edit ]
- This article incorporates text from the public domain Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships . The entry can be found here .
- ^ a b c d Stanton, Doug. In Harm’s Way: The Sinking of the USS Indianapolis and the Extraordinary Story of Its Survivors. ISBN 0-8050-7366-3 .
- ^ Vincent, Lynn; Vladic, Sara (July 10, 2018). Indianapolis (1st ed.). Simon & Schuster. ISBN 1501135945 .
- ^ “Researchers Announce Wreckage from USS Indianapolis Located” . www.history.navy.mil. Retrieved 2018-07-17.
- ^ https://www.facebook.com/kristineaguerra . “‘We knew the ship was doomed’: USS Indianapolis survivor recalls four days in shark-filled sea” . Washington Post. Retrieved 2018-07-17.
- ^ Maier, Timothy W. ““For the Good of the Navy” by Maier, Timothy W. – Insight on the News, Vol. 16, Issue 21, June 5, 2000 | Online Research Library: Questia” . www.questia.com.
- ^ Capt. William J. Toti, USN (Retired). “The Legacy of USS Indianapolis” .
- ^ “Captain McVay” . USS Indianapolis.org.
- ^ “USS Indianapolis sinking: ‘You could see sharks circling‘” . BBC News.
- ^ Silverstone, Paul H. US Warships of World War II. pp. 394–408.
- ^ Thomas, Joseph J. (May 1, 2005). Leadership Embodied: The Secrets To Success Of The Most Effective Navy And Marine Corps Leaders . Naval Institute Press . p. 115.
- ^ LCdr.C.R. Woodward, USMC (1988). “The U.S.S. Indianapolis—Tragedy Amid Triumph” . globalsecurity.org. Retrieved 2008-12-21.
- ^ https://news.google.com/newspapers?id=5k0iAAAAIBAJ&sjid=W6wFAAAAIBAJ&pg=3676,966443
- ^ “Captain, Once a Scapegoat, Is Absolved” . The New York Times.
- ^ Newcomb, Richard F. Abandon Ship.
- ^ “Captain McVay” . Retrieved 3 June 2009.
- ^ “Main page” . USS Indianapolis Survivors Organization. Retrieved 2007-10-22.
- ^ a b USS Indianapolis CA-35
- ^ “Newspaper article”. Detroit News. 1998-04-23.
- ^ Kakesako, Gregg K. (November 10, 1997). “Navy ‘scapegoat’ may be absolved” . Honolulu Star-Bulletin . Retrieved May 31, 2017.
- ^ Frankston, Janet (June 20, 2006). “A duel for the glory of captain’s exoneration” . The Honolulu Advertiser . Associated Press . Retrieved May 31, 2017.
- ^ “Seeking Justice: A Victory in Congress” . USS Indianapolis Survivors Organization. Retrieved 2007-10-22.
- ^ Magin, Janis L. (13 July 2001). “Navy exonerates WWII captain” . The Argus-Press . Owosso, Michigan . Retrieved 31 July 2011.
External links[ edit ]
- USS Indianapolis — Still at sea
- Photographs of Indianapolis
- Allied Warships: USS Indianapolis (CA 35), Heavy cruiser of the Portland class
- USS INDIANAPOLIS Collection, 1898–1991 , collection guide for an “artificially-created” collection of materials regarding the history of the heavy cruiser USS Indianapolis (CA 35) at the Indiana Historical Society .
- Mission of the Shark: The Saga of the U.S.S. Indianapolis on IMDb
- 1898 births
- 1968 deaths
- American naval personnel of World War II
- American military personnel who committed suicide
- People from Ephrata, Pennsylvania
- Recipients of the Silver Star
- Suicides by firearm in Connecticut
- United States Naval Academy alumni
- United States Navy officers
- United States Navy personnel who were court-martialed
- Wikipedia articles incorporating text from the Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships
- This page was last edited on 15 November 2018, at 13:36 (UTC).
- Text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License ;
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