Skip to main content

Days of Infamy When the Us Navy Let 500+ Sailors Die at Leyte Gulf After the Euphoria of the Atomic Bombing of Japan

MG is an ex-senior Air force officer who is a global traveler as well as a wildlife enthusiast

days-of-infamy-when-the-us-navy-allowed-500-sailors-to-die-in-waters-at

Background

At the beginning of 1945, American intelligence had detected that the Japanese were ready to surrender and were only looking for a face-saving way out. The American military and the scientists who had worked on the atomic project were very keen that the weapon being tested. One of the most famous men who were in favor of using the atomic bomb was Albert Einstein as he's the one who wrote the letter to President Roosevelt asking for the bomb to be manufactured. Later he changed colors but his culpability cannot be ignored. After examining the issue president Truman decided to drop the atomic bombs on Japan mainly to test the weapon. The fact that hundreds of thousands of civilians will die was of no consequence. The Indian judge who was part of the Tokyo tribunal Justice Binod Pal, in a dissenting judgment opined that along with the Japanese,the American generals be also tried for war crimes for dropping the Atomic bomb on unarmed civilians.

Once President Truman had made his decision to drop the Atomic bomb on Japan, the problem of carrying the bomb from the US mainland to the island of Tinian cropped up. It was decided that the heavy cruiser Indianapolis would do this job. Accordingly, the heavy cruiser sailed out from San Francisco Bay on 16 July 1945.


days-of-infamy-when-the-us-navy-allowed-500-sailors-to-die-in-waters-at

Euphoria and neglect

At the port, the atomic bomb to be dropped on Hiroshima was loaded into the belly of the heavy cruiser USS Indianapolis. The entire process was carried out in great secrecy. The ship sailed unescorted so that no suspicion arose. The ship sailed with its lethal cargo for 10 days across the Pacific till it reached the island of Tinian, where the atomic bomb was offloaded. Sending the ship unescorted in a warship was a masterstroke of the admiralty and no one knew that the A-bomb was on its way. The ship was commanded by US Navy Captain Charles Mcvay.

After unloading its cargo the USS Indianapolis was not asked to return back to the US mainland but instructed to proceed to Leyte Gulf in the Philippines and get ready for the invasion of Japan. The ship again sailed without an escort into an area that was infested with sharks and Japanese submarines.

At midnight on 30 July 1945, the ship came in the sights of a Japanese submarine and two torpedoes hit her. These hit her on the side and triggered massive explosions and the heavy cruiser sank within 12 minutes. The Ship had a complement of 1196 out of which about 900 escaped. The balance of almost 200 seamen went down with the ship. The Japanese submarine an I-58 was commanded by Lieutenant Commander Mochitsura Hashimoto.

The 900 men in the waters were in a precarious condition. Many were clinging to ship debris and only about 50% had life jackets. But the greater danger were the sharks in the ocean. These predatory fish began attacking the seamen in the waters.

It is on record that for 4 days the navy ‘forgot’ about the ship and nobody bothered about it. However, after 4 days a navy reconnaissance plane sighted the survivors, and rescue operations began. Only 317 survivors were picked up and the sad fact is that due to apathy of the navy itself nearly 500+ sailors died in the waters. This is sad and shows that perhaps the military leadership were so obsessed with dropping the A-bomb on Hiroshima that they completely forgot about the Indianapolis. There was euphoria in the US armed forces and in that euphoria over 500 US sailors were allowed to die. This is one of the ironies of history that a ship that carried the lethal bomb from the mainland sank just after the completion of its mission. It remains one of the biggest disasters of the US navy during the Second World War.

days-of-infamy-when-the-us-navy-allowed-500-sailors-to-die-in-waters-at
days-of-infamy-when-the-us-navy-allowed-500-sailors-to-die-in-waters-at
days-of-infamy-when-the-us-navy-allowed-500-sailors-to-die-in-waters-at

Epilogue

The matter did not end there and the captain of the US warship faced a court-martial at the end of the war for dereliction of duty and unprofessional conduct. The Navy was keen to prosecute him and it flew in Lt Commander Mochitsura, the man who had sunk the US heavy cruiser as a prosecution witness. Much of his evidence was wrongly interpreted for want of proper translation. Just for the record, Mochitsura died in 2000 as a Shinto priest. Mcvay was found guilty and sentenced to loss of seniority. He knew his days in the navy were over and retired but he was the subject of hate mail for 23 years by the relations of the men who had died in the sinking of the cruiser. Finally unable to take more of this, he shot himself dead on 6 November 1968.

Later Mochitsura was part of the group that worked to exonerate Mcvay, which was eventually successful. The stark fact remains that the US Navy in the backslapping and euphoria of the atomic bombing allowed over 500 men to die in shark-infested waters. Nobody was held accountable for this.

Hollywood did justice to the crew and warship in an excellent movie with Nicholas Cage.

Further Reading

The Sinking of the USS Indianapolis ( we the People: Modern America) library September 01, 2006, by Marc Tyler Nobleman.

The Tragic Fate of the USS Indianapolis: The US Navy's Worst Disaster at Sea-Paperback, November 14,2000, by Raymond B Lech

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 MG Singh emge

Related Articles