USS Indianapolis sinking: 'You could see sharks circling'

Discussion in 'War Against Japan' started by dbf, Jul 29, 2013.

  1. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD


    Attached Files:

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  2. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

  3. Smudger Jnr

    Smudger Jnr Our Man in Berlin


    I cannot think of a worse way to be shipwrecked.

    Nothing but a lifejacket and a Group of other survivors, huddled together in shark infested water and knowing that any second a shark could take them at will.

    It really makes the film Jaw's look tame by comparison.

  4. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    Hi Tom
    I agree, I can't imagine worse either, but then I also have a fear just of open water.

    It seems a bit naff to admit but I really did become aware of the story of the Indianapolis survivors via Jaws, and remembering asking questions about it afterwards.

    This clip doesn't show the comedic macho run-in of scar comparisons, but I well remember being dumb-struck by the scene's juxtaposition.

    Dad heard a similar story about shark attacks from RN man who he worked with in England postwar.
  5. DaveB

    DaveB Very Senior Member

  6. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    A transcript of the item in post 2, for those outside UK unable to hear it.

    The Sinking of the USS Indianapolis

    Introduction: Now, Witness, the History programme from the BBC World Service. Today we go back to the last days of the Second World War when a US war ship was sunk in the Pacific. The sailors who survived the sinking spent four days adrift in shark infested waters. Loel Dean Cox has been speaking to Alex Last about his horrific ordeal.

    Last: It's July 1945, the Second World War in Europe is over, but in the Pacific the fighting goes on.

    Newsreel [Truman's words]: "There can be no peace in the world until the military power of Japan is destroyed"

    Newsreel: "It was Japan's final hour. From hard-won Okinawa, from carrier-based planes of the the 3rd and 5th Fleets, Japan came under the inevitable rain of ruin. Allied sea forces moving up to the Japanese home islands shelled the mainland …" [fades]

    LDC: "I went on duty at 12 midnight and we were hit probably about 10 minutes past midnight, first torpedo hit."

    Last: Loel Dean Cox, LD to his friends, was on the bridge of the American warship, the USS Indianapolis, when it was attacked by a Japanese submarine in the Pacific ocean, on the 30th July 1945.

    LDC: " 'Whoom'. Up in the air I went. Tremendous explosion and, I hit on my stomach on the steel deck and started to get up and when I did I looked up and there was water, debris, fire, of all - everything coming up, and we were 81ft from the water line. And then about the time I got to my knees 'Whoom' another one hit and it hit midships and it all blew and nearly divided the ship in two pieces."

    Last: With fires raging and the Indianapolis beginning to roll onto its side, the order came to abandon ship. LD wearing a life jacket, clambered on to the topside and tried to jump into the water.

    LDC: "I missed the first deck but I hit the hull and then bounced into the water. Then I began to swim away from the ship and at about 50 yards I turned and looked back and the ship was headed straight down. You could see men jumping from the stern and you could see the four propellors still turning.

    Twelve minutes. Can you imagine the ship 610 feet long, that's two football fields in length, sinking in twelve minutes? It just rolled over and went under."

    Last: The USS Indianapolis had just completed a special secret mission, delivering parts of the first atomic bomb to the Pacific island of Tinian where American B29 bombers were based. It was on its way to Leyte in the Philippines with 1197 men onboard when it was hit.

    It did not have sonar to detect submarines. The captain had asked for an escort, but his request was turned down. Nor did the Navy pass on the vital information that Japanese submarines were active along his planned route.

    The Indianapolis was all alone when it sank.

    LDC: "I swam out and came upon one single man, he says 'Is this you Cox?' He was a real close buddy of mine aboard that ship, and he had been flash-burned and he didn't last very long. I never saw a life raft, we didn't get any boats off. I finally heard some moans and groans and yelling and I swam over until I got with a little group of about 30 men and that's where I stayed."

    Last: Did you talk to each other?

    LDC: "We did. The first two days there was a lot of chatter, a lot of talk and then our tongues and our mouths got dry, and the tongues swelled, and we had very little to say to one another. It was just mostly floating. Every day the life preserver got water-logged and you just barely could keep your face and nose out of the water. We figured that if we could just hold out, a couple of days, well we'd be rescued."

    Last: The Indianapolis had in fact sent SOS signals before it sank but somehow the messages were ignored, not taken seriously by the US Naval Command. Even when the ship failed to arrive on time, little notice was taken. About 900 survivors of the initial torpedo attack were left drifting, in small groups, in the expanse of the Pacific ocean.

    But in the sea beneath them, a new danger was lurking.

    LDC: "The first time, the first minute you hit the water you were thinking of sharks. We saw sharks aboard our ships some, and we understood sharks and we understood how deadly they were. From the time we were in the water, we had a dread for the sharks."

    Last: When was the first time that you saw sharks?

    LDC: "We were sunk at midnight and I saw one on the first morning after daylight. They were big. Some of them I'd swear were 15 feet long. They really looked big in that water when they got underneath you circling around, they really looked large. They were continually there. And most of them were feeding off of dead bodies. Thank goodness. We had lots of dead people floating in the area of course."

    Last: But before long they came for the living too.

    LDC: "Two, three or four a night, and of a day, the sharks were taking us. You were constantly in fear because you'd see them. You'd see them all the time. Every few minutes you'd see their fins and you'd see up to a dozen to two dozen fins in the water. You could look down and you could see them swimming below you. They'd come up and bump you - I was bumped a few times. You never know when they're going to attack you and bite you. They are just a wonder of nature and if they're hungry they'll just eat a little of you and if they're not, well they'll just leave you alone and scare you to death."

    Last: With each attack the clouds of blood in the water, the screaming, the splashing, more sharks would come. On the third day after LD had been bumped by sharks repeatedly, one came in for an attack.

    LDC: "In that clear water you could see those sharks circling and then every now and then one would just like lightening would come straight up and take a sailor, take him down. Well this one came up and took the sailor next to me and took him down. I never saw him or the life-jacket or anything any more. Just somebody screaming or yelling or getting bit. I stayed in about half shock I was scared but there wasn't anything we could do about it. We couldn't get out of the water. We had nothing to fight off sharks with, and all you did was pray it wouldn't be you whenever the sharks hit."

    Last: Did you have any tactics?

    LDC: "You know I never have and still don't know a good way to ward off sharks, whether it is to scream and thrash and all. I think the best thing we did was try to stay as close together, kind of bunched up, as we could. It's confusing I think to the shark maybe. But you get one or two out away from the group and they're just real likely to be the ones that get hit, or get taken under by the shark."

    Last: The sharks though were not the main killer.

    Under the scorching sun almost all without any food or water for days, men were dying from exposure or dehydration. Many became exhausted and drowned. Terrorised by sharks, struggling to stay alive, some survivors started to become delirious.

    LDC: "The life preserver had blisters on my shoulders, it was just blisters on top of blisters. And hot. It was so hot we'd pray for dark and when it get dark why, then we'd pray for daylight because it would get so cold our teeth would chatter.

    Lots of them hallucinated. In fact there was a man in our group that one night quieted everybody, he said:
    'Everybody be quiet. I'm on the walkie-talkie to a submarine below us.'
    He says, 'It's one of our own subs and it's going to pick us up.'
    Except he said, 'Are there any of you that urinate in the bed at night?'
    And one old boy said, 'I do.'
    And he said, 'You can't come aboard, they don't allow men like that aboard submarines.'
    And - of course that's pathetic. They were out of their heads, hallucinating.

    Last: Desperate for fresh water some believed that that Indianapolis had not in fact sunk, but was floating, within reach, just beneath the surface.

    LDC: "All of our water was on the second deck of the ship, our drinking water. Another buddy of mine was hallucinating, so he decides he would go down to the second deck and drink water. All of a sudden his life preserver's floating but he's not there. And then he comes up saying how good and cool that water was and that we ought to get us a drink and then he dies just shortly afterwards. Whenever you drink salt water you have brown foam in your mouth and your nose, and your tongue swells, and you choke and you die."

    Last: After four days and nights in the water, by chance a US Navy plane flew overhead.

    LDC: "We screamed and yelled and kicked and it just kept going, didn't see us. Then in a little bit, seemed like a day, and probably 20 minutes, we heard the motor again, and looked and it was one coming from the other direction, a little closer. And we screamed and yelled and kicked and, it just kept going.

    Our spirits fell and then just before sundown we heard the motor again. And looked back south, and about a half a mile from us was this big PBY and it changed direction and flew right over us, and the guy in the hatch of the plane stood there waving at us.

    Now that's when the tears came. Your hair stood up and you knew you were saved - you knew you were found, at least. That was the happiest time of my life."

    Last: Finally alerted to the disaster, US ships raced to to site and began looking for the groups of sailors dotted around the ocean. All the while LD simply waited, drifting in, and out, of consciousness. Less than ten of his group were still alive.

    LDC: "It got dark and a strong big light from heaven, out of a cloud, came down. And I thought it was angels coming. What it was: their rescue ship was shining its spotlight up into the sky to give all the sailors hope and let them know that there was somebody looking for them.

    And then sometime during the night I remember a strong arm was pulling me up, out of the water into the little bitty boat. Just knowing that I was saved, that's the best feeling you can have."

    Last: Of a crew of almost 1200, just 317 survived. LD spent weeks in hospital, his skin pickled raw by the salt water. He still bears the scars from his ordeal.

    Looking for a scapegoat the US Navy placed responsibility for the disaster on the captain who was among the few who managed to survive. For years he received hate mail and in 1968 he took his own life. The surviving crew, including LD, campaigned for decades, to have their captain exonerated, which he was, more than 50 years after the sinking. LD returned to his home in Comanche, Texas where he lives today.

    LDC: "I dream every night. I have anxiety every day, and especially at night you know, but I haven't learned how to keep it from doing it - I don't guess I ever will. But I'm living with it, and sleeping with it, and getting by."

    Last: Each year he attends the reunion of the last surviving sailors of the U.S.S. Indianapolis.
  7. Slipdigit

    Slipdigit Old Hickory Recon

    The Navy had a policy of not informing other commands of the arrival of ships in warzone ports. When the Indy did not arrive ( I think it was the Philippines), the port command also did not inform other commands of the non-arrival of the ship. No one started looking for her because no one relalized that she was missing.

    The men who survived the US ships sunk in the Battle Off Samar (Oct, 1944) endured a similar fate. There was not a concerted effort to recover the men from the USS Gambier Bay, Johnston, Hoel or Roberts until several days after the battle. Many men died waiting on what they thought would be fast search effort, as the Japanese had vacated the area. It was known by all involved that there were large numbers of men in the water and where they roughly were. A lot of finger-pointing went on as to who was responsible for the delay in recovering the survivors.

    -edit I saw in your post above the reference to Layte, which is in the Philippines. It is actually spelled Leyte.
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  8. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    Thanks Jeff,
    for both the elaboration, and the correction (which I will edit).
  9. TomTAS

    TomTAS Very Senior Member


    You should read In Harms Way by Doug Stanton all about this Ship and what happened to her.... Very good read it is also took Paul P about this one and even he agreed with me....

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  10. Bernard85

    Bernard85 WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    good day dbf, Indianapolis sinking.a terrible way to meet ones end,no help,those men were sacrificed to maintain silence.and no way related to the make believe,"jaws"to the crew who did not make it, may they rest in peace, regards,bernard85
  11. spidge


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