The first time I ever heard of the U.S.S. Indianapolis was in the movie Jaws. It’s strange since even up to the point I was a teenager, and poured over the books on WW II history that my father had (and he had hundreds), I’d never heard of the ship.
Anyone familar with the movie knows the speech the late Robert Shaw makes as Quint. How he talks about delivering the bomb, the sinking of the ship, and the sharks. It’s the stuff of nightmares are made of.
And for a long time, I assumed it was made up.
Only it wasn’t.
Newcomb’s book opens a window onto one of the worst sea disasters of all times. It talks about the final assignment, the sinking, and the harrowing days and nights in the water as the survivors were whittled down, one by one, by hungry sharks. He talks about the terror when rescue finally did come, and the sure knowledge that each sailor had that, seconds before they’d be hauled out of the water, a shark would get them.
And he talks about the court martial of Captain Charles B McVay III, the ship’s commander. Of all the captains who lost ships during WW II, only McVay was court-martialed. The charge was failure to zig-zag, despite being told there were no threats in the area, and zig-zagging in those conditions was strictly captain’s discretion. The Navy even got the Japanese captain, Mochitsura Hashimoto, who testified that zig-zagging or not, he had the ship cold.
All in all, the court-martial sounds like the biggest kangaroo court since Jesus stood before Pilate.
The book represent a serious amount of research, eye witness accounts, and documentation. It’s a must read for anyone interested in military history, the law, and famous ships.