Out of the Depths - The USS Indianapolis - Edgar Harrell
This is the first Warship book that I've read, which has actually been written, by one of the survivors, of the sinking of the USS Indianapolis - the retired US Navy Marine, Edgar Harrell:
I found within it's pages, a retelling of the Loss of the USS Indianapolis, that serves to highlight, both the absurdities of War, and the Refusal of the Human Spirit - to give up! An absurdity of War ... Two Marines sleeping on a Turret roof one night (owing to the heat of the Pacific), with one Marine (Edgar Harrell), choosing not to the second night - only to have that same Turret roof, blown sky high (by a Japanese Torpedo / Magazine Explosion), knowing for well that your friend is gone (as he slept on the Turret's roof again that night). A refusal to give up ... Bobbing away, in a sun bleached sea, with a life jacket that's waterlogged, in a circle of corpses (your former crew-mates), surrounded by sharks (whether you knew it or not), with a parched mouth, and swollen lips - then out of the distance, something bobs up and down, a crate of potatoes, half rotten but Heaven! And it is here, that Edgar Harrell, felt that he would Survive, the ordeal of the Crew of the USS Indianapolis, floating in the Pacific Ocean (for up to four and a half days) - because he knew for well, that God had a plan ... Yes indeed, did I find that this retelling, is as much to do with God, as is the fact, that the US Navy blundered - knowing not (through various absurdities of Command), that the crew of the Indianapolis, were adrift at sea! In places, I found this book hard to read (or at least to relate to), because I don't believe, that I'm very religious (although I like the idea, of such a hierarchy and it's symbolism). Granted, it's hard to say for sure, how many of us would behave (and what we would choose to believe in), having just witnessed, several of our former crew-mates, being ripped to bits by sharks, whilst those very same sharks, chose to pass us by! In any case, there's several parts of this book, that stood out for me ... First: the USS Indianapolis herself. She was a workhorse of the US Navy, featuring in many of the campaigns of the Pacific. I especially liked the recounting, of the bombardment of Iwo Jima - as the power of the Indy's five inch, and eight inch Naval Guns, is made very clear. Added to this, is the technology of a Warship, which even in 1945, could hone a five inch shell, onto the path of an incoming enemy plane - through the marvel of Radar :) Second: the horror of having a Warship, fall apart beneath you. It's hard to imagine, that solid steel could bend and buckle, until you see it - Edgar Harrell did, the bow was gone! I was shocked, by the truth of his recount - at the injuries of the men, who were just trying to make their way, to the decks of a ship, that was rapidly taking on water, whilst exploding all around them, in Fires of Hell! Yet even then, would those same men, have chosen to remain on-board, if only they had the choice. Third: the reality of floating in a sea/ocean (for several days). You can't escape it, unless you die. You have to ride it, even a fifteen foot wave. You have to take it, sun blistered skin. You have to bear it, darkness of night. You have to go with it, this endless tide. For there's simply nowhere, you can go! Your at the mercy of the sea. As was Edgar Harrell, and his fellow survivors. Whilst reciting his tale, did I feel that Edgar, answered an important question - just how would you pass the time? As Edgar was blessed with a working watch, both a blessing and a burden (as he says). I felt that I connected with, an idea that was proposed here - were going to swim for the coast! Though it be, hundreds of miles - were a Marine, and we Strive to Survive :) Fourth: is the disbelief that was encountered, by Edgar Harrell and his fellow survivors, at the persecution (and court-martial) of their Captain - Captain McVay. It seems absurd to me, that you can blame a Captain, for the loss of his warship, whilst they were at war - especially when it was higher up, that the blunders occurred. The fact remains that the Indianapolis, should never have sailed unescorted, through hostile waters. I fully agree with Edgar, that McVay was not at fault - and I feel that the various letters of correspondence, really adds a unique perspective, to the contents of this book. Fifth: Is a further absurdity of War ... Which for me, is perhaps the most striking part of this tale. Whilst many of the survivors, may very well have survived four days at sea (through strength, belief, willpower, luck, etc.), it was that last half a day (from when they had been spotted), that I feel for many, the real test came! For one simple reason: they'd almost run out of, the energy to keep going (e.g. the ability to tread water) - yet they had to wait, for the various rescue ships, to arrive on the scene! It must have been a true Test of Faith, where I suspect minutes felt like hours, and a still mind-numbing thought: that they had been left afloat for so long, in the first place! I wonder how many more would have been saved, if they'd been found, half a day earlier? As at the end, all strength fails - you succumb to the sea. Overall: this book really is, a recounting of one man's Quest for Survival, and the Strength of his Character - amongst the Cruel Sea, of a Pacific War. Whilst I might not share, all of Edgar's views and beliefs (pertaining to God), I feel that I can relate, to two important points that he makes. The first: Edgar won't go near the sea/ocean these days. I can understand why. It would almost be like going back. And as Edgar says: the visions of the dying throws of the Indianapolis, are still raw in his mind (let alone the sharks). The second: when not everything is going to plan, and your entire World seems to be falling apart (let alone a Warship), just remember one thing - God Wills It (at least I believe, that's what Edgar was hinting at). Peace.
In Harm's Way - The Sinking of the USS Indianapolis - Part Two
Third - Rescue: What shocked me the most, was that it was only through luck, that the crew of the USS Indianapolis (floating in the Pacific), were even spotted in the first place!
If it hadn't been for a loan submarine bomber (piloted by Lieutenant Chuck Gwinn and his crew), then it seems likely to me, that they would only have been found, when all were dead ... What really stands out for me (in this book), is that the entire rescue effort - stems from Gwinn. If it hadn't been for him, and his two radio reports (of survivors in the water), then nothing would have happened - as it seems as though, the hampering of the chain of command (aka the need for confirmation), would have sealed the crew of the USS Indianapolis's fate (as indeed it had, up until now). For once those two radio messages were received, did the US Navy swing into action - as it seems to me, that various superior officers were now not so keen, to be seen as the one's that did nothing. I was further shocked by the book at this point, as no one knew who these men were (that were floating in the sea). It is here that this book, helps to convey the selflessness of the rescuers, that helped to save the crew of the Indy ... For I found this especially true in two places: i) the sea plane that put down, to haul over fifty survivors on-board - knowing for well, that landing the sea plane on open choppy water, could have doomed their own fate. And ii) the American rescuers, that dived into the water, knowing for well that there were sharks down there! Added to this, was the fact that these rescuers, still did not know exactly who they were rescuing - as it took a question about baseball, and a direct answer: were from the USS Indianapolis. Shock ... That was felt by both the rescuers, and the survivors (as many felt that they were still hallucinating). And yet, ask any sailor, who has been adrift at sea for days, wondering whether they would ever be rescued, what the most important thing in this entire world is? And their answer shall be: water! As fresh water is worth it's weight in gold - actually, forget the gold, just give me the water :) With that in mind, was there also another part of this book, that stood out for me: the quality of the care, that the men received (after they had been rescued). For most (if not all), were covered in oil (that had to be removed), before their various injuries could even be looked at (such as broken arms and broken legs), together with the effects of long term exposure to salt water (such as salt water ulcers). In essence, this part of the book, left me with the impression that medical crews (such as doctors and nurses), worked tirelessly to bring these shipwrecked men, back to full health (as indeed they did). Conclusion: I found this book, to be a draw-dropping read, about the horrors of war - I simply could not believe, some of the things I was reading (although I did). I was particularly amazed, by one simple point, that kept tugging at me, as I continued to read: how easily avoidable, the aftermath of the sinking could have been. As it seemed to me, that there were four opportunities earlier on (in the disaster), where the crew of the Indy - could have been rescued far sooner. Three of these stem from the SOS message, that the radio crew of the USS Indianapolis, managed to send out as she sunk. It would seem that this SOS message, was received not once, but three times (by on-shore listening posts), that failed to act on the SOS - because they awaited confirmation from the Indianapolis, that she was in-fact sinking. A command/requirement, that the Indianapolis could not meet - as she was sunk in around twelve minutes. The sending of the SOS (which the Indy's radio crew stand/swear by), was complicated by the specific set-up of the Indy's radio equipment. She had two radio rooms (one forward, one aft). The forward one was the primary (i.e. could both send and receive messages), but it was taken out by the second torpedo hit. This left the aft radio room ... But whether through design, or an operational quirk (I do not know which) - it could only receive, incoming radio messages! Even so, does this book make it clear, that the Indy's radio crew, managed to improvise/modify some of the radio equipment, so that it could send an SOS. I think it's crazy, that a ship the size of the Indianapolis (610 feet), would of only had one workable send and receive radio room (both should have been set-up as such). And the fourth opportunity to have rescued the crew of the Indianapolis much sooner? Well ... For me, that lays entirely with her estimated time of arrival (in the Navy port of Leyte). It seems absurd, that she would have been allowed to go (approximately) two days overdue - without anyone asking (by way of a radio message), whether she was still out there? Granted, it may have been unwise to have reported the Indy's position (in such a response), but a simple YES I'M HERE would have worked wonders. Finally: I'm on the side of Captain McVay! I don't see how, you can hold a Captain responsible for the loss of his ship, when that Captain requested an anti-submarine escort (aka a Destroyer) - and was told that none was necessary. As if none was necessary, why did McVay's orders include a requirement for zigzagging? Granted, the zigzagging was to be carried out at his discretion - but why include them at all, if intelligence believed his route to be safe, and free from Japanese subs? It feels to me, as though higher up Navy personnel, were simply covering their own backsides - by pinning it on McVay.
In Harm's Way - The Sinking of the USS Indianapolis - Part One
So, you think your having a bad day? Think again! Just chat to any of the survivors of the sinking of the USS Indianapolis - and tell me again ... As they truly were - In Harm's Way:
Reading this book shocked me. As I simply could not believe, that at the closing stages of World War Two, that an entire US Warship could be lost - without the US Navy being aware of it at all! And yet, that is EXACTLY what happened ... For the USS Indianapolis, was torpedoed and sunk by herself, in the middle of the Pacific - compounded by a complete breakdown in the Laws of the Sea, or at least, what a sailor can expect when their ship is overdue. First and Foremost, I liked the layout of this book, as I found that it was split into three main sections: Sailing to War (telling you of the Indy's top secret mission), Sunk (telling you that some sailors nightmares - do come true) and Rescue (telling you just how precious life - really is). I shall now consider each of these sections in turn ... First: Sailing to War ... Having been under repair (for a Japanese Kamikaze attack), the USS Indianapolis was suddenly whisked into active duty again, when it was decided that she would transport the atomic bomb (Little Boy), that would help seal the fate of Japan. As the book coveys, much of her crew was surprised by this whisk (as they were on leave) - which was further wrapped in mystery, as the crew knew nothing of the details of her cargo! I was especially surprised, by the fact that Captain McVay, also did not know of the identity of his cargo - only that it was important (as I'd previously believed that a ship's Captain, was a high enough rank to have known). But ... Such is the Secrecy of War! It is here that the book reveals, that the USS Indianapolis, was a flagship of the US Navy - having been chosen by Admiral Raymond Spruance (because of the flexibility of her high speed). Thus, was I surprised to learn that the USS Indianapolis, had been ordered to sail by herself, between the (previously occupied) Japanese Islands of Guam and Leyte - aka, through Japanese sub infested waters! For me, the fact that she was a flagship (alone), meant that she should have been escorted (by at least one Destroyer) - as the Indianapolis, could neither detect nor attack, enemy submarines: she was a heavy cruiser, that was designed to bombard shore installations (with her nine eight-inch naval guns). It was also within this section, that I found myself surprised by: i) how differently two sailors can view the same event (such as the loading of the nuclear bomb components on-board), and ii) by the believability of wartime decisions (such as attempting to pass an army medical officer off - as a navy gunnery expert). Second: Sunk ... What would qualify as a nightmare for you? Sleeping near the bow of the Indy, when a torpedo slams right into the bow - blowing you fifteen feet into the air? Or seeing the men that that happened to, simply being vaporised? Or perhaps ... Seeing your ship ploughing through the sea, having lost it's bow - water quickly rising? Or even sliding from the decks of the Indy, in your injured state - straight into an oil soaked sea? Or perhaps ... Being caught in a flash fire, that cooks your mate - but misses you? How about being dragged underwater, by a snaring cable - just when you'd thought you'd escaped? Being dragged down and down, until your blasted to the surface - by an escaping air bubble? Well ... That was just the start of the nightmares, for the men of the USS Indianapolis - as their ship sunk beneath them, in the middle of the night, in the middle of the Pacific! Yet it was known by her sailors (or at least believed), that after a day or two, that she would be declared overdue - and that their ordeal (of floating in the Pacific), would soon be over. Except ... That never happened :( For the survivors of the Indy's sinking, found themselves adrift in the Pacific Ocean, with no food or drink (i.e. fresh water), or medical provisions of any kind (in the most part), for four and a half days! If they were lucky, they'd managed to grab either a life vest, or a life belt - or if they were really lucky, they'd managed to grab a space on a raft. And yet, was I surprised to learn, that many of these sailors were actually injured (with broken legs and/or broken arms), together with various degrees of burns (to hands, torsos, faces and eyes). Yet even if you consider a sailor with a life vest, and a broken arm, that's covered in ship oil, to be extremely lucky - would that same sailor, need even more luck, to survive through to rescue! For as the crew of the USS Indianapolis, drifted clear of her oil slick, did the survivors start to become aware, of a menace beneath their feet: sharks!! Consider for a moment ... Could you drift for four and a half days in a life vest (that's becoming waterlogged), knowing that there's hundreds of sharks swimming, both around and beneath you? Your answer is NO!! Yet for the crew of the Indianapolis, they had to - for where else could they go? It's the chapter called Shark Attack, that all this is revealed in. It's the chapter called Genocide, where the nightmares came alive! As American sailors, started killing each other. As American sailors, started whole scale hallucinating: the USS Indianapolis had returned, and many of the boy's simply swum down to meet her. It was the sea salt you see, compounded by glaring sunlight, and no hope of rescue: for to the crew of the USS Indianapolis, did it seem that they had been forgotten about (which indeed they had - as no one knew!). Or did they?
Indianapolis and Hood - Great Blunders of World War Two
All warships, no matter whether Battleship or Cruiser, Carrier or Destroyer, are to the men that serve on them - the Bastions of the Sea:
Yet in-turn, are the warships themselves, at the mercy of the men that command them, and the men that designed them. In the case of the USS Indianapolis, was it a catalogue of errors - that lead to her loss ... Whilst watching this DVD, I found myself amazed, that she was sunk in the Pacific, because of a denied request (of an anti-submarine escort) and a gargled radio message (that nobody requested clarification of). In essence: no one knew that the USS Indianapolis had been sunk (by at least two torpedoes), and no one knew that she was declared overdue (as radio operators had not received, the message that she was on her way - in the first place!). This DVD shows the horrors of the loss of the Indianapolis, which through the use of computer animation, helps drive home, one simple point: she was all alone, in the middle of the Pacific at night, listing heavily (through her breeched hull), with no ability to call for assistance - as her radio was out, on her top secret mission, that no one knew about! To say that this DVD shocked me, is something of an understatement ... This DVD then shocked me again, as it portrays (at least in part) the true horrors, of her crew's five days in shark infested waters - whilst various elements of the US/Allied Navy, believed her sinking to be a hoax/false report (even after having intersected and decoded, a Japanese Sub's radio message). Thus, can I say that the loss of the Indianapolis, was compounded by communication failures. And it is here that the DVD, plays right into: the loss of HMS Hood ... Hood was the biggest warship of the Royal Navy, a requirement that came from the Navy's desire, to have a battle-cruiser/fast-battleship, that was capable of: over thirty knots. Yet as this DVD shows, this speed - came with a price tag! This time, the blunder occurred, at Hood's design stage - which was itself, combined with two further blunders, on the day of her loss ... The first blunder (for me), was the fact that her Vice-Admiral, ordered both a radio silence, and for her accompanying escort (the battleship Prince of Wales), to turn off it's radar (directed fire), and refrain from using it's spotting aircraft. Thus was Hood, already at a disadvantage ... Which when compounded with the blunder of her design (having too thin/little deck armour), and the blunder of her going up against a fully modernised, enemy battleship (the Bismarck), sealed her fate. Again, the DVD makes use of computerised animation, to help drive home, the dramatic loss of HMS Hood. It also shows some footage, of a genuine magazine explosion (possibly HMS Barham's), which helps to further illustrate, why HMS Hood, stood no chance at all. I too, am in awe of the colour footage of HMS Hood, that's present upon this DVD - as it certainly does feel, as though she really was, invincible! Yet it is here that I found a twist, or should that be, a distort in the lines of communication? For it was known from day one, that her deck armour, was too thinly spread (especially over her magazines), which was itself only known - by a few high ranking, Navy personnel. Thus, were both the USS Indianapolis, and the Royal Navy's HMS Hood - lost on missions, that neither should really have been on - even if on paper, they both seemed up to the task. Overall: I feel that this DVD does a reasonable job, of covering the loss of both the Indianapolis, and the Mighty Hood. There's some great colour footage of the Indianapolis (I liked her camouflage scheme), together with some decent colour footage of HMS Hood (I liked the size and power, of her formidable arsenal of weapons). Added to this, is there some high-clarity (black and white) footage of the battleship Bismarck (who truly did look impressive - with her eight fifteen inch guns, and thick armour plating, especially visible, on her hull-form). And yet, did I find it hard, not to draw parallels, between these so-called blunders, and another frequently encountered term: that of (so-called) friendly fire.