The Legacy of the U.S.S. Indianapolis

In 2012 I wrote a story about the U.S.S. Indianapolis delivering the components of the first atomic bomb to be used in warfare to the U.S. Army airbase in the Marshall Islands. The voyage from San Francisco to the islands was a success. The voyage home was a monumental disaster.

Since my original post—inserted below—filmmaker, Sarah Vladic, has documented the events of July, 1945 and released her film, USS Indianapolis: The Legacy. It can be found on DVD, or streamed from a number of providers.

The original post:

The U.S.S. Indianapolis: A Date With History

At 08:00 on Monday, July 16, 1945, the USS Indianapolis pulled away from the dock at Hunter’s Point in San Francisco and headed for the Golden Gate Strait, bound for a brief stop at Pearl Harbor, then on to Tinian in the Marshall Islands.

Even Captain Charles B. McVay III, in command since November 1944, did not know the contents of his mysterious shipment. He had been assured, however, that every hour he cut from travel time would shorten the war. Captain McVay took this admonition seriously, and the vessel made the five-thousand-mile voyage in only ten days.

The Mission: Deliver a top-secret cargo that was placed aboard the ship the day before. A 1920 US Naval Academy graduate and former Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee of the Combined Chiefs of Staff in Washington, D.C. prior to taking command of the Indianapolis, Captain Charles Butler McVay, III was under orders that if something happened to the ship that would keep it from reaching its destination he was to protect the cargo at all cost even if it meant placing it in a lifeboat at the expense of drowning sailors.

Capt. Lewis L. Haynes, senior medical officer on board the Indianapolis, recalls: “On July 15th we were ordered to go to San Francisco to take on some cargo. I was amazed to notice that there was a quiet, almost dead Navy yard. We tied up at the dock there and two big trucks came alongside. The big crate on one truck was put in the port hanger. The other truck had a bunch of men aboard including two army officers, Captain James Nolan and Major Robert Furman. I found out later that Nolan was a medical officer. I don’t know what his job was – probably to monitor radiation. The two men carried a canister about 3 feet by 4 feet tall up to Admiral Spruance’s cabin, where they welded it to the deck. Later on, I found out that this held the nuclear ingredients for the bomb and the large box in the hanger contained the device for firing the bomb. And I had that thing welded to the deck above me for ten days.”




  8 comments for “The Legacy of the U.S.S. Indianapolis

  1. December 9, 2016 at 9:18 AM

    Thank you for sharing this.


    • December 9, 2016 at 10:58 AM

      You are welcome, Stephanie. We watched the film last night. Seeing the survivors and listening to their stories has left an indelible memory in me. There are stories within stories inside the greater story of the bond between the crew and their Captain.


      • December 9, 2016 at 11:20 AM

        The timing couldn’t be better. There are several films I want to watch during the holiday break. I just completed a fall fellows program, and the last discussion was on foreign policy. Some of the readings led me to explore military strategy and veteran stories more thoroughly than I’d anticipated. This just adds to so much more to what I want to study.


      • December 9, 2016 at 12:02 PM

        Have you watched movies on iTunes before? Every Tuesday they have a featured film for $.99. Once you rent it you have 30 days to download it and watch it. Once you begin to watch it you have a 24 hour time period before it expires and goes away. You can watch it as many times as you wish during that time period.

        They also have what I consider to be a “sleeper” of a deal : selected documentaries all month for $.99, and that is where this film is located.

        I hope that you and LF enjoy it as much as we did.


  2. Sue
    December 8, 2016 at 2:40 AM

    What a tragic set of events, Allan, and you’ve written a most interesting and informative post. I wasn’t aware of this part of the back-story to the Bomb


    • December 8, 2016 at 1:27 PM

      Thanks, Sue. I worked with a guy back in the ’60s who was on a decoy submarine during the delivery voyage of the bomb. He said that the Navy dedicated a pack of subs to simulate the old “shell game” for any spies who might be watching. They would surface and rendezvous and then take off in different directions to repeat the ruse with a different set of subs. Apparently the popular thinking of the day was that the bomb components would be delivered by submarine—swift, silent, stealthy and safe. Surprise!

      We owe these men more than money or fame can buy.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Sue
        December 9, 2016 at 12:43 AM

        It’s the people you meet in life that make it…the tales that guy must have told you….


      • December 9, 2016 at 4:37 AM

        You are right, Sue, he had more than a few tales.

        Liked by 1 person

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