The book In Harm's Way by Doug Stanton gives an insight overview of the events that transpired on July 29, 1945 when a heavy cruiser Indianapolis was sank by a submarine I-58 killing over 900 sailors. The American ship had just delivered the weapons that were to be used to bomb Hiroshima but as it was sailing back across the Pacific Ocean, Japanese submarines intervened and bombed the ship. The book gives a painful ordeal of what the sailors went through before the rescuing team arrived at the scene to save the few remaining survivors. The book majorly focuses on the account of what happened after the ship was sunk and the period before the remaining survivors were rescued. The rescue team managed to save slightly over a three hundred sailors. The rest perished in the painful occurrence that can be regarded to be the worst naval disaster at sea in the American History.
The author observes that the Captain of the American Ship Captain McVay was court-martialed for failing to maneuver out of the dangerous zone. Apparently McVay was the first captain in the history of the US Navy. The captain was however defended by the sailors under his command and insisted that the captain was being used as a scapegoat by the US military who failed to carry out sufficient research on the waters to ascertain that the waters were safe for Captain McVay and his team. The commander of the submarine that sank the American ship also gave a cpurt testimony that “he would have sunk the ship no matter what course it could have taken. The captain for Indianapolis was however blamed for the incident and he was not able to clear his name despite the defense he received. He later committed suicide in 1968 as a result of the trauma he was undergoing.
The author captures the events on this incidence in his vigorous narrative. He observes that even though the captain McVay was cleared by an act of congress in 2000, the conviction still stands in the Navy records. According to the book, we are able to find reasons why the conviction should be overturned and the reason why Captain McVay together with his crew should be given honor.
The author offers a well researched account of what is regarded as the worst marine disaster in the history of the United States of America. He also offers the combatants’ painful ordeal during the sinking and the days spent at the sea before a rescue team arrives to save the survivors. The author gives an insight overview of the events that resulted into such a big loss to the American Navy team. The ship had just delivered the Little Boy Atomic Bomb that was to be used to bomb Hiroshima and was travelling in great secrecy. However as the ship was now sailing back, to join up with the Task Force at Okinawa, the sailors were left to sail alone and did not get any warning of a possible Japanese submarine that could attack them. When the submarine attacked them and torpedoed them, they didn’t even realize what had happened to them in the first place as they didn’t expect such incident at all. The ship sank very first and the sailors were not even able to radio for help. Apparently the port authorities were ordered not relay messages every time a ship had arrived or failed to arrive. Therefore the port authorities did not report the failure of Indianapolis to arrive at the stipulated time. The ship had a total of 1196 men on board and 300 died immediately. The remaining 900 struggled for five days and no one knew of the dilemma they were facing. The number of deaths increased and only 321 men were found alive when the rescue team arrived 5 days after the ship had been sank. More deaths were caused by the salty water, hypothermia, shark attacks and the injuries that were sustained during sinking.
Much of the narrative in the book was supplied by the ship’s doctor Lewis Haynes and Private McCoy. As these painful even had occurred, the US Navy was quick to escape any blame by court-martialing captain McVay. They did not want to admit that the attack could have been evaded if proper instructions and warnings were given to the Captain about the dangers taking the course he took. The Navy also failed to give more information about the occurrence of events that could help Captain Mcvay to be cleared of any charges. They however took an extraordinary step of summoning Commander Hashimoto who sank the ship to testify about the incident. The commander recorded that he would be able to sink the ship no matter what course the captain could have taken. Captain McVay was blamed for failing to zig-zag in an attempt to evade the attack. Despite the testimony of his fellow sailors and of Captain Hashimoto, he was still convicted.
Crew members gathered for several years so that they could give evidence in defense of Captain McVay but their efforts were in vain, in the year 2000, a High school Student in Florida working on a class project got involved and carried out a thorough analysis of the occurrence of events during the incident. Congress later passed an amendment on October 12, 2000 that cleared McVay. However it was too late for Captain McVay as he had committed suicide in 1968.
This is a wonderful book that is filled with several instances that are very painful and may seem unreal. There are remarkable moments of human endurance and despair, stupidity and loyalty. According to the book, the members of the crew and particularly Captain Charles McVay deserve honor and respect. Their story should never be forgotten as they made several sacrifices and had a very painful account trying to come to terms with the events that occurred during the attack. The book also paints a picture of irresponsibility among different Navy Personnel who did not respond appropriately to the missing ship incident. The crew members and other sailors in the ship were saved just by chance.
The details covered in the book draw us closer to an understanding of the sacrifices and courage that was portrayed by the crew members and their captain McVay. The book also gives an account of the hate mail that the captain received from the family members of those who perished in the attack. This is what resulted into the captain committing suicide in 1968. The story in the book is a story of survival and also a story of loss that hit the US in 1945 prior to the end of the Second World War.
The book covers the experience that the sailors in the USS Indianapolis went through. It is a real story that was narrated by the Ship’s Doctor and another survivor. The book carries painful ordeal of what the survivors went through. The book also gives an account of how the US Navy downplayed the incidence so as to evade any blame towards the occurrence of the attack.
Doug Stanton (2001) In Harm's Way: The Sinking of the USS Indianapolis and the Extraordinary Story of Its Survivors. Henry Holt Publishers and Company Doug Stanton (Author)