Abandon Ship!: The Saga of the U.S.S. Indianapolis, the Navy's Greatest Sea Disaster

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9780060959210: Abandon Ship!: The Saga of the U.S.S. Indianapolis, the Navy's Greatest Sea Disaster

Sailing across the Pacific, the battle-scarred heavy cruiser U.S.S. Indianapolis had just delivered a secret cargo that would trigger the end of World War II. Heading westward, she was sunk by a Japanese submarine. In twelve minutes, some 300 men went down with her. More than 900 other spent four horrific days and five nights in the ocean with no water to drink, savaged by a pitiless sun and swarms of sharks. Incredibly, no one knew they were there until a Navy patrol plane accidentally discovered them. In the end, only 316 crewmen survived.

How could this have happened -- and why? This updated edition of Abandon Ship!, with an Introduction and Afterword by Peter Maas, supplies the chilling answer. A harrowing account of military malfeasance and human tragedy, Abandon Ship! also scrutinizes the role of the U.S. Navy in the disaster, especially the court-martial of the ship's captain, Charles Butler McVay III. Maas reveals facts previously unavailable to Richard Newcomb and chronicles a forty-year crusade to right a wrong, a crusade Abandon Ship! inspired.

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Review:

In July 1945, the heavy cruiser U.S.S. Indianapolis put in at the Pacific atoll of Tinian to deliver a rare cargo: several hundred pounds of uranium, the makings of the two atomic bombs that only a few weeks later would be dropped on Japan. Having discharged this duty, the Indianapolis made way for Guam, and thence for the Philippines, in waters that the high command had assured its captain were safe. En route, it crossed the path of a Japanese submarine, which fired six torpedoes and sank the cruiser, killing hundreds of sailors--some of whom were devoured by sharks--and leaving others to float in the open ocean for days.

Almost as soon as the survivors of the Indianapolis were rescued, the cruiser's unfortunate captain, an Annapolis graduate named Charles Butler McVay III, was court-martialed for his alleged failure to practice evasive maneuvers in enemy waters. Eventually exonerated of all but one charge, McVay still could not escape blame for the ship's loss, and he killed himself in 1968. Richard Newcomb's Abandon Ship!, first published in 1958, brought McVay's sad case to the American public's attention with a vigorous you-are-there account that depicts the miscalculations--and willful misrepresentations--that condemned the Indianapolis. The case was recently reopened thanks to the efforts of McVay's family and a bright middle-school student who looked into the matter as a class project. As a result, the scapegoated captain's name has been cleared. In this edition, McVay's case is updated by the noted true-crime author Peter Maas, whose arguments in McVay's favor add to Newcomb's original findings. Superb as historical journalism, the book is also a fascinating document in the annals of military justice. --Gregory McNamee

About the Author:

Richard F. Newcomb served as a wartime naval correspondent during World War II and received a Purple Heart. He is a retired news editor of the Associated Press and the author of six books, including Savo, and Iwo Jima.. He lives in Palm Coast, Florida.

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