USS Indianapolis (CA-35) Cruiser
The Japanese submarine I-58 struck the USS Indianapolis on July 30th, 1945, eventually killing 300 sailors and sending another 800 into the sea.
Authored By JR Potts, AUS 173d AB; Content ©www.MilitaryFactory.com
USS Indianapolis was the second ship built as an 8 inch 9,800 ton Portland-class heavy cruiser. The vessel was constructed at the Camden, New Jersey Naval Yard and launched on November 7th, 1931. By the time she was commissioned, the design was already being criticized as having limited armament for her weight limit. Her class had limits for two major reasons 1) the Washington Naval Treaty signed after World War 1 limited ship tonnage to 10,000 tons and 2) there was extensive political pressure to downsize the United States Navy after the war. The Portland-class was a class with four ships scheduled to her name but this was reduced to just the USS Portland and the USS Indianapolis by the time of construction. The remaining two ships still on the drawing board were assigned to the last of the New Orleans-class, these taking on more firepower and other improvements. Political pressure after the war had an unintended consequence for the US Navy began concentrating more on heavy cruisers after taking some time to review the building programs of other navies, subsequently mirroring best construction practices from the cruiser classes being built by the major powers. The US Navy shipbuilding program began in the 1930's and was well timed with another World War to come in a short nine years. By the start of World War 2, the US program had built eighteen heavy cruisers while Japan had finished some twelve of her own and Germany just two.
The USS Indianapolis had a surface displacement of 11,574 tons and could make approximately 32.7 knots with an endurance range of 10,000 nautical miles at 15 knots. Her main battery consisted of 9x8 inch (200mm) 55-caliber guns in 3x3 mounts (three guns in three turrets - "triple mounting"). For anti-aircraft protection the Indianapolis could call upon her 8x1 inch (130mm) 25-caliber cannons fitted as single mounts and 8x1 (12.7mm) 0.50 caliber heavy machine guns, also in single mounts. She came in heavy with a full load displacement of 12,755 tons. To save displacement weight based on the Washington Treaty, the Indianapolis was designed without the heavy armor plating, protected only to an extent along the sides and bottom toward the keel, extending almost the full length of the ship. This armor served as protection against mines and torpedoes. However, her armor was only inches thick and covered just her vital machinery spaces. This lack of belt armor and overall armor was also a tactic developed by navies when sail was still the primary means of propulsion - cruisers relied on their speed whereas battleships relied on their armor protection. While she was more vulnerable, she was also still capable of great speed to manage an escape.
President Roosevelt Finds a New Love
On January 10th, 1933, she left Camden, New Jersey, and steamed towards Cuba for her standard "shakedown" cruise. By accounts, all went well and she continued to train her new crew in warm Caribbean waters, mostly near the Canal Zone and then in the Pacific by the Chilean coast line. In May, she returned to the Philadelphia Navy Yard for a normal overhaul. With a new coat of paint she left the yard and was routed northwards to Maine to pick up the Commander in Chief, President Franklyn Delano Roosevelt, and left for Maryland to embark a member of his cabinet. While current American presidents fly by way of "Air Force One", President Roosevelt took a liking to USS Indianapolis and chose her as his "Ship of State" to become his personal transport at sea throughout the Americas. Roosevelt used Indianapolis as a symbol of American military power against world leaders and royalty who visited Washington. In 1934, she took the President and a large party for review of the Atlantic fleet down the Hudson River, beginning the traditional of "Fleet Week". In 1936, she steamed from Charleston, South Carolina with the President to the Pan Am Conference in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
War Comes for the Indianapolis
By 1937, Europe was falling into chaos. The Untied States Navy was keeping a watchful eye towards the military moves of Nazi Germany and began war-related training exercises with the Atlantic and Pacific fleets - the Indianapolis' days as a "Ship of State" were more or less over. She was transferred to the Pacific Fleet stationed at Mare Island Naval Yard in California. Indianapolis and the fleet trained for war and, in April 1940, tensions between the United States and Japan were reaching fever pitches. Washington transferred the fleet out of California to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, in an effort to help protect American interests in the Pacific. Japan, as an island nation, was always short of natural resources - especially oil - and the deployment of the American fleet to Hawaii was viewed as a threat to their envisioned Pacific sphere of influence. As a result, the Imperial Japanese Navy launched their surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941, officially forcing the entry of American into the way. However, USS Indianapolis was not at Pearl at the time of the attack but on exercises off of Johnson Island just west of Hawaii. Indianapolis was ordered to join up with Task Force 12 consisting of the carriers USS Lexington and USS Enterprise as well as escorts that were carrying US Marine fighter aircraft from Pearl to tiny Midway Island, northwest of Hawaii. Indianapolis supported the aircraft carriers who launched search planes sent to hunt for the Japanese fleet, southwest of Oahu, and returned to Pearl Harbor on December 13th having not found the enemy. In February of 1942, Indianapolis was south of Rabaul, New Britain, supporting USS Yorktown's task force sent to attack Japanese shipping located near enemy-held ports at Lae and Salamaua, New Guinea. These ports had become a large marshaling area for the Japanese Navy. The carrier-based planes and anti-aircraft support from surface warships were put into action. The USS Indianapolis was credited with shooting down sixteen Japanese bombers sent to attack the task force. Heavy damage was inflicted on the Japanese shipping in the ports as well.
Indianapolis then returned to the United States for overhaul and alterations to be completed at the Mare Island Navy Yard. After the refit was complete, the Indianapolis was assigned to escort a convoy to Australia. By July of 1942, she then joined the Aleutians Fleet protecting the North Pacific island chain where the Japanese had landed ground forces along the Aleutian Islands, a collection of American holdings. The invasion itself was intended as a diversion to commit the USN carriers and force them out of their protective Pearl Harbor surroundings. The trap failed and the Japanese fleet was, in turn, ambushed themselves. During their time in the unforgiving North Pacific, the Indianapolis crew had already attained some experience with cold weather fighting from their days in the Atlantic but the Aleutians were a constant barrage of rain and storms coupled with violent winds and heavy rolling seas. When Indianapolis found an opening in the fog at Kiska Island harbor, she open up with her 8-inch guns, joining the other surface warships in the task force, and caught the Japanese defenders unaware. The end result say sinking enemy ships destroyed shore-based strongholds. US forces occupied Adak Island that month, providing a base suitable for planes that would allow attacks on Dutch Harbor and Unalaska Island. Through August 1943, she remained in Aleutians waters to support landings at Attu and Kiska. However the Japanese were able to escape under the cover of fog and darkness but their presence in the Aleutians was over by August 15th, 1943.