ALL THE DROWNED SAILORS by Raymond B. Lech

ALL THE DROWNED SAILORS

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KIRKUS REVIEW

On July 30, 1945, the American heavy cruiser Indianapolis, en route from Guam to Leyte Gulf, was struck by two Japanese torpedoes and sank within 15 minutes--with a record loss, because of idiocy upon idiocy, of 880 lives. The story of the disaster, well told by Richard Newcomb in Abandon Ship! (1958), is less well told here--but Lech has had access to documents which further shift the blame from the Indianapolis' scapegoated skipper, Capt. Charles MacVay III, and onto various knuckle-rapped higher-ups. MacVay was chiefly faulted for not zigzagging in submarine-infested waters; ""but the most important reasons for this decision,"" Lech stresses, ""was the cruiser's faulty intelligence report, according to which there were no prowling submarines along his route that evening."" (Moreover: ""Most submarine officers do not feel zigzagging to be an extremely effective deterrent anyway"": the imperiled Indianapolis should have had an escort.) The real horror, though--even in Lech's toneless-to-shrill account--is what happened after the sinking: of the Indianapolis' 1,196 men, some got into the water or onto life rafts; but because the ship's nonarrival wasn't noted (among other oversights and derelictions), only 320 were still alive when a plane chanced on the survivors--""how did all these people get here?""--almost four days later. The victims' suffering (suicide, murder, madness), in tandem with the cavalier inaction ashore, gives point to Lech's outrage. (MacVay also committed suicide in 1968.) With the substantiating documents: a foul business--covered-up or not.

Pub Date: Nov. 19th, 1982
Publisher: Stein & Day