Lynn Vincent & Sara Vladic
ARRSE Rating
5 Mushroom Heads
In July 1945 the cruiser USS Indianapolis, rapidly repaired after a Kamikaze attack, was tasked with delivering the essential parts of the atomic bomb to Tinian in the Marianas. She was then routed to Leyte for a delayed workup. She never arrived.

At midnight on the night of 29/30 July she had been torpedoed by the Japanese submarine I58. Of 'Indy''s nearly 1200 crew, a quarter went down with the ship, a quarter survived, and half died in their four days in the water, many taken by sharks. This is the story of the ship, her history, her people, their horrific and tragic misadventure and the delays in their rescue - told in great detail. Some were truly heroes, others markedly less so, but in their desperate extremity who else should judge? As a minor aside, the captain of the USS Bassett comes across as a maquette for Queeg of the Caine.

In back of this one must remember that from a modest base the USN managed to grow itself in a very few years into the largest fleet the world will ever see; the US' industrial might produced the hundreds of ships but the USN, 125,000 strong in 1939, had to train and absorb hundreds of thousands of people, most with no connection to the sea, and officer them likewise to reach its peak strength of three and a half million by 1945. The RN, by contrast, from a similar base only had to achieve a quarter of this expansion. Unsurprisingly there were some weak links - at all levels.

The want of integrity in senior officers ashore, up to and including Ernie King, does not make pretty reading. The unsavoury legal proceedings that followed, although far too belatedly ending in the exculpation of Indianapolis' victimised scapegoat captain, echo the tribulations of Troubridge, Dewar and North in the RN.

Lynn Vincent has served in the USN which has saved the narrative from solecisms, and Sara Vladic has spent many years researching the story and interviewing survivors, as witnessed by the 78 pages of citations, notes, bibliography and acknowledgements supporting the 450 pages of text.

But this is not just Indianapolis' story. By extension it is a vivid and unique account of the horrors experienced by the tens of thousands of sailors whose ships have been sunk, they injured, burnt, trapped below or shipwrecked, dying of wounds, exhaustion, exposure or despair, perhaps alone and unrecorded.

Full fathom five thy father lies - of his bones are coral made .. once upon a time I thought, one stormy darkling night, that I was going overboard to the sharks. Years later in a telephone call to a stranger about a completely different matter I found myself listening as he unburdened himself of how he escaped from a sinking ship. The Indianapolis story is vastly more serious. A powerful book, encompassing both the violence of the enemy and the dangers of the sea, and powerfully written.

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Well written and interesting, a book that I shall have to read, thank you!