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Remembering the ‘Indianapolis’ and the Worst Disaster in US Navy’s History




In July 1945, the submarine I58 left the Hirao base in Yamaguchi Prefecture, Japan, carrying manned suicide torpedoes called Kaiten—Japan for “Return to Heaven.” Late at night on July 29th that year, it spotted the silhouette of a large warship. Six torpedoes were launched. Three struck the target.



It was only after the end of the war that Captain Mochitsura Hashimoto learned the identity of the enemy warship that had been sunk. It was the heavy cruiser Indianapolis that had carried components of the “Little Boy” atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. It was returning to the United States from its mission to Tinian Island when it was sunk.




Of the approximately 1,200 crew members, there were only 316 survivors. It is regarded as the worst disaster in the history of the US Navy. In his postwar memoirs, Hashimoto expressed regret that if there had been a thorough search of the ocean, it might have been possible to gather intelligence from survivors about the existence of atomic bombs.


Shortly after the war, submarine I58 was scuttled by order of the General Headquarters of the Allied Powers (GHQ) near the Goto Islands part of Nagasaki Prefecture.


A Japanese team that has been exploring this same area with an underwater robot says that it has succeeded in photographing a submarine that appears to be the I58. On August 19th this year, it was announced that an American team had discovered the remains of the Indianapolis on the ocean floor in the vicinity of the Philippines. This is a most remarkable coincidence.






In the postwar period, Hashimoto became the chief priest of a Shinto shrine. It is said that he sometimes spoke to young people about the tragedy of the Kaiten-manned torpedoes.


There is a more-than-casual connection between Hashimoto and Charles B. McVay, III Captain of the Indianapolis. McVay faced a military trial for his responsibility in the sinking. Hashimoto was called to Washington as part of the proceedings and gave testimony in support of McVay. Nonetheless, McVay was convicted and later committed suicide.


Hashimoto died in 1996 at the age of 91. He supported a movement to restore the honor of those who had survived the sinking. Ultimately, the honor of all was restored—although, in the case of McVay, it was 33 years after his suicide.





(Click here to read the original article in Japanese.)


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