The loss of the heavy cruiser USS Indianapolis (CA-35) in the waning days of World War II was a singular tragedy that has lingered in U.S. naval memory (and popular lore). The recent spectacular discovery of the long-sought wreck of the “Indy” (see “Dispelling Myths of the Indianapolis,” pp. 43–47) provides at least some modicum of closure to the infamous disaster. The U.S. Naval Institute Oral History Collection contains some interesting perspectives regarding the fate of the Indianapolis. In his memoir, Captain Paul R. Schratz recalls postwar discussions in Sasebo, Japan, with the Japanese sub skipper who sank the heavy cruiser:
We went to Sasebo, where I took command of His Imperial Majesty’s Ship I-203, a high-speed attack submarine just then completing sea trials. Then later I added to my command a division of ex-Japanese submarines, including the I-58, in which Captain [Mochitsura] Hashimoto had sunk the Indianapolis.
All the surviving Japanese submarines, about 15 to 20 of them, were then in Sasebo for disposition by the Allied Commission. I got Hashimoto and six, seven others around the table to talk submarine tactics to see how Japanese doctrine compared with ours, just informal, just for my own curiosity.
Naturally, I quickly learned how to run their torpedo data computer, which I found was very interesting. It had some good features in it. It worked fine.
I wrote a paper on [what the Japanese commanders had to say about tactics] back in those days for somebody. In general, not too much different from ours. They preferred the straight bow shot as we do, and, with far better torpedoes, much faster and much bigger warheads, they didn’t have to use as many, normally. They could risk getting one hit anywhere to get a sinking.
But their radar was junk, and night surface attacks, which we favored, were rare. Their sonar was superb, and I mean superb, far better than I’d ever seen. So this encouraged them toward submerged attacks also. They could make a sound attack, perhaps with no visual observation, that was simplicity itself.
At first, they couldn’t recall ever having attacked a U.S. warship, never heard of that happening by a Japanese submarine. When we’d been there maybe a week, we found the charts of I-58 with the track of the Indianapolis attack. When they realized we knew and they weren’t going to get shot just for having made the attack, they became much more open about warship attacks. You’ll recall, they followed our prewar doctrine of using submarines as the eyes of the fleet and never did use them extensively as commerce raiders.
Overall, of course, they were unsuccessful.
Hashimoto, shortly after, got his orders to go to Washington to testify against Captain [Charles] McVay, CO of Indianapolis.
Hashimoto was scared half to death. “What they do to me now? Put me in public square and shoot me?” He didn’t want to go.
I said, “Don’t worry,” but he gave me his chronometer as a guarantee of safe conduct. He knew the chronometer would be somebody’s souvenir, and figured he better get some mileage out of it.
Hashimoto’s testimony at the McVay court-martial was, according to Indianapolis historian Richard F. Newcomb, pivotal in the ultimate condemnation of McVay for negligence in having “failed to zigzag ‘during good visibility after moonrise.’” It would not be until 2000 that McVay was posthumously exonerated. Meanwhile, legendary World War II codebreaker Captain Joseph Rochefort placed blame for the loss of the Indianapolis on another thing entirely. In his Naval Institute oral history, Joe Rochefort cites the failure of Navy cryptologists as the catalyst for catastrophe:
We failed when we lost the Indianapolis. Somebody goofed up there and we lost the Indianapolis with quite a few people on board. This was pretty well toward the tail end of the war. Well, somebody goofed off on this. The organization goofed somewhere along the line. You’re not about to pin the rose for a thing like this onto the commander in chief. You’re not about to do this. Nor can you blame somebody like, say CominCh [Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Fleet] or Something. It's much easier to blame somebody pretty well down the line that doesn't amount to very much, which was done. These I would call goofs. You might expect this to happen. You don't want it to happen, but it's going to happen.