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The USS Indianapolis is arguably most famous for the story of her sinking -- considered one of the great catastrophes in the US Navy. Despite the tragedy that ended her service, Indianapolis served with valor throughout World War II.
The Washington Naval Treaty of 1922 placed weight limits on the warships of the signatory naval powers. Though the United States was awarded a larger amount of total tonnage than any other nation outside Great Britain, the restrictions were still reflected in ship design. The 1920s and early 1930s saw the US Navy construct a generation of cruisers that were limited in size and, as a result, modest in armament. Among these "treaty cruisers" were the two ships of the Portland class. Indianapolis, the second ship of the class, was launched on November 7, 1931, commissioned on November 15, 1932.
USS Indianapolis at Pearl Harbor, circa 1937
Atomic Luck: Just days before she was torpedoed, Indianapolis delivered enriched uranium and components for the Little Boy atomic bomb to Tinian in Micronesia.
Indianapolis was 639 feet long, with a beam of 90 feet and a draft of 30 feet. For propulsion, she had eight White-Foster boilers and single reduction geared turbines, which could get her to a top speed of 32.7 knots. Her armament consisted of nine 8-inch guns in three triple mounts, eight 5-inch anti-aircraft guns, and eight .50 caliber anti-aircraft machine guns. She also carried two OS2U Kingfisher floatplanes. She was constructed with reduced armor along her belt while still keeping heavier armor along the keel to protect against torpedoes and mines.
After her shakedown cruise, she was sent to the Caribbean for additional crew training, later returning to Philadelphia for her standard overhaul. She then hosted President Franklin D. Roosevelt and members of the Cabinet for a two-day cruise. Roosevelt was so impressed by Indianapolis that in 1934 she carried the President down the Hudson River to review the Atlantic Fleet, and later to to the Pan Am Conference in Buenos Aires.
By December 7, 1941, Indianapolis had already been in the Pacific for some time. She was participating in range drills at the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor and escaped damage. After the attack, she raced to join Task Force 11 in pursuit of the Japanese fleet. From there, she took part in numerous operations in the Pacific throughout the war, including the Battle of the Philippine Sea and the landings on Tarawa, Iwo Jima and Okinawa.
USS Indianapolis under fire by Japanese coastal defenses at Saipan
Forgiven But Not Forgotten: In 2000, the US Congress passed a resolution absolving Captain Charles Butler McVay III for the responsibility of Indianapolis' sinking. McVay had taken his life in 1968 in grief over the loss.
On July 30, 1945, disaster struck. Hit by two torpedoes fired from the Japanese submarine I-58, Indianapolis went under in just minutes, taking close to 300 of her crew. The remainder of 900 men drifted in the water, with inadequate lifeboats and lifejackets. Three and a half days later, a patrol plane spotted the survivors, but only 321 would be rescued, with 317 ultimately surviving. The circumstances of the sinking and the Navy's response became the source of great controversy and debate for years.
Despite her tragic fate, Indianapolis served the US Navy with pride and resolve, both before and during the war. Now you have the opportunity to sail the USS Indianapolis feel her power, fight her guns, and carry on her pride in World of Warships!
Kansas native Tim St. Arnold studied History at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, with minors in Anthropology and Political Science. At Wargaming, he's able to put his passions for military history and gaming to work as a researcher. Look for him on the seas of World of Warships as WG_Admiralty!