Mission of the Shark: The Saga of the U.S.S. Indianapolis (1991)



Director:  Robert Iscove.

Starring:   Stacy Keach (Capt. Charles Butler McVay), Richard Thomas (Scott, the doctor), Don Harvey (petty officer Kinderman), Robert Cicchini (D'Angelo), David Caruso (Marine Captain Wilkes), Bob Gunton (Chaplain), Steve Landesberg (Capt. Lipscombe), Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa (Japanese captain Hashimoto), Jeffrey Nordling (Lt. Tasker), Tim Guinee, Neil Giuntoli (Goldstein), Gordon Clapp, Joe Carberry, Dale Dye, Eddie Frias..

TV movie. 

The captain of the USS Indianapolis is court-martialed after his ship is sunk on a top-secret 1945 mission.


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire movie.

It is the 15th year reunion (1945l-1960) of the crew of the USS Indianapolis.  Captain McVay and his wife Louise enter.  The men come to attention in honor of their captain.  

Flashback. July 1945.  Marine Captain Wilkes is in charge of a box on deck containing nuclear material to be used in the making of the atom bomb.  But, of course, he does not know that.  Captain McVay calls in the chief engineer, Lt. D'Angelo.  He tells him that he wants to make the run in record time.  Among the enlisted men Frankie reads one of the letters of  his friend Joe; the one from Joes's sister.  Frankie wants to write her back and become penpals with her. 

The ship is headed to Tinian Island in the Mariannas.  The major defensive concern is the Japanese kaitens (manned torpedoes in a kind of underwater kamikaze attack).  The captain says they will try to outrun the kaitens.  Unbeknownst to them, in the area is a Japanese submarine.  The commander gives the order to prepare the kaitens, but he soon gives the command to cancel the order.  The ship is already out of range.  The ship arrives at its destination.  There the new Padre comes aboard ship.  The ship is heading out to Leyte with 1,196 men on board.  (A picture of the airplane the "Enola Gay" is shown.)  They expect to arrive at Leyte on Tuesday morning. 

Goldstein has a bad stomach and the doctor takes a look at him.  The Japanese submarine comes to the surface of the ocean.  They spot a vessel coming their way and dive below the water.  Frankie starts composing a letter to Joe's sister, Elly.  The Japanese commander tells the kamikaze men that he is sorry but they won't get a chance to die for their country.  They are not needed.  The regular torpedoes would do the job.  The sub sends three torpedoes heading to the USS Indianapolis and three torpedoes find their marks.  There are three loud explosions followed later by other explosions as various flammable areas are ignited. 

Captain McVay would not give the command to abandon ship until he heard the report from the engine room, but it was very difficult getting communications with the engine room.  The doctor told the men at the railing to abandon ship when it was very apparent that there was no other alternative.  The ship sank.  The men became widely separated.  Frankie was all alone with three life vests.  (He collected them as they went by him.)  The boatswain winds up in a raft with McVay. Then there were several large groupings of men. 

Headquarters Philippine Sea Frontier, Tolosa, Leyte, the Philippines.  Commodore Hathaway welcomes Lt. Commander Olinsky to the base. 

Marine guard Cortez gets bitten by a shark.  One large group develops around the doctor and another one around McVay.  One of the problems they face is to stop the men from drinking salt water.  The men see several planes fly over them without any sign they they have spotted the survivors below. 

A very self-centered petty officer Charley Kinderman refuses to take orders from the marine captain.  The captain tries to get on the raft, but Charly pushes the captain's head below water and holds him there.  The captain drowns.  All the other men abandon Charley leaving him alone in his raft. 

A sea worthy plane spots the men in the water.  They fly around them dropping whatever supplies they have.  Later they land the plane near the men.  They believe there are more than 300 men in the water.  Commodore Hathaway is notified of the situation of the men.  They might be the men from the USS Indianapolis because it has not arrived at Leyte.  Commodore Hathaway calls over to ask if the Indianapolis has come in.  No, they do not know because they do not record the arrival of combatant ships.  By now the men have been in the water for 72 hours. 

A group of survivors see Kinderman alone in his raft.  The fellow who became crazed from drinking salt water thinks Kinderman is a Japanese man and kills him with his knife. 

Some of the men start to get aboard the aircraft.  After awhile the body of the airplane is completely full with men and then there are many men laying on the airplane wings and roof of the main body.  

McVay sees a ship heading their way.  They are going to be rescued.  He swims to tell the Padre, but he is already dead.  A shark got him.  Frankie gets picked up by the ship. 

The atomic bomb is dropped on its target in Japan. 

McVay visits some of the survivors in the hospital.  He tells Lt. D'Angelo that he talked to his folks.  He adds that he will be home for Christmas.  The doctor also survived, along with Joe and Goldstein. 

Six months later.  The parents of the dead sailors keep calling McVay and blame him for what happened.  880 men are dead.  McVay faces a court-martial on two charges:  he failed to zigzag the ship to avoid submarine attack and he delayed too long in giving the command to abandon ship.  During the trial an expert testifies that zigzagging would not have changed the results for the ship.  Captain Hashimoto, the Japanese captain of the submarine that sank the USS Indianapolis, testifies that McVay was not zigzagging.  The ship was an easy target some 10,000 meters away.  Would zigzagging have made a difference?  Only in his maneuvering of the submarine. 

McVay is found not guilty of the delay in the abandon ship command, but guilty on the failure to zigzag.  At home his wife tells him that the navy used him as a scapegoat.  She says:  "I will never forgive them."  The navy left the men in the water for five days.  Later McVay goes to speak with Captain Hashimoto in private.  Hashimoto tells the American captain that it wouldn't have made any difference if the ship had zigzagged.  He adds:  "It's not easy to be a survivor." 

Back to the present.  At the reunion the men toast to Captain McVay.  The captain in turn offers a toast:  "To our dear departed friends."  The men and women then sing a naval hymn about those in peril on the sea. 

Following the USS Indianapolis tragedy, the United States Navy discontinued its policy of not reporting arriving combatant ships.  Soon after the trial, the Navy set aside Captain McVay's convictions.  He resumed his career until he retired in 1949.  On November 6, 1968, he took his own life.  The USS Indianapolis claimed it's last victim. 


Good movie.  Keeps your interest throughout.  There are some nasty scenes with the sharks attacking the men.  Both my wife and I liked the film. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


Historical Background:


The Indianapolis got the order to carry parts and nuclear material to Tinian to be used in the atomic bombs to be dropped on Japan. 

1945 (July 16)  --  the Indianapolis departed San Francisco.

1945 (July 19)  --  the ship touched at Pearl Harbor.

1945 (July 26)  --  she arrived at Tinian (setting a record of 5,000 miles (8,000 km) from San Francisco in only 10 days).

The Indianapolis dropped off men at Guam and then proceed on to Leyte, Philippines. The next stop was Okinawa.

1945 (July 28)  --  the ship leaves Guam for Okinawa. 

1945 (July 30)  --  at 15 minutes past midnight, two torpedoes from the Japanese submarine I-58 (under Commander Mochitsura Hashimoto) explode against her starboard side forward.  The ship sank in twelve minutes.  

About 300 of the 1,196 men on board died in the attack. This left almost 900 men in the water.

For unknown reasons, the ship was not reported "overdue".  The men suffered from a lack of food and water, from exposure, and from shark attacks.  The shark species involved in the attacks were the Oceanic Whitetip Shark and the Tiger Shark.  

On a routine patrol flight, a plane piloted by Lieutenant Wilber (Chuck) Gwinn and copilot Lieutenant Warren Colwell, spotted the stranded men. The pilot dropped a life raft and a radio transmitter.

Only 316 men survived.

Destroyer escort Cecil J. Doyle under Captain W. Graham Claytor Jr. saved 100 of the survivors.

The commander of the Indianapolis was court-martialed, but most agree he was used as a scapegoat.



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