This website was first established in March of 1998 for two purposes. First, to tell the incredible and tragic story of the USS Indianapolis, its contribution to American history, its sinking on July 30, 1945, and the ordeal of the 316 men who survived in a shark-infested sea for days without food or water until spotted by chance.
Second, to tell the story of the shameful court-martial and conviction of the ship's captain, Charles Butler McVay III, an injustice which the survivors fought for over fifty-five years to correct.
This page is devoted to that second purpose.
CAPTAIN CHARLES B. McVAY
"I believe this whole ordeal about the sinking and especially the outcome of the court-martial was and is a black mark on the Navy and not the Captain."
From statement submitted at September 1999 Senate hearing
by Lyle M. Pasket, USS Indianapolis survivor
A 1920 graduate of the US Naval Academy, Charles Butler McVay III was a career naval officer with an exemplary record whose father, Admiral Charles Butler McVay II, had once commanded the Navy's Asiatic Fleet in the early 1900s.
Prior to taking command of the Indianapolis, Captain McVay served as chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee of the combined chiefs of staff in Washington, the British-American allies' combined intelligence unit. Of note, in this assignment McVay would likely have been exposed to the fact the United States had broken the Japanese ULTRA naval code. This would be pivotal in decisions McVay would make later in command of Indy.
Because Indianapolis was flagship of the Fifth Fleet, McVay's appointment as commanding officer had to be approved by Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Ernest King. Admiral King approved McVay's orders to take command of Indy in September 1944, and the change of command occurred in November. There is no record of King having any reservations in assigning McVay to that prestigious command position.
After taking command of Indianapolis, McVay led the ship through several operations, to include the Tokyo raids, the February 1945 invasion of Iwo Jima, and the bombardment of Okinawa in March, during which Indianapolis antiaircraft guns shot down seven enemy planes before the ship was struck by a kamikaze on March 31, inflicting heavy casualties including nine dead. The kamikaze's bomb penetrated the ship's hull causing a great deal of flooding. In an extraordinary feat of seamanship and damage control, McVay was able to steam his listing ship safely back to Mare Island, California for repairs.
Following shipyard repairs and equipment upgrade at Mare Island, on July 16, 1945, Indy was loaded with a top secret cargo consisting of the components of the Hiroshima atomic bomb, and directed to sail from California to Tinian to deliver its cargo. Following that successful mission, Indy was routed from Tinian to Guam for further routing orders. It was at Guam where the seeds of destruction of Indianapolis were laid.
All across the Pacific preparations were underway for the invasion of the Japanese mainland. Indy was therefore routed to Leyte Gulf in the Philippines to join the naval invasion force that was gathering there. Because military leaders believed the end of the war was approaching, there was an inappropriate degree of laxity about the absence of Japanese combat forces in the area. Naval leaders treated the Philippine Sea as a backwater devoid of any real threat. These conditions resulted in a negligent state of alert on the part of those who were to route Indianapolis across the Philippine Sea.
In Guam, McVay received updated operations and intelligence reports prior to initiating his transit to Leyte. Naval authorities briefing him knew that on July 24, four days before Indianapolis departed for Leyte, the destroyer escort USS Underhill had been sunk by a Japanese submarine several hundred miles to the north. Worse, ULTRA code-breakers had already alerted naval intelligence that a squadron of four Japanese submarines, to include I-58, was operating between Okinawa and the Philippines. In fact, the ULTRA intelligence showed that I-58 was headed for a spot on the east-west Navy shipping lane between Guam and Leyte referred to as Route Peddie, the exact route that Indy was assigned for the transit. Hence, current intel placed I-58 on the track that Indy was required to take. This code-breaking intelligence would remain classified as top secret until the early 1990s, as did the fact it was withheld from McVay before he sailed from Guam, and was not made available to McVay's defense counsel during his court-martial. More on that later.
Egregiously, McVay was provided with none of this intelligence.
Because McVay had been Chairman of the Intelligence Committee of the Combined Chiefs of Staff prior to his transfer to Indianapolis, McVay would likely have been aware that we had broken the Japanese naval code. Hence, when he was led to believe that there was no submarine threat enroute his future track to Guam, he would have believed this opinion was based on solid intelligence of where the submarine threat really was. This is a point that many authors and analysts who have not served in the military commonly miss-- that the absence of intelligence can influence the decision-making process of individuals who are aware that the intel is available, even when they are no longer cleared to receive the intel personally.
This was the position McVay would have found himself in-- one where he knew that those who were declaring that there was no submarine threat during his transit were providing this report while knowing the exact location of the Japanese submarines by means of ULTRA intercepts. Hence, this is likely a case of McVay knowing too much. Had he not have been aware of the existence of ULTRA, he might have been more circumspect regarding the security of his transit.
Another commonly misrepresented issue involves McVay's reported request for a destroyer escort during his transit from Guam to Leyte. While it's true that McVay asked if there would be another ship (an escort) he could accompany during his transit to Leyte, and it's true that he was told none was available, it's not true that he formally requested an escort, nor is it true that his escort request was denied. When asked about the escort matter months later, McVay stated that he had transited through war zones unescorted several times during the war, was not concerned that he was being routed to Leyte without escort, hence he did not press the matter further.
Yet the truth, as discovered decades later, was that an escort actually was available to accompany Indy to Leyte, yet due to poor situational awareness it appears that the routers in Guam didn't know that a ship was available for assignment. In any case, no escort was provided.
Thus, Indianapolis set sail for Leyte on July 26, 1945, sent into harm's way, with its captain unaware of dangers which other naval leaders safe ashore knew were in his path.
McVay's routing orders included standard language that he should "zigzag at his discretion." Zigzagging is a naval maneuver used to complicate a torpedo attack. Unfortunately, submarine tactics had evolved during the course of the war in such a way as to render the zigzagging maneuver largely ineffective. As McVay already knew, the best defense against torpedo attack was speed, but routing orders had not been updated to account for the tactical evolution. Hence, his written orders still contained guidance that indicated that when conditions required, the ship should pursue a zigzag course.
At about 11 pm on Sunday July 29, Indianapolis was running somewhat ahead of track about halfway across the Philippine Sea. Earlier that evening, with heavy cloud cover and visibility severely limited, McVay had given orders to cease zigzagging so he could slow to 17 knots and reduce strain on his engines, having already run across the entire Pacific at flank speed to deliver the atomic bomb. McVay then retired to his sea cabin.
Around midnight, in a cruel twist of fate, a break in the cloud cover occurred at exactly the right moment to allow Indy to be spotted as an indistinct blur by Japanese submarine commander Mochitsura Hashimoto of the I-58. Hashimoto brought his ship to battle stations and fired a spread of six torpedoes, a tactic that neutralized the possibility that Indy would be zigzagging.
Seconds later, the ship was struck by two of the six fired torpedoes. It sank in about twelve minutes, leaving around nine hundred men in the water, many of them gravely injured by the torpedo explosions. The remainder of the crew, around three hundred men, went down with the ship.
When the ship failed to arrive at Leyte on Tuesday morning, a series of SNAFUs began that would add to Indy's woe, the difference being that these blunders would be caused by Americans.
First, Indy had been scheduled to rendezvous with a target training aircraft for gunfire practice prior to mooring in Leyte. When Indy failed to appear at the appointed time, the airplane's pilot simply returned to base, failing to report to anyone that Indy had not arrived for the training event as scheduled.
Second, there was confusion as to which area Indianapolis was to report when it arrived. Indy was the Fifth Fleet flagship, and the Fifth Fleet commander, Admiral Raymond Spruance, was in Manila taking part in planning for the Japanese invasion. Some in Leyte assumed, without evidence, that Indy must have been rerouted to Manila to pick up Admiral Spruance.
Third, earlier in the war the requirement to transmit "arrival reports" was suspended because there were so many ships in the theater, that these reports were clogging up radio traffic. When Indy failed to arrive, naval officials in Leyte assumed that if arrival reports were no longer required, then "non-arrival reports"should not be sent either. Hence, when they failed to pull into port as scheduled, no alert or query was transmitted by routing officials to pull the string on what had happened to Indy.
Fourth, when I-58 sunk Indy, they transmitted a message that they had sunk an American "battleship." This report was intercepted by the ULTRA team, but sat in somebody's inbox for several weeks before being decrypted. Hence, fleet commanders could have heard from the Japanese themselves that Indy had gone down.
The result of all of these FUBARs is that about 900 Indianapolis crew members were left floating in the Philippine Sea, with nobody aware of their plight until about 11am on Thursday, August 2, when Lieutenant Wilbur C. Gwinn, USNR, the pilot of a PV-1 Ventura scout-bomber, had a random sighting that would save the lives of 316 Indy sailors.
While crawling back through the fuselage of his plane to repair his trailing wire radio antenna, Gwinn happened to glance down at the sea and noticed a long oil slick. Thinking it was evidence of a Japanese submarine, Gwinn rushed back to the cockpit, then put his airplane in a dive to investigate, where he spotted men floating in the sea. He immediately radioed for help in the clear (unencrypted, for speed of response).
At 3:30 that afternoon, Lieutenant. R. Adrian Marks, USNR, responding with his PBY Catalina to Gwinn's call for help, became the first to arrive on the scene. Horrified at the sight of sharks attacking men below him, Marks landed his flying boat in the open ocean and began to pick up survivors. Hence, he was the first to learn of the Indianapolis disaster.
Once the word went out that there were survivors in the water, a small flotilla of surface ships responded at flank speed to pick up survivors, while a group of aircraft hovered overhead searching the ocean's surface for more of them. One of those responding was USS Cecil J. Doyle, commanded by Lieutenant Commander W. Graham Claytor, future Secretary of the Navy, and coincidentally cousin to McVay's wife. Famously, to give Indy sailors still in the water hope that help was on its way, that night Claytor shined his search light up to reflect off the clouds, risking submarine attack in hopes that those Indy crewmembers still alive would hold on.
The survivors were spread over an expanse of tens of miles, so aircraft often had to direct the ships to groups of survivors separated from the rest.
Upon their rescue by different vessels, Indy survivors were delivered to various Pacific hospitals, to include Guam and Peleliu.
The Court Martial
"The charge upon which he was convicted for failing to zigzag contained a phrase 'in good visibility.' The visibility that night was NOT good as all of us know who were there that night."
From statement submitted at September 1999 Senate hearing
by Paul J. Murphy, USS Indianapolis survivor
McVay was one of the last crewmembers to be rescued, and upon rescue he was transported to Guam. Per standard Navy procedure, a Court of Inquiry was then established by Pacific Fleet Commander Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz, to investigate the causes of Indy's sinking. The court convened on August 13, less than two weeks after the survivors were rescued and one day before the sinking of the ship was announced to the public.
The report that Indy had been sunk occurred simultaneous with the announcement that the Japanese had surrendered, thus creating the impression that the Navy was burying the story in the larger narrative of the end of war. However, it was standard procedure during World War II to delay the announcement that American ships had been sunk, in order to withhold useful intelligence from the enemy. For example, after the August 1942 Battle of Savo Island resulted in the loss of three American and one Australian cruisers, word of those sinking was not released until months later. When the war ended, it was no longer necessary to withhold news of Indy's sinking, so the report was released as soon as conditions permitted. Unfortunately, the delay of the sinking announcement contributed to the perception that the Navy was taking extraordinary measures to control the narrative as it related to Indy's sinking, to hide its own culpability. As time would reveal, the Navy's culpability would never be hidden.
Conceding that they "were starting the proceedings without having available all the necessary data," the Court of Inquiry nonetheless completed its investigation with the recommendation that McVay be subjected to a general court-martial. It must be noted that in the 1940s a court-martial was considered less of a criminal proceeding and more of an investigatory process that sometimes (but not always) resulted in the finding of legal culpability. People often wonder why McVay did not publicly resist or speak out against his court-martial. This is why. Many senior naval officers, to include Nimitz himself, had been court-martialed without severe career repercussion. It was likely, based on his contemporary statements, that McVay believed this would be true for him too. Alas, it was not to be so.
In fact, Nimitz disagreed with the Court of Inquiry recommendation to pursue a court-martial, so on September 6, as required by Navy procedure, Nimitz forwarded the Court's findings to Navy leadership while stating that he opposed the court's recommendation of court-martial. Overriding the opposition of both Nimitz and Spruance, Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal directed that court-martial proceedings be initiated against McVay.
For decades, the decision to try McVay had been blamed on CNO Fleet Admiral Ernest King. While it's true that King did not opposed the court-martial, the responsibility for convening the court rested squarely with Forrestal, not King. Various theories have been provided over the decades as to why King might have had a vendetta against McVay, none of which hold water.
For example, one report that has made the rounds state that King had a vendetta against McVay's father because of some punishment meted out against King when he was a junior officer, causing King to seek to condemn the elder McVay's son. While it's true that King was punished early in his career for being drunk and disorderly, McVay's father had nothing to do with that punishment, since he was no longer Commander of the Asiatic Fleet when the event occurred. Because King's caustic personality had so alienated him from most military leaders during the war, he had no friends willing to come to his defense in the decade that followed as it pertained to the McVay court-martial.
If King truly had a vendetta against McVay, the time to act on that vendetta would have been when McVay was nominated to take command of the Fifth Fleet flagship. King could have disapproved McVay's recommendation, relegating him to a less prestigious assignment, and nobody would have been the wiser. The truth is that Forrestal is the person who decided to try McVay, and the worst that can be said about King is he failed to support Nimitz's recommendation to forego the trial.
Which brings us to the subject of James Forrestal. Forrestal had been undersecretary of the Navy for nearly four years until May 1944, when Secretary of the Navy (SECNAV) Frank Knox died in office of a heart attack, whereupon Forrestal assumed the role of SECNAV. Forrestal was known to not have been a fan of Nimitz, believing the admiral enjoyed too much top cover from President Franklin D. Roosevelt. (In fact, Forrestal would not approve King's recommendation that Nimitz follow King as CNO until Nimitz agreed that he would only serve a single two-year term as CNO.) Hence, Forrestal would not have been one to submit to Nimitz's recommendation regarding the McVay affair. It cannot be known why Forrestal decided to pursue the McVay court-martial. What we do know is that Forrestal was himself a troubled man who in 1949 would commit suicide by jumping out of a window at the Bethesda Naval Hospital where he was undergoing treatment for depression.
Whatever the motive, Forrestal did direct that the McVay court-martial should proceed, so the trial was set for December 3, 1945 in the Washington Navy Yard. To prepare, the Navy took the unusual step of building out facilities in the courtroom to allow dozens of reporters to cover the event. As it turned out, two weeks were spent preparing the courtroom for press coverage, yet only a couple of days were provided to McVay to prepare his defense.
While the decision to go to court-martial was made, the Navy still struggled with the decision of what charges they would proffer against McVay. A great deal of debate ensured between Forrestal, King, and Forrestal's chief counsel. The paper trail on that debate makes it clear that Forrestal was hunting for a charge that might stick, facts be damned. In the end, four days before the trial began, the Navy finally settled on two charges: the first count would be that McVay failed to issue orders to abandon ship in a timely fashion, and the second charge would be that McVay hazarded his ship through negligence by failing to zigzag. Hence, McVay had only four days to be made aware of the charges and prepare his defense.
Incredibly, McVay was denied his first choice of defense counsel as being unavailable, so Captain John P. Cady was selected to represent him. Although he had a law degree, Cady was a line officer with no trial experience, and had only four days to prepare his case. McVay and Cady appealed for an extension to better prepare their defense, but this appeal was denied. Cady's opposition, the judge advocate (prosecutor) in the case, was Captain Thomas Ryan, an experienced counsel. And if that wasn't enough, Ryan was a recipient of the Medal of Honor. The odds were already stacked against McVay.
From the start, it was difficult even for the "members" of the court-martial (officers who served, in effect, as McVay's jury) to understand why the Navy brought the first charge against McVay. Explosions from the torpedo attacks had knocked out the ship's communications system, making it impossible to give an abandon ship order to the crew except by word of mouth. And it was fairly apparent from survivors' reports that McVay had done precisely that. Hence, it was easy for the court-martial to find him not guilty on the "abandon ship" charge.
That left the second charge of failing to zigzag. The problem with this charge is that United States Code assigns to commanding officers of Navy ships broad accountability for anything that happens on the ship, regardless of whether the captain could have done anything to prevent it. Hence, on any given day, on any given ship, a naval official probably can find some deficiency for which the captain can be held legally culpable in a court-martial.
Once this charge was proffered, most naval officers, to include McVay himself, knew that he could be found guilty of this charge, regardless of the nuances of his written orders. Specifically, the fact that he was authorized to zigzag "at his discretion" would not be sufficient to allow him to escape culpability for the sinking. That is how naval law has been written for centuries, and McVay knew it.
Separate from the reality that McVay could be convicted for failing to zigzag was the question of whether McVay should be charged in the first place. This is the matter of prosecutorial discretion. Before bringing charges against a captain who was operating in a war zone, one must think carefully about what objective is being pursued with a conviction. If no benefit is achieved by way of the conviction, charges should not be brought in the first place since it would have the potential of modulating the behavior of future commanding officers. Inexplicably, none of the leaders of the Navy, to include Forrestal and King, ever explained what purpose was being served in pursuing McVay's court-martial. This further led to the narrative that McVay was being set up as a scapegoat for more serious failings by officials in Guam and Leyte.
Incredibly, to make matters worse, for the first time in history the Navy brought an enemy combatant in to testify against an American hero. Specifically, the captain of I-58, Mochitsura Hashimoto, was flown to Washington to testify against McVay. Although Hashimoto was brought in as a witness for the prosecution, his testimony cemented his assertion that his spread of six torpedoes would have been effective even if the Indy had been zigzagging. For decades following McVay's court-martial, it was unclear why the prosecution had brought Hashimoto to testify. Not until a discovery in 2017 was the reason this happened revealed. More on that later.
Another witness during the court-martial was a Navy submarine commander, Captain Glynn Donaho. A four-time Navy Cross recipient during the war, Donaho was asked by McVay's defense counsel whether "it would have been more or less difficult for you to attain the proper firing position" if the Indianapolis had been zigzagging under the conditions which existed that night. His answer was, "No, not as long as I could see the target." He further made the point that he had sunk many ships during the war, all of which had been zigzagging. This further reinforced the point that Hashimoto's tactic of firing a spread of six torpedoes would have been successful whether or not Indy had been zigzagging.
But the most critical bit of testimony could not be presented to the court because the details were still classified. This involved the information that had been withheld from McVay prior to his transit. During the court-martial, Captain Oliver Naquin testified that the the threat of submarines along Indy's track was "low order." Later it was learned that Naquin was aware of the submarines in McVay's path but had not shared this information with McVay. The specific information on the Japanese code traffic that revealed submarine activity in the vicinity of Indy's track remained classified until the 1990s.
Yet, as indicated above, once the charge of "hazarding his ship" was levied, a conviction was likely. McVay himself knew this, as did all the members of the court. The real issue is that the charges should never have been brought forward. The survivors of Indianapolis were convinced that McVay was made a scapegoat to hide the mistakes of others, mistakes which included sending him into harm's way without warning and failing to notice when the ship failed to arrive on schedule, thus costing hundreds of lives and initiating the greatest sea disaster in the history of the United States Navy.
Indeed, McVay was found guilty on the charge of hazarding his ship by failing to zigzag. Because the members of the court knew, "There, but by the grace of God go I," they unanimously recommended clemency. Indeed, McVay's punishment was in effect a slap on the wrist: loss of 100 "lineal" numbers in his temporary rank of Captain and 100 numbers in his permanent rank of Commander. Simply put, this merely set him back slightly in line for promotion. Even that minor punishment was then set aside by Forrestal. Yet, McVay's conviction by court-martial remained on his record, causing him to be seen as a felon in many states.
In 1946, when Nimitz became Chief of Naval Operations, he announced the outcome of the court-martial and reported that McVay was being released from house arrest. Clearly still smarting from the fact his recommendation had been ignored, he hastened to point out that he had recommended against court-martial, but his recommendation had been ignored by "the powers that be."
The trial and conviction of Captain McVay was unprecedented. The case brought more than half a century of justified criticism of how the Navy handled this affair. It also led, in part, to the enactment of the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the criminalization of “unlawful command influence,” which Forrestal was clearly guilty of. No other officer, including the more than 300 US Navy ship captains whose ships were sunk during World War II, was ever convicted for the loss of his ship during combat.
McVay ended up serving out his final years on active duty in the New Orleans Naval District and retired in 1949 with the rank of Rear Admiral.
He took his own life in 1968.
"Expresses the sense of Congress that: (1) the court-martial charges against then-Captain Charles McVay, U.S. Navy, arising from the sinking of the USS INDIANAPOLIS on July 30, 1945, while under his command were not morally sustainable; (2) Captain McVay's conviction was a miscarriage of justice; (3) the American people should now recognize Captain McVay's lack of culpability for the loss of such ship and the lives of the men who died as the result of her sinking; and (4) the President should award a Unit Citation to the final crew of the INDIANAPOLIS in recognition of their courage and fortitude in the face of tremendous hardship and adversity after their ship was torpedoed and sunk."
US Congress Joint Resolution, 1999
McVay's 1945 conviction had always been a source of anger with the survivors because the conviction was a de facto declaration that Indy’s crew shared culpability in the sinking of their ship, even though every witness, including the key prosecution witness—the commander of the enemy submarine that did the sinking— stated that the ship would have been sunk regardless of the crew’s actions.
Hence, during the 1960s the survivors decided that they would do what they could to get McVay's conviction set aside.
In response to the survivors' agitation, over the next three decades several reviews of the original conviction were requested by members of Congress. In response to each, the Navy registered their reaffirmation of McVay's conviction in such an inartful and ham-fisted way that each iteration further incited the survivors' rage.
In one such official Navy review ordered in 1996 by Senator Richard Lugar, the Navy attorney who authored the Navy's report even included an inexcusable footnote suggesting that McVay should have gone down with his ship. It's difficult to understand how such an inflammatory and tactless response could had ever survived review by Navy leadership, let alone released as an official Navy document. Clearly, no Navy "adult supervision" was being applied to this matter.
The survivors gained no traction on this issue until the mid-1990s when a young boy named Hunter Scott completed a history project on the McVay affair and began a personal crusade to clear McVay’s name, ultimately gaining national attention. And with public attention came political attention.
This is the point at which the Navy began seriously losing the public relations battle.
Scott eventually gained the attention of Congressman Joe Scarborough of Florida, who picked up the cause. Then Senator Bob Smith of New Hampshire joined in.
Then, at the 1998 decommissioning ceremony of the nuclear submarine USS Indianapolis (SSN-697), survivors Paul Murphy and Glenn Morgan recruited the help of the submarine's commanding officer, Commander William Toti, USN. Using his submarine's torpedo attack computer, Toti was able to model the I-58's attack against a zigzagging Indy cruiser sufficiently to convince himself that the Indy would have been struck by at least one torpedo regardless of whether it had been zigzagging. This proved beyond a reasonable doubt that zigzagging would not have been an effective tactic against the I-58 attack, hence McVay had not actually hazarded his ship by failing to do so. Toti published his findings in a 1999 article in the US Naval Institute Proceedings magazine titled, "The Sinking of the Indy and the Responsibility of Command."
In parallel, Congressman Scarborough crafted a “sense of Congress resolution” that he easily pushed through the House of Representatives directing that McVay should not be considered culpable for the loss of his ship. In 1999 Senator Smith arranged hearings on the McVay affair in front of Virginia Senator John Warner’s Senate Armed Services Committee.
Senator Warner had previously served as Secretary of the Navy himself, and during his tenure had reviewed the McVay case several times. As Secretary of the Navy he had opted not to take any action to absolve McVay, instead allowing the conviction to remain unchallenged.
During his tenure as the senior Senator on the Armed Services committee, Warner had historically been disinclined to advance any issue that presented the Navy in a bad light. Multiple sense of Congress resolutions on the McVay affair had been written and debated previously, but none had ever been allowed to advance out of Warner’s committee, hence none had ever reached the floor of the Senate for a vote, hence none had ever passed. When this 1999 hearing was first called, there was initially no indication that this one would be any different from the rest.
Yet, the Senate hearings proved a catastrophic embarrassment for the Navy, with the Navy unwilling to yield in the slightest in its assertion that McVay's conviction had been correct and proper, despite more recent evidence to the contrary.
Warner eventually allowed the resolution to go to the full Senate for a vote, where it passed. In May, 2001, now Captain Toti entered the exoneration language into McVay's service record, deleting any evidence in the service record of McVay's conviction. After fifty-five years McVay's conviction had finally been expunged from his record. Sadly, only one of McVay's sons lived long enough to see this happen. And of course, McVay himself died not knowing his name would be eventually cleared.
And yet, one of the most egregious claims by the Navy was yet to be resolved. Over the decades since the court-martial, to include the 1999 Senate hearings, Navy admirals and senior leaders parroted the statement that McVay had not been court-martialed for the sinking of his ship. Instead, as the Navy asserted, he had been court-martialed for merely failing to zigzag.
This claim was proved to be a lie in 2017, when the handwritten notes of the the associate prosecutor in McVay's court-martial, Lieutenant Carl Bauersfeld, were discovered at the home of his son in Arlington, Virginia. These notes clearly stated that the Navy's charges indeed required proof that McVay's action (or inaction) resulted in an effective torpedo attack by I-58, which resulted in the sinking of his ship. To prove this, it was necessary to have the enemy submarine commander testify that McVay's "negligence" made it easier for I-58 to press the attack. In other words, despite decades of Navy assertions to the contrary, McVay was indeed convicted for having his ship sunk during as an act of war-- the only case in history where such a conviction was sought. This revelation of the Navy's decades-long lie added further insult to the injury already perpetrated by the Navy on McVay and other Indy crewmembers.
The wreck of the Indy was finally discovered at the bottom of the Philippine Sea near the Marianas Trench in August 2017 by the crew of Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen's research ship, Petrel. Examination of the wreck proved conclusively that Indy had been struck by only two torpedoes just as McVay had reported in his official statement. The geometry of I-58's torpedo attack, as confirmed by visual examination of Indy's hull, further supported the analysis that Indy would have been struck by at least one torpedo regardless of whether she had been zigzagging.
Hence, new information continues to be discovered, and the story will continue to evolve. The story of the Indianapolis and Captain McVay is of almost biblical scope and scale-- an act of war made worse by an incredible display of malfeasance by Navy leaders across the Pacific. Then inexplicably, the Navy clung to its mythical explanation of events decades after those admirals were long dead.
If ever there was an example of criminal institutional ineptitude, this was it.