In Harm's Way The Sinking of the U.S.S. Indianapolis and the Extraordinary Story of Its Survivors

Doug Stanton

St. Martin's Griffin



Trade Paperback

384 Pages



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On July 30, 1945, after completing a top secret mission to deliver parts of the atom bomb "Little Boy," which would be dropped on Hiroshima, the battle cruiser USS Indianapolis was torpedoed in the South Pacific by a Japanese submarine. An estimated 300 men were killed upon impact; close to 900 sailors were cast into the Pacific Ocean, where they remained, undetected by the navy, for nearly five days. Battered by a savage sea, they struggled to survive, fighting off hypothermia, sharks, physical and mental exhaustion, and, finally, hallucinatory dementia. By the time rescuers—which was purely accidental—arrived, all but 321 men had lost their lives; 4 more would die in military hospitals shortly thereafter.

The captain's subsequent and highly unusual court-martial left many questions unanswered: How did the navy fail to realize the Indianapolis was missing? Why was the cruiser traveling unescorted in enemy waters? And perhaps most amazing of all, how did these 317 men manage to survive?

Drawing on new material and extensive interviews with survivors, In Harm's Way relates the tragedy of the USS Indianapolis not as a history of war, but as a portrait of men battling the sea. Interweaving the stories of three survivors—Charles Butler McVay, the captain; Lewis Haynes, the ship's doctor; and Private Giles McCoy, a young marine—journalist Doug Stanton has brought this astonishing human drama to life in a narrative that is at once immediate and timeless. The definitive account of a little-known chapter in World War II history, In Harm's Way is destined to become a classic tale of war, survival, and extraordinary courage.


Praise for In Harm's Way

"A thoroughly researched, powerfully written account of a nightmare at sea, one of the most poignant tragedies and injustices of World War II. I was struck throughout by the extraordinary heroism of the marines and sailors who survived, all the more remarkable because they do not see it in themselves."—Mark Bowden, author of Black Hawk Down

"A haunting story of valor, iniquity, and young men in peril on the sea. Once the Indianapolis steams into the crosshairs of the Japanese submarine I-58, In Harm's Way is impossible to put down. Doug Stanton's account of the Indy's sinking and the harrowing aftermath is as infuriating, mesmerizing, and heartbreaking as any tale yet told of the great war in the Pacific."—Rick Atkinson, author of An Army at Dawn

"Stanton has added pathos to an otherwise tragic historical footnote"—The Roanoke Times

"[A] heart-racing, exhaustively researched book."—Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

"In Harm's Way is a stunning book. The story of the USS Indianapolis is one of the most harrowing tales of World War II—and Doug Stanton takes you through every terrifying moment in a vivid and utterly memorable account."—Tom Brokaw, author of The Greatest Generation

"Stanton's In Harm's Way is beautifully written. His sharp eye for detail makes the story all the more heartbreaking."—The Baltimore Sun

"For millions of people everywhere, World War II had moments, hours, days of horror and terror. For Captain Charles McVay and his crew, their five days in the ocean were gruesome and terrible almost beyond description. But through painstaking research and a brilliant use of oral history, Doug Stanton has told the tale. He writes carefully and judiciously, with a sense of timing and an eye for the right detail, to make this the most frightening book I've ever read."—Stephen E. Ambrose

"In Harm's Way is a pungent corrective to Navy injustice and much more. The book is an improbably fatal adventure story, unfortunately true, that leaves you gasping at the sacrifice some men made for the rest of us."—Jim Harrison

"Harrowing and fact-filled . . . Stanton weaves a riveting tale that captures the human toll of the disaster as well as the political fallout. Writing in a straightforward and exact journalistic style, Stanton deftly tells the stories of three survivors."—The Seattle Times/Post Intelligencer

"Doug Stanton has done this country a service by bringing the incredible yet almost-forgotten story of the USS Indianapolis to heart-pounding life. Do yourself a favor. Read In Harm's Way."—James Bradley, author of Flags of Our Fathers

"Perhaps Stanton's vivid account of the ordeal of the Indianapolis will compel the Navy to examine the matter again, since the book seems likely to find many readers and stir strong emotions."—The Washington Post

"A strong, well-made account of one of the most fearful disasters of World War II—tragic not only in its huge loss of life and its fateful destruction of the career of the Indianapolis' commander, but for its random and almost meaningless occurrence in the last days of the war."—Peter Matthiessen

"Stanton has written an enthralling, testifying and moving tale of the sea. Filled with human poignancy as well as revealing historical facts, In Harm's Way is a heartfelt tribute to [Captain] McVay and the courageous crew of the Indianapolis"—Houston Chronicle

"Vividly re-creates this catastrophic chapter in military history. Weaving together accounts from official records and interviews with survivors, [Stanton] has created a war story that is part Titanic, part Stephen King nightmare. Stanton has a sharp eye for the story's awful ironies and telling details."—Star-Tribune (Minneapolis)

"If In Harm's Way is the next step in the path blazed by Into Thin Air and The Perfect Storm, it's also Stanton's way of paying something back. And by uncovering the meaning behind the suffering of the men of the
fs20Indianapolis, he also defines a generation."—Book magazine

"Doug Stanton has rendered a public service by providing the first complete account of the tragedy of Indianapolis . . . A grim, poignant story that needed to be told fully and honestly. With painstaking research and an unerring eye for detail, Stanton has set down a riveting, eloquent tale of great power."—World War II magazine

"A wonderfully wrought account of one of the great war-time disasters at sea. The meticulous research puts the reader onto the scene in the South Pacific in a way that is both harrowing and mesmerizing. It is hard to imagine that Stanton's account could have been done any better."—George Plimpton

"A powerfully intimate story often victimized by the sea and forgotten by their navy. Stanton's book successfully paints a remarkable picture of the unspeakable horror, heroism, and the strength of the human spirit."—American History

"Stanton has researched individual accounts of the ordeal and strung them together in a story that tugs at the heart."—Winston-Salem Journal

"Accounts of the rescue of those pitiful survivors by the crews aboard the ships that sped to the scene would melt a heart of stone."—Richmond Times-Dispatch

"Stanton writes a riveting account of the USS Indianapolis . . . and provides a harrowing story of what the survivors withstood."—The Christian Science Monitor

"A page-turner. The story is so compelling you feel guilty enjoying the book, because its hard to imagine suffering any worse than what the men of the Indianapolis endured."—The Post and Courier (Charleston)

"In Harm's Way is Doug Stanton's moving and unforgettable story of what befell the crew on its last fateful voyage and a painful example of how a string of inconsequential errors can birth a first-rate tragedy."—The Flint Journal

"Absorbing, novelistic . . . illuminating and emotional."—Publishers Weekly

"Journalist Stanton has written a compelling, eminently readable account of the Indianapolis for the nonspecialist."—
dn0 Library Journal

"A crisp, well-executed reconstruction of naval warfare's darkest chapter: the sinking and abandonment of the USS Indianapolis."—Kirkus Reviews

Reviews from Goodreads



Read an Excerpt


All Aboard
Dad, there's a war to be won out there, and I'm going out to get this thing cleaned up. I'll be back shortly.
--ED BROWN,...

Read the full excerpt


  • Doug Stanton

  • Doug Stanton, a former contributing editor at Esquire, Outside and Men's Journal, received an M.F.A. from the Writers' Workshop at the University of Iowa. He lives in northern Virginia.

  • Doug Stanton ©Brian Confer
    Doug Stanton