A lifelong Jaws fan, the most I ever really knew about the USS Indianapolis was what was related by Quint in one of my favourite scenes in cinema, so when I spotted this book, complete with its same-surname-as-me author, it was a must buy.
It turns out – as always – that reality is far, far more horrifying than any Hollywood blockbuster could ever wish to be. For those who don’t know what happened to the Indianapolis and her men, a brief synopsis. Fresh from delivering the bomb that would soon decimate Hiroshima, the ship was sunk after being hit by two Japanese torpedoes. 1196 men entered the water. Only 317 came out. And the sharks that picked them off over the next four days were probably the least terrifying of the reasons so many died (that honour is reserved for what happens once severely dehydrated people start drinking salt water).
Recounted from the points of view of several of the boys of various ranks who were on ship, In Harm’s Way is written with an immediacy that places you directly alongside them as the ship starts to sink and their journey plunges into horror. And throughout, Stanton refers to them as boys – reminding you constantly that they were all young and largely inexperienced, many of whom couldn’t even swim, on a mission so secret that no-one even realised they were missing for days. In fact, if it hadn’t been for an especially observant pilot who just happened to be flying over the area, I can’t help but wonder if the command would have noticed at all, given their quick dismissal and/or misreading of any messages they did receive advising them of the Indianapolis’s whereabouts and dire situation.
The sinking of the USS Indianapolis was soon followed by the dropping of the bomb they’d delivered on Hiroshima, a truly devastating act that makes you wonder if the world really wouldn’t be a better place without the human race, but In Harm’s Way is also a testament to the human spirit, the will to survive, and the sacrifices that people will make for the good of others in the face of horror.
If you can stomach it, it comes highly recommended from me.