The Flaw in the System

“What about this one? It was supposed to arrive today.”

Leyte Gulf was one of the world’s busiest harbors in 1945 and on the last day of July, over 1,500 merchant vessels and auxiliary ships had arrived, repaired, resupplied, and departed in the preceding thirty-one days. A complicated chain of responsibility kept the logs filled: One controlling ship lay anchored at the mouth of the 400 square-mile gulf and identified every vessel that passed. Dispatches were sent to the Port Director, Tacloban. Copies were then forwarded to the Commander, Philippine Sea Frontier, an office staffed by seven hundred personnel who saw to the details of every movement. The Philippine Sea Frontier, however, was by practice not responsible for combat ships.

An Ensign leaned over the logbook and shook his head.

“Guam should never have sent us this ETA. Here... read the last sentence on the last page.”

He handed a clipboard to the Yeoman.

“...it says: arrival reports shall not be made for combatant ships... how do we know they’re overdue?” the Yeoman asked.

“Ah,” said the officer, “we don’t. That’s the point... I think. They’ve all got their own commands to report to, and that covers us. When the West Virginia appeared out of the fog yesterday, not even the Rear-Admiral knew it was coming. We’re paper-navy. Besides, you’re not busy enough?”

Meanwhile, 550 miles to the east, the crew of the overdue cruiser was entering its second horrific night fighting off sharks, dehydration, and madness in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Sunk by a Japanese submarine, only 317 of the original 1,196 sailors that had just delivered the enriched uranium to Tinian survived to be accidentally rescued three days later.

Another 600 miles further east in Guam, the Yeoman there erased the USS Indianapolis from his board.


Karinann said...

I'm glad the captain's name was cleared but shame in the Navy! Hopefully they learned something from this disaster and things like this don't happen anymore.
I was happy to see another 300 words- I've missed them :)

cyurkanin said...

Thanks a lot Karinann! I was actually watching "Jaws" the other night and when Captain Quint started telling his story I thought I'd do one on the Indianapolis. Unfortunately, scapegoating is also a long and storied military tradition as well known as any other. It's tragic this one ended in a suicide.

Enbrethiliel said...


I feel pressured to comment because Leyte Gulf is mentioned.

May I just wish you a happy US Coast Guard Day now that it is the fourth of August where you live?

PS--Captcha is "cuppower"!

cyurkanin said...

LOL Thanks, I knew you'd remember Coast Guard day

Kris said...

Thanks for this angle on Leyte Gulf. The whole area is a familiar one to us; my husband's uncle wss killed there on the USS Aulick. Battle stations were called and he ran to his gun turret. Seconds later the turret took a hit from one of the first kamikazi attacks of the war. 55 years later his sister was here visiting us, and talking on the phone to a good friend of her brother whom we had just found via genealogy work, and who was with her brother minutes before he died. Very touching, as she remembered receiving the telegram....

We must never forget!! Semper fi!

cyurkanin said...

Thanks Kris, sorry it took a while to post your comment. I sailed into there several times myself, I can't imagine the amount of traffic that went through there.

I lost my flashdrive with all my writing on it last week and I haven't felt much like even logging in here... 8o

Enbrethiliel said...


You lost your flashdrive?!?!?!?! =O

Oh, that's awful! Is there anything I can do?

cyurkanin said...

What a modern-day horror that is, huh? It's practically the personal equivalent of the burning of Alexandria LOL BUT - Right after I posted that comment about losing it, I just happened to reach up to my computer monitor to adjust a brightness level and -voila - there it was underneath it!

Enbrethiliel said...


*absolutely FLOORED*

You lucky, lucky man!

cyurkanin said...

Yeah, you'd think I would have a second one, just in case, but...