“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.