Flight-19

THE NAVY I.G. & JAG 1945: Protocol & Politics!

After reading the 1945 Flight-19 inquiry results and comparing the referencess made against Lt. Charles C. Taylor, with the 1945 court-martial charges made against Captain Charles B. McVay the III, of the Heavy Cruiser USS Indianapolis, I question why neither the Navy Inspector General  (I.G.) , nor the Judge Advocate General (J.A.G); weren’t involved in the Flight-19 investigation?

One can conclude from examining other previous military mishaps and controversial incidents of the period i.e….Pearl Harbor, the Sinking of the USS Indianapolis…etc., that standing operating procedures seemingly did not call for there utilization at the board of inquiry level.

Could it be so easy to say then that, the lack of involvement of the I.G. & JAG in the Flight-19 controversy, was due to the difference in protocol between the scale & scope of a board of inquiry and that of a court-martial?

The first case, (Taylor’s) never got beyond that precursory board of inquiry stage. The scenario involved a junior level flight training officer in charge of a flight of five planes  and crew, who all went missing at sea off the coast of Florida, during a peace time training exercise and was adjudicated by a board made up of officers below the rank of Navy Captain. Compare those facts versus; a criminal court-martial against a willing and dutiful line officer (McVay), who was held responsible for hundreds of combat related deaths aboard the one ship that delivered the materials for the first atomic bomb, and was presided over by Navy Admirals.

At first glance protocol seems to be the prevailing factor in determining assignments. But even if that were the case, a reasonable person might still conclude then that the Navy; especially while under national scrutiny would want to be seen as thorough in their research of both cases, using all of the resources at hand, to come to a fair and just conclusion. After all, just because the manual may not have dictated I.G. or JAG involvement in the Taylor case, it doesn’t mean they couldn’t have been assigned by the Chief of Naval Operations if not by the Secretary of the Navy.

As was previously described in DOWN WITH THE SHIP, both cases grabbed headlines. Both cases had negative impacts on the reputation of the Navy, in the eyes of the public, and in the halls of Congress at about the same time-frame in 1945. Yet the I.G. and Jag were only assigned to the USS Indianapolis sinking.

If we want to talk scale; at it’s height there were over 200 ships and aircraft both naval and civilian involved in the search for Flight-19. Over a ten day period they searched millions of square miles on both land and sea for the TBM Avengers. The money and time spent alone, seemingly should have been enough to warrant involvement or oversight by at least the Inspector General, especially since there were inconsistencies and inaccuracies throughout the Flight-19 board report leaving more questions than answers in the end.

But having two disturbing events concurrently under examination for possible negligence must have been frustrating for the SECNAV to say the least. So again, in light of the political ramifications, it stands to reason for the sake of self preservation alone, that he would want  to  move as quickly as possible forward with the more visible case against McVay while simultaneously, compartmentalizing the Flight-19 inquiry.

In additions there is every indication that both the I.G. and JAG efforts were marginalized and likely biased in the McVay case.  It would likely have been a waste of time if they had gone to Ft. Lauderdale.

We can suggest this to be the case simply from the actions of key Navy figures and the speed in which events progressed in both cases. This imperative to move ahead with the McVay case by the new Secretary of the Navy, Fleet Admiral James Forrestal and the Chief of Naval Operations CNO Fleet Admiral Ernest King on December 3rd, 1945, explains why  a letter from Admiral Chester Nimitz’s (Formerly McVays Superior) written to the JAG on September 6th, 1945 in objection of the findings of the board ‘for lack of evidence’ against McVay was ignored and why court-martial proceedings began before the I.G.s investigation was even completed .

Furthermore, the Flight-19 board of inquiry began just two days after the planes disappeared and was wrapped up with ten days.

Speculation of the fecklessness of the I.G.s office  and quite possibly the JAG in 1945 can be addressed by researching their history’s . The Navy I.G. in essence was just a figure head of a branch of the Navy with little standing reputation and weight. Established, just three years earlier in February 1942: (when the USS Lafayette exploded, capsized and sunk while in New York harbor), the first Navy Inspector General Rear Admiral, Charles P. Snyder had been brought out of retirement to run the office. Under staffed, and listed at that time as a department under the Chief of Naval Operationsthe I.G ‘s office was one of 23 investigative divisions. It was established to, inspect, investigate and report procurement and misconduct investigations to the CNO, not the Secretary of the Navy,  today the SECNAV post is held by a civilian.

As far as the JAG was concerned it too was in its infancy in 1945. For the most part the Navy legal system was still in the midst of the transition from operations using the 1930 Articles for the Government of the Navy, otherwise known as “Rocks & Shoals”, up until and through the creation of the JAG Corps in 1946 and the adoption of  the Uniform Code of Military Justice (U.C.M.J) in 1951.(**)

In essence the R&S rules dictated that each command was responsible for policing itself; holding each sailor accountable ultimately to the command leadership. The Officer in charge, usually the Captain of the ship, decided how to interpret naval tradition, law, and how to dictate punishment. It was a practical decision since many commands were ship born and often out of range of higher headquarters.  “Its difficult to centralize command and control of organizations when a large percentage are floating around in the far flung oceans.” ( Dr Richard Hulver PHD Naval History and Heritage Command.)”

In the end both defendants*, despite supporting evidence and proof of Navy duplicity were solely found culpable for their mishandling of events.

Although in the beginning of 1946 the JAG (Admiral Jennings) did finally recieve a copy of the up to that time classified Flight-19  board findings, the public was still in the dark. The report may have not made it that far as quickly, if it had not been for the pressure applied mainly by Taylor’s mother on the Navy. Her refusal to accept the accusations against her son finally made the difference in exonerating him at the Naval Board of Corrections proceedings later in 1946.

(*Taylor would have likely been a court-martial defendant if he had been present at the board.)

Kurzman, Dan (1990), Fatal Voyage: The Sinking of the USS Indianapolis, New York: Athenaeum, pp. 246–247

Quasar, Gian They Flew into Oblivion

http://www.ussindianapolis.org/mcvay.htm

http://www.jag.navy.mil/history.htm

http://www.secnav.navy.mil/ig/Pages/About%20Us/History.aspx

**https://www.history.navy.mil/research/library/online-reading-room/title-list-alphabetically/r/rocks-and-shoals-articles-for-the-government-of-the-us-navy.html

http://www.military.com/history/rear-admiral-charles-mcvay-iii.html

 

 

 

 

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