She was torpedoed in the Pacific 30 July, 1945, after delivering an atom bomb to Tinian. Of 1,196 crew, some 900 made it into the shark-infested water. Despite sending a distress call, the sinking went unnoticed for five days. Only 317 men survived. It remains one of the worst U. S. naval disasters.
The USS Indianapolis Memorial is here in Indianapolis, and a room of the Indiana War Memorial Museum is dedicated to the ship. Just around the corner in the War Memorial, volunteers have recreated the ship's "Radio Central," piece by piece.
11 of the 41 radiomen were among the survivors.
The original installation is gone with the ship, but the equipment was quite standardized. "Was" being the operational word, as much of it has become quite scarce. The old receivers were uncommonly good -- and uncommonly heavy; the transmitters were even more so, on both counts.
So simply collecting the equipment is a huge accomplishment. But the volunteers are committed to more than mere static display -- they're getting the old gear running!
Entry is very much like stepping into a busy radio room -- CW in the background (including "SOS SOS de NABD...") and recorded talk about the gear plays at several positions. Visitors walk down a narrow aisle between transmitters and the test bench before coming to the row of operating positions. Left: Center: Right: Ship's radio rooms are a pretty fair match for the ideal ham shack, too, though I don't suppose very many of the guys copy traffic on a "mill" these days. (And I wonder if there might not be a few southpaws on the crew -- or did the Navy train ops to send left-handed?)
The transmitters cover from low frequencies all the way into VHF, with "big rigs" into the upper HF range.The big transmitters are right there where you can get a good look. The TBS low VHF transmitter-receiver they've been getting into operating condition is kept far enough away to keep curious fingers safe. You can just see the side of it in the right-side image of the operating positions -- the acronym for this is sometimes (and unofficially) translated "Talk Between Ships" and sure enough, my Dad's 1946 Introduction to Radio Equipment, NAVPERS 10172* says it was "designed to provide short-range communications between surface craft such as task forces or convoys." Interestingly, the book covers operation of just about every receiver and transmitter in the USS Indianapolis Radio Room exhibit.
It's a fascinating installation. It includes a couple of Amateur Radio operating positions, at the Supervisor and Test desks, operating as WW2IND: The more modern ham gear is kept out of sight when not in use, but pipe that shiny green SP-600! I'll be back -- the museum is not very far from where I work and they tell me volunteers are present many mornings and all day most Thursdays.
* This book was my first exposure to the technical side of radio, and does a pretty good job of covering basic theory before moving on to specific equipment. The Naval Reserve, when they learned my father worked for RCA, was determined to make him a radioman...until realizing he didn't know International Morse code. Rather than run a reservist through radio-op school, they set him to toting bags of powder in a gun turret. Which is, if you ask me, one more reason to learn CW! Why'd they think Dad would be a radioman? Have a close look at the photos and you'll see a discreet RCA "meatball" on an awful lot of Navy comms gear; RCA and radio were just about synonyms, as far as the Navy was concerned. There are only two non-RCA receivers on the entire NABD operating bench shown above, in fact -- can you ID them?