The USS Indianapolis CA-35 was a Portland-Class heavy cruiser that was commissioned by the United States Navy in November of 1932. Almost a year later in November of 1933, the Indianapolis was assigned to be the flagship for Scouting Force 1. The vessel remained in that position for eight years until the attack on Pearl Harbor. The ship was then assigned to Task Force 12 and spent days searching for the Japanese carriers involved in the attack. The Indianapolis returned to Pearl Harbor on December 13th and was subsequently assigned to Task Force 11. Throughout 1943 and 1944, the cruiser served as the flagship for the fifth fleet and battled across the Central Pacific.
In July of 1945, the ship made a trip to the island of Tinian, where it dropped off enriched uranium and other parts for the nuclear bomb, the “Little Boy.” A few weeks later, this type of bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, making it the first nuclear weapon used in combat. After dropping off the components for the weapon, the ship departed back towards Guam to drop off several sailors that had completed their tours of duty. Once they had exchanged for a fresh crew, the Indianapolis began a course to the Leyte Gulf to train before the invasion of Japan.
Just after midnight on July 30th, the Indianapolis was traveling unescorted when the ship was struck by two torpedoes. The torpedoes were fired by the Japanese Submarine I-58. The first torpedo blew a hole in the bow of the ship, and the second hid midship near the powder magazine. The vessel quickly began to take on water, and within 12 minutes the ship’s stern rose high into the air and the Indianapolis sank to the bottom of the ocean. In the initial sinking, it is estimated that 300 of the close to 1200 crew members were sucked down with the ship. The remaining 900 men were left floating in the middle of the ocean with the life vests and rafts that were available, and the Navy did not have any idea of their situation.
The young soldiers tried to keep calm, but the blood of the dead and wounded attracted a frenzy of sharks. The men were left out in the ocean baking in the hot sun for several days without food or drinkable water, and suffering from repeated shark attacks. After four days in the water, A PV-1 Ventura on a routine patrol flight spotted the large group. The pilot immediately dropped some gear down to the men and radioed for support to get the survivors out. The USS Cecil J. Doyle was the first rescue ship to arrive, followed by six others. By the time the rescue crews had arrived, there were 316 survivors of the original 1,195 men that were aboard the USS Indianapolis.
All of the survivors were suffering from different ailments due to the lack of food and drinkable water, and the exposure to the varying temperatures and salt water. It is often claimed that the sinking of the Indianapolis induced the deadliest shark attack in history, with estimates of 150 men killed by sharks. The sinking of the Indianapolis is the largest loss of life at sea from a single ship ever suffered by the United States Navy.
In July of 2016, Naval records were discovered that placed the ship in a location further west at the time of the attack, than had been previously estimated. In August of 2017, a research team that was funded by Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft, located the wreckage of the Indianapolis at a depth of 18,000 ft. As of November 2021, there were three remaining survivors of the attack on the USS Indianapolis.
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