The Story of the USS Indianapolis

The USS Indianapolis was a naval warship designed for high speed.  It is for this reason, along with her location, that the ship was chosen to deliver crucial parts for the first atomic bomb.  The delivery was made on July 26th, 1945, to Tinian, one of several islands occupied by the U.S. from which bombing raids were conducted.

Following the delivery of the secret cargo, the USS Indianapolis received new orders to sail to the East Coast of the Philippines.  There she would join with another battleship, the Idaho, for a few days of training and gunnery practice.  A single message was sent in code to the Idaho advising its crew of Indianapolis’ orders.  But the message was distorted at the receiving end and Idaho didn’t ask for a repeat of the transmission.  They never even knew that the Indianapolis was on her way.  The project to develop the first atomic bomb, The Manhattan Project, was so secret that when the Indianapolis did not confirm its arrival, she was not listed as overdue.

Just after midnight on Monday, July 30th, 1945, a Japanese submarine fired its first torpedo at the Indianapolis, annihilating the front of the ship.  Because her speed through the water continued during the attack, thousands of tons of seawater began collapsing the ship’s walls.  Shortly after a second torpedo hit and knocked out all electrical power.  The Indianapolis was going down, and the officers ordered all hands to abandon ship.  She sank in only 12 minutes.

There were almost 2,000 men aboard the Indianapolis.  About 300 went down with the ship, and the remaining 900, many burned and wounded, were left floating in the shark infested waters.

Shark attacks began around daylight.  For the next four and a half days, screams filled the air as men were picked off one at a time by the sharks.  The sea water was now a mixture of blood and fuel.  Survivors say that the sharks were always there, hundreds of them feeding on the men at the predators’ convenience.  By the third day it is estimated that only 400 men were still alive.  Half-eaten bodies littered the sea alongside the remaining men who were slowly going mad from terror, starvation, and dehydration.

Shortly after 10am on Thursday morning, a Navy airplane was flying on routine submarine patrol.  On the fateful flight, the pilot spotted what was left of the crew from the USS Indianapolis.  Another plane was dispatched, and as it began dropping rafts and supplies from 100 feet above the water, the workers informed the pilot that they could see the men in the water being eaten alive by sharks.

Although at this point the company aboard the plane had no idea who these men in the water were, they ignored standing orders that banned landing in open seas.  As they began to take survivors on board, some of the men in the water died from removing their life jackets to try and swim to the plane.  They were simply too weak.

The plane was packed with survivors and unable to fly.  Once it was clear who the men were, a ship was sent to their location.  It wasn’t until Friday morning that all of the 317 surviving men were out of the water.

The wreckage from the USS Indianapolis has never been found.  Her story remains the largest single disaster at sea ever suffered by the U.S. Navy.

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One Response to “The Story of the USS Indianapolis”

  1. Justin Tiemeyer Says:

    thats super interesting.

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