In the early morning of July 30, 1945, the USS Indianapolis, on its way from Guam to the Philippines, was struck by two torpedoes fired by a Japanese submarine and quickly sank, resulting in the largest loss of life at sea in U.S. Navy history.
On July 16, the Indianapolis, a cruiser, left San Francisco headed for the island of Tinian in the Marianas. On board was a secret cargo that included parts to be used in the atomic bombs that would be dropped on Japan. Having received repairs in San Francisco for damage done by a kamikaze attack, the Indianapolis made record time to Tinian, then headed for the Philippines by way of Guam.
Forced to sail without an escort—and uninformed that there was a likelihood of Japanese subs in the area—the Indianapolis generally maintained the mandated zigzagging course, except on the night of the 29–30, when visibility was poor.
Just after midnight, in the early morning of the 30th, 300 miles from the closest land, the Indianapolis was hit by two torpedoes from a Japanese sub. After the extent of the damage to the ship became clear, the commander, Charles McVay III, gave the orders to send out distress signals and abandon ship.
The ship sank fast, going under in 12 minutes. The speed at which it sank meant that about 300 men of the crew of nearly 1,200 went down with the ship; the remaining roughly 900 made it into the water. Although about half of the men had life jackets and 12 of the ship’s 35 life rafts (as well as some floater nets) were deployed, many men drowned or died of injuries, dehydration, or exposure while they were in the water. Others were killed in attacks by the sharks that swarmed the area.
The men were in the water for four days, since the Navy had not found it remarkable that the Indianapolis had not arrived to the Philippines on time and did not know to look for them. Finally, on the afternoon of August 2, the men were noticed by chance by an American patrol plane that observed first the oil slick, then the men in the water. Once the men of the Indianapolis were spotted, a rescue effort was launched, but the length of time since the sinking meant that when the last man was pulled from the ocean on August 3, only 317 men had survived.
Did you have family who served on the USS Indianapolis? Share their story with us! Or learn more about the ship by searching or browsing on Fold3.