World War II saw many tragedies for the United States, starting with the devastating one that started it all, the December 7th, 1941 assault on Pearl Harbor, the US naval base on Oahu. The 2,403 American lives lost were just the first of the many thousands of lives that would be sacrificed in order to protect the nation and the rest of the world from the onslaught of the Axis powers.
As much of the war in the Pacific was fought at sea, many of the greatest losses involved US Navy ships. One catastrophe that still causes chills today is the loss of almost 900 sailors serving aboard the USS Indianapolis (CA-35). Anyone who’s seen Steven Spielberg’s Jaws knows the story of the Indianapolis. The devastating tale that Quint tells was based on a real event that took place over the course of several days starting early on the morning of July 30th, 1945.
Based at Pearl Harbor, the USS Indianapolis was at sea on December 7, 1941. After unsuccessfully searching for the Japanese fleet responsible for the attack, she returned to Hawaii one week later and was attached to Task Force 11.
The Indianapolis was sailing between Guam and Leyte Gulf after delivering atomic bomb components when a Japanese submarine struck her with two torpedoes. It only took 12 minutes for the vessel to sink, forcing her crew of 1,196 to abandon ship and try to survive in the waters of the Pacific. Sailors bobbed helplessly, hoping and praying for rescue. While 316 men survived the ordeal, a combination of sharks, dehydration, drowning, and exposure claimed the majority of the crew.
In 2016, Richard Hulver, a historian at the Naval History and Heritage Command, pinpointed a new search area he believed to be the location of the sunken vessel. Soon, research teams began exploring the depths in search of the long-lost World War II-era cruiser.
After 72 years sitting at the bottom of the ocean approximately 18,000’ below the surface, the wreckage of the ill-fated ship was finally discovered. A research crew aboard the Research Vessel Petrel—with funding provided by Microsoft co-founder Paul G. Allen—used an underwater vehicle to survey the site of the wreckage, and it transmitted clear imagery of the rusted remains of the Indianapolis. In one image, a very distinct feature stood out – the ship’s bell, seemingly untouched by time.
Before she sank, the Indianapolis and her crew played an important role in the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. The mission she was returning from was delivering parts for “Little Boy,” the nuclear weapon dropped on Hiroshima. Had the Japanese submarine attacked the Indianapolis before she reached her destination on Tinian island, the fate of Hiroshima may have been entirely different.