When the USS Indianapolis went down in July 1945, hundreds of soldiers were stranded in the water for days — right alongside swarms of bloodthirsty sharks.
Shortly after midnight on July 30, 1945, the USS Indianapolis was sunk by a Japanese submarine while traveling between Guam and the Philippines. Of the almost 1,200 crewmen on board, 300 went down the ship. But the surviving men suffered a much worse fate.
Stranded in the middle of the ocean without lifeboats, food, or water, the survivors of the Indianapolis‘ sinking struggled to survive. For four days they battled the elements — including packs of hungry sharks who were drawn to the scene by the scent of blood.
Initially launched in 1931, the Indianapolis was an essential battleship for America’s involvement in the Pacific theater of World War II. It was used to protect Allied ships, bombard cities and keep them under siege, and shoot Axis fighter planes out of the sky.
Eventually, in 1945, the USS Indianapolis was tasked with picking up core components of one of the first atomic bombs, “Little Boy,” in San Francisco and bringing them to Tinian Island in the Pacific.
After delivering the atomic bomb components, the ship stopped in Guam before heading to the Philippines. The captain, Charles McVay, was told that things were “very quiet” and there was “nothing to worry about.” Unfortunately, Lieutenant Commander Mochitsura Hashimoto, captain of Japanese submarine I-58, had other plans.
On its own, surrounded by ocean and the elements lurking beneath, the Indianapolis set out for the Philippines. It was after midnight in the early pitch black hours of July 30 that the attack came.
The first torpedo hit the Indianapolis‘ starboard bow. It killed dozens of crewmen in an instant. The second strike ignited a storage tank of 3,500 gallons of aviation fuel. Once those flames spread, all was lost. Explosions tore through the ship — and sank the gigantic vessel in 12 minutes flat, leading to the deaths of around 300 sailors. While 900 men survived the initial attack, they were left adrift in darkness.
On top of that, a miscommunication led to no emergency response. Nobody knew the ship had been attacked. It would take four days for anyone to realize, all while desperate sailors saw their friends get eaten alive by sharks and hallucinate so badly that they paddled towards imagined islands on the horizon.
Finally, on the fourth day, those who had survived heard the heartening noise of an Allied plane in the distance. At 11 a.m., a Navy plane flying a routine patrol spotted the crew of the Indianapolis and radioed for help.
When the USS Doyle arrived after midnight, 317 surviving sailors — out of the original crew of 1,196 — were taken aboard.
It would be another 72 years before the wreckage of the Indianapolis was located, bringing much needed closure for survivors and families of the victims.
Learn more about the shocking sinking of the USS Indianapolis.