If you've seen Jaws, then you know the basics about the sinking of the USS Indianapolis. Considered one of the most grievous disasters in the history of the American Navy, it saw the sinking of a US heavy cruiser towards the end of WWII and the gruesome loss of a majority of its crew. If the attack had been carried out just a few days earlier, the crew might not have been able to deliver the first working atomic bomb.
They weren't just killed when their ship sunk, however. No, their fate was dragged out for days. Some were attacked (and eaten) by sharks, some drowned in the endless waters of the Pacific, others died of thirst, and some succumbed to wounds sustained during the initial sinking of their ship.
The tragedy has been mentioned multiple times in films, but it has never really been done justice. The entire saga leading up to Japan's surrender is filled with death, heartbreak, and misery. For some, the entirety of that was felt in a small patch of water in the Pacific Ocean.
The Ship Delivered The First Operational Atomic Bomb
On July 26th, 1945, the Indianapolis completed its mission: delivering the first operational atomic bomb to the island of Tinian. It was, in fact, the same bomb that would be dropped on Hiroshima just days later.
After making the delivery, the Indianapolis was ordered to join the USS Idaho in the Philippines in preparation for an invasion of the Japanese mainland. On its own, the Indianapolis departed for its new destination at 17 knots. That night, however, she would find her journey come to abrupt and violent halt.
It Was Torpedoed By A Japanese Submarine
Just after midnight on July 30th, 1945, a Japanese submarine hit the Indianapolis with two torpedoes. The resulting explosion split the ship, leading it to sink in just 12 minutes. Soon after, the order came to abandon ship, but it was too late for some.
300 men were trapped inside when the ship went down, never to emerge again. Another 900 went into the water, where an arguably worse fate awaited them.
The 900 Initial Survivors Were In Trouble From The Start
As the Indianapolis was destroyed, the resulting chaos led to many injuries and a lack of proper equipment for survivors. Many men didn't have time to get life jackets, which meant that they were constantly fighting to stay afloat. The ones who did have life jackets simply bobbed in the water helplessly.
Other sailors were injured, suffering gashes or broken bones with no way to properly treat their wounds. To make matters worse, almost everyone was covered in the fuel that had seeped out of the wreckage of the ship. Some men died in each other's arms.
The Ship Sent Out Distress Signals, But They Were Ignored
Even as the ship exploded and sank, brave souls aboard the Indianapolis sent out SOS signals until they were unable to do so. For unknown reasons, those SOS signals were received by the Navy but not taken seriously.
When the ship failed to arrive on time to her destination, no one grew suspicious. No search parties were sent out to look for the ship or its survivors.
The First Morning, The Sharks Came
With all the activity from the night before, it's no surprise that sharks came to investigate by the time the sun was up. The survivors tried to stay together as they bobbed in the water, but eventually someone would break away and float off, carried by the currents.
Once someone was alone, the sharks would attack. It was reported that everyone could hear the screams before a body was pulled under. Only the life vest popped back up. These attacks went on for days.
The Sharks Fed On Dead Bodies
While the survivors were definitely terrorized by the sharks, the dead bodies that would float up from the wreck of the Indianapolis gave the men some stay of execution. The sharks were just as happy to feed on corpses, and they were less trouble.
Unfotunately, it wasn't enough to save many in the long run. The sharks were in a feeding frenzy, and there were only so many bodies. The survivors endured days of shark attacks.
The Sharks Played Mindgames
The sharks were constantly attacking the survivors of the Indianapolis, but sometimes they psyched out their victims. The survivors could see dozens of fins in the water. Apparently, the sharks would bump up against the sailors from time to time, but not necessarily attack.
Once lulled into a false sense of security, however, they did attack, and pulled their victims down into the depths of the sea. With each attack, more blood spilled in the water leading to even more bloodlust from the sharks.
The Survivors Made A Makeshift Raft
On the third day, several survivors found crates floating nearby and lashed them together. Though one would think they'd climb aboard this as a raft, they actually used it as a way to dry out their life jackets.
They'd wring them out, throw them on top of the raft, and put them back on when they were dry. This allowed more men to stay afloat for longer. Luckily, the men also found some partially rotten potatoes in the crates, which they carefully rationed to sustain themselves.