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.