If you've seen Jaws, then you know the basics about the tragic descent 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 Japanese strike had been carried out just a few days earlier, the crew might not have been able to deliver materials for the first working atomic bomb, Little Boy.
The servicemen onboard didn't just perish when the ship sunk, however. No, their fate was dragged out for days. Some were assailed and eaten by sharks, some were lost forever in the endless waters of the Pacific, others passed of dehydration, and some succumbed to wounds sustained during the ship's initial descent.
The tragedy has been mentioned multiple times in shark-related 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.
On July 26th, 1945, the USS Indianapolis completed its mission: to deliver components for the first operational atomic device to the island of Tinian. It was, in fact, the same device that would be dropped on Hiroshima just days later, Little Boy.
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 an abrupt and violent halt.
Just after midnight on July 30th, 1945, a Japanese submarine hit the Indianapolis with two torpedoes. The result 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.
Inside the vessel, 300 men were trapped when the ship went down, never to emerge again. About another 900 went into the water, where an arguably worse fate awaited them.
As the Indianapolis was destroyed, the resulting chaos led to many injuries and a lack of proper equipment for survivors. There were approximately 879 initial survivors, but many men didn't have time to get life preservers, which meant that they were constantly fighting to stay afloat. The ones who did have life vests simply bobbed in the water helplessly.
Other sailors were hurt, suffering gashes or busted 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 passed in each other's arms.
Even as the ship ignited and went down, 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.