WASHINGTON (AP) — Civilian researchers say they have located the
wreck of the USS Indianapolis, the World War II heavy cruiser
that played a critical role in the atomic bombing of Hiroshima
before being struck by Japanese torpedoes.
The sinking of the Indianapolis remains the Navy’s single worst
loss at sea. The fate of its crew — nearly 900 were killed, many
by sharks, and just 316 survived — was one of the Pacific war’s
more horrible and fascinating tales.
The expedition crew of Research Vessel Petrel, which is owned by
Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, says it located the wreckage of
the Indianapolis on the floor of the North Pacific Ocean, more
than 18,000 feet (5,500 meters) below the surface, the US Navy
said in a news release Saturday.
“To be able to honor the brave men of the USS Indianapolis and
their families through the discovery of a ship that played such a
significant role in ending World War II is truly humbling,” Allen
said in the news release.
The Indianapolis, with 1,196 sailors and Marines on board, was
sailing the Philippine Sea between Guam and Leyte Gulf when two
torpedoes from a Japanese submarine struck just after midnight on
July 30, 1945. It sank in 12 minutes, killing about 300.
Survivors were left in the water, most of them with only life
There was no time to send a distress signal, and four days passed
before a bomber on routine patrol happened to spot the survivors
in the water. By the time rescuers arrived, a combination of
exposure, dehydration, drowning and constant shark attacks had
left only one-fourth of the ship’s original number alive.
Over the years numerous books recounted the ship’s disaster and
its role in delivering key components of what would become the
atomic bomb “Little Boy” to the island of Tinian, the take-off
point for the bomber Enola Gay’s mission to Hiroshima in August
1945. Documentaries and movies, most recently “USS Indianapolis:
Men of Courage” (2016) starring Nicolas Cage, have recounted the
crew’s horror-filled days at sea. The Indianapolis sinking also
was a plot point in the Steven Spielberg blockbuster “Jaws”
(1975), with the fictitious survivor Capt. Quint recounting the
terror he felt waiting to be rescued.
The Navy news release issued Saturday said a key to finding the
Indianapolis came in 2016 when Richard Hulver, a historian with
the Naval History and Heritage Command, determined a new search
area. Hulver’s research identified a naval landing craft that had
recorded a sighting of the Indianapolis the day before it sank.
The research team developed a new search area, although it was
still 600 square miles of open ocean.
The Navy said the 13-person expedition team on the R/V Petrel was
surveying the Indianapolis site. The team’s work has been
compliant with US law regarding a sunken warship as a military
grave not to be disturbed, according to the Navy. The wrecked
ship remains the property of the Navy and its location is both
confidential and restricted, it said.