Wreck of Infamous USS Indianapolis Discovered in Pacific Ocean

The Portland-class heavy cruiser USS Indianapolis (CA 35) underway in Pearl Harbor in 1937. U.S. Navy Photo

A team of civilian researchers led by billionaire Paul G. Allen has announced they have found the wreck of the World War II cruiser USS Indianapolis (CA 35), which was lost July 30, 1945.

Known by some as the history’s greatest shark attack, the sinking of the USS Indianapolis is one of the Navy’s most infamous shipwreck stories. Her story is forever immortalized in the movie Jaws in the famous scene where ‘Quint’ describes the sinking and how 1,100 men went into the water and only 316 came out. “The sharks took the rest”, he says. We posted the video below, don’t worry. 

The Indianapolis was lost in the final days of World War II when it was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine in the early morning hours of July 30, 1945, sinking in just 12 minutes. In reality, around 800 of the ship’s 1,196 Sailors and Marines survived the sinking, but after four to five days in the water they were suffering from exposure, dehydration, drowning, and, yes, shark attacks, and only 316 survived.

Prior to the attack, the Indianapolis had just completed a secret mission delivering components of the atomic bomb used in Hiroshima that would ultimately help end the war in the Pacific.

The discovery is significant considering the ship was lost in a water depth of more than 18,000 feet.

The wreck was located by the expedition crew of Research Vessel Petrel, which is owned by Allen, 5,500 meters below the surface, resting on the floor of the North Pacific Ocean.

“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,” said Allen. “As Americans, we all owe a debt of gratitude to the crew for their courage, persistence and sacrifice in the face of horrendous circumstances. While our search for the rest of the wreckage will continue, I hope everyone connected to this historic ship will feel some measure of closure at this discovery so long in coming.”

Others have searched for Indianapolis in the past, but it was Allen’s recent acquisition of the 250-foot RV Petrel with state-of-the-art subsea equipment, capable of diving to 6,000 meters (or three and a half miles), that made this mission a success.

“The Petrel and its capabilities, the technology it has and the research we’ve done, are the culmination years of dedication and hard work,” said Robert Kraft, director of subsea operations for Allen. “We’ve assembled and integrated this technology, assets and unique capability into operating platform, which is now one amongst very few on the planet.”

The other key factor in the discovery was information that surfaced in 2016 when Dr. Richard Hulver, historian with the Naval History and Heritage Command, conducted research that led to a new search area to the west of the original presumed position.

Hulver’s research identified a naval landing craft that had recorded a sighting of Indianapolis hours before it was torpedoed. Using that information, the research team developed a new position and estimated search, which was still a daunting 600 square miles of open ocean.

In recent years, Allen-led expeditions have also resulted in the discovery of the Japanese battleship Musashi (March 2015) and the Italian WWII destroyer Artigliere (March 2017). His team was also responsible for retrieving and restoring the ship’s bell from the HMS Hood for presentation to the British Navy in honor of its heroic service.

The 13-person expedition team on the R/V Petrel is in the process of surveying the full site and will conduct a live tour of the wreckage in the next few weeks.

The sunken USS Indianapolis will be honored as a war grave will not disturbed. USS Indianapolis remains the property of the U.S. Navy and its location will remain confidential and restricted by the Navy.

Now here’s that scene from Jaws: