67 Years Ago, A Cargo of Death and Sea of Horror

USS Indianapolis

67 years ago, USS Indianapolis (CA-35) arrived at the Pacific island of Tinian to deliver the firing mechanism and uranium-235 material for the first atomic bomb dropped over Hiroshima, Japan on August 6, 1945.

Four days later, USS Indianapolis was sunk by the Japanese submarine I-58, northeast of Leyte, 12° 02’N, 134° 48’E.  Due to communications and other errors, her loss went unnoticed until survivors were seen from a passing aircraft on 2 August.

Drifting helplessly for 4 days in the tropical sun with little to no food or fresh water, nearly 600 men perished due to severe dehyration, dementia, repeated shark attack, and injuries sustained in the Japanese attack.  When the last of the survivors were finally pulled from the water on August 3, only 317 of the original 1,196 crew were still alive.

She was the last American warship sunk in World War II.

USS Indianapolis

Captain Charles B. McVay III, a US Naval Academy graduate from the Class of 1920, was court-martialed and convicted for failing to zigzag in order to foil a potential submarine attack. A Congressional resolution signed by former President Bill Clinton cleared him of any wrongdoing in 2000.

Indianapolis and her crew earned 10 battle stars for her service in World War II.

USS Indianapolis survivors
USS Indianapolis’ survivors en route to a hospital following their rescue, circa early August 1945. Ambulance in the background is marked “U.S.N. Base Hospital No. 20”, which was located on Pelelieu. Photograph was released 14 August 1945. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives, 80-G-490322
uss indianapolis sinking location
Chart of the western Pacific, showing Indianapolis’ track from Guam to her reported sinking location, with a dashed extension showing her intended route to the Philippines. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives, 80-G-702117

Images courtesy of the United States Naval Academy Museum collection