USS Indianapolis: The Cruiser Which Marked Worst Naval Disaster of the US

USS Indianapolis

This post was last updated on November 2nd, 2018 at 04:46 am

Named for the city of Indianapolis, Indiana, the illustrious USS Indianapolis (CA-35) was torpedoed by two Japanese submarine and sunk on July 30, 1945. The tragedy has been the worst naval disaster in the history of the United States, and stands as one of the most traumatic survival stories of World War II.

The heavy cruiser and flagship of the 5th Fleet, the Indianapolis was hit by the Japanese submarine between Guam and the Philippines, at around 12:15 a.m.

There were 1,196 sailors on board, out of which nearly 300 people went down with ship. Apart from them, about 900 people had to wait for about four days, without any lifeboats, food and water.

After being exposed to dehydration, heat, delirium from drinking salt water, and shark attacks until they were spotted, only 316 could make it out of the water alive.

Besides, a few dozen to 150 sailors were estimated to have been killed by the sharks, which made the incident the deadliest shark attack in history.

Let’s look at the details of USS Indianapolis, which took 12 minutes to sink in the Philippine Sea.

1.    Construction of the Cruiser

USS Indianapolis

Commissioned in the year 1932, the USS Indianapolis was a Portland-class heavy cruiser. It was about 610 feet long and had a beam of about 66 feet. The ship had a full load displacement of 11,574 tons, and was designed with eight White-Forster boilers that brought it to a top speed of about 37 mph.

However, the Indianapolis was built with rather thin armor plating, which apart from saving the weight and enhancing the speed, made the ship vulnerable to torpedoes and mines.

The construction of the cruiser was done with thirty-two 20mm guns, twenty-four 40mm intermediate range guns, nine eight-inch guns, and four five-inch guns. Besides, it also had two Curtiss O2U scout floatplanes.

The then-President Franklin D Roosevelt would go aboard the Indianapolis several times before WWII and stayed in one of its cabin. In 1936, he even took the ship on a “Good Neighbor” cruise to South America.

2.    First attack by the Japenese

USS Indianapolis

The USS Indianapolis had took part in several operations in the Pacific, during the World War II. Some of these included the Aleutian Islands, Iwo Jima, the Battle of Saipan, and others.

Shortly before the Battle of Okinawa, on March 31, 1945, the cruiser was hit in the stern by a Japanese kamikaze pilot, crashing through a mess hall and berthing.

The incident killed a total of nine American sailors. The was taken back to Mare Island, CA and overhauled.

3.    The Secret Mission

USS Indianapolis

Due to the damage caused by the attack of March 1945, the USS Indianapolis was overhauled. Soon after, the cruiser was given a secret mission.

As a part of the mission, it had to transport enriched uranium and other materials for the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, to a naval base on the Pacific island of Tinian.

After delivering the materials, on July 30, the Indianapolis was sailing unaccompanied from Tinian to the Philippines, to prepare for an invasion of Japan.

However, the ship was attacked in the between by the Japanese submarine.

4.    The sinking USS Indianapolis

USS Indianapolis

As the USS Indianapolis was on its way, it was attacked by the Japanese submarine, I-58. Shortly before 12:15 a.m., the submarine being commanded by Mochitsura Hashimoto, fired six Type 95 torpedoes at the cruiser.

The first torpedo hit the starboard bow of the Indianapolis, while the second hit its middle, igniting the fuel tank. After getting struck, the USS Indianapolis sank in about 12 minutes. The ship went down with nearly 300 sailors and Marines, who were trapped inside. Whereas, the remainder, approximately 900 survivors were left floating in the shark-infested waters.

5.    Story of the Survivors

USS Indianapolis

The distress call of the USS Indianapolis was thought to have been a Japanese ambush, due to which the nearly 900 survivors were not rescued for about four days. They were subjected to heat, dehydration, delirium from drinking salt water, and sharks.

The incident became the worst shark attack in history, as it was estimated that a few dozen to 150 sailors were killed by the sharks of the Philippine Sea.

Finally on August 2, a total of 316 survivors were rescued. The commanding officer of the Indianapolis, Captain Charles McVay III was later court-martialled for failing to manoeuvre the ship in zigzags, which might have evaded torpedoes. The verdict of the captain was highly controversial, and after his death in 2000, he was exonerated.

On 19 August 2017, the debris of the sunken cruiser in the Philippine Sea, lying at a depth of approximately 18,000 ft., was located by a search team, which was financed by an American business magnate, Paul Allen.


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