The loss of USS Indianapolis (CA-35) was a tragic moment following the completion of a secret mission that directly contributed to the end of World War II. After a successful high-speed run to deliver atomic bomb components to Tinian, the decorated Portland-class cruiser continued to Guam.
At 0015 on 30 July, the ship was struck on her starboard side by two Type 95 torpedoes, one in the bow and one amidships, by the Imperial Japanese Navy submarine I-58, and sank in 12 minutes.
Of 1,195 crewmen aboard, approximately 300 went down with the ship. The remaining 890 faced exposure, dehydration, saltwater poisoning, and shark attacks while stranded in the open ocean with few lifeboats and almost no food or water.
The US Navy only learned of the sinking four days later, when survivors were spotted by the crew of a PV-1 Ventura on routine patrol. Only 316 survived. The sinking of Indianapolis resulted in the greatest single loss of life at sea from a single ship in the history of the US Navy.
Captain Charles B. McVay III, who had commanded Indianapolis since November 1944 through several battles, survived the sinking, though he was one of the last to abandon ship, and was among those rescued days later. In November 1945, he was court-martialed on two charges: failing to order his men to abandon ship and hazarding the ship. Cleared of the charge of failing to order abandon ship, McVay was convicted of “hazarding his ship by failing to zigzag”.
Several aspects of the court-martial were controversial. There was evidence that the Navy itself had placed the ship in harm’s way. McVay’s orders were to “zigzag at his discretion, weather permitting”; however, McVay was not informed that a Japanese submarine was operating in the vicinity of his route from Guam to Leyte. Further, Mochitsura Hashimoto, commander of I-58, testified that zigzagging would have made no difference. Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz remitted McVay’s sentence and restored him to active duty. McVay retired in 1949 as a rear admiral.
On 19 August 2017, a search team financed by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen located the wreckage of the sunken cruiser in the Philippine Sea lying at a depth of approximately 18,000 ft (5,500 m). On 20 December 2018, the crew of the Indianapolis was collectively awarded a Congressional Gold Medal.
Here is an intriguing video about the terrifying story of USS Indianapolis and the fate of her crew: