The USS Indianapolis was destroyed on 30 July 1945 when, somewhere in the Philippine Sea between Guam and Leyte, it was hit by a torpedo from a Japanese submarine. On 19 August 2017, a search team financed by Paul Allen located the wreckage of the sunken cruiser in the Philippine Sea lying at a depth of approximately 5,500m (18,000 feet).
The Indianapolis sank in 15 minutes on 30 July 1945, in the war’s final days. The ship was on its way to the Philippines when torpedoes from a Japanese submarine struck the ship. Of the 1,196 men on board, just 316 were rescued—the largest loss of life at sea in the history of the US Navy. Nearly 300 people went down with the ship, and of the 900 who abandoned ship, only 317 would survive after four to five days in the water suffering from exposure, dehydration, drowning and shark attacks. It took the Navy four days to realize that the vessel was missing.
Location a mystery
The ship's rapid sinking and the lack of a distress call meant the ship's location had long been a mystery. The shipwreck’s location had eluded researchers for decades. The coordinates keyed out in an S.O.S. signal were forgotten by surviving radio operators and were not received by Navy ships or shore stations, the Navy command said. The ship’s mission records and logs were lost in the wreck.
Researchers got a break last year, however, when Richard Hulver, a historian with the Naval History and Heritage Command, identified a naval landing craft that had recorded a sighting of the Indianapolis hours before it was sunk. The position was west of where it was presumed to be lying. The search team was able to develop a new estimated position, although it still covered 600 square miles of open ocean.
Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, whose crew discovered the vessel on 18 August, called the shipwreck a “significant discovery”, considering the depth of the water.
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.
— Paul Allen
Delivered the first A-bomb
The ship is well-known for its final, secret mission. The Indianapolis had just completed a top-secret mission to deliver components of the atomic bomb “Little Boy” as well as enriched uranium fuel for its nuclear reaction to the island of Tinian. The bomb was later dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. ■