The wreckage of the US warship Indianapolis, which was sunk by a Japanese torpedo off the Philippines in the final days of WWII, has been found.
The ship is more than 18,000 feet (5.5km) below the surface of the Pacific Ocean, the Navy said on Saturday.
The cruiser was returning from its mission to deliver components for the atomic bomb that would soon be dropped on Hiroshima when it was fired upon in the North Pacific Ocean by a Japanese submarine on July 30, 1945.
It sunk in 12 minutes, according to the Naval History and Heritage Command in Washington.
No distress signal was sent. About 800 of the 1197 crew members aboard survived the sinking, but only 316 were rescued alive five days later, with the rest lost to exposure, dehydration, drowning and sharks.
After a Navy historian unearthed new information last year about the warship’s last movements that pointed to a new search area, a team of civilian researchers led by Paul Allen, a Microsoft Corp co-founder, spent months searching in a 600-square-mile (1500-sq/km) patch of ocean.
With a vessel rigged with equipment that can reach some of the deepest ocean floors, members of Allen’s team found the wreckage somewhere in the Philippine Sea on Friday, Allen said in a statement on his website.
The Navy asked Allen to keep the precise location confidential.
Allen said that the discovery was a humbling experience and a means of honouring sailors he saw as playing a vital role in ending WWII.
“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,” he said.
The Navy said it had plans to honour the 22 survivors from the Indianapolis still alive, along with the families of the ship’s crew.
It was shortly after midnight, on the 30th of July, 1945, when disaster struck.
After delivering Hiroshima-bomb components to Tinian Island, the USS Indianapolis and her crew of 1,196 sailors were sailing west, toward Leyte (in the Philippines).
Suddenly, an explosion rocked the ship. She’d been struck by a torpedo from Japanese submarine I-58.
The Indianapolis capsized and sank in twelve minutes.
Spending days in the water, without life rafts, the men were terrorized by sharks. With no rescue in sight, two-thirds of the original survivors died from various causes.
The USS Indianapolis (CA-35) was commissioned at the Philadelphia Navy Yard on 15 November 1932. The ship served with honor from Pearl Harbor through the last campaign of World War II, sinking in action two weeks before the end of the war.
On 30 July 1945, while sailing from Guam to Leyte, Indianapolis was torpedoed by Japanese submarine I-58 [in the Philippine Sea]. The ship capsized and sank in twelve minutes.
Survivors were spotted on 2 August. All air and surface units capable of rescue operations were dispatched to the scene at once, and the surrounding waters were thoroughly searched for survivors.
Upon completion of the day and night search on 8 August, 316 men were rescued out of the crew of 1,199.
Survivors tell us that approximately 900 men survived the ship’s explosion and sinking. Those who died, thereafter, were overcome by exhaustion, exposure, injuries sustained in the explosion, lack of safe drinking water (instead of salt water) and shark attacks.
NOTE: There is a very significant postcript to this story.
For many decades, the surviving Indianapolis crewmen tried to get the U.S. Navy to exonerate their skipper, Captain Charles Butler McVay, III who was:
- Not warned about lurking enemy subs;
- Was misled into thinking his route was safe;
- Was court martialed on two charges of improper conduct;
- Heard the favorable testimony of the Japanese commander who sank the Indy;
- Was found guilty of one charge of negligence (despite all evidence to the contrary); and
- Committed suicide in 1968.
Despite the crew’s efforts, nothing happened to exonerate the Captain … until … a 12 year old school boy, working on a middle-school history project, decided to do something about it (in 1998).
The US Congress finally cleared McVay’s name in 2000 (as a direct result of Hunter Scott’s efforts). The Japanese commander – who’d testified in McVay’s court martial that he could have sunk the Indy no matter what its skipper tried to do – sent a letter to Congress reiterating his earlier testimony. Among his words were these:
“I do not understand why Captain McVay was court-martialed. I do not understand why he was convicted on the charge of hazarding his ship by failing to zigzag because I would have been able to launch a successful torpedo attack against his ship whether it had been zigzagging or not.”