USS Indianapolis (CA-35) was a Portland-class cruiser. She holds a place in history due to the circumstances surrounding her sinking, which led to the greatest single loss of life at sea in the history of the U.S. Navy. After delivering critical parts for the first atomic bomb to be used in combat to Tinian, the ship was hit by two torpedoes from the Imperial Japanese Navy submarine I-58. Twelve minutes later, she capsized (turned over) and went down.
Of 1,196 crewmen aboard, approximately 300 went down with the ship. The remaining crew of 880 men faced exposure, dehydration and shark attacks as they waited to be saved, while floating with few lifeboats and almost no food or water.
The Navy had no knowledge of the sinking (the failure of the ship to arrive at her destination not having been noticed) and learned of the sinking when survivors were spotted (four days later) by the crew of a PV-1 Ventura aircraft on routine patrol. Only 316 sailors survived.
The Ventura aircraft immediately dropped a life raft and a radio transmitter. All air and surface units capable of rescue operations were dispatched to the scene at once. A PBY Catalina seaplane (commanded by Lieutenant R. Adrian Marks) was dispatched to lend assistance and report. En route to the scene, Marks overflew the USS Cecil J. Doyle and alerted her captain (future U.S. Secretary of the Navy W. Graham Claytor, Jr.) of the emergency. On his own authority, Claytor decided to divert to the scene.
Arriving hours ahead of Doyle, Marks' crew began dropping rubber rafts and supplies. Having seen men being attacked by sharks, Marks disobeyed standard orders and landed on the open sea. He began taxiing to pick up the stragglers and lone swimmers who were at the greatest risk of shark attack.
The Indianapolis was the last capitol ship sunk by enemy action in World War II.
As of 2010, there were 52 living survivors.
The Indianapolis is, perhaps, best known from the movie 'Jaws'. Quint (portrayed by Robert Shaw) was an Indianapolis survivor.
"Japanese submarine slammed two torpedoes into our side, Chief. We was comin' back from the island of Tinian to Leyte. We'd just delivered the bomb. The Hiroshima bomb. Eleven hundred men went into the water. Vessel went down in 12 minutes. Didn't see the first shark for about a half-hour. Tiger. 13-footer. You know how you know that in the water, Chief? You can tell by lookin' from the dorsal to the tail. What we didn't know, was that our bomb mission was so secret, no distress signal had been sent. They didn't even list us overdue for a week. Very first light, Chief, sharks come cruisin', so we formed ourselves into tight groups. You know it was kinda like old squares in a battle, like you see on a calendar, like you see in the Battle of Waterloo. And the idea was the shark come to the nearest man, that man he starts poundin' and hollerin' and sometimes that shark he go away... but sometimes he wouldn't go away. Sometimes that shark looks right into ya. Right into your eyes. And the thing about a shark is he's got lifeless eyes. Black eyes. Like a doll's eyes. When he comes at ya, he doesn't even seem to be livin'... until he bites ya, and those black eyes roll over white and then... ah then you hear that terrible high-pitched screamin'. The ocean turns red, and despite all the poundin' and the hollerin' those sharks come in and... they rip you to pieces. You know by the end of that first dawn, lost a hundred men. I don't know how many sharks, maybe a thousand. I do know how many men, they averaged six an hour. Thursday mornin', Chief, I bumped into a friend of mine, Herbie Robinson from Cleveland. Baseball player. Boatswain's mate. I thought he was asleep. I reached over to wake him up. He bobbed up, down in the water, he was like a kinda top. Upended. Well, he'd been bitten in half below the waist. At noon on the fifth day, a Lockheed Ventura swung in low and he saw us, a young pilot, a lot younger than Mr. Hooper here. Anyway he saw us and a few hours later a big fat PBY come down and started to pick us up. You know that was the time I was most frightened. Waitin' for my turn. I'll never put on a lifejacket again. So, 1,100 men went into the water, 316 men come out, the sharks took the rest, June the 29th, 1945. Anyway, we delivered the bomb." ~ Quint
She was lost 66 years ago today.
Dan Emplit WBFD
USN 1986 - 1992