On July 30, 1945, the USS Indianapolis was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine and sank in a few minutes in shark-infested waters. Only 316 of the 1,196 men on board survived. However, the Indianapolis had already completed its major mission: the delivery of key components of the atomic bomb that will be dropped a week later in Hiroshima on Tinian Island in the South Pacific.
READ MORE: USS Indianapolis: Stories from survivors of the worst maritime disaster in US naval history
the Indianapolis made its delivery to Tinian Island on July 26, 1945. The mission was top secret and the ship’s crew were unaware of its cargo. After leaving Tinian, the Indianapolis sailed to U.S. Army Pacific Headquarters in Guam and was ordered to meet the battleship USS Idaho in the Leyte Gulf in the Philippines to prepare for the invasion of Japan.
Shortly after midnight on July 30, midway between Guam and Leyte Gulf, a Japanese submarine blew up the Indianapolis, setting off an explosion that split the ship and sank it in about 12 minutes, with around 300 men trapped inside. Another 900 went into the water, where many died from drowning, shark attacks, dehydration or blast injuries. Help did not arrive until four days later, on August 2, when an anti-submarine plane on routine patrol ran into the men and called for help by radio.
On August 6, 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, claiming nearly 130,000 lives and destroying more than 60% of the city. On August 9, a second atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, where the casualties were estimated at over 66,000 people. Meanwhile, the US government has remained silent on Indianapolis tragedy until August 15 to ensure the news would be overshadowed by President Harry Truman’s announcement of Japan’s surrender.
In the aftermath of the events involving the Indianapolis, the ship’s captain, Captain Charles McVay, was court martialed in November 1945 for failing to follow a zigzag course that would have helped the ship escape enemy submarines in the area. McVay, the only Navy captain to stand trial for losing a ship in the war, committed suicide in 1968. Many of his surviving crew members believed the military had made him a scapegoat. In 2000, 55 years after the Indianapolis came down, Congress deleted McVay’s name.