Monday, July 30, 2007

USS Indianapolis Remembered

Sixty-two years ago today, the USS Indianapolis, which had just delivered components for the atomic bomb that would be dropped on Hiroshima, was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine.

The heavy cruiser steamed out of San Francisco Bay just after dawn on July 16, 1945 and raced unescorted towards Pearl Harbor, where it briefly stopped on July 19. The ship reached its destination of the island of Tinian on July 26, having set a record in covering some 5,000 miles in only 10 days. The bomb components were promptly unloaded, assembled to form “Little Boy,” and then loaded aboard the Enola Gay, which dropped the bomb on Hiroshima on August 6, killing an estimated 140,000 people and opening the nuclear Pandora’s Box forever.

From Tinian, the USS Indianapolis sailed to the island of Guam and from there was ordered to the Leyte Gulf in the Philippines to prepare for the invasion of Japan. A few minutes past midnight on July 30, two Japanese torpedoes tore into the ship’s side, igniting an explosion that broke the ship in two. An estimated 900 from a crew of 1,196 survived the explosion, only to float helplessly for several days. Exposure, dehydration, and shark attacks would slowly reduce the number of survivors to 317, making the sinking of the USS Indianapolis the worst naval disaster in U.S. history.


Anonymous said...

I liked this little tidbit of nuclear history. I had a vague recollection of the shark part of the story but I had never known the connection to the Bomb.


Jeff Lindemyer said...

Thanks. You might also remember the sceen in the movie Jaws when the gruff shark fisherman Quint recounts a dramatic version of the story: "Japanese submarine slammed two torpedoes into our side, chief. It was comin' back from the island of Tinian to Leyte. 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 an hour. Tiger. Thirteen-footer. You know how you know that when you're in the water, Chief? You tell by lookin' from the dorsal to the tail. Well, what we didn't know 'cause our bomb mission had been so secret: No distress signal had been sent. Huh-huh. They didn't even list us overdue for a week... At noon on the fifth day, a Lockheed Ventura swung in low and he spotted us, a young pilot, lot younger than Mr. Hooper here, anyway he spotted us and a few hours later a big ol' 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, eleven hundred men went into the water. 316 men come out, the sharks took the rest, June the 29th, 1945. Anyway, we delivered the bomb."