Seventy-two years after two torpedoes fired from a Japanese submarine sank cruiser USS Indianapolis (CA-35), the ship’s wreckage was found resting on the seafloor on Saturday – more than 18,000 feet below the Pacific Ocean’s surface.
Paul Allen, Microsoft co-founder and billionaire philanthropist, led a search team, assisted by historians from the Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC) in Washington, D.C., to accomplish what past searches had failed to do – find Indianapolis, considered the last great naval tragedy of World War II.
— Paul Allen (@PaulGAllen) August 19, 2017
“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,” said Allen in a statement provided to USNI News on Saturday.
“As Americans, we all owe a debt of gratitude to the crew for their courage, persistence and sacrifice in the face of horrendous circumstances. 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.”
On July 30, 1945, what turned out to be the final days of World War II, Indianapolis had just completed a secret mission to the island Tinian, delivering components of the atomic bomb “Little Boy” dropped on Hiroshima which would ultimately help end the war. The ship sunk in 12 minutes, before a distress signal could be sent or much of the life-saving equipment was deployed, according to a statement from the Naval History and Heritage Command in Washington, D.C. Because of the secrecy surrounding the mission, the ship wasn’t listed as overdue
Around 800 of the ship’s 1,196 sailors and Marines survived the sinking, but after four to five days in the water, suffering exposure, dehydration, drowning, and shark attacks, only 316 survived.
“I’m very happy that they found it. It’s been a long 72 years coming,” said a statement released by Indianapolis survivor Arthur Leenerman, 93 years-old from Mahomet, Ill. “I have wished for years that they would find it. The lost at sea families will feel pretty sad but I think finding the ship will also give them some closure. I’m glad that the search was successful. It will be interesting to see where it was found and how deep it was resting. ”
The ship’s story has become part folklore, thanks in large part to the chilling monologue in the 1975 film “Jaws” when fisherman Quint tells about being aboard Indianapolis when it was sunk.
Allen’s break came a year ago when Richard Hulver, a NHHC historian, discovered records from amphibious landing ship USS LST-779 that recorded a sighting of Indianapolis hours before it was torpedoed, according to a statement from NHHC. Hulver’s research led to a new search area west of the original presumed position. Still, the new search area was in 600 square-miles of open North Pacific Ocean water.
“Teams have tried to find Indianapolis in the past, but failed, partly because she is over two miles down, but also because they were looking in the wrong place,” wrote Hulver in an analysis of the new information published by NHHC last summer. “Historical records specifying the sinking location do not exist, as no distress signal providing the location of Indianapolis was received. Allied intelligence recovered I-58’s message to Tokyo confirming the kill, but failed to identify a specific ship or recover the position given by the Japanese.”
Allen’s 13-person expedition team, on the R/V Petrel is in the process of surveying the full site and will conduct a live tour of the wreckage in the next few weeks. They are complying with U.S. law and respecting the sunken ship as a war grave, taking care not to disturb the site. The Indianapolis remains the property of the U.S. Navy and its location will remain confidential and restricted by the Navy.
The crew of the R/V Petrel has collaborated with Navy authorities throughout its search operations and will continue to work on plans to honor the 19 crew members still alive today, as well as the families of all those who served on the highly decorated cruiser.