Jaws Revisited – The Sinking of The USS Indianapolis
Seventy years ago on Thursday, at 12:14 am, the USS Indianapolis was hit by two Japanese torpedoes. The ship sank within 12 minutes. 300 men went down with the ship, 900 survived. But of the survivors, only 317 (Some accounts say 321) were rescued…sharks ate the rest. It is considered the worst naval disaster in the history of the United States.
1,196 men were on board the ship when it was deployed to the Philippine Sea. It’s mission was highly secret – to deliver the atomic bomb to the Island of Tinian. The crew unloaded the lethal cargo on July 26, and then sailed toward Guam, where the ship was ordered to the Leyte Gulf in preparation for the invasion of Japan.
But the ship was not escorted, and its path stretched through treacherous Japanese submarine and shark infested waters. It was to be a fateful journey.
The torpedoes struck just after midnight on July 30. The ship was split in half and rapidly sank beneath the ocean. The 900 survivors clung desperately to anything that floated, as there hadn’t been time to deploy all the life jackets.
But lurking below them in the shadows of the water, hungry sharks waited to deliver a horrifying and bloody death.
Where was the rescue?
No rescue came for four days, as crew members were slowly being devoured. Finally, thankfully, a Navy reconnaissance plane happened to spot the survivors and radioed their position. Nearby ships got there as quickly as possible, but in the end only 317 men survived the shark’s feeding frenzy.
On the Navy’s part, no one noticed the sinking of the ship. Their top secret mission had left nothing but silence instead of the hope of rescue.
As is usual from high profile military disasters of any kind, the Navy sought to find someone to blame. They chose US Navy Captain Charles Butler McVay III. He was court- martialed and convicted for failing to zigzag his ship in an effort to avoid the torpedoes.
The captain of the Japanese sub would later state for the record that no amount of evasive maneuvers would have made a difference. McVay’s reputation and record was sullied for 56 years.
In October of 2000, survivors and supporters were finally able to get Congress to pass legislation removing the stigma from Captain McVay.
In July of 2001, the Navy responded to the legislation and amended his record to exonerate him for the deaths of the sailors on board the USS Indianapolis.The conviction was not removed, however, as military verdicts are not generally overturned.
“Japanese submarine slammed two torpedoes into our side, Chief. We was coming back from the island of Tinian to Leyte. Just delivered the bomb.” line from the movie Jaws
Some of the remaining survivors still keep in touch. All of them are in their 80’s and above. Most of them kept the incident bottled up inside of them until the movie “Jaws” was released in 1975. Some of the men actually went to see the movie together, others refused to consider it.
After seeing their shipmates taken by sharks and dragged under the waves in a pool of blood…one can hardly blame them.