It was shortly after midnight - on the 30th of July, 1945 - when disaster struck.
After delivering the components for the Hiroshima bomb to Tinian Island, the USS Indianapolis and her crew - of 1,196 sailors - were sailing west, toward Leyte (in the Philippines). Suddenly, an explosion rocked the ship. She'd been struck by a torpoedo from Japanese submarine I-58.
The ship capsized and sank in twelve minutes.
Spending days in the water, without life rafts, the men were terrorized by sharks. With no rescue in sight, two-thirds of the original survivors died from various causes.
This clip - from a documentary entitled "Ocean of Fear" which relies on survivor stories and official interviews to recreate what happened after Indianapolis sank - allows us to hear from some of the crew.
The U.S. Navy provides a brief factual narrative regarding the ship and her sinking:
The USS Indianapolis (CA-35) was commissioned at the Philadelphia Navy Yard on 15 November 1932. The ship served with honor from Pearl Harbor through the last campaign of World War II, sinking in action two weeks before the end of the war.
On 30 July 1945, while sailing from Guam to Leyte, Indianapolis was torpedoed by Japanese submarine I-58 [in the Philippine Sea]. The ship capsized and sank in twelve minutes.
Survivors were spotted by a patrol aircraft on 2 August. All air and surface units capable of rescue operations were dispatched to the scene at once, and the surrounding waters were thoroughly searched for survivors.
Upon completion of the day and night search on 8 August, 316 men were rescued out of the crew of 1,199.
Survivors tell us that approximately 900 men survived the ship's explosion and sinking. Those who died, thereafter, were overcome by exhaustion, exposure, injuries sustained in the explosion, lack of safe drinking water (instead of salt water) and shark attacks.
NOTE: There is a very significant postcript to this story.
For many decades, the surviving Indianapolis crewmen tried to get the U.S. Navy to exonerate their skipper, Captain Charles Butler McVay, III (who was not warned about lurking enemy subs, was misled into thinking his route was safe, was court martialed on two charges of improper conduct, heard the testimony of the Japanese commander who sank the Indy, was found guilty of one charge of negligence and committed suicide in 1968). Nothing happened ... until a 12-year-old school boy decided to do something about it (in 1998).
The US Congress finally cleared McVay's name in 2000 (as a direct result of Hunter Scott's efforts). The Japanese commander - who'd testified in McVay's court martial that he could have sunk the Indy no matter what its skipper tried to do - sent a letter to Congress reiterating his earlier testimony. Among his words were these:
I do not understand why Captain McVay was court-martialed. I do not understand why he was convicted on the charge of hazarding his ship by failing to zigzag because I would have been able to launch a successful torpedo attack against his ship whether it had been zigzagging or not.
The true story of the Indianapolis inspired the fictional story Jaws.