The wreckage of the USS Indianapolis, a World War II cruiser, was recently found by a group of naval researchers. Funded by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, the group located the wreckage of this infamous vessel more than three miles below the sea’s surface more than seven decades after the sinking.
For those unfamiliar with the story of the Indianapolis, the ship was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine in the summer of 1945. Despite the vessel sinking in less than 15 minutes, roughly three-quarters of the 1,200 crewmembers were able to get off the boat in time. However, more than half of those 800 men perished due to dehydration, exposure, and sharks.
It’s the shark angle that has made this particular maritime disaster so infamous. Oceanic whitetips swarmed the hordes of floating soldiers, and while historians can’t figure a narrow estimate of how many men were killed by the sharks, it was most certainly the highest shark-related body count ever recorded.
I was first exposed to the story of the Indianapolis by way of the fictional (but entirely convincing) Captain Quint in Jaws. Robert Shaw’s chilling monologue about his experience surviving the Indianapolis is one of the best in cinematic history, a recounting of an experience that I simply can’t imagine.
Accounts tell of men gripped with fear, unable to function beyond anything but pure survival instinct. For four days those men floated there, not knowing if they would ever be rescued or were simply doomed to be taken by the predators or elements. The desire to sink and submit to death must have been terribly tempting. Better to drown, be eaten alive, or die of thirst? A pretty terrible set of options. Those who held on finally found rescue in the USS Doyle.
The discovery of this wreckage is a major one, as the location of the Indianapolis had eluded searchers for many years. It was one of the few significant wrecks that had not been found. I’ll always think of Jaws when I hear anything about the USS Indianapolis, but it’s an important reminder that this is not a story of pure fiction. It was a nightmare that became a reality for hundreds of American soldiers.