The world’s first atomic bombs were delivered by the Destroyer, USS Indianapolis (CA-35), to the island of Tinian on July 26, 1945. Tinian is a small island in the Pacific Ocean, about 1,500 miles east of the Philippines and 1,500 miles southeast from Japan. She was then directed to join the battleship USS Idaho (BB-42) in the Philippines to prepare for the invasion of Japan. The Indianapolis departed Guam, another small island approximately 80 miles southwest of Tinian, unescorted, towards the Philippines, three days later, on July 29, 1945.
At 14 minutes past midnight, on July 30, 1945, the Indianapolis was hit by two torpedoes out of six fired by the I-58, a Japanese submarine.
The first blew away the bow (the front of the ship), the second struck the middle of the ship on the starboard side (the right side) adjacent to a fuel tank and a gun powder storage area. The resulting explosion split the ship to the keel (the bottom of the ship), knocking out all electric power. The ship sunk within minutes.
Of the 1,196 sailors aboard, about 900 made it into the water in the twelve minutes before she sank. Few life rafts were released. Most survivors wore their standard life jacket.
The shark attacks began with sunrise of that first day in the water, and continued until the men were rescued from the water, almost five days later.
Arriving hours ahead of any rescue ship, a seaplane began dropping rubber rafts and supplies. While doing this, they could see the men in the water being attacked by sharks. Disregarding orders not to land at sea, the captain of the seaplane landed and began picking up as many sailors that it could.
Of the 900 sailors who made it into the water, only 317 remained alive. After almost five days of constant shark attacks, starvation, terrible thirst, suffering from exposure and their wounds, the men of the Indianapolis were at last rescued from the sea.
A week after the sailors were rescued, the atomic bomb that was delivered by the USS Indianapolis was dropped and detonated on the city of Hiroshima, Japan, killing over 129,000 and injuring hundreds of thousands more. Three days later another atomic bomb was dropped on the city of Nagasaki, Japan, with similar results. Six days later, on August 15, 1945, Japan surrendered, ending World War II.
Woody James, a sailor on the USS Indianapolis, shared some of his experiences from the time the Indianapolis was attacked until he and his crewmates were rescued.
“I had the 8:00 to 12:00 watch and just got off at midnight. A guy relieved me about a quarter to twelve. I went down through the galley and had a cup of coffee. Then went to my compartment and got a blanket off my bed and went back up on deck. I slept under the overhang on the first gun turret. My battle station was inside it so in case general quarters sounded, I slept underneath it. Just got laid down good, using my shoes for a pillow as usual, and then the first torpedo hit. I was up and down between the deck and the overhang of the gun turret like Yankee Doodle Dandy. And, I wondered, “what in the hell is goin’ on?”
“I got out of my blanket and started to roll out from underneath the gun turret and then the other torpedo hit. Another Yankee Doodle deal, all over the place. I started to walk forward to see what I could see and what I seen was about sixty-foot of the bow chopped off, completely gone. Within a minute and a half, maybe two minutes at the most the bow is startin’ to do down. It filled up with water that fast. Everything was open below deck and the water just flooded in and we were still under way, just scoopin’ up water. Complete chaos, total and complete chaos all over the whole ship. Screams like you couldn’t believe and nobody knew what was goin’ on. The word got passed down, ‘ABANDON SHIP!’ It was maybe five minutes and we were really down in the water so we proceeded to abandon ship.”
“Jim Newhall and I went over the side holding hands. I got tangled up in the life line alongside the ship. I got untangled and surfaced. I’m all alone so I swam out away from the ship, probably fifty yards, maybe one hundred yards, I don’t know.”
“Then pretty soon I heard some voices. I yelled and who answers me, my buddy Jim Newhall. So I swam over to where he was and there was quite a group of them. It’s chaos and everybody talkin’ and a lot of the guys were wounded, burned and we were trying to do the best we could.”
“The next morning we kind of counted heads the best we could. There was about 150 people in the group. We were scattered around quite a bit. Well this isn’t too bad, we thought, we’ll be picked up today. They knew we were out here after all we were due in the Philippines this morning at 11:00 so when we don’t show they’ll know.”
“So the first day passed, night came and it was cold. IT WAS COLD! The next mornin’ the sun come up and warmed things up and then it got unbearably hot so you start praying for the sun to go down so you can cool off again. When the sharks showed up, in fact they showed up the afternoon before but I don’t know of anybody being bit. Maybe one on the second day but we just know we’ll be picked up today. They’ve got it all organized by now, they’ll be out here pretty soon and get us, we all thought. The day wore on and the sharks were around. Come night time and nobody showed up. We had another night of cold, prayin’ for the sun to come up. What a long night.”
“The sun finally did rise (on day 3) and it got warmed up again. Some of the guys been drinkin’ salt water by now, and they were goin’ berzerk. They’d tell you big stories about the Indianapolis is not sunk, its’ just right there under the surface. I was just down there and had a drink of water out of the drinkin’ fountain and the ‘geedunk’ is still open. The geedunk bein’ the commissary where you buy ice cream, cigarettes, candy, what have you, ‘it’s still open’ they’d tell at ya. ‘Come on we’ll go get a drink of water,’ and then 3 or 4 guys would believe this story and go with them.”
“The day wore on and the sharks were around, hundreds of them. You’d hear guys scream, especially late in the afternoon. Seemed like the sharks were the worst late in the afternoon than they were during the day. Then they fed at night too. Everything would be quiet and then you’d hear somebody scream and you knew a shark had got him.”
“It didn’t ever get any cooler in the daytime. In fact, Newhall asked me, he said, ‘James, do you think it’s’ any hotter in hell than it is here?’ I said, ‘I don’t know, Jim, but if it is, I ain’t goin’.’”
“Then the next day (day 4) arrived. By this time I would have given my front seat in heaven and walked the rotten log all the way through hell for just one cool drink of water. My mouth was so dry it was like cotton. How I got up enough nerve to take a mouth full of salt water and rinse my mouth out and spit it out I don’t know but I did. Did it a couple of times before the mornin’ was over. That’s probably why I ended up with salt-water ulcers in my throat. When we got picked up my throat was bigger than my head.”
“Anyway, we’re out there in the sun prayin’ for it to go down again, then low and behold there’s a plane. Course there had been planes every day since day one. They were real high and some of the floaters had mirrors that tried to attract them, but nothing. Anyway, this one showed up and flew by and we thought, ‘Oh hell, he didn’t see us either. He’s gone.’ Then we seen him turn and come back and we knew we had been spotted. What a relief that was.”
“So he did, he came back and flew over us. The pilot ended up landin’ in the water and picked up a lot of guys.”
“Now there’s nine of us on this little raft. It’s just about dark and figure we’ll make it through the night one way or another. About midnight, a little bit before there was a light shining off of the bottom of the cloud and we knew then we were saved. That was the spotlight of the USS Cecil Doyle. The Navy is on the scene. There’s a ship comin’. You can’t believe how happy we were, guys screamin’ and yellin’, ‘We’re saved, We’re saved.’”
“The Doyle arrived on the scene and started pickin’ survivors out of the water a little after midnight. It was daylight the next morning (of the 5th day) that they came along side us in our little raft. Boy, what a happy day that was to get my feet on a deck again.”
So, of the 1,196 sailors originally on the ship, 296 died in the first few minutes as a result of the initial torpedo attack. 900 sailors managed to get off the ship and into the water. Over the course of the next five days, another 583 sailors lost their lives due to the constant shark attacks, a lack of water, general exposure or their wounds.
This left only 317 survivors to relate their experiences over their five days, and five nights, of hell.
It would seem that the crew of the USS Indianapolis paid for the sins of their fathers (commanders).
NOTE: If you’re not already “following” me and you liked my blog today, please scroll down to the bottom of the page and click the “Follow” button. That’ll keep you up to date on my latest posts. Thank you, MrEricksonRules.