Lost to the depths of the Pacific Ocean 72 years ago after being sunk by Japanese torpedoes, the wreckage of the USS Indianapolis — the ship that delivered components crucial to “Little Boy,” the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima — has been located.
A team of researchers led by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen announced the discovery of the World War II cruiser at a depth of more than 5,500 meters (18,000 feet) on Saturday.
The Indianapolis was torpedoed in the final days of the war by an Imperial Japanese Navy submarine in the early hours of July 30, 1945.
The ship sank in just 12 minutes, making it nearly impossible to send a distress signal or deploy much of its lifesaving equipment. The Indianapolis had at the time just completed a secret mission to a U.S. base on the island of Tinian to deliver parts for the atomic bomb used on Hiroshima that would ultimately help end the war in the Pacific, according to the Naval History and Heritage Command in Washington. Tinian was the take-off point for the Enola Gay’s mission to bomb Hiroshima in August 1945.
Although around 800 of the ship’s 1,196 sailors and marines survived the sinking, scores succumbed to exposure, dehydration, drowning and shark attacks during their four to five days in the water. Just 316 survived one of the most tragic maritime disasters in U.S. naval history, and 22 remain alive today.
“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. “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.”
Movies and documentaries, including last year’s “USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage,” starring Nicolas Cage, have recounted the crew’s time at sea. The vessel’s sinking was also was a plot point in the Steven Spielberg smash-hit film “Jaws,” with the fictitious Indianapolis survivor Captain Quint recounting the terror he felt waiting to be rescued as sharks swarmed the waters.
Although others had previously attempted to find the Indianapolis, Allen’s team was aided by new information about the wreckage’s presumed location. Using research that had identified a naval landing craft that recorded a sighting of Indianapolis hours before it was torpedoed, the team developed a new position and estimated a 1,554-sq.-km (600-sq.-mile) search area.
The wreck was located by the expedition crew of Allen-owned Research Vessel (R/V) Petrel, which employs state-of-the-art subsea equipment capable of diving to 6,000 meters. The Indianapolis remains the property of the U.S. Navy and its location will remain confidential and restricted by the navy.
The 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. An Allen-led expedition also resulted in the discovery of the Japanese battleship Musashi in March 2015.
“For more than two decades I’ve been working with the survivors. To a man, they have longed for the day when their ship would be found, solving their final mystery,” said retired Capt. William Toti, spokesperson for the survivors of the Indianapolis, according to Allen’s website. “They all know this is now a war memorial, and are grateful for the respect and dignity that Paul Allen and his team have paid to one of the most tangible manifestations of the pain and sacrifice of our World War II veterans.”
The navy said it has plans to honor the 22 survivors, as well as the families of all those who served on the ship.
“I’m very happy that they found it. It’s been a long 72 years coming,” Indianapolis survivor Arthur Leenerman, 93, of Mahomet, Illinois, told WTTV-TV.