NEW YORK — In the 72 years since the Indianapolis, a US Navy cruiser, sank about 12 minutes after being torpedoed by a Japanese submarine, the disaster has inspired controversy, dozens of books, a play, and a famous scene in “Jaws.”
But the resting place of the Indianapolis had remained a mystery.
That was until Saturday, when a team led by Paul G. Allen, the billionaire cofounder of Microsoft, announced that it had found unmistakable wreckage of the Indianapolis 18,000 feet deep in the Philippine Sea, rekindling memories of the Navy’s worst disaster at sea.
“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,” Allen said in a statement on his website.
Allen’s search expedition released pictures of wreckage on the sea floor, including a telltale piece of hull bearing the number 35 — evidence to the 22 still-living survivors that the ship they frantically escaped in the early hours of July 30, 1945, had finally been found.
The discovery promises to revive interest in the loss of the Indianapolis, the ordeal of the survivors and the controversial court-martial of the ship’s captain, Charles Butler McVay III. Roughly 400 of the 1,196 sailors and Marines onboard died in the initial attack, but those who escaped spent five days floating in shark-infested waters before they were rescued.
Only 316 men were saved after an aviator spotted them by chance.
“Even in a great tragedy like this one, there is valor, there is bravery,” Rear Admiral Samuel J. Cox, who has retired from active duty and is director of the Naval History and Heritage Command, said in a video posted on Allen’s website.
“There are also lessons learned, in this case many of them, that need to be preserved and remembered.”
The discovery of the ship’s remains required detective work to get a more accurate location for the Indianapolis when it was struck with two torpedoes from the Japanese submarine.
A naval historian, Richard Hulver, came across a blog post that led him last year to a ship’s log recording a sighting of the Indianapolis. Calculations using that record showed that the cruiser was west of where it had long been assumed to be. Using a ship equipped with advanced undersea search equipment, Allen’s team began combing the newly identified area.
Allen, whose father fought in World War II, has made a passion of finding and preserving artifacts from the war. His expedition said that the precise location of the Indianapolis would be kept secret from the public, and that the site would be respected as a grave, as US law requires.
By most historical accounts, the sharks picked off dead or near-dead men, though some survivors remembered sharks bumping up against them.
Before the ship sank, it had delivered parts of the atomic bomb that was later dropped on Hiroshima. It took them from San Francisco to Tinian Island in the Western Pacific.
Allied forces were closing in on Japan, and the Indianapolis was ordered to sail to Leyte in the Philippines to get ready for the assault.But as the cruiser plowed on at night, a Japanese submarine spotted it.