A team of civilian researchers, led by the entrepreneur and philanthropist Paul G Allen, has located one of the most famous US Navy wrecks of the Second World War, that of the cruiser Indianapolis lost on July 30, 1945.
The cruiser sank in more than 18,000ft of water in the north Pacific Ocean. Around 800 of her 1,196 sailors and marines survived the attack, but after four to five days in the water and suffering exposure, dehydration, drowning and shark attacks, only 317 survived.
The wreck was located in 5,500m of water using the research vessel Petrel, owned by Mr Allen.
The Indianapolis had served in the Pacific during the war and in May and June, 1945, she underwent a major overhaul to prepare her to take part in the invasion of Japan. That spring, the ship, while at the Mare Island repair yard, was selected by the US War Department to transport the atom bomb.
In the very early hours of July 16, 1945, the day the first atom bomb was tested at Los Alamos, in New Mexico, and in great security, the atom bomb components, in several crates, were loaded on to the Indianapolis and stowed in one of the ship’s hangars. The vital components of two bombs, uranium-235, sealed in a leadlined metal container, were housed in the Admiral’s Cabin.
The Indianapolis sailed that morning and made a record run to Pearl Harbour and on July 26, she arrived at Tinian Island, in the Mariana Islands and about 100 miles north of Guam, and unloaded her secret cargo. Tinian was one of several American-held islands from which B-29 bombing raids on Japan were conducted. The atomic bombs were to have their final assembly at the air base.
After unloading, the cruiser headed south to Guam, the headquarters for the Pacific Fleet and was ordered to Leyte, in the Philippines, for exercises for the invasion of Japan. The Indianapolis left Guam on July 28 for what it was hoped would be a three day voyage to Leyte.
At 0014 on July 30, the Indianapolis was hit in the bows by a torpedo from the Japanese submarine I-58 and a second torpedo hit her in the machinery spaces on the starboard side, blowing a large hole in her side. As the seawater flooded in, the cruiser began to sink by the bows. She was abandoned by the crew.
Over the years, there have been several attempts to find the wreck of the Indianapolis.
Mr Allen had recently acquired and refitted the 250ft long Petrel with the latest subsea equipment capable of diving to 6,000m (or three and a half miles).
The other key factor in the discovery was information found in 2016 when Dr Richard Hulver, a historian with the US Navy’s Naval History & Heritage Command, carried out research that led to a new search area to the west of the original presumed position.
Dr Hulver’s research identified a naval landing craft that had recorded a sighting of the Indianapolis hours before she was torpedoed. Using that information, the research team developed a new position and estimated search area, which was still a daunting 600 square miles of open ocean.