On July 30, 1945, in the closing days of World War II, the cruiser Indianapolis (CA-35), unescorted in the Pacific Ocean, was steaming for Leyte, having left Guam after just delivering the components for the atomic bomb to Tinian.

The Indianapolis’ orders were to rendezvous with the battleship U.S.S. Idaho (BB-42), in the Leyte Gulf and prepare for the upcoming invasion of Japan. She was steaming west on a course of 262 degrees and making 17 knots.

She would never arrive.

She was struck by a Japanese submarine (I-58), who fired six torpedoes, of which two struck the cruiser and blew away the bow, the second struck near midship on the starboard side next to a fuel tank and a powder magazine. The resulting explosion split the ship in two to the keel, knocking out all electric power. The ship went down by the bow and then rolled over to starboard in just 12 minutes, not enough time for the ship’s captain to radio a distress call.

Some of the sailors were able to don life jackets, whose buoyancy faded after about 48 hours and would begin to slip down a sailor’s body which increased his exhaustion. Few men were able to make it onto life rafts or debris from the sinking. Those who didn’t have either life jackets or make it onto a raft, however, were forced to tread water until another sailor drowned, died from exposure or was eaten by sharks.

No alarm had been raised by the Navy in Leyte, the ship wasn’t reported overdue and the men would have all died if not for blind luck. The men were at the limits of their endurance when a Navy reconnaissance plane noticed a large oil slick in the water. Upon a closer look, he saw survivors bobbing in the water. All available ships were sent to the area.

PBY Catalina’s dropped freshwater, life jackets and life rafts to the survivors. One PBY made a dangerous open water landing, to pick up single survivors and those in most need of medical attention. Loading 56 men onboard he whisked them onboard to safety. He stayed on station with his searchlight on during the night so that other Navy ships could find them. The next morning, August 3rd the U.S.S. Cecil Doyle arrived and picked up the remainder of the survivors.

Of the over 1200 sailors on board the cruiser, more than 300 died in the initial attack. More than 800 sailors were dumped into the Pacific Ocean where after five days of suffering burns, drowning, dehydration, exhaustion and shark attacks, only 316 were rescued.