Some of the 317 survivors of the USS Indianapolis arrive on the South Pacific island of Pelelieu in early August 1945. After the ship was hit with torpedoes and sunk, survivors were left to drift in the open Pacific Ocean for days, falling victim to dehydration, starvation, hypothermia . . . and shark attacks.

Photograph courtesy U.S. Navy

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  • On July 30, 1945, the USS Indianapolis sunk, just 12 minutes after being hit with torpedoes fired by a Japanese submarine. The sinking of the Indianapolis and the ordeal endured by the ship’s survivors is one of the worst naval disasters in American history.
    The Indianapolis had just left the island of Guam, where it had delivered enriched uranium that would be used in the atomic bomb dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima weeks later. There were nearly 1,200 sailors on board the Indianapolis, and about 300 died when the ship went down.
    The ship went down so quickly that most survivors were unable to secure life rafts. They were left adrift in the shark-infested Philippine Sea. Dehydration, starvation, and salt poisoning were responsible for hundreds of deaths. Oceanic white-tip sharks and tiger sharks also attacked the vulnerable men.
    The Navy was unable to reach survivors for more than three days. Of the 900 men who survived the sinking of the Indianapolis, fewer than 350 survived the ocean.
  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    atomic bomb Noun

    explosive device that draws energy from the interaction of atomic nuclei. Also called an atom bomb, a-bomb, or nuclear bomb.

    dehydration Noun

    illness in which the body loses too much water.

    disaster Noun

    terrible and damaging event.

    endure Verb

    to survive.

    infestation Noun

    harmful invasion, usually with many small opponents.

    naval Adjective

    having to do with a government's navy, or military ships and crew.

    ordeal Noun

    extremely difficult or trying experience.

    starvation Noun

    dying from lack of food.

    submarine Noun

    vehicle that can travel underwater.

    torpedo Noun

    elongated, cigar-shaped projectile, often filled with an explosive material.

    uranium enrichment Noun

    process of increasing (enriching) the amount of the U-235 isotope of uranium. U-235 is used to provide nuclear energy.

    vulnerable Adjective

    capable of being hurt.