Editors note: The USA TODAY Network’s South Region chronicled the stories of Tennessee families still mourning the loss of loved ones on the USS Indianapolis — more than seven decades later. You can find our premium story here.
November 7, 1931 – The USS Indianapolis was launched. The Portland-class heavy cruiser was 610 feet, 3 inches long and displaced 9,950 tons. The Indianapolis carried a main battery of nine 8-inch guns and eight 5-inch antiaircraft guns. She could reach speeds of more than 32 knots thanks to eight boilers turning four steam turbines.
January 1, 1933 – President Franklin D. Roosevelt selected the Indianapolis as his ship of state. She carried Roosevelt on three cruises, including his 1936 “Good Neighbor” trip to South America.
February 20 and March 10, 1942 – The cruiser earned her first battle star during the Bougainville Air Action and Salamaua-Lae Raid.
1943 – The U.S.S. Indianapolis became the flagship of the U.S. Fifth Fleet under Vice Admiral Raymond Spruance.
May 1943 – April 1945 – The vessel earned nine more battle stars: at Attu Occupation, which was part of the broader Aleutians Operation; the Gilbert Islands Operation; the Occupation of Kwajalein and Majuro Atolls and the Occupation of Eniwetok Atoll, which were part of the Marshall Islands Operation; the Palau, Yap, Ulitihi and Woleai Raids; the Marianas Operation, including the Capture and Occupation of Saipan and Guam and the Battle of the Philippine Sea; the Capture and Occupation of Tinian Island; the Capture and Occupation of the Southern Palau Islands during the Western Caroline Islands Operation; for her part in the bombardment of Iwo Jima; for her role in the Okinawa Gunto Operation.
March 31, 1945 – While taking part in the Assault and Occupation of Okinawa Gunto, the Indianapolis suffered a near-fatal kamikaze attack. Nine crew members died and 29 were wounded. The cruiser suffered severe damage to her keel, propeller shafts, fuel tanks and water-distilling equipment.
May 1, 1945 – The Indianapolis docked at Mare Island Naval Shipyard, 25 miles northeast of San Francisco, to undergo extensive repairs.
May 8, 1945 – On V-E Day, Allied Forces formally accepted Germany’s unconditional surrender of its armed forces, marking the end of World War II in Europe.
July 12, 1945 – Captain Charles B. McVay III, commanding officer of the Indianapolis, received orders from naval command to immediately ready his crew for a secret mission.
July 15, 1945 – The Indianapolis moved to Hunters Point Navy Yard in San Francisco, where she received orders for a secret mission: Proceed to Tinian island carrying enriched uranium and parts for the construction of “Little Boy,” the atomic bomb that was later dropped on Hiroshima, Japan.
July 16, 1945 – At 5:29 a.m., the U.S. Army conducted the first-ever detonation of a nuclear device in the Jornada del Muerto desert in New Mexico as part of the Manhattan Project. Hours later, the Indianapolis departed San Francisco and set a course for Tinian island — without an escort. This was the last time many of the crew saw their loved ones.
July 19, 1945 – The cruiser set a speed record by arriving in Pearl Harbor (Oahu, Hawaii) in under 75 hours.
July 21, 1945 – A Japanese submarine torpedoed and sank the USS Underhill along the Indianapolis’ planned route. Captain McVay was not notified that Japanese submarines were operating in the area.
July 26, 1945 – The Indianapolis delivered bomb components to Tinian island and proceeded to Guam.
July 28, 1945 – The Indianapolis departed Guam for Leyte. Captain McVay received orders to zigzag the cruiser “at his discretion, weather permitting,” to avoid submarine attacks, but declined to do so.
July 30, 1945 – At 12:15 a.m., after departing Guam for Leyte, the Indianapolis was struck on her starboard side by two torpedoes fired by Japanese submarine I-58, which was captained by lieutenant commander Mochitsura Hashimoto. Within 12 minutes, the cruiser rolled upside down. Soon after, the stern rose into the air, and the ship sank. Some 300 crewmen went down with the ship, according to survivors.
The remaining 895 men were set adrift in the open ocean without adequate life boats, life vests, food or fresh water. Over the next four days, they suffered from exposure, dehydration salt poisoning and attacks from sharks, drawn by the commotion and the scent of blood in the water. (Accounts of sharks differ, according to previously reported stories from survivors.)
July 31, 1945 – The USS Indianapolis was not reported missing after failing to arrive in Leyte.
August 2, 1945 – At 10:25 a.m., a pair of Navy bombers on a routine patrol spotted survivors from the Indianapolis floating below and radioed for help.
The first rescue vessel to arrive was an amphibious PBY-5A Catalina patrol plane piloted by Lt. Comdr. Robert Adrian Marks. His flight crew dropped life rafts, then realized survivors were too exhausted to swim to them. After taking a vote amongst his crew, Marks went against orders and completed a sea landing to pick up as many crew members as possible. They were able to fit 56 men inside the plane and on top of the wings.
That night, the destroyer escort, USS Cecil J. Doyle, followed by six ships, arrived, rescuing the remaining men. Only 316 survived.
August 6, 1945 – Little Boy was dropped on Hiroshima.
August 9, 1945 – Fat Man was dropped on Nagasaki. Combined, the two atomic bombs killed over 200,000 people, mostly civilians. Victims included the family of Hashimoto, the submarine commander of I-58.
August 15, 1945 – V-J Day. The Emperor of Japan announced his country’s surrender, ending World War II.
December 3, 1945 – Hashimoto testified on behalf of the prosecution at the court-martial of McVay. He said the Indianapolis would not have been able to avoid both torpedoes by zigzagging.
At the end of the military trial, McVay was court-martialed for “failure to follow a zigzag course” and “failure to sound an abandon ship.” He became the only captain in the U.S. Navy during World War II to face a military trial due to the loss of a ship in combat. McVay was sentenced to a loss of 100 promotion numbers. Later, his sentence was remitted, but his conviction remained in place.
1949 – McVay retired, and was subsequently promoted to rear admiral.
November 6, 1968 – McVay committed suicide using his Navy-issued revolver. His body was found by his gardener holding the revolver in one hand, and a toy sailor in the other.
1975 – The movie Jaws debuted in theaters. One of the film’s fictional characters, Quint, was a survivor of the USS Indianapolis, which brought the tragedy back into the public spotlight.
1998 – Hunter Scott, a 12-year-old from Pensacola, Florida, interviewed dozens of surviving crewmen for a National History Day project on the sinking of the USS Indianapolis, which he learned about after watching Jaws. His efforts attracted the attention of his congressman, Joe Scarborough, creating renewed national interest in the 1945 disaster. Scott appeared before Congress alongside crewmen from the Indianapolis to argue for McVay’s exoneration.
October, 2000 – Congress passed a resolution, also signed by President Bill Clinton, posthumously exonerating McVay for the loss of the U.S.S. Indianapolis.
July, 2016 – Naval records with new information on the ship’s last-known position were discovered, which placed the cruiser farther west than previously thought.
August 19, 2017 – The wreck was located at a depth of 18,000 feet by the “USS Indianapolis Project” aboard the RV Petrel, a research vessel funded by American business magnate Paul Allen.
September, 2017 – A map of the wreckage was released to the public.