On July 30, 1945, having just helped deal what would prove to be a death knell to World War II, the USS Indianapolis was fatally torpedoed by the Japanese. She sank fast—in 12 minutes, giving no time for a distress call—and only 316 of the 1,196 Americans aboard survived, reports CNN. On Friday, more than 72 years later, civilian researchers led by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen found the cruiser in her grave 18,000 feet under the surface of the North Pacific Ocean, a discovery he says he hopes will give "everyone connected to this historic ship ... some measure of closure at this discovery so long in coming." The Indianapolis had just delivered components for the atomic bomb the United States would drop on Hiroshima to the island of Tinian, from which the Enola Gay would take off on its fateful mission just days later.
The Indianapolis' demise is the Navy's single biggest loss at sea, notes the AP, which calls it "one of the Pacific war's more horrible and fascinating tales." Most sailors survived the initial sinking only to be subjected to a four-day ordeal in which their ranks were decimated by exposure, dehydration, and most cruelly, shark attacks. Only 22 survivors lived long enough for the ship to be found, notes CNN. The son of the ship's dentist tells CNN that he regards the Indianapolis as his father's grave, and that "I don't think I have cried this hard in my adult life." He adds that, "my mother would be torn to pieces if she were still living. She did not want them to ever find the ship. But I am glad she does not have to cry today." Adds the nephew of another sailor lost aboard the Indianapolis, "I am filled with so much emotion. Part of me wanted the Indy to be found, part of me did not want it to be found." The ship is still Navy property and its location a secret. (Read more USS Indianapolis stories.)