USS Indianapolis (CA 35) sails through Pearl Harbor in 1937. (U.S. Navy)

The last major U.S. Navy ship sunk in WWII, the cruiser delivered the final blow that ended the war. 75 years later, they’ve left a legacy of a free and open Indo-Pacific

WASHINGTON NAVY YARD - After earning ten battle stars for heroics over four years of war, the U.S. Navy cruiser USS Indianapolis (CA 35) had just successfully delivered the bomb parts that would finally bring to a close World War II.

Days later, on July 30, 1945, and barely a month from the end of the war, she was sunk by an enemy submarine returning from her top secret mission. More than 880 of the ship’s 1,196 Sailors and Marines went into the water. After more than four days of exposure, drowning, and shark attacks, only 316 survived.

“On behalf of all Sailors, past and present, I want to express my deepest gratitude for the service and sacrifice of the crew of USS Indianapolis," Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. Mike Gilday said during a video address honoring the ship's crew. "During our nation's darkest hour, they dared everything and went into harm's way again and again. We will always remember their valor in battle and the role they played in ending the most devastating war in history.”

Today eight crew members remain. The youngest are 93 years old.

While the ship’s final act has made her the subject of enduring public interest, it was her remarkable success in battle that made her and her crew legends.

The flagship of the 5th Fleet, USS Indianapolis served in the Pacific during WWII -- from responding to Pearl Harbor to Alaska to Tarawa to Saipan to Iwo Jima right through until her final, successful albeit tragic final mission. She earned ten battle stars for:

  • Bougainville Air Action (20 February 1942) and the Salamaua-Lae Raid (10 March 1942)
  • Aleutians operation (Attu occupation) (May 25 - June 3, 1943)
  • Gilbert Islands operation (Nov. 20 - Dec. 8 1943)
  • Marshall Islands operation, including the occupation of Kwajalein and Majuro Atolls (Jan. 29 - Feb. 8, 1944) and the occupation of Eniwetok Atoll (17 February-2 March 1944)
  • Asiatic-Pacific raids, involving Palau, Yap, Ulithi, and Woleai (March 30 - April 1, 1944)
  • Marianas operation, involving the occupation of Saipan (June 11 - 10 Aug. 10, 1944), the Battle of the Philippine Sea (June 19-20, 1944), and the capture and occupation of Guam (July 21-23, 1944)
  • Tinian Island capture and occupation (July 24-25, 1944)
  • Southern Palau Islands capture and occupation (Sept. 6 - Oct. 14, 1944)
  • Iwo Jima operation (Feb. 15 - March 6, 1945), Fifth Fleet raids against Honshu and the Nansei Shoto (Feb. 15-16 , Feb. 25, and March 1, 1945)
  • Okinawa Gunto operation (March 17-25, 1945) and the assault and occupation of Okinawa Gunto (March 26 - April 5, 1945)

The ship’s location had been a mystery until Aug. 18, 2017, when naval historians and the Research Vessel Petrel teamed up and discovered the remains in the Pacific at a depth of nearly three and a half miles (5,500 meters).

“Dad would have been amazed at the incredible images of Indy captured by the crew of Petrel. He always said though that if the ship was found, the site should be kept a sacred place to honor the memory of his shipmates who were lost,” said Peggy Campo, whose father, Donald C. McCall, served on the ship for two years. While assigned, the ship earned eight of its ten battle stars. He died in June 2017 at the age of 92, only weeks before the wreckage of the ship was discovered.

The U.S. Navy remains vigilant, and is committed to sustaining a free and open Indo-Pacific that the men of the USS Indianapolis and those like them sacrificed to ensure.

In today’s Great Power Competition, U.S. military members recognize they must be ready to fight and win when called. The men of USS Indianapolis set the standard today’s service members strive to honor.

Ships of the U.S. 7th Fleet conduct forward-deployed naval operations. As the U.S. Navy’s largest numbered fleet, 7th Fleet interacts with dozens of other maritime nations to build partnerships that foster maritime security, promote stability, and prevent conflict.

The USS Indianapolis’ proud legacy continues today. On October 26, 2019. the nation commissioned the current USS Indianapolis (LCS 17), a littoral combat ship homeported in Mayport, Florida. The ship’s motto “Legacy of War” reflects the ships named Indianapolis have served in World War I, World War II, and the Cold War. LCS 17 is the fourth ship to bear the name.

LCS-class ships allow the Navy to strengthen its partnership with other countries’ navies and coast guards. They perform maritime security operations, theater security cooperation engagements, and freedom of navigation patrols – keeping critical maritime commerce routes open. Littoral combat ships are able to patrol the littorals and access ports where other ships may be unable.

Americans should forever remember the crew’s remarkable success in battle, and honor the service and sacrifice of the ship’s Sailors and Marines. To learn more about USS Indianapolis' (CA 35) crew, visit our notable ship page.

In this undated photo, members of the crew of USS Indianapolis (CA 35) pose in the well deck during World War II. (U.S. Navy)

USS Indianapolis (CA 35) is shown off the Mare Island Navy Yard, in northern California, July 10, 1945, after her final overhaul and repair of combat damage. (U.S. Navy)