July 30, 1945
The USS Indianapolis is torpedoed by a Japanese submarine; the survivors endure four days of shark attacks and other perils
After the Indianapolis was torpedoed, approximately 300 of the ship’s 1,196 crew went down with her. The remaining survivors endured exposure, dehydration, saltwater poisoning, and shark attacks. Only 321 survived until their rescue four days later, five of whom died from their wounds or exposure after rescue.
Survivor Edgar Harrell, author of Out of the Depth: An Unforgettable WWII Story of Survival, Courage, and the Sinking of the USS Indianapolis, recounted his experience of watching his shipmates being eaten by sharks: “And then you hear a blood-curdling scream. And then the body would go under, and then that life vest popped back up.”
Some not taken by the sharks died of saltwater poisoning; as their dehydration reached critical levels, some resorted to drinking the seawater they floated in. Within an hour, the affected men began to hallucinate, some saying the Indianapolis never sank, others claiming an island with coconuts and other food was nearby. Those hallucinating — and some who were not but were nevertheless convinced — then swam to their hoped salvation only to drown.
In the movie Jaws, Quint the shark hunter reveals he was a survivor from the Indianapolis. His monologue was written based on the experiences of the survivors, though some minor details were incorrectly stated.
The Smithsonian has a wonderful article about the horrors these men went through which you can read on their site.