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Mission of the Shark--The Facts Behind the Story

This made for TV film recounts the ordeal of the crew of the heavy cruiser USS Indianapolis after she was sunk by a Japanese submarine in 1945. The cruiser, a veteran of several Pacific campaigns during WW II, was on her way to re-join the fleet after having delivered the atomic bomb to a base on Tinian Island in the Marianas. No one aboard Indianapolis knew it at the time, but that super-secret cargo would eventually be assembled and loaded into a B-29 for use against the Japanese mainland at Hiroshima and become a key factor in ending the war in the Pacific.

Due to a top-secret prohibition on reporting ship movements in the Pacific, the departure date and time for USS Indianapolis was never passed along to Pacific Fleet Headquarters and her progress was not being tracked when she was torpedoed and sunk by a Japanese I-Type attack submarine. Unknown to anyone in the Navy chain of command, the Indianapolis was on the bottom and some 600 of her sailors were beginning a long, deadly ordeal in the waters of the Pacific. Through the agony of days floating in rafts or clinging to each other in malfunctioning life jackets, the Indianapolis sailors began to die in droves. They drowned or went insane with thirst and swam away never to be seen again. And they were set upon by ravenous schools of hungry sharks that began to tear huge rents in the clusters of frightened survivors. Blood in the water drove the sharks into a feeding frenzy that tested the raw courage of sailors who could do nothing much more than stoically wait their turn to be attacked.

Eventually, survivors were spotted by a Navy patrol aircraft that made a dangerous rough water landing and took some of the exhausted sailors aboard. Word of the sinking reached Pacific Fleet Headquarters. A manic rescue effort was mounted but the ordeal of the USS Indianapolis was far from over. Her popular Commanding Officer became a scapegoat in the incident and was court-martialed for hazarding his vessel by not conforming to standard course changes and anti-submarine maneuvers. His good name was eventually cleared after the war, but the sinking of the USS Indianapolis and the ordeal suffered by her crewmen cast a dark shadow on Navy operational procedures at the end of World War II.