The Ghost Fleet of Truk Lagoon
During World War II, the Truk atoll was host to Japan's Imperial Fleet, which was left destroyed in the wake of Operation Hailstone 16-18 February 1944, often referred to as Japan's Pearl Harbor. Today, hundreds of Japanese aircraft and other military machines remain at the bottom of the lagoon, making it one of the world's best wreck dive sites.
In February 16-18, 1944, five fleet carriers and four light carriers, along with support ships and some 500 aircraft, descended on the islands in a surprise attack. Just a week before the attack, the Japanese military had moved additional ships to the area, and, as a result, approximately 250 Japanese aircraft were destroyed and more than 50 ships sunk.
An estimated 400 Japanese soldiers were killed in one ship alone, trapped in the cargo hold. Most of the fleet remains in exactly the same spot it was left, largely forgotten by the world until the end of the 1960's.
Jacques Cousteau's 1969 film Lagoon of Lost Ships (see previous post here at Ad Astra) explored the wreck-littered lagoon, and many of the sunken ships were then still full of bodies. As wreck divers brought attention to the site, Japan began recovery efforts, and many bodies have been removed and returned to Japan for burial. A few, however, remain.
Many of the wrecks are visible through the shallow, clear water, making it an accessible dive. The wrecks themselves can be very dangerous, not only because of ragged edges and tangles of cables but because of half-century old oil and fuel leaking into the water, creating a potentially dangerous situation.
Up until the 1990's, the lagoon was known at Truk, but it is now called Chuuk. Many maps still show both names. Needless to say that this location will be an excellent ending to my Micronesian leg of my Philippines & Micronesia project.
- The full itinerary of my Philippines & Micronesia project will be posted here next week!