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Diving in Chuuk Lagoon Part I

AdventurePosted by Jean Dar Tue, January 17, 2017 16:02:49

Chuuk Lagoon - World's premier wreck diving location

During World War II, Truk lagoon (today Chuuk Lagoon) was host to Japan's Imperial Fleet, which was left destroyed in the wake of Operation Hailstone 16-18 February 1944, often called Japan's Pearl Harbor. Today, hundreds of Japanese aircraft and other military machines remain at the bottom of the lagoon, making it the world's best wreck dive location, with some seventy wreck diving sites in and around the lagoon.

In 1969, William A. Brown and oceanographer Jacques Cousteau and his team explored Truk Lagoon. Following Cousteau's 1971 television documentary about the lagoon and its ghostly remains, the place became a scuba diving paradise, drawing wreck diving enthusiasts from around the world to see its numerous, virtually intact sunken ships. The shipwrecks and remains are sometimes referred to as the "Ghost Fleet of Truk Lagoon".

My photo above from 12 January 2017, shows the still fully readable name on Heian Maru in both Japanese and Latin letters. This ship was built in 1930 as a large passenger cargo liner, and her maiden voyage was from Hong Kong to Seattle. While on a routine voyage in August 1941, she was abruptly recalled to Japan. Upon her return, the Japanese Navy converted the ship for use as a submarine tender.

Heian Maru is the largest ship in Truk Lagoon with a length of 155m. She was sunk on the second day of Operation Hailstone, as a torpedo struck her amidships and because of damage already sustained during the earlier raids, the Heian Maru sank quickly. She lies on her port side and her cargo contains many of the deadly efficient Japanese Long Lance Torpedoes, and submarine periscopes. Many artifacts can be found throughout this wreck.

My photo above from 12 January 2017 pictures one of the three Mitsubishi A6M Reisen "Zero" fighter planes found in the Fujikawa Maru, that was built in 1938 by the Mitsubishi Company as a passenger and cargo carrier. The Japanese Navy took possession of her in December 1940 and converted the ship to an aircraft ferry. The conversion included a compliment of old six inch guns on her bow and stern from the Russo-Japanese War.

Just prior to Operation Hailstone, Fujikawa Maru arrived in Truk and off loaded thirty Nakajima B6N Tenzan "Jill" bombers onto Eten Airfield. These aircraft had been disassembled for shipment and were unable to help defend Truk and were destroyed on the ground. Today this ship has an abundance of colorful soft and hard corals. The Times named Fujikawa Maru as one of the top 10 wreck dives in the world, and Aquaviews ranked her as the fourth best wreck dive in the world!

My photo above from 13 January 2017, shows the operating table with some human bones on it, in the Shinkoku Maru that was built in 1939. Her first voyages were to carry oil from the United States to Japan, prior to the embargo. The Japanese Navy converted her to a fleet oiler and Shinkoku's most noteworthy mission was her participation in the Pearl Harbor attack as part of Admiral Nagumo's strike force. She is a large ship with a length of 152m.

In August 1942, she was torpedoed and damaged by an American submarine. She was at anchor in Truk Lagoon at the time of Operation Hailstone, and survived two days of attacks and two aerial torpedo hits before she finally sank. The bow gun of the Shinkoku Maru is heavily encrusted with colorful coral, and this wreck should be a wonderful night dive as the soft corals and hydroids are quite beautiful.

One of the most famous features of the Kensho Maru is her machine room, that can be seen in my photo above from 13 January 2017. She was built in 1938 and the Japanese Navy took control of the ship when the war began, shuttling supplies between Japan and the Marshall Islands. Eventually she was retrofitted with a deck gun and augmented with a Naval Gun Crew and Medical Staff for transporting the wounded.

Just prior to the Operation Hailstone attacks, Kensho Maru was in Kwajalein Atoll delivering supplies when she was bombed by American carrier aircraft and took a hit to her engine room. Unable to get underway, she was towed to Truk by the Momokawa Maru. Both ships were in Truk Lagoon when the attacks began and both were sunk. The Kensho Maru was struck by at least one bomb and an aerial torpedo, she sits upright with a slight list to port.

Operation Hailstone launched on 16-18 February 1944, as US Navy carrier aircraft conducted a surprise attack against Japanese ships anchored in Truk Lagoon (today Chuuk Lagoon), dropping 400 tons of bombs and torpedo. In total, forty ships were sunk and thousands of Japanese died. The airplanes shot down over Truk Lagoon were numerous and mainly Japanese, as they had lost their best pilots during the course of war by 1944.

My photo above, from 13 January 2017, pictures a Japanese Mitsubishi A6M "Zero" fighter aircraft that was one of the victims of Operation Hailstone, as it was shot down shortly after taking off from the airfield, and has been laying upside down at 9 meters depth on the seafloor off Eten island ever since. This makes it a perfect freediving wreck, straightforward without any currents and at least I had hardly any waves at all.

- See the Jacques Cousteau 1971 documentary here: http://adastra.jeandar.net/#post450



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