1995, and again in 1997 I went to Truk Lagoon, site of a major
naval action in World War II known by the codename "Operation
Hailstone". There, on February 17-18, 1944 the US Navy
raided what was regarded as Japan's "Gibraltar of the
Pacific" and sank some 35 ships. Because the appearance
of a scout plane had tipped off the Japanese command that a raid
was imminent, most of their warships escaped before the arrival of
the American task force. However, many armed merchant
vessels, designated with the name "Maru" used to support
the Japanese fleet remained behind and were sunk in the massive
two-day raid. Today, these ships are mute reminders of the
brutality of the war they helped to conduct. But the sea has
taken over, and now the ships have become home to a vast diversity
of colorful marine life. Because of the shallowness of the
Lagoon, most of the wrecks are diveable by sport divers, and
indeed Truk Lagoon has become the "ultimate" wreck
diver's paradise. Below are some of the scenes I brought
home with me from my two visits there.
Maru is one of the most popular wrecks in Truk Lagoon, because she
is representative of the "Lost Fleet" as a whole, and
also because she is at such a shallow depth (60 feet to the main
deck) that, until not too many years ago, one of her masts
actually protruded out of the water. This was a cargo ship,
armed with a 6-inch deck gun and fitted to carry aircraft from the
Home Islands where they were built to the front. Today, her
holds are filled with un-assembled Zero fighters, airplane parts,
and even an outboard motor for a small boat.
of the most prominent scenes on the Fujikawa Maru are the plaque
(L) placed on the main deck on the 50th anniversary of Operation
Hailstone in 1994, and the bow
gun (R) used for antiaircraft fire.
is one of the few jellyfish I saw. Descending to the wreck
of the Fujikawa Maru, I happened to have had the "right"
combination of lens and camera. This specimen was relatively
near the surface, at a depth of about 20 feet.
Nikon N8008s and 60mm Micro lens and Fuji Velvia 1997
At night all the soft corals put out their brightest colors.
This shot was taken on a night dive on the Fujikawa Maru in
N8008s, 60mm Micro lens, Fuji Velvia. 1997
of my favorite wrecks in Truk Lagoon was the Shinkoku Maru, a
500-foot tanker. This ship lies upright on the bottom and
has many varied scenes for the diver. One of these is an
operating room, complete with surgery table, surgical instruments
and even ampules of medications. In another room is a
ceramic-tile Japanese bathtub, photo shown below. Also in
this wreck is the intact men's restroom, complete with all the
fixtures. Shinkoku Maru was one of eight fleet oilers
supporting Admiral Nagumo's force that struck Pearl Harbor on
December 7, 1941.
Maru is no longer considered safe to dive by the Aggressor Fleet
of dive boats, because of the hazard created by structural
deterioration. The scenes I show here were taken on my 1995
shot needs no commentary.
batfish in this photo were taken near the top of the kingpost of
the Shinkoku Maru, at a depth of only about 15 feet, during my
V, 35mm lens, Fuji Provia film. ©1995
at sea and even in wartime, the Japanese have their traditional
baths. Although heavily silted after more than 5o years, the
bath is a reminder of the culture of the crew of the Shinkoku Maru.
V, 35mm lens, Fuji Provia film. 1995
This scene of the ladder connecting two levels of decks somehow
really "grabbed" me. It brought forth visions of
crewmen running from place to place in their duties aboard the
Shinkoku Maru. Note all the hard and soft corals encrusting
V, 35mm lens, Fuji Provia film. 1995
of the wrecks in Truk Lagoon are scenes of all the trappings of
war. This battle tank is one that never got a chance to kill
anyone, because it went down with the Nippo Maru.
N8008s, 16mm f/2.8, Fuji Sensia film. 1997
historical reading materials on Truk Lagoon:
Hailstorm over Truk Lagoon, Klaus Lindemann Copyright © 1982
Maruzen Holdings Ltd., Hong Kong ISBN 981-00-2968-3
Fleet of the Truk Lagoon, An Account of "Operation
Hailstone", William H Stewart © 1985 Pictorial Histories
Publishing Co., Missoula Montana USA ISBN 0-933126-66-2
are other writings, but I regard Lindemann's as the most
authoritative. He has researched the minute details of the
Order of Battle, including air unit designations and which American
aircraft from which carriers were involved in attacks on specific
ships. He also provides information useful for divers planning
dives on the wrecks, including the most interesting objects to be
found on each wreck, depth, and potential diving hazards endemic to
a particular dive location.