Truk Lagoon Trip Report, July 2006
Early in World War II, the Japanese Empire had built up Chuuk Atoll as an impenetrable forward supply base. Their Pacific Fleet operations against the Americans was supplied and directed from the military bases at Chuuk, which were protected by heavy fortifications surrounding the lagoon. Unfortunately, for the Japanese, the defenses may have been impenetrable by a Land and Sea invasion, but they never envisioned the changing landscape of warfare and the power of the Aircraft Carrier.
Operation Hailstone descended on Turk Lagoon on February 17, 1944. One of the largest Naval armadas ever amassed, including nine aircraft carriers, unleashed one of the largest air-sea strikes in naval history. After two days of heavy bombing, strafing and torpedo runs, 45 Japanese Naval ships lay at the bottom of the lagoon, along with another 250 aircraft. Twenty Seven additional vessels were severely damaged, and 90% of Chuuk’s fuel supplies were destroyed along with 50% of the ground installations and airfields.
Sixty two years later, a group of Ohio-based wreck divers along with the Boyd's and Hamrick's from Olympia, made the long trek to Chuuk to join the Truk Odyssey and dive the WII wrecks sunk during operation Hailstone. Early protection of the wrecks and their artifacts by the people of Chuuk makes Truk Lagoon one of the world’s best locations for wreck diving and drinking in the amazing history of a location with so many wrecks that are within reasonable diving limits.
The Truk Odyssey is one of the most comfortable live aboard dive boats I have ever had the pleasure of diving from. The cabins are extremely spacious and comfortable. The dive deck is well proportioned and works very well. The salon is cozy and the dining room outstanding with its massive and well appointed bar. The food was plentiful and good, but not great, but hey we were here to dive, and no one starved to death.
I especially liked the crews’ attitude about diving. They gave exemplarily dive briefings, describing the major features and photo ops on the deck as well as those deep within the wrecks for those divers desiring penetration. The treated us as adults and let us dive where and when we wanted, even making a special trip with the six tech divers onboard so we could dive the San Francisco Maru. This was extremely refreshing after spending the previous week on the Palau Aggressor with the constant admonishment not to be late, deep, do any deco, etc., or risk getting “the chicken”.
Nitrox is supplied at about 29 – 30% at no additional cost, and there are large steel cylinders available in addition to both single and double aluminum 80’s as well as deco bottles filled with 80% Oxygen for those qualified. The crew was extremely accommodating, and outfitted Janet and I out with rental gear until our dive gear arrived from Palau 3 days late.
The highlight of our week on the Truk Odyssey had to be the dive on the San Francisco Maru. Known as the “million dollar wreck”, the San Francisco Maru lies much deeper than the wrecks typically visited by divers. Because of this depth, it is in very good condition, with minimal deterioration and less encrustation. The deck lies at about 165’ and has 3 of the small, but photogenic 3-man jungle tanks on the deck. These tanks just looked so out of place, sitting on the decks under the water, but they make for great pictures.
The forward hold is loaded to the brim with Land Mines, Bombs and artillery shells. The second hold is absolutely jammed with large military trucks. At the depth of 175’ you feel as though you’ve had a few happy pills, but the moderately clear and warm water caresses you, and the deep, deep blue at this depth is stunningly beautiful. After poking around the two holds, photographing the tanks, mines, trucks and the amazing forward gun, my 20 minutes of bottom time was up, and it was time to start heading back toward the surface from some hang time to let the dissolved nitrogen out of our tissues.
Captain Nick was hoot, convincing the girls that they had a “garden” growing on the roof deck with tomatoes and lettuce growing. The girls actually were going to climb the ladder to look at the garden before several of us broke up laughing. He also went out of his way, making daily trips to town until our dive gear eventually showed up so we could dive our own gear instead of rental gear.
Other highlights from the trip include delving deep into the engine room and machine shop of the Fujikawa Maru to photograph the very famous R2D2 air compressor. It was a tight fit getting my monstrous camera housing with strobes into the machine shop, but the result is certainly a classic. There are also Japanese Zero in the holds of the Fuji, which are amazing and are very small. The torpedoes and periscopes on the sub-tender Heian Maru were sobering as well as the HUGE torpedo holes in some of the ships, like the Kiyosumi Maru.
Truk Lagoon has long been on my list of “must see” dive locations, and truly does live up to its amazing reputation. I can also honestly say, its one of the few locations that I would actually return to. The islands themselves are depressing, rife with unemployment. The dive tourism dollars you bring in is almost the entire economy. However, the rich history quietly awaiting divers in the lagoon will enrich your understanding of the world and will give you a new perspective on war.
Wrecks (in the order visited and my max. depth):
Heian Maru (80’) – Sub-tender, Periscopes and Torpedos
Yamagiri Maru (95’) – Huge 14” shells in hold #5
Fumitzuki Destoryer (115’) – very narrow ship, impressive bow gun, torpedo launcher
Shinkoku Maru (115’) – Operating table in Hosptial, Engine Room
Unkai Maru (120’) – Shoes, Helmets, Gas Masks in Hold #1
Fujikawa Maru (100’)– Zeros in hold #2, R2D2 air compressor, Sake bottles and China.
Hoki Maru (135’) – Bulldozer, Trucks, Skull on deck.
Betty Bomber (65’) – Engines are 200 yards from fuselage.
Kiyosumi Maru (100’) – Huge Torpedo hole, crushed floating oil drums.
Nippo Maru (135’) – Tank on deck, Artillery guns on aft deck
Rio de Janeiro Maru (95’) – Propellers, shallow, easy wreck.
San Fracisco Maru (170’) – Tanks, Trucks, Land Mines, Bombs, Shells.
Kensho Maru (95’) – Very neat and tidy engine room.
Note: all of the above dives were conducted within No Decompression Limits except the dives on the Hoki, the Nippo and the San Fracisco Maru, where depths required decompression for a reasonable amount of bottom time. The non-technical divers in my group made all of the dives above except the San Francisco Maru and were able to stay within no decompression limits by keeping their maximum depths much shallower.