When I first went to Truk Lagoon, I wrote this article for our website and a few local newspapers. I've made some minor changes. All of it remains relative to our upcoming trip! In September of 2019, we are planning to re-visit this beautiful location. If you'd like to see that information, click here.
In order to fully appreciate Truk Lagoon, one must go back to 1944. To Torakku (the airstrike on Truk Island). The Americans know it today as Operation Hailstone. Where Marc Mitscher and Masami Kobayashi went head-to-head in an American-led attack on one of Japan’s largest logistical bases. The action devastated the Japanese fleet. With tactical forethought, Kobayashi realized that Truk was a vulnerable position and began moving many of his warships to another great dive destination known as Palua.
In the end, the Japanese lost 2 light cruisers, 4 destroyers, 3 auxiliary cruisers, 6 auxiliary ships, 1 aircraft ferry, 2 submarine tenders, 3 smaller warships, 32 merchant ships and 250+ aircraft over the two days of battle. Many of which still lay on the bottom of Truk Lagoon.
Many of the ships were unmanned, but there were over 4500+ lives lost to the Japanese that day.
The attack changed the tempo of the war itself. Minimizing Truk opened up attacking into Palua, Guam, Saipan and Iwo Jima for the Americans. Japan never fully recovered from this devastating blow and Truk would remain isolated by the Americans until the Japanese surrender in 1945.
With the considerable amount of life lost on this attack, Truk Lagoon remains hollowed ground for all divers and is respected as such. The diving is top-notch and world class, but we will always remember those who fought valiantly over two days of intense battle for the men to their left and right.
Sixty-eight years later, in 2012, twelve divers from Beach Cities Scuba Centers embarked on a journey from Los Angeles to Truk in order to visit 13 of the ships located there.
The dive wrecks were laid out as such:
Rio de Janeiro Maru
San Fransisco Maru
Each wreck had its own personality and its own story. An excellent historical account of each ship’s fate is located in Dan Bailey’s book World War II Wrecks of the Truk Lagoon (ISBN 0911615067). From serving as a submarine tender to carrying millions worth of cargo, each dive was different and equally amazing! To say that the team took thousands of pictures and video would be an understatement. On board the San Francisco Maru, the crew explored hundreds of heavy-duty landmines destined for a not-so-distant battlefield. They also viewed tanks and anti-aircraft guns sitting on the decks waiting for a crew to man them against their enemy. On the Fumitzuki, Jeff Rey took beautiful footage of the gigantic propeller blades and actual books where you can still view the Kanji script. On the Yamagiri, the compelling evidence that battle does not come at an easy price was apparent as we were presented with the remains of a Japanese national. The skull staring into the depths reminded all of us that this was a very real event with very real consequences.
Every night was marked with an excellent dinner followed by dessert. Most of the team would move on to dive planning for the next day or sit in the recreation room swapping dive stories and pictures while playing the latest comedy on the television. Each morning, we’d get up bright and early for the dive briefing and start our next adventure into the depths of the Lagoon.
It was certainly a trip that won’t be lost in memory for the 12 divers.
If you truly want to get away to enjoy warm waters and beautiful diving; I highly suggest Truk Lagoon!
David "D.J." Mansfield is a PADI Course Director, Technical Diving Instructor Trainer and the Director of Operations for Beach Cities Scuba. He spends his days working inside the industry and training divers all over the world. You can follow him on Instagram @djmansfield77 or catch him at the dive shops any time.
If you have suggestions on the writing, let him know at firstname.lastname@example.org!