The Ghost Fleet and Mass Grave of Truk Lagoon

Truk (Chuuk) Lagoon, tucked away among the islands of Micronesia approximately 1,100 miles northwest of New Guinea is a diver’s paradise. It is also a top spot for dark tourists that like to get in the water.

First discovered by Spanish explorers in 1528, for many centuries little of note went on around this part of the western Pacific.

Spanish colonists didn’t even officially claim the area (the lagoon is part of the Caroline Islands) until the late 19th century. Shortly afterward, in 1899, they sold it to the Germans.

After the German defeat in WW1, the local islands and Truk Lagoon were handed over to the Japanese, who in a few short years turned it into a military base.

It wasn’t until the second world war that dramatic events unfurled at Truk Lagoon, and it became one of the biggest ship graveyards in the world.

The Ghost Fleet of Truk Lagoon

During one of many counter-attacks after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the American military turned its might towards the Japanese base at Truk Lagoon.

The area had been transformed in preparation for war. The Japanese atoll now had battleships, submarines and aircraft carriers stationed in its waters.

On February 17, 1944, Operation Hailstone began. Over the course of 3 days, 500 American military aircraft from the Marshall Islands, joined U.S submarines and surface ships on a successful attack on Truk.

In total, 47 ships and 270 aircraft were sent to the bottom of the lagoon. Over 1,700 Japanese lives were lost.

Where is Truk Lagoon

Truk Lagoon Today

After the Japanese surrender at the end of WW2, Truk Lagoon slid once again into general obscurity.

It wasn’t until 1971, when famed French explorer Jacques Cousteau released a documentary exploring the wreck sites (called The Lagoon of Lost Ships), that Truk once again caught the public eye. It quickly became a mecca for wreck divers from around the world.

It’s easy to see why. The remnants that line the lagoon floor are eerie in their magnitude. Large battleships with torpedo exploded hulls lay wrecked beside the rusted frames of fallen planes.

Tanks and other military equipment are cocooned by marine life; smaller items such as gas masks, shoes and unopened bottles of beer, litter the seabed.

A Mass War Grave

Skull inside wreck Truk Lagoon
Apiquet / CC BY-SA

Human remains can also be found among the debris. Truk Lagoon is, after all, a mass war grave for those that died during Operation Hailstone.

The film by Cousteau showed that some of the ships still had the bodies of soldiers inside. This prompted an official Japanese recovery effort.

However, although the remains of over 400 Japanese crew members were retrieved and proper burials given, (they were cremated and interred at the National Cemetery for the War Dead in Tokyo), it is approximated that around 1,300 servicemen still lay scattered among the wrecks.

Diving Truk Lagoon in 2020

The conditions around Truk Lagoon make it relatively easy to dive. The surrounding reef protects divers from the strong currents, and the visibility ranges from 40-100ft (12-30m) which is excellent.

In fact, on particularly clear days divers can enjoy sweeping, panoramic views of multiple wrecks.

There are two main options for organizing your holiday diving; either through a land-based operator or choose a liveaboard diving vessel.

With the depth, size, and accessibility of the wrecks ranging widely, all skill levels of divers are catered for. Technical and wreck divers can explore and penetrate the deeper sites, while recreational divers can enjoy the many examples that sit at depths of 100-130ft (30-40m).

Good to know

Truk Lagoon is divable all year-round. That being said, December to April are the warmest months. Overall, the water temperature is extremely agreeable with a range of 82-84°F (28-29°C).

Featured Image: w:en:Aquaimages (talk | contribs) / CC BY-SA

Follow us on Instagram!

Leave a Comment