On February 17th and 18th of 1944, Japan’s fortress of Truk Lagoon which had been called the “Gibraltar of the Pacific” was attacked by the newly formed Task Force 58, the Fast Carrier Force, under the command of Vice-Admiral Marc Mitscher. Truk was important to both sides because of the strategic location of the lagoon in the Caroline Islands. Located just west of the Marshal Islands and just south of Guam the Allies needed Truk to take control of that area of the central pacific. The new task force consisted of a group of twelve aircraft carriers, six fleet and six light carriers, eight battleships, related light and heavy cruisers, destroyers and six scout submarines. Task Force 58 was only part of the product of two years of all-out American naval construction after the attack on Pearl Harbor. During two days and one night, planes from these aircraft carriers launched thirty raids, none of them involving fewer than 150 planes and conducted continuous bombing, strafing and torpedo runs on ships anchored in the lagoon. More than 270 Japanese planes were wiped out on the ground and in the air. Some 40-50 ships were believed sunk, including at least two dozen first class merchantmen, two light cruisers, four destroyers, two submarines and as many as ten other ships. The total tonnage sunk—more than 200,000 tons—was to remain a record for a single action throughout the War. Unfortunately the Japanese had heard about the fighting in the Marshal Islands and had spotted reconnaissance planes a few days before the attack and had ordered most of their capitol ships to leave Truk for Japan or Palau. Some of the ships were sunk in deep water when they tried to leave the Lagoon and found Admiral Spruance waiting with two battleships and their escorts to make sure that no ships escaped unscathed. Those two days of devastating air assault created what is today known as the “Ghost Fleet of Truk Lagoon.”
Today Truk Lagoon in Chuuk State of the Federated States of Micronesia is a Mecca for divers from around the world. The ships sunk 50 years ago are still much as they were when they were sunk. The main change is the growth of wonderful marine organisms on the wrecks that have softened them and turned some of the wrecks from a tool of destruction into a thing of beauty.
The Fumitzuki is one of the favorite wrecks of everyone who dives in Truk Lagoon. The ship is intact and upright on the bottom in relatively shallow water. There are intact cockpits of Zero fighters in the middle hold at the front of the ship, bullets, propellers, bottles, and other ships paraphernalia in the other holds. The bridge has Japanese baths and an intact galley and many intact nooks to explore including access to a huge engine room complete with a machine shop. At the rear of the ship is an intact steering station with a brass binnacle, only the wooden steering wheel has fallen apart and lies on the deck.
The Shinkoku is renowned as the most decorated wreck in the lagoon. It would seem that every exposed inch of this very large tanker is covered in sea life. The lagoon is noted for prolific soft corals and it is on the Shinkoku that the soft corals are most abundant. Clouds of fish, cruising sharks and thousands of invertebrates make this wreck home. The bridge is beautiful with three intact telegraphs and artifacts scattered about. There are Japanese baths and an intact galley on the aft part of the ship and in many places you will find the everyday items needed to live on the ship.
The Nippo is a favorite because of the small one man tank and three field guns that rest on the deck. This wreck is deeper so lacks the decorating sea life of the shallower wrecks. It still looks like a warship that only recently went down. The San Francisco, deeper still, has three tanks on her decks and in the less accessible areas there are still the remains of sailors that died trying to save her. The Yamagiri, Fumitzuki, Unkai, Sankisan, Gosei, Rio, Kansho, Heian, and the Kiozumi are also popular wrecks with the divers that frequent the lagoon. All of these wrecks have their own special features that make them special dives.
A trip to Truk Lagoon is a trip back in time. It is a giant museum of W.W.II treasures and a national treasure to the people who live in Chuuk State. These idyllic tropical pacific islands rely on tourism as their principle industry. The tourism is supplemented by fishing and foreign aid from the USA. Most people continue to live by subsistence farming and fishing on the outer islands of the group.