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Lust4Rust

The Ultimate Wreck Diving Excursions

 The Naval Base

 

In describing this naval base, the word "impregnable" was often used while others compared it to Pearl Harbor or called it "Japan's mid-Pacific Gibraltar." Operation Hailstone was one of the most aggressive actions taken by U.S. forces against the strongest of Japan's Pacific outposts. A huge striking force, Task Force 50, was formed which included three groups of Task Force 58 aircraft carriers. Admiral Raymond Spruance, with his flag in battleship New Jersey, was in command of the operation. For two days, February 17 and 18, 1944, coordinated fighter sweeps followed by regularly scheduled strikes from the carrier groups were flown against Truk. The pre-dawn fighter sweeps were flown to destroy all Japanese air opposition and the following strikes by waves of torpedo and dive-bombers with fighter cover were to target installations and shipping. Major Japanese fleet units had managed to escape prior to the attacks eliminating the possibility of a hoped-for confrontation with the battleships and carriers, but the American planes found over 60 vessels still within the lagoon. Although many prime shipping targets managed to escape during the two days of attacks, the U.S. planes managed to sink over 45 ships including: two light cruisers, four destroyers, five special auxiliary vessels, five minor combatant vessels, two sub-chasers, motor torpedo boat, and 26 merchantmen,

Totaling over 220,000 tons. Many other vessels were damaged. Truk's airfields had held some 365 planes, including transient aircraft bound for Rabaul and the Solomons. About 270 of these were destroyed in the air and on the ground, leaving only a handful still operational. More raids against Truk would come in the following months including Army Air Force (AAF) B-24 and B-29 bombing attacks that would wrack further havoc amongst installations, airfields, and shipping. The result of the bombing campaign was the destruction of Truk's air strength and naval facilities that effectively eliminated its offensive capabilities and rendered it useless to Japan. American naval planners made the decision to forego the follow-up attacks by amphibious landing forces and bypass the neutralized islands while continuing the advance to the west and north towards the Japanese homeland. With its supply lines effectively cut off, Truk became isolated and no longer a threat Its defenders were faced with increasingly wretched existence while they sat out the remainder of the war.

Truk's World War II legacy was to become a major influence on the islands in modern days. The collection of shipwrecks and aircraft lying on the seabed of the shallow lagoon and the islands honeycombed with caves, concrete bunkers, and rusted anti- aircraft and coastal defense guns would come to the world's attention in 1970, one year after the Cousteau Expedition visited the lagoon, conducted a rather thorough survey of the wrecks, and produced a film that publicized same. The total numbers and diversity of the wrecks bring over 6,000 divers per year to these islands. Truk is a World War II enthusiast's dream. None of the wrecks are alike; each has its own particular lure for the diver.

Some of the sunken vessels, serving as artificial reefs, are known for their incredibly prolific coral encrustation. These shallower wrecks are directly in the path of warm coral-larvae-bearing and plankton-rich currents and have their masts, derricks, funnels, railings, and deck guns, in particular, adorned with soft and hard corals, sponges, gorgonians, and fluted oysters. They have become a haven of life on an otherwise barren seabed. Swarms of small reef fishes and sometimes pelagic species live in and around the wrecks. Deeper wrecks, little influenced by sunlight, have much less marine growth and the majority is in better structural shape after more than a half-century of resting on the seabed than the shallower wrecks.

Exert from DanBaileys book WWII Wrecks of Truk Lagoon

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© Pete Mesley's Lust4Rust and Shock&Awe Big Animal Diving - Auckland, New Zealand, 2103