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World's biggest ship graveyard: Tropical waters of South Pacific hide haunting wreckage of World War II battle that left 60 Japanese warships rusting on lagoon floor

// UK
  • Over three days in 1944, more than 60 Japanese warships and 200 aircraft sank after an attack by Allied forces
  • During the Second World War Chuuk Lagoon was Japan's main base in the South Pacific
  • American bombardment of the base wiped out their supplies and reduced Japanese threat
  • The lagoon is now considered one of the top wreck diving destinations in the world

By Jill Reilly

PUBLISHED: 06:38 EST, 4 June 2013 | UPDATED: 07:31 EST, 4 June 2013

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It may look like a tropical paradise, but this stunning lagoon masks a dark secret... under the clear blue waters lies the biggest graveyard of ships in the world.

In the Second World War Chuuk Lagoon was Japan's main base in the South Pacific, but in 1944, American forces launched an attack and over a two day bombardment more than 60 warships ended up on the floor of the lagoon.

Years later the Japanese still pay their respects at the watery graves each year, but now the site, formally known as Truk Lagoon due to a mispronunciation, offers scuba divers a chance to explore a piece of living history.

Explore: A diver explores a wreck under the water - the spot is popular for tourists

Explore: It may look like a tropical paradise, but this stunning South Pacific masks a dark secret as under the clear blue waters lies the biggest graveyard of ships in the world

Morbid: Japanese skulls on a shipwreck in the lagoon

Morbid: Japanese skulls on a shipwreck in the lagoon. In War World Two Truk Lagoon was Japan's main base in the South Pacific

Decaying: A fish swims through the rusting interior of a bathroom on the sunken boat

Decaying: A fish swims through the rusting interior of a bathroom on the sunken boat. In 1944, American forced attacked the base during a two day bombardment

Reminders of life: Porcelain dishes from the wreck of the World War II vessel Fujikawa, lie at the bottom of Truk Lagoon

Reminders of life: Porcelain dishes from the wreck of the World War II vessel Fujikawa, lie at the bottom of Truk Lagoon

Chuuk Lagoon is a sheltered body of water in the central Pacific north-east of New Guinea - it is part of Chuuk State within the Federated States of Micronesia.

It provided Japan with a perfect natural harbour to protect its large ships and they moved their military across and fortified the islands.

They built an airstrip there and made it such a successful base it soon caught the eye of America as the 'Gibraltar of the Pacific.'

Japanese Pearl Habour:

Japanese Pearl Harbour: A Grumman Avenger drops a bomb on his this Japanese destroyer, veiled in a gigantic cloud of smoke steam and foam. It was one of many enemy ships that were sent to the bottom in the smashing task force raid

Attack: A Nakajima B6N Tenzan torpedo bomber, known to the Allies as "Jill", flies through anti-aircraft fire during a battle in the Truk Islands and right,  crew on a  OS2U near Truk await rescue by USS Tang

Assault: US airplanes attack the Truk Anchorage as part of the two-day attack against the Japanese

Assault: US airplanes attack the Truk Anchorage as part of the two-day attack against the Japanese

The codename for the assault on Chuuk Lagoon was 'Operation Hailstone' and the attack began on 17 February, lasting for two bitter and bloody days.

The American armada included five fleets carriers and four light carriers - they were also seven battleships, submarines, destroyers and over 500 aircraft.

Over 250 Japanese aircraft were destroyed - most of them had not had a chance to take off as they had only just arrived from Japan and were partly dissembled.

Remnants: The Betty Bomber sits at the bottom of the lagoon

Remnants: The Betty Bomber sits at the bottom of the lagoon. more than 60 warships and 275 aircraft ended up on the floor of the lagoon

Depths: Several divers explore the wreckage of a sunken aircraft in the lagoon

Depths: Several divers explore the wreckage of a sunken aircraft in the lagoon

The few Japanese aircraft that did take off were claimed destroyed -  the U.S. lost twenty-five aircraft during the attack, mainly due to the intense anti-aircraft fire from Truk's defenses.

Very few of the troops aboard the sunken ships survived - the attacks ended Chuuk Lagoon as a major threat to Allied operations in the central Pacific.

Most of the wrecks were left untouched for nearly 25 years since people feared setting off the thousands of sunken bombs.

Many of the shipwrecks in the scuba diving paradise have full cargo holds full of fighter aircraft, tanks and bulldozers.

They also have spooky reminders of human life such as perfectly preserved porcelain cups positioned next to skulls.

federated States of Micronesia Locator.jpg

Chuuk Lagoon, formerly known as Truk Lagoon, is a sheltered body of water in the central Pacific

Wreck: A Japanese Betty Bomber aircraft lies in a mangled wreck in the bottom of the lagoon

Wreck: A Japanese Betty Bomber aircraft lies in a mangled wreck in the bottom of the lagoon

Grim: A scuba diver gazes at a human skull from a Japanese sailor who died in Operation Hailstorm

Ammunition: Bullets found in the shipwreck after the 1944 attack

Ammunition: Bullets found in the shipwreck after the 1944 attack

A diver checks out the Kenshu cargo hold. The American bombardment of the base wiped out their supplies and reduced Japanese threat

A car which was inside a Japanese ship which sank

A car which was inside a Japanese ship which sank

Resting place: A tank settles on the bottom of the lagoon covered in barnacles

Resting place: A tank settles on the bottom of the lagoon covered in barnacles

Focus: The attacks ended Truk as a major threat to Allied operations in the central Pacific during the Second World War

Condition: Dishes in the shipwreck are still perfectly preserved despite decades under the water

Condition: Dishes in the shipwreck are still perfectly preserved despite decades under the water

Search: Two snorkelers try and catch a glimpse of the hidden shipwrecks under the water

Search: Two snorkelers try and catch a glimpse of the hidden shipwrecks under the water

Left over: Many of the shipwrecks in the scuba diving paradise have full cargo holds of items used during the Second World War

Left over: Many of the shipwrecks in the scuba diving paradise have full cargo holds of items used during the Second World War

Above the surface: Islanders fishing in Truk Lagoon - the clear waters have proven popular with tourists and scuba divers

Above the surface: Islanders fishing in Truk Lagoon - the clear waters have proven popular with tourists and scuba divers

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