Adventure: Truk Lagoon Diving Trip Report
This trip has been one of the highlights of my diving career. Truk or alternative known as Chuuk Lagoon. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about this truly unique diving spot:
Chuuk Lagoon, formerly known as Truk Lagoon, is a sheltered body of water in the central Pacific. About 1800 km north-east of New Guinea, it is located mid-ocean at 7 degrees North latitude, and is part of Chuuk State within the Federated States of Micronesia. The atoll consists of a protective reef, 225 kilometres (140 mi) around, enclosing a natural harbour 79 by 50 kilometres (49 by 30 mi), with an area of 2,130 square kilometres (820 sq mi). It has a land area of 127.4 square kilometres (49.2 sq mi), with a population of 47,871 people.
It is not known when the islands of Chuuk were first settled, but, based on archaeological evidence, these islands had originally been settled more than 2000 years ago. It is not known with certainty where the original inhabitants came from. Based on archaeological evidence, it seems that, after about 200 AD, there was no continuous settlement until about 1300 AD. With further archaeological work, it is possible this gap could be filled in. However, because Chuuk is not high on the archaeological agenda (See List of archaeological sites sorted by country), it is improbable that such a developed study will begin soon. It is probable that people came from Pohnpei and Kosrae to the east, based on many legend and language similarities.
First recorded sighting by Europeans by Spanish navigator Álvaro de Saavedra on board of ship Florida in between August and September of 1528. They were later visited by Spaniard Alonso de Arellano on 15 January 1565 on board of galleon patache San Lucas.
As part of the colonial territory of the Caroline Islands, Truk was part of the Spanish Empire. The Caroline Islands control were sold to the German Empire in 1899. It became a possession of the Japanese Empire under a mandate from the League of Nations following Germany’s defeat in World War I.
During World War II, Truk Lagoon was the Empire of Japan’s main base in the South Pacific theatre. Truk was a heavily fortified base for Japanese operations against Allied forces in New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, serving as the forward anchorage for the Japanese Imperial Fleet.
The place was considered the most formidable of all Japanese strongholds in the Pacific. On the various islands, the Japanese Civil Engineering Department and Naval Construction Department had built roads, trenches, bunkers and caves. Five airstrips, seaplane bases, a torpedo boat station, submarine repair shops, a communications center and a radar station were constructed during the war. Protecting these various facilities were coastal defense guns and mortar emplacements. The Japanese garrison consisted of 27,856 IJN men under the command of Vice Admiral Masami Kobayashi then Vice Admiral Chuichi Hara and 16,737 IJA men under the command of Major General Kanenobu Ishuin. Due to its heavy fortifications, both natural and manmade, the base at Truk was known to Allied forces as “the Gibraltar of the Pacific”.
A significant portion of the Japanese fleet was based there, with its administrative center on Tonoas (south of Weno). At anchor in the lagoon were the Imperial Japanese Navy’s battleships, aircraft carriers, cruisers, destroyers, tankers, cargo ships, tugboats, gunboats, minesweepers, landing craft, and submarines. Some have described Truk as Japan’s equivalent of the Americans’ Pearl Harbor.
In 1944, Truk would be devastated in one of the important naval attacks of the war. Forewarned by intelligence a week before the US raid, the Japanese had withdrawn their larger warships (heavy cruisers and larger vessels) to Palau. Once the American forces captured the Marshall Islands, they used it as a base from which they launched an early morning attack on February 17, 1944 against Truk Lagoon. Operation Hailstone lasted for three days, as American carrier-based planes sank twelve warships (light cruisers, destroyers, and auxiliaries) and thirty-two merchant ships, while destroying 275 aircraft. The consequences of the attack made “Truk lagoon the biggest graveyard of ships in the world”.
The attacks for the most part ended Truk as a major threat to Allied operations in the central Pacific; the Japanese garrison on Eniwetok was denied any realistic hope of reinforcement and support during the invasion that began on February 18, 1944, greatly assisting U.S. forces in their conquest of that island. Truk was isolated by Allied (primarily U.S.) forces as they continued their advance towards Japan by invading other Pacific islands such as Guam, Saipan, Palau, and Iwo Jima. Cut off, the Japanese forces on Truk and other central Pacific islands ran low on food and faced starvation before Japan surrendered in August 1945.
Three South African including myself and an American friend were able to go on this trip of the initial group of 22. It was an unbelievable privilege to dive this unique spot in the world. In total there are supposedly more than 67 divable wrecks dating from the second world war. The dives tend to be very deep and this really territory for re-breathers and trimix diving. Us open circuit divers were absolutely determined not to miss out on anything, and we were forced to do deep deco dives – a first for me! One thing is for certain – this is not junior diving territory. Most divers that registered have in excess of 300 dives under the belt – most of them much more. My logged level now sits at 449 after this trip – but the 22 dives done on Truk is by far of the highest quality and has certainly increased my diving skills tremendously.
Truk is such a special place that I will have to go back and dive it again some day. Have a look at the absurdly beautiful picture our group was able to take – they completely speak for themselves.
Here’s two videos I made from our trip:
Here are some of the pictures taken during the trip.