Michael McFadyen's Scuba Diving - Chuuk Lagoon
|Kelly and Michael at sunset drinks at Blue Lagoon|
Many places throughout the world claim title to the best diving. However, without much doubt, the title really belongs to the mid-Pacific location of Chuuk Lagoon.
The islands that comprise the area now known as Chuuk Lagoon were first discovered (legend says) by Sowukachaw and his son in about the 14th century. It is possible that they came from Kosrae. Europeans first sighted Chuuk Lagoon in 1565 when the Spanish explorer Alonso de Arellano in his ship San Lucas visited. Almost 250 years later in 1814, Manuel Dublon in the San Antonio came to Chuuk to collect beche-de-mer (sea cucumber). In 1899 Germany purchased Chuuk from Spain and held it until shortly after the outbreak of World War I when Japan seized it as one of the Allies.
Under Germany's control the place was called Truk Lagoon (a corruption of the locals' pronunciation) and became the capital of the Caroline Islands. The Japanese retained Truk as the capital and in 1922 the League of Nations permitted Japan to hold the islands under mandate. One rule of the mandate was that Japan was not permitted to fortify the islands.
The location and geographical characteristics of Truk made it one of the best naval bases in the Pacific. Truk Lagoon is a maximum of 64 km across and has a circumference of 220 km and has only five entrances, making it the the world's largest lagoon. Within the lagoon, 15 main islands and about 240 islets provided the Japanese with an ideal starting point to make a base that would be almost impossible to invade.
In the early 1940s, Japan constructed major fortifications on islets near the five entrances as well as airstrips and bases on the main islands, including Moen, Dublon, Eten, Fefan, Uman and Parum Islands. Situated as it is, Truk was the most important Japanese base in the Pacific Ocean, providing a vital staging point for air and sea support for the war fronts of the Solomons and New Guinea. Truk became known as the Gibraltar of the Pacific due to these fortifications.
Soon after the start of the war against Japan, Australia recognised the importance of Truk Lagoon to Japan. In January 1942 intelligence gathered by Australia showed Truk likely to be the pivot of any attack on New Guinea. On 9 January 1942 a Lockheed Hudson of the RAAF flew a photo reconnaissance flight over Truk. It reported that 12 warships, an aircraft carrier, 3 merchant ships and 1 hospital ship were present in the lagoon. Australia decided to bomb Truk and six Consolidated PYB Catalinas set out on 12 January 1942 but due to extremely poor conditions and thunderstorms, the planes returned without seeing the lagoon.
Australia requested that American Boeing B17 Flying Fortresses be diverted from their delivery run to Java to do one bomb run on Truk. The Americans decided that Truk was not important enough, a possibly flawed decision as it turns out. On 15 January 1942, six RAAF Catalinas again set off to Truk. One crashed and another landed to rescue the crew. Of the rest, three did not see the bases and one dropped 16 bombs. It is not known if they hit their marks.
|Some of the Blue Lagoon boats||Blue Lagoon's Small Island|
After July 1942 the Japanese First, Second, Third Fleets as well as the Sixth Submarine Fleet operated out of Truk Lagoon. It was not until early 1944 that the Allies were in a position to attack Truk again. On 4 February 1944 two USAF Catalinas flew over and photographed the Truk Lagoon bases.
On 17 and 18 February 1944 (note: these are the correct local dates), a US Task Force led by the giant battleship USS New Jersey (with nine carriers) launched air raids against Truk in an attack code-named Operation Hailstone. During the battle, the Japanese lost 275 aircraft and 45 ships (over 220,000 tons) including 6 destroyers/cruisers, 5 sub-chasers, 5 tankers, and 26 merchantmen. In addition, 27 ships were damaged. In contrast, the US only lost 25 aircraft with 29 crew killed. A torpedo hit on the carrier USS Intrepid also killed 11 crew.
From 14 March to 7 April 1944 B-24 Mitchell bombers repeatedly attacked Truk from Bougainville destroying 130 aircraft. On 29-30 April 1944 further attacks by aircraft from 12 carriers destroyed 123 aircraft and 3 ships. Further attacks by B-24s continued through October 1944 and from October till the end of the war, 32 experimental flights of Boeing B-29 Superfortresses occurred in practice for the bombing of Japan.
After World War II, Truk became a Trust Territory of the United Nations, administered by the USA. On 10 May 1979 Pohnpei, Kosrae and Truk became the Federated States of Micronesia and in 1989 the name of Truk was officially changed back to its traditional pronunciation of Chuuk (Chook to us). Therefore, the correct name of this magnificent dive location is Chuuk Lagoon, the state is Chuuk and the country is the Federated States of Micronesia.
For more information about Chuuk itself see the following page: Chuuk Summary
For information about the wrecks, return to the Chuuk Wreck Summary.