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Operation Hailstone… A little history of Truk Lagoon

written by Glen Outhred – Perth Scuba Instructor

Lying within the Federation States of Micronesia, roughly 1800 kilometres north east of Papua New Guinea lies a wreck diving meca that has been the skies limit (or ocean depths) for divers across the globe holding more wrecks than Palau and Papua New Guinea. This popular location is Chuuk Lagoon and as you read on, you will find out how these atolls and islands came to be the awesomeness that it is today.Rio De Janeiro Maru

Many of you probably best know Chuuk Lagoon as Truk Lagoon or Ruk. Chuuk Lagoon was original a misinterpretation of Ruk, which then led to the popular name Truk Lagoon as you know today. Part of the Austronesian language, Chuuk means mountain which describes the atolls and protective reef.

Chuuk lagoon is a group of 11 major islands and approx 100 smaller islands. Although Chuuk was populated by the natives of Kosrae and Pohnpei around 2000 years ago it didn’t gain much notice until early in World War II when the Japanese used it as there main base in the South Pacific. Due to the heavy man made and natural fortifications, Chuuk was known as “The Gibraltar of the Pacific” and considered the most formidable of all Japanese strongholds.

With this we come to the American payback attack known as Operation Hailstone. With such an amass of battleships, aircraft carriers, gun ships, tug boats, tankers, cargo ships, submarines and minesweepers. Truk was the perfect choice to mount an attack to deal as much damage as the Japanese made on Pearl Harbour. On February 17th the Americans made their move but using a combination of airstrikes, surface ship actions and submarine attacks to take down the Japanese stronghold in complete surprise. The base of the attack was in the air force with bomb droppings and torpedoes. The navel fleet intercepted any Japanese ships that tried to escape. In total over 260 Japanese aircraft were destroyed along with over 50 ships including submarines, tankers, destroyers and cargo ships. All this was done in a battle that lasted 3 days.

Most of these sunken wrecks were originally in the Federation of Palau until they were moved inside the realm of the Chuuk islands. 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 17, 1944, greatly assisting U.S. forces in their conquest of that island. After completing Operation Hailstone the Japanese would never be able to recuperate for the amount of loss sustained to their cavalry which in turn (after a few more American attacks) led to their surrender in August 1945.

Today Chuuk (Truk) is a mecca for wreck diving with an entire fleet all in one underwater location. Ships as deep as 70 metres fully intact (some with Jeeps and tanks still aboard). For the most part, the wrecks are in shallower water only as deep as 35 metres. Whether you’re an Open Water diver or Tec Trimix and rebreather, Chuuk Lagoon really is a must see in your diving adventures… And that’s exactly why 23 of the Perth Scuba Crew will be diving there next month!

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