The Historical Society of Dunkirk will present a program on the Japanese shipwrecks of Truk (now called Chuuk) Lagoon in the South Pacific on Wednesday, Oct. 24, at 6:30 p.m., at the Dunkirk Historical Museum. The program is another in a series of programs designed to invite the public to take part in museum activities and is also part of its current membership drive.
Truk is part of the Federated States of Micronesia, located 3,200 miles southwest of Hawaii.
In 1918 the islands and their deep lagoon were acquired from Germany by the Japanese following Germany's defeat after World War II. The Japanese began a buildup of arms and base there in the late 1930s and early 1940s in advance of its military invasion of the Western Pacific. During that time often more than 1,000 merchant and war ships moored in the lagoon in readiness for further deployment. Five airfields supported some 500 aircraft, patrol boats, torpedo boats, subs, tugs, landing craft, gunboats, and mine sweepers, all helping the buildup of the Japanese military stronghold.
Truk became a stronghold for the Japanese Imperial Navy. Due to its man-made and natural fortifications, the base at Truk was known to Allied forces as "the Gibraltar of the Pacific." On the various islands, the Japanese built five airstrips that held 500 aircraft, and added seaplane bases, a torpedo boat station, submarine repair shops, a communications center and a radar station. Protecting these various facilities were coastal defense guns and mortar emplacements. 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. Truk Lagoon became Japan's main base in the South Pacific theatre, the base for Japanese operations against Allied forces in New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.
In February 1944, the U.S. military launched Operation Hailstone, an attack on the Japanese Imperial Navy at Truk that lasted for three days. Over two days they destroyed 60 ships and 275 airplanes, making the lagoon the biggest graveyard of ships in the world. After this attack Truk lost its importance as a base of operations for the Japanese Imperial Navy.
In November 2011, Historical Museum president Diane Andrasik was part of a group of 20 divers who flew to Truk, traveling for two days from Buffalo to Newark to Hawaii and then on to Truk. The group lived on the diving live-aboard SS Thorfin, a 170-foot converted whaling ship based in the lagoon and made repeated dives to several of the ships. Photos of several wrecks of the many merchant ships sunk during the operation some 68years ago will be shown, as well as those of a destroyer and a Japanese "Betty Bomber" airplane. A highlight of the week long stay was a 157- foot dive to the deck of the San Francisco Maru (Japanese for merchant ship), where Japanese Mitsubishi Type 95 "Ha-Go" light tanks were photographed. There are also images of items on decks such as bow guns and cargo cranes, engine telegraphs and items left on decks such as gas masks, bottles, crockery, and more. Cargo holds and other interior ship areas held trucks, bulldozers, bombs and land mines, saki bottles, and bicycle parts, an operating table and radio units, all of which were photographed. Barrels of fuel meant to allow planes to fly lay in the holds, crushed by the water depth.
The Dunkirk Historical Museum invites anyone interested in World War II history and shipwrecks to attend. The program is free to the public, but donations will be gratefully accepted.