Truk Lagoon History

Truk Lagoon’s recorded history begins with early Spanish domination, followed by German acquisition after the Spanish-American war about 1896, and then a Japanese Mandate from the League of Nations upon Germany’s defeat in 1918.

World War II

The Japanese era saw a great buildup of arms and bases in advance of a wide military blitz over the Western Pacific. The blitz was supplied heavily from facilities at Truk, where often more than 1,000 merchant and war ships moored in readiness for further deployment.

Five airfields supporting close to 500 aircraft were constructed to provide a protective shield over Truk’s Gibraltar-like facilities. A deep lagoon, high islands and circling barrier reef added extensive natural protection.

Patrol boats, torpedo boats, submarines, tugs, landing craft, gunboats and mine sweepers contributed to the final defenses and service needs to maintain this big base.

Truk Lagoon was considered the most formidable of all Japanese strongholds in the Pacific. This reputation caused an overconfident Truk command to relax their vigil against invasion, in spite of U.S. forces fast approaching from the East. Supplies from Japan had almost ceased, due to immense success of U.S. submarines finally equipped with torpedoes finding their mark. Supply convoys receiving nearly 90% losses enroute to Truk, deprived the garrison of needed food, fuel and new armaments desperately required to maintain its supportive strength. By early 1944, the U.S. forces amassed a huge armada of top line carriers, battleships, cruisers, destroyers and submarines for a major surprise sweep against Truk on February 16th, 17th and 18th. This attack, coded “Operation Hailstone”, caught the Japanese totally unaware, leading to one of the most successful U.S. engagements of WWII.

After a follow up attack in April, 1944, Truk was reduced to rubble with over 70 shipwrecks, 400 aircraft destroyed or sunk, and the menace of this big fortress completely eliminated. The U.S. forces declined direct engagement with the 40,000 troops at Truk, and after these attacks, starvation consumed many of the defenders and native people before a complete Japanese surrender late in 1945.


About 20 years after this conflict, adventure divers such as Jacques Cousteau, Al Giddings and Klaus Lindeman began exploring the sunken wonders of Truk Lagoon’s huge submerged fleet, replete with incredible vistas of war machinery, soft coral draperies, fish life and personal mementos. Truk is without parallel, having its ghostly remains and ensuing aquatic life forming the world’s greatest wreck diving in a wonderfully comfortable location.

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