Chuuk Lagoon - History and Facts | History Hit

Chuuk Lagoon

Chuuk, Chuuk, Micronesia

America’s triumphant 1944 attack on Japan’s base at the Chuuk Lagoon in the South Pacific, they created the world’s largest graveyard of ships and aircraft.

Peta Stamper

16 Apr 2021

About Chuuk Lagoon

On the 17-18 February 1944, America carried out Operation Hailstone, destroying Japan’s Chuuk Lagoon base in the South Pacific. Japan lost over 250 airplanes and 137 tonnes of ships, the remains of which still lie at the bottom of the lagoon: the world’s biggest ship and aircraft graveyard.

The event is often referred to as the Japanese equivalent of Pearl Harbour. Today, Chuuk Lagoon is among the top wreck diving spots of the world.

Chuuk Lagoon history

Previously Truk Atoll, the site of Chuuk Lagoon is located 1,800 km north of New Guinea and consists of a protective reef enclosing a natural harbour. The surrounding Chuuk islands had been settled since the 14th century AD but were claimed by the Spanish Empire, German Empire and eventually the Empire of Japan in 1914, who seized the lagoon from Germany during World War One.

During World War Two, Chuuk Lagoon was the Empire of Japan’s main and most formidable naval base in the South Pacific. The base was heavily fortified against the Allies who were operating in New Guinea and the nearby Soloman Islands. A large part of the Japanese fleet was based at Chuuk, including Imperial battleships, aircraft carriers, cruisers, destroyers, minesweepers and submarines.

In 1944, the Japanese Imperial naval base at Chuuk was destroyed by a US naval attack. Having been warned, the Japanese removed their larger warships. However, Operation Hailstone as the attack was known, continued for 3 days as US planes sank 12 smaller warships and 32 merchant ships, as well as 275 aircraft.

The destruction of Chuuk Lagoon’s base prevented it from being a major threat to the Allies in the Central Pacific, especially after it was attacked again by British naval forces in June 1945.

In 1969, a French oceanographer Jacques Cousteau explored the lagoon and following his documentary about the haunting remains of the naval base, the lagoon became a popular site for scuba-diving enthusiasts.

Chuuk Lagoon today

Today, you can visit the Chuuk Lagoon and dive throughout the incredible preserved remains of the Japanese Imperial naval fleet. Divers can spend hours exploring the site’s wrecks, returning multiple times without seeing the same wreckage twice, testifying to the great destruction of Operation Hailstone.

With a local diving guide, you can even explore the engine rooms and cargo holds of some of the destroyed ships. The lagoon is also home to a large variety of beautiful soft and hard corals, all of brilliant colours and providing shelter to rich marine life.

Getting to Chuuk Lagoon

Situated in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, Chuuk Lagoon is hard to access. You can get a direct flight from Guam which takes 1 hour and 46 minutes, or fly from Papua New Guinea which is a 3 hour flight to Chuuk International Airport in Weno. From Weno you get a diving boat to the lagoon.