Truk Lagoon Report

                          

GREAT DIVING, GREAT WEATHER, GREAT PEOPLE, GREAT FOOD, GREAT HISTORY. Is it no wonder Truk Lagoon is rated one of the top wreck dive locations in the world? Add in GREAT COMRADERY and you've got one of the best dive trips you could ever hope to experience.

Saturday morning, Jim and Saundra Copeland and Jim's brother Rick, (younger but not by much) picked me up on the way to the Corpus Christi Airport headed for Chukk Island in the Federated States of Micronesia. Where?? 24 hour plane ride west of Corpus and 7 degrees north of the equator. For an extra $3,000 you can knock some time off the the trip because First Class passengers have their baggage expedited at your destination. (But you still have to wait for the cheapskates)

Sunday night we and all of our luggage arrived. The guy in First class was well rested and well fed. The short 3 mile trip to our Hotel only took 45 minutes. (No roads) The hotel was really quite nice. It was extremely clean, very good food and friendly staff. The electricity was on most of the time and we had air conditioning and water.

And now to the diving. It was great! I don't see how it could have been any better. The boat picked us up right at the hotel dock where we stored our gear in lockers. Most of the dives were only a 10 to 15 minute boat ride. The water temperature was 85 degrees on the surface and 85 degrees at 130 feet. Only one of our dives had current and it was still a non-issue for us. Coral covers most of the ships exterior making some things unrecognizable but our Dive Master pointed those out o us. The coral itself was beautiful and a lot of it. I saw for the first time.

We easily penetrated most of the wrecks either through large torpedo holes or cargo openings. Trucks, tanks, steamrollers, airplanes, and engines were still recognizable after more than sixty years under water. Items inside the ships and away from current did not have coral on them.

For months before going on this trip, every time I talked with Jim Copeland the 169 submarine would come up. Jim has dove the submarine once or twice before and could not wait to see it again and he was determined to go inside it. He even bought a new million dollor camera to video it. So there we are … tied up to the mooring line it leads to the sub, when the Dive Master says "The hatch is welded shut!" Jim calmly asked "When did they weld it shut?" Dive Master "Back in the eighties!" and with that Jim was gone. He went over the side so fast that he didn't even make a splash. To make a long story short, I didn't see Jim again until he was coming out of a hatch with his camera in hand and he's videoed the inside of tthat sub to prove it. (either the hatch was not welded shut or Jim broke it open. He never said and I never asked)

We took 2 to 3 hour surface intervals to extend our bottom time on our 2nd and 3rd dives. We spent this time watching the video Jim took of the previous dive. It was like making a second dive on the wreck because we always saw things we missed on the actual dive.

Well all good thing must end and so it was with this trip. For me the best part of the trip was the relaxed diving and sharing it with some really great Friends! At 2 am Monday morning, we left Chukk Island and 24 hours later we arrived back in Corpus Christi. Even the guy in First class was exhausted!

Written by JackWhitford (1st Class Passenger)
 

                                           
                                   
                                             The I-169 and the USS Worden(DD-352)

   


Our trip to the Truk Lagoon was an exceptional experience. We literally dove into history. There is probably not another place on earth where there are so many World War II relics in such good condition. We dove on six armed freighters, a tanker, a sub tender, a destroyer, a submarine and a Betty bomber and they were all within 25 minutes of our hotel. Although I had done a little research before the trip, I didn't know in advance which ships we would be diving on so I only had sketches of their history. Once I got home I got on the Internet and have turned up a wealth of information. What follows is just one rabbit trail I have followed and it relates to the Japanese Imperial submarine I-169 and how its history intersects with the US destroyer USS Worden.
We dove on the submarine I-169 on the morning of our fourth day on Weno Island. The I-169 is unusual for a couple of reasons: it is the only wreck we dove on that was not sunk during the US air raids (Operation Hailstone) on February 17 and 18, 1944, and it is the only wreck we dove on that was sunk due to an accident not hostile fire. The information supplied on-line (Ref #1) by the Blue Lagoon Dive Shop says the I-169 was sunk while replenishing fuel and supplies in April 1944. The sub had received a warning of an American air raid and dove to the bottom to wait until the raid was over. When the sub failed to resurface divers were sent down and found a storm ventilation tube open and the control room flooded. Salvage operations failed and the entire crew perished. The Japanese 6th fleet command blew up the I-169 with depth charges to prevent its being compromised by impending American invasion forces.


Additional research revealed that the I-169 had an interesting but troubled history (2). The I-169 was an old but large and fast submarine and it was one of two submarines that participated in the attack on Pearl Harbor. The other sub was sunk during the attack. The I-169 had three missions at Pearl Harbor: sink ships, recover the crews from the midget submarines and rescue downed airmen. The I-169 was spotted by a US destroyer and it fired a torpedo at the destroyer but missed. Then it got entangled in an antisubmarine net and almost ran out of air before working free. By the time she worked free of the net she had failed at all three missions. During the remainder of the war she only sank one ship and subsequently became a surveillance and supply boat.


The first time I heard about the ship she sank, the Tjinegara, she was referred to as a troop ship. I was curious as to the damage the I-169 had done since troop ships carry thousands of men. I discovered that it was the U.S. Army Transport (USAT) Tjinegara (3). She was a transport but not a troop transport. She was hauling 477 horses and/or mules, a road grader and 2,000 cases of beer. The USAT Tjinegara was an animal transport with a crew of 36. She was sunk 70 miles off Noumea, New Caledeonia on July 25, 1942. All the crew were rescued by the USS Worden and the US Fleet Oiler Platte (AO-24). The USS Worden was escorting the Platte to Australia to get fuel for the Aircraft Carrier Saratoga. The USAT Tjinegara had been a Dutch freighter and was in the Netherlands East Indies port of Surabaya when the Japanese invaded Java. She was one of 28 Dutch ships in the harbor, only she and one other escaped, 26 of the 28 ships were sunk or scuttled. The Tjinegara fled for Australia on February 17, 1942,with Dutch aircraft and refugees on board. She arrived safely in Sydney on March 10, 1942. She was taken over by the US Army on April 25, 1942, and converted to a animal transport. She may have been sunk on her first mission as an Army Transport (4, 5, 6, 7). The Fleet Oiler Platte, launched in 1939, survived the war, served in the Korean War and Viet Nam and was sold for scrap on May 14, 1971 (8).
Another oddity on the sinking of the USAT Tjinegara. Once on board USAT Tjinegara survivor Robert Lee Shaw was approached by a USSWorden sailor who offered him is bunk to recover in. The sailor's name was Robert George Shaw - no relation.


The I-169 continued her new role as a supply boat. She made a number of trips to yhe Aleutian Islands in Alaska to support the two Japanese bases there. The Japanese had invaded Attu Island and Kiska Island in June 1942. The US Navy began making plans to re-take the islands, but since they were about 2,000 miles from mainland Alaska, they need staging bases closer. In December 1942, they selected Amchitka Island, an unoccupied island about 50 miles from Kiska to be used for airfields. On January 12, 1943, with the wind blowing 60 knots and the water temperature 36 degrees US forces landed on Amchitka Island. The USS Worden supported the landing but ran aground on rocks off Constaine Harbor. Efforts to free her were unsuccessful and during the evacation of the USS Worden, 14 sailors died. The captain was knocked unconscious and washed overboard but was rescued. Eleven sailors were lost at sea; two were subsequently buried at sea and one was buried in Alaska. The USS Worden broke up and on January 17, 1943, sank in shallow water. On August 10, 1943, the US Navy depth charged the USS Worden to keep the Japanese from getting our radar secrets. A few oddities relating to the the USS Worden sinking: the Navy kept the sinking secret for 2 ½ years; the wreck site is still unmarked; after the war the island was used for atomic bomb testing and is still off limits to visitors; and the only sailor who's body was buried on land was subsequently moved to the Ft. Sam Houston National Cemetary in San Antonio (9).
In May 1943, using the new air fields on Amchika and other islands, the US invaded Attu Island. It was a bloody battle. The US had 549 troops killed and 3,780 wounded, US troops buried 2,351 Japanese bodies, only 28 of the Japanese on the island survived (10). The US was anticipating a simular fight for Kiska, but the Japanese secertly evacuated the island under cover of fog on July 23, 1943. US and Cadnadian troops, expecting a fight, landed unopposed on August 15, 1943, but incurred almost 300 casualties from friendly fire, mines and booby traps. The I-169 had assisted with the evacation.


When the I-169 made its last dive, its captain and about 20 of his crew of 70 were on shore on Dublon Island. During the rescue effort the Japanses tried to lift the sub with a repair ship's 30 ton crane but the chain broke. They then sent divers down who drilled holes and attached air hose to fill the ballast tanks but there was no one alive in the control room work the ballast levers. Also, nightly US air raids hampered the rescue efforts. Subsequently Japanese divers entered the forward compartments and removed 32 bodies. After the war the location of the wreck was lost. In February 1972, the wreck was rediscovered and divers enter the sub and filmed its interior. In August 1973, the remains of approximately 70 of the crew and members of the work parties and their personal effects were removed and returned to Japan where they were cremated as part of Shinto rites. The I-169's bell is displayed at the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo (11).

I-169 and USS Worden
Both were at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941
Both were involved in the sinking of the USAT Tjinegara
Both were involved in the fighting in the Aleutians
Both were sunk by accident
Both wrecks were destroyed by their own governments with depth charges
Both the captains survived the sinkings
On the afternoon of our first day we dove on the Heian Maru a submarine tender, the largest ship in the lagoon. The Heian Maru and her two sister ships the Hie Maru and the Hikawa Maru had been luxury passenger liners for the NYK Lines before the war. The Heian Maru and the Hie Maru were converted into sub tenders, the Hikawa Maru was converted into a hospital ship. The Heian Maru had a record of servicing the I-169 and the Hikawa Maru was in the Truk Lagoon with the Heian Maru during the Operation Hailstone attack, and Vice Admiral Takagi and his staff were aboard the Heian Maru, but those are more rabbit trails for another time…….

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