As one of the biggest theatres of combat during WWII, the many isolated islands, atolls, and archipelagos of the Pacific Ocean are littered with wartime wrecks of all kinds. Subsequent unprecedented peace-time tests of military might, as well as the usual maritime mishaps, and it’s clear why dedicated wreck diving enthusiasts hold the Pacific in such high regard.
But which of the Pacific Ocean’s countless wrecks should be at the top of your diving bucket-list? Check out our choice of the Pacific’s best wreck below.
San Francisco Maru, Chuuk Lagoon
Of the many wrecks in Chuuk Lagoon the San Francisco Maru is arguably the most highly-anticipated by visiting divers. This 117-metre vessel sits upright on the seabed, beginning at the edge of recreational diving limits and reaching a maximum depth of 62-metres. While the San Francisco Maru’s exterior is certainly striking, the real attraction is the boat’s extensive contents. In fact, this vessel’s holds are so laden with costly wartime cargo, it has become commonly known as the Million Dollar Wreck. Suitably certified divers visiting this impressive site can discover extensive stockpiles of mines, ammunition, aircraft bombs, torpedoes, and depth charges – not to mention several tanker trucks and battle tanks still positioned on the deck.
Fujikawa Maru, Chuuk Lagoon
Ranging between nine and 37-metres deep, Fujikawa Maru in Chuuk Lagoon is an exceptional wreck dive providing plenty of interest for recreational divers, including large six-inch guns situated at the bow and stern. Measuring 132-metres long, this sizeable vessel offers different open holds for divers to explore, many of which house an interesting selection of artefacts. Typical wartime paraphernalia such as gas masks and shell casings lie strewn across various surfaces throughout the wreck, while incomplete Mitsubishi Zero fighter planes can also be found. Divers can also penetrate to the machine shop, revealing workshop components including an anthropomorphic air compressor affectionately known as R2D2.
Nippo Maru, Chuuk Lagoon
Nippo Maru lies between 21 and 47-metres deep, straddling the realms of recreational and technical exploration. Small munitions of all kinds can be found all over this wreck, but it’s the twin-barrel anti-aircraft guns, howitzers, and a Japanese battle tank which often garner the most excitement – and that’s all without entering the wreck. Suitably certified divers will also find plenty of opportunity for penetration here. In fact, Nippo Maru’s bridge is one of the most intact and interesting examples in the entire lagoon and there are multiple holds to explore, some of which are littered with empty beer bottles.
USS Saratoga, Bikini Atoll
Measuring 270-metres in length the USS Saratoga is Bikini Atoll’s signature site and one of the largest diveable shipwrecks in the world. This enormous aircraft carrier sank hours after the Test Baker blast of Operation Crossroads, which is said to have lifted its stern right out of the water. Today, the vessel sits upright at a maximum depth of 51-metres, surrounded by scattered planes, though much of the main decks begin at around 27-metres.
As you can imagine, several dives are required if you want to thoroughly explore the wreck, particularly if you plan on penetration. In fact, only a small percentage of Saratoga’s heavily compartmentalised interior has been mapped, with countless closed doors that will never again be opened. Still, it is possible to explore a variety of spaces, including workshops, mess decks, and accommodations – not to mention the well-preserved sick bay complete with its dentist chair and instruments.
HIJMS Nagato, Bikini Atoll
HIJMS Nagato was the Japanese Combined Fleet’s command vessel during its WWII attack on Pearl Harbour. Several days after the impact of Test Baker during Operation Crossroads, HIJMS Nagato rolled over and sank to the seafloor some 52-metres below the surface of Bikini Atoll's lagoon. Today, despite lying upside down, this wreck is still one of the most popular dives in Bikini Atoll. The four enormous propellers and two large rudders immediately stand out on this wreck, followed by two impressive 16” guns hanging from the hull. Towards the bow, it is possible to explore the vessel’s broken pagoda mast, complete with spotting points, rangefinders, gun directors, and voice tubes. Various penetration routes can also be explored throughout the wreck.
Prinz Eugen, Kwajalein Atoll
Having survived WWII and both test blasts of Operation Crossroads at Bikini Atoll, Prinz Eugen was towed to neighbouring Kwajalein Atoll. Crews were unable to board the vessel due to radioactive contamination, and a leak below the waterline went unrepaired - Prinz Eugen eventually sank several months later. The boat now lies upside down off the island of Enubuj, at a maximum depth of around 36-metres. As liveaboard trips to Bikini Atoll typically depart from Kwajalein, Prinz Eugen is often the very first wreck to be explored. And, while it is frequently overshadowed by Bikini’s iconic ghost fleet, Prinz Eugen is a world-class wreck in its own right.
Two propellers, anti-aircraft guns and armed torpedo launchers can still be seen on the vessel’s exterior, while an open hatch allows divers to see storage racks stacked with spare munitions. A number of entry points around the wreck provide access to bathrooms, galleys, crew quarters, and more, where furniture remains bolted to the floor, now hanging upside down from above.
Taiyo Wreck, Solomon Islands
This fabled site is in Nono Lagoon, off the southeast coast of New Georgia in the Solomon Islands, and is one of the most photogenic wrecks imaginable. Taiyo – meaning tuna – is the local name given to this Taiwanese fishing vessel which ran aground during its maiden voyage. An attempt to salvage the ship went awry, causing it to slide stern-first over the drop-off which plummets to depths of over a thousand metres. Luckily, the vessel’s vertical descent was halted by a convenient coral outcrop which wedged the boat in place at a maximum depth of around 40-metres. The wreck now stands at a near-perfect 90° angle against the reef wall, firmly planted in a seemingly precarious position, with its bow almost touching the surface.
Toa Maru, Solomon Islands
Lying around 20-minutes from Gizo, Toa Maru is one of the best-known recreational wreck dives in the Solomon Islands. This sizeable Japanese transport ship rests on its starboard side, starting less than 10-metres from the surface and sloping gradually to a maximum depth of around 37-metres. Scattered around the deck area, divers can spot various bombs and other munitions, along with a motorbike, truck, and a tank. Past salvaging operations opened up several holes in the vessel, creating penetration opportunities for divers, while an earthquake in 2007 dislodged the bridge and exposed some previously inaccessible parts of the ship’s holds.
Hirokawa Maru, Solomon Islands
More commonly known as Bonegi 1, the Hirokawa Maru wreck is one of several shore dives located close to Honiara on the island of Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands. While originally grounded ashore in an upright position, storms, earthquakes, and salvage operations through the years have shifted this vessel onto its port side beneath the water. Hirokawa Maru’s badly damaged bow now rests around five-metres below the surface, while the similarly deteriorating stern sits far deeper, at around 60-metres. The middle section remains more intact and the entire vessel has become a thriving artificial reef with a dense covering of large corals and some superb swim-throughs.
George’s Wreck, Papua New Guinea
Located north of Rabaul, on the northeast coast of New Britain in Papua New Guinea, George’s wreck is a Japanese minelayer that has yet to be definitively identified. The wreck lies only a fin kick from the shore and ranges in depth from around 12-metres at the bow to 60-metres at the stern. Multiple winches provide some interest along the vessel’s deck, while inspection of the different holds reveals rusted mines, cables, and water containers. A thin carpet of coral covers much of the wreckage, including some large gorgonian sea fans, and the nearby reef can make a great place to explore during safety stops.
Blackjack Wreck, Papua New Guinea
The Blackjack Wreck is a submerged B-17 bomber located off the coast of Boga Boga village on Cape Vogel, due north of Milne Bay in Papua New Guinea. With two engines malfunctioning, and difficult flying conditions, the pilot ditched the plane which then sank to the seafloor some 50-metres below – creating one of the best aircraft wrecks in Papua New Guinea. While the nose cone is certainly crumpled and the propellers a little bent, the wreck of the plane is in remarkable condition, complete with guns in their turrets and hundreds of rounds of ammunition waiting to be fired. To help locate the wreck and increase bottom time, a permanent guideline is in place to lead divers from the shallow reef to the plane.
Zero Wreck, Papua New Guinea
Kimbe Bay’s Zero Wreck is that of a Mitsubishi Zero fighter which appears to have been flawlessly ditched just a stone’s throw from shore towards the northern end of the Willaumez Peninsula, New Britain. Lying in just 17-metres of water, this wreck is easily accessible to scuba divers of all levels and is almost entirely intact. During WWII, Mitsubishi Zero’s played a devastating role in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour and were utilised by the nation’s infamous Kamikaze pilots. Today, this aircraft rests serenely on the sandy seafloor, an obvious contrast with its deadly reputation.
Iro Maru, Palau
Situated just a short boat trip from Koror, within the Urukthapel Anchorage, Iro Maru is easily one of Palau’s most popular wrecks. This Japanese oil tanker stands upright on the seabed, at the edge of recreational limits, while its upper deck starts at a depth of around 27-metres. Iro Maru’s vast exterior boasts plenty of interest, including seven-inch guns at the bow and stern, while the large torpedo hole that sank this vessel allows divers to peek past black corals and into the hold. The boiler room and bridge are also open to exploration, and suitably experienced divers can penetrate even deeper to explore the crew quarters.
Amatsu Maru, Palau
Amatsu Maru is another Japanese oil tanker that now lies upright on the seafloor in the West Malakal Anchorage, just a five-minute boat ride from Koror. At around 150-metres long, it is one of the larger wrecks in Palau, best appreciated over several dives. The vessel’s imposing profile is certainly a sight to behold and an abundance of black coral bushes clinging to the superstructure add extra intrigue while also inspiring its nickname, the Black Coral Wreck. Amatsu Maru’s engine compartment was badly damaged by bomb blasts but still features some photogenic gauges, cables, and cylinders. Likewise, entry can be made through the bridge to explore various radio and electrical equipment in the communication area. The propeller and gun platform are also still visible at the vessel’s stern.
Jake Seaplane, Palau
Jake Seaplane is one of several wrecked Aichi E13A-1 aircraft in Palau, but it is undeniably the most famous. Located a couple of kilometres northwest of Koror, and just 15-metres below the surface, this picturesque plane is easily accessible for divers of all experience levels. While parts of the aircraft broke off upon impact – including the tail, an engine, and one of the pontoons – Jake Seaplane is still an interesting dive. Artefacts such as radios, ammunition and a small bomb provide a fascinating insight into history, while the wreck’s extensive coral colonisation highlights the beauty and defiance of nature.
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