Uncovering WWII Shipwrecks in Chuuk Lagoon

Google earth image of Chuuk Lagoon, 6 island atoll in Pacific Ocean surrounded by green markers for 52 shipwrecks
Shipwrecks in Chuuk Lagoon, Pacific Ocean

Courtesy University of Guam

Recipient: University of Guam

Award Amount: $149,827.00

The black smoke of burning fuel rose high above the Pacific islands of Chuuk Lagoon in February of 1944. Part of World War II’s Operation Hailstone, US planes attacked a large formation of Japanese ships trapped inside the sandbars that made the Lagoon a natural harbor. Over 60 ships and hundreds of Japanese aircraft were destroyed, turning the atoll’s shallow water into a graveyard of men and war material. Known as the “Gibraltar of the Pacific,” the heavily fortified Japanese naval base at Chuuk Lagoon was considered a threat to US supply lines and the primary target of Hailstone. After another 18 months of aerial bombardment and enduring nearly 7,000 tons in Allied bombs, the Japanese garrison had limited supplies and was left to starve. For the island’s indigenous inhabitants, the Chuukese, these events impacted every aspect of their lives. Many had their homes razed by the Japanese or destroyed by US bombs. They starved and died along with the Japanese, losing over 1,000 people to a war they did not create.

In August 2021, the American Battlefield Protection Program awarded the University of Guam a Preservation Planning Grant to further document the remnants of these events and acknowledge the impact of the Japanese occupation and US bombings on the Chuukese. By exploring the legacy of the conflict on the natural and cultural landscape, the University hopes to increase a sense of personal stewardship among younger generations of the Chuukese people and foster a deeper global appreciation for their people’s experience during World War II.

Preservation Planning Grants are the American Battlefield Protection Program's broadest and most inclusive grant program, promoting the stewardship of battlefields and sites of armed conflict on American soil. In addition, the program administers three other grants: Battlefield Land Acquisition Grants, the newly authorized Battlefield Restoration and Battlefield Interpretation grant programs. This financial assistance generates community-driven stewardship of historic resources at the state, tribal and local levels.

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Part of a series of articles titled 2021 Preservation Planning Grants Highlights.

Last updated: July 27, 2023