By Peter Pinnock and Jeanne Liebetrau
Dan glances at the daily itinerary, scratches his fine curly hair and shifts a wad of Copenhagen chewing tobacco in his cheek. He digs out a diagram of the Yamagiri Maru from a fat file, shifts the Copenhagen to the other cheek and starts the briefing.
âThe Yamagiri Maru was a transport ship. It sank from a torpedo hit and is resting on her port side. We will enter the wreck through the torpedo hole, swim through her holds and then to the engine room, finishing up on the bow gun and kingposts. The engine room is interesting becauseâ¦â¦â Dan drifts off as he thinks of âhisâ engine room. He remembers that he should be telling us about the large shells in one of the holds. Adjusting his moustache he chews on the Copenhagen once more and continuesâ¦
âThe drums inside the hold were obviously full as they maintained shape during the sinking. The bow gun is â¦ but the engine room … oh … I love engine rooms. You gotta see this one.â With that and a few gestures towards the diagram we are off for our first dive.
With his lime green shark-fin neoprene hood, bony bare legs and old fashioned fins, it is easy to follow Dan. He disappears through huge plates of twisted metal on the hull. He waits patiently while we examine the huge shells, loads of sake bottles and the fuel drums. I sense he is itching for us to follow him into âhisâ engine room. Inside the engine room are three large cylinder heads sealed with impressive size bolts. In a corner we encounter a grim reminder of the war – a skull embedded in the shipâs hull. Clearly the sailor was killed on impact with the force of the blast sending him flying and crushed his skull into the battered hull forever. The fire that ravaged the engine room blackened the skull. This is a true war grave.
Truk Lagoon (as it was then known) was a Japanese naval base in WW2. The isolation of the islands and the limited entrances to the lagoon made it a seemingly safe base. The Japanese did not bargain on the formidable air attacks on 17 February 1944. American forces known as Carrier Task Force 58 launched an attack code named Operation Hailstorm. US Hellcat fighters, Dauntless Dive Bombers and Avenger Torpedo Bombers departed from aircraft carriers at two hourly intervals. Over one and a half days the strikes continued, sinking the Japanese fleet, crippling the infrastructure on Truk and destroying 270 aircraft.
Dan has a self confessed fetish for engine rooms. âAlways judge a wreck by the quality of the engine roomâ is his worldly advice to us. Inside the Kiosumi Maru he points out many intact gauges complete with both Japanese calligraphy and English numbering clearly etched on the dials. Large wheels and knobs are waiting to grind the engine into action again. Strangely the fragile glass on the light bulbs is not broken; this after the ship was torpedoed and shelled from above. In an area above the main engine room we find an intact gas mask. To get to the engine room of the Kanshu Maru we follow Dan head first down three flights of stairs, rounding corners on each landing. Gauges, dials, thermometers and large boilers fill this compact engine room. Interestingly the Kanshuâs engines were manufactured in England. If the British had known this was to be the fate of their engines would that have changed the pattern of war? â¦
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