World War II Shipwrecks of Palau

The Palau Islands (today known as Belau) are part of the Caroline Islands in the Western Pacific, North of Papua New Guinea and East of the Phillippines. There are more than 200 islands in the group, the largest of which is Babelthuap and the most famous undoubtedly Peleliu, site of ferocious fighting after the American invasion of the Japanese occupied territory. The Japanese gradually militarized the islands in the years preceeding the war, taking advantage of the excellent anchorage provided by the extensive spread of islands. As the American fleet conducted its march across the Pacific, there were three main attacks against Japanese shipping in the Palau Islands. The first, code named "Desecrate One," took place on 30-31 March 1944, and was conducted by carriers from Task Force 58. A second operation, "Snapshot," was conducted on 25-27 July 1944, and a third attack during September, code named "Stalemate II." According to Dan Bailey (WWII Wrecks of Palau), more than 60 Japanese ships were sunk in the waters surrounding Palau, and 27 were either completetly or partially salvaged after the war.

For the visiting diver, the wrecks of Palau are somewhat reminiscent of those at the more famous Truk, yet are much more difficult to dive. This is not due to extreme conditions, but rather that most of the wrecks are seldom dived as visiting divers prefer the spectacular reef diving available in these islands. Indeed, in order to dive many of the wrecks here, special arrangements need to be made ahead of time, and it is often difficult to find a guide who knows how to find the wrecks. In addition, the visibility is not nearly as good as found in Truk, mostly due to the wrecks generally being sunk close to the local shoreline in amongst the many small islands, where the ships were apparently anchored in an attempt to hide them from air attack. This close proximity leads to rather limited underwater visibility with lots of particulate matter in the water, often making underwater photography somewhat challenging.

All images were shot on film in 1998. Cameras used were a Nikonos, Canon F1n in an Aquatica housing and a Mamiya 645 in a custom built housing.

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All images, text and content Copyright © Bradley Sheard. All rights reserved.