Truk, as it is known by most divers, has officially changed its name to Chuuk, and along with Yap, Kosrae and Pohnpei, they make up the Federated States of Micronesia.
Chuuk state consists of seven major island groups lying within the Eastern Caroline Islands, the total land mass of Chuuk state, including the outer islands, is approximately 128 km (77 square miles). The state is sparsely populated with a total of only 50,000 people.
The many islands within this huge atoll are crowned with natural beauty. The outer barrier reef is punctuated with idyllic sand spits dotted with coconut palms. The high islands in the central lagoon rise into the blue island skies. It is the giant Chuuk Lagoon, over 70km (40 miles) in diameter and reaching depths of up to 100 metres (300 feet), that is the main attraction for most visitors. It's depths are home to perhaps the greatest proliferation of ship wrecks in the world.
Culture and History
Chuuk's history of early Spanish domination was followed by German acquisition after the Spanish-American war about 1890, and then a Japanese mandate from the League of Nations upon Germany's defeat in 1918.
The Japanese era saw a great build up of arms and bases in advance of a wide military blitz over the Western Pacific. The blitz was supplied heavily from facilities at Chuuk, where often more than 1,000 merchant and war ships were moored in readiness for further deployment. Five airfields supporting close to 500 aircraft provided complete protection over Chuuk's Gibraltar-like facilities. A deep lagoon, high islands and circling barrier reef provided extensive natural protection.
Patrol boats, torpedo boats, submarines, tugs, landing craft, gunboats and mine sweepers contributed to the final defences and service needs to maintain this big base. Chuuk was considered the most formidable of all Japanese strongholds in the Pacific. This reputation caused an overconfident Japanese command to relax their vigil against invasion, in spite of U.S. forces fast approaching from the East. Supplies from Japan had almost ceased, due to immense successes of U.S. submarines finally equipped with torpedoes that found their mark. Supply convoys receiving nearly 90% losses en route to Chuuk, deprived the garrison of food, fuel and new armaments desperately required to maintain strength.
By early 1944, U.S. forces had amassed a huge armada of top line carriers, battleships, cruisers, destroyers and submarines for a major surprise sweep against Chuuk on February 16th, 17th and 18th. This attack, coded "Operation Hailstone", caught the Japanese totally unaware, and led to one of the most successful U.S. engagements of WWII.
After a follow up attack in April 1944, Chuuk was reduced to rubble with over 70 shipwrecks, 400 aircraft destroyed or sunk, and the menace of this big fortress removed forever. U.S. forces declined engagement with the 40,000 troops at Chuuk, and after these attacks, starvation consumed many of the defenders before the eventual surrender of Japan late in 1945.
About 20 years later, adventure divers such as Jacques Cousteau, Al Giddings and Klaus Lindemann discovered the wonders of this huge sunken fleet, replete with incredible vistas of war machinery, soft coral draperies, fish life and personal mementos.
Chuuk's district centre on Weno is where visitors can experience a taste of island life by visiting the local stores jammed with everything from kerosene stoves to ladies wear and handicrafts. For an outstanding view of Weno and the lagoon, climb into the old lighthouse built during Japanese occupation and visit the Truk Continental for a stroll in the coconut palm grounds with splendid views across the water to Dublon Island formerly the Japanese military headquarters.