In the remote South Pacific, east of Papua New Guinea, and not far from Australia, lies a string of about nine hundred islands that make up the nation of Solomon Islands. Between 1941 and 1945, this swath of ocean witnessed some of the fiercest fighting between the United States and the Empire of Japan during the Second World War. At that time, the islands were under British rule, but were occupied by the Japanese and it became strategically important for the Allied forces to recapture them if the war in the Pacific was to be won.
The allies launched an offensive against the Imperial Japanese Army and Navy by swarming ashore the islands of Tulagi and Guadalcanal. The Battle of Guadalcanal became bloody as tremendous warfare waged on land, on sea and in the air. The Japanese suffered great losses: more 36,000 killed, missing or captured. Eventually, it wore the Japanese down and they withdrew completely in early 1943.
Photo credit: Kelsey Schwenk/Flickr
Most of the fighting took place around a body of water called New Georgia Sound, that runs approximately through the middle of the Solomon Islands. During the Pacific War the Sound was known as "the Slot" by Allied soldiers due to its geographical shape and the amount of warship traffic that traversed it. At the southern end of The Slot between Guadalcanal, Savo Island, and Florida Island, lies the wrecks of —according to one estimate— more than 200 ships, 690 air crafts and countless landing barges. This area is now called the “Iron Bottom Sound” because of the immense amount of twisted metal that lies on the sea floor. Now covered in coral and teeming with marine life, the wrecks attract large number of recreational and professional divers, as well as photographers. Most of the wrecks are too deep to be dived at but others are at each reach, and some lie exposed on the beach.
Some of the major wrecks of Iron Bottom Sound include the American cruiser Quincy, the Australian heavy cruiser Canberra, the Japanese aircraft carrier Kinugasa, the battleship Kirishima and the freighter Kasi Maru. Wikipedia has a partial list of ships wrecked at the Iron Bottom Sound. Each of these ships have a remarkable story.
PBS writes about one particular dive bomber, the ‘American Douglas Dauntless’ that sank on July 23, 1943. That day, with Robert Bernard as his radio gunner, Marine Corps pilot Jim Dougherty set out to sink Japanese ships that were supplying local troops. As Dougherty swooped low over the island of Munda on a bombing run, he was hit by flak from one of the several guns on the shore. Dougherty managed to keep the plane airborne enough to reach the island of Rendova before it crashed on the lagoon and sank in 35 feet of water. When the wreck was rediscovered more than 50 years later, the 75-year old Dougherty returned to Solomon Island, and donning scuba gear, he swam slowly down to the wreck and sat in the cockpit one last time.
Map of the location of World War II shipwrecks in Ironbottom Sound in the Solomon Islands. Some wreck positions are not exactly known. Image credit: Wikimedia
The wreck of the Kinugawa Maru, beached and destroyed in 1942. Photo credit: www.guadalcanal.com
Wrecked aircraft, Guadalcanal, 1945. Photo courtesy of NZ433261 Ian 'Jungle' Forrester.
Pile of wrecked vehicles, Guadalcanal, 1945. Photo courtesy of NZ433261 Ian 'Jungle' Forrester.
Two Solomon Islanders in a traditional canoe wish using a large shell. Behind is the funnel and engine block of a WWII wreck. Photo credit: Antony Robinson/Flickr
Photo credit: Stefan Krasowski/Flickr
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