Divers Uncover 70-Year-Old Mystery in the Dark Depths of the Pacific Ocean
Groups of underwater photographers travel the world taking incredible photos of underwater flora and fauna. The majority of our world’s oceans remain unexplored, truly Earth’s final frontier. One talented diver in particular photographed an amazing 70-year-old piece of history, straight from World War II at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean near the Marshall Islands. What is revealed from the photos are the haunting images of a dark and deadly past long forgotten about. Read on to find out what secrets lie deep underwater where few dare to venture.
Marshall Islands Dives
In the middle of the Pacific Ocean lie a series of 29 Islands called the Marshall Islands. They sit atop ancient submerged volcanoes rising from the ocean floor. The waters hold much beauty and many secrets, including one that only a lucky few get to see in real life.
Though today the islands looks like an idyllic tropical paradise, in 1944, it was the center of fierce fighting during World War II. In fact, many of the atolls in the area are uninhabited due to nuclear contamination from US testing during the Cold War period. Nonetheless, this hasn’t stopped curious explorers.
An expedition around the islands reveals something interesting. In many spots, the seafloor is littered with large, metal debris. Massive hulls of broken metal and glass protrude through the bottom of the ocean, long rusted and overtaken by the marine flora.
For years, the sheer depth of the ocean floor made it near impossible to dive to this site and revisit the bizarre items resting on the bottom of the ocean. Though it was known the items were there, dives to the sites were incredibly difficult and few had been able to see what was really underwater, save for a number of daring expert divers.
Forgotten By Time
One such daring diver was Brandi Mueller. She was the captain of a boat in the Kwajalein atoll, part of the Republic of the Marshall Islands. This allowed her to freely explore the vast Pacific Ocean, practicing her stunning underwater photography in the process. Along with a group of fellow divers, Brandi’s explorations eventually led her to reach the myriad of planes, submerged underwater for years.
Forgotten by time, the planes lied abandoned, inhabited only by the fish that had now taken up residency within. Brandi continued coming to the site day after day to photograph the long-forgotten planes. Those who are not expert divers might wonder: why were these planes at the bottom of the ocean?
The planes astonishingly were in immaculate condition. Apart from the rusting and sea plants such as coral and barnacles, they were almost wholly intact. The planes are too rusted to identify the insignia which marked their owners.
The uneducated visitor would not know if the planes have belonged to a fleet of Japanese bombers who didn’t have enough fuel to make it home, crashing into the ocean instead or if they were shot down. Anyone lucky enough to visit soon learns the bizarre truth.
No Signs of Life
The planes are odd for the fact that they are intact except for the disintegration expected from decades of rusting away in water. Furthermore, people without previous knowledge of the site would find it strange that there are no signs that people went down with the planes and no skeletons.
Each plane is more or less empty. No signs of human remains. Corpses submerged in water below 44 degrees Fahrenheit can be persevered intact for up to five years, however, the sea life usually makes a quick meal of bodies. Was that the reason there were no human remains?
Brandi kept returning to the location, determined to photograph the evidence at the bottom of the ocean. It was unclear how many people before her had been given the privilege to visit this underwater plane graveyard. But due to the remote location, it is certainly a trip that only a lucky few get to take.
Fortunately, Brandi made her dive into a stunning photography project that would reveal the site’s unique story to the world, a major part of history that had long been forgotten. Though it was a story well known to locals and visitors, her photographs and ensuing media coverage revealed the story for the rest of the world.
Sunken in the Pacific
During her dives, Brandi managed to photograph over 100 sunken planes. “They should have flown more, lived longer, but they were sunk in perfect condition,” Brandi told the Daily Mail about the aircraft, submerged about five miles off the coast of Roi-Namur in the Marshall Islands.
Many battles occurred in this region of the Pacific Ocean during the Second World War between the United States and the Empire of Japan. Whatever the circumstances, why would supposedly pristine aircraft be sunk deep down underwater?
Brandi is one of the most published underwater photographers of her generation. Her stunning photography has been internationally praised. Apart from teaching diving, she also received a captain’s license, which lead her to this diving excursion in the Marshall Islands.
“I love observing behavior in the ocean, to catch a shrimp cleaning a turtle or see courtship and mating behavior,” she says. “I could sit with the same fish for an entire dive (sometimes more than one dive) and be happy just observing and photographing.”
As it turns out, the objects laying in the waters of the Marshall Islands were old war planes. The practice of dumping equipment in the sea after a war has been a common practice after many wars, not just World War II. For example, an estimated $10 million worth of helicopters were dumped by US forces in the South China Sea after the Vietnam War.
In addition to the sheer danger of diving so deep, exploration at some of the sites can be dangerous due to the arsenal of Japanese explosives that have sat for over seven decades at the bottom of the ocean floor. Despite this, a number of divers have dared to make the dive and see the truth for themselves.
World War II Souvenirs
The planes, as it turned out, were neither shot out of the sky nor did they crash land into the sea. The aircraft are leftover remnants from World War II, surplus American aircraft that were dumped into the sea after the war ended.
“For me, diving on airplanes, especially World War Two airplanes is really unique,” Brandi said in an interview with the Dailymail. “Diving on shipwrecks seems normal, you expect ships to have sunk…but not planes.” But was that the only explanation?
Exploration of the wreckage became Brandi’s most strenuous and difficult project to photograph. Brandi explained that the wreckage was exceptionally hard to photograph given the depth. The planes are located around deep under the water, and the time divers are capable to stay under that far is limited.
“But seeing planes underwater is strange, planes don’t belong in the water, they belong in the sky, so it feels weird to dive on them. But amazing and special too. And because these planes didn’t sink because of the war they are special.”
The underwater planes stand as an incredibly eerie memorial to a war that claimed the lives of tens of millions of people across the planet. But still, one mystery remains: Why had the planes been abandoned?
The planes were apparently still in working condition when they were so unceremoniously sacrificed to the sea. The aircraft would have been worth millions and at least 150 planes were spotted during the group’s dives in the area. What happened?
The planes were intentionally thrown in into the sea from Allied aircraft carriers after the defeat of the Empire of Japan. Disposing of the planes allowed the military to avoid adding them to their already surplus supply of aircraft. The maintenance and storage of the planes were simply not financially feasible.
Many new and improved models of aircraft were already streaming into US forces, making these leftover WWII planes increasingly obsolete. Some models such as the Douglas SBD Dauntless had already been replaced by faster models in the early 1940s. Planes weren’t the only things the photographer found on the ocean floor.
The over 150 planes sat at the bottom of the ocean for over 70 years, lost and forgotten as the decades passed. Planes found at the site included: TBF, the TBM Avenger, the Douglas SBD Dauntless (dive bomber) and the F4U Corsair.
The majority of the models had only been introduced in the early 1940s and were used heavily during the Second World War. Some of the models were also used by US forces during the Korean War, after which they were officially retired.
Planes were not the only items dumped into the sea. Additional sites Allied or US equipment dumping have been found in the region. Wreckage off the island paradise of Vanuatu has revealed that US military dumped bulldozers, jeeps, trucks, semi-trailers, fork lifts, tractors, clothing, corrugated iron and even Coke bottles into the sea.
At the time, it was deemed cheaper to dump the equipment in the Pacific Ocean, near the Marshall Islands, than to return it to the US. Many people have questioned why the majority of these items couldn’t be given to the locals instead of being wasted. Why was all this equipment in the region anyway?
Battle of Midway
The Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, crippled the American forces in the South Pacific but failed to destroy American determination for an Allied victory against the Axis powers. Six months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, US forces retaliated against the Japanese at the Battle of Midway.
American forces inflicted devastating damage to the Japanese fleet after successfully breaking their military code. Military historian John Keegan called the battle “the most stunning and decisive blow in the history of naval warfare.”
Marshall Islands during WWII
The Marshall Islands were a strategic geographic position and were the easternmost point in the Empire of Japan’s defensive ring in the early stages of WWII. The Kwajalein Atoll was home to the Japanese 6th fleet administrative center, tasked with the defense of the Marshall Islands.
US forces invaded and occupied the islands in 1944, causing irreparable damage to Japanese forces. The Mili Atoll was home to a 5,100-man Japanese garrison. However, due to a lack of food and a number of other factors such as illness, only half of the soldiers made it to the end of the war.
The South Pacific
Underwater photographer Brandi Mueller has also dived at locations where Japanese ships and planes were been discovered. The number of air and naval battles in the South Pacific have made the region an underwater military vehicle graveyard. Sunken ships and planes line the ocean floors.
Much like the abandoned American planes, the Japanese planes and ships have sat on the Pacific floor for 70 years, undisturbed, rusting and collecting coral. In some cases, though, human remains have been found along with supplies the pilots and sailors would have had with them. How did she get involved in exploring and photographing these rare sites?
Brandi Mueller has been diving since she was 15-years-old. Her passion for diving has taken her on a journey exploring the world’s oceans and the dark mysteries they contain. Approximately 95% of the Earth’s oceans remain unexplored.
Most of our planet is covered by water, yet we still know very little about it. Strange mysterious creatures inhabit it and relics from our past litter its sea floor. From lost underwater cities to sunken treasure, the oceans have always been a source of human intrigue.
As a child, Brandi loved exploring nature and taking pictures of plants and animals with her parents’ camera. As time went on, she decided to combine her passions of diving and photography. Brandi learned how to dive during a student exchange program in New Zealand at the age of 15.
When she went on to university, she traveled to Tasmania, the Bahamas, and Costa Rica, learning about plants and ecology. After backpacking through South America, she became a diving instructor. All these experiences lead her to make her to turn her passions into a successful career.
Underwater photographer Brandi Mueller has explored many WWII graveyards on the seafloor. Many of the items she photographed were in excellent condition, preserved by the deep sea for decades. The sites serve as eerie reminders of a brutal and horrific past.
Being an expert photographer and diver, Brandi Mueller has traversed the globe taking pictures that would otherwise never be seen. Her haunting photos of the seafloor relics shed light onto a dark past in human history.
Another amazing WWII site Brandi has explored is located on the seafloor of the Chuuk Lagoon in the modern-day Federated States of Micronesia. Chuuk Lagoon was the Empire of Japan’s main naval base in the South Pacific theatre.
The base was heavily fortified against Allied positions located in New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. During the war, the base was stationed by almost 28,000 Japanese sailors. The based was referred to as “the Gibraltar of the Pacific” due to its natural and man-made fortifications.
An incredible amount of Japanese war relics have been found at the bottom of Chuuk Lagoon. Allied forces sank twelve Japanese warships, 32 merchant ships and destroyed at least 249 aircraft during the battles that took place in and around the island.
The Japanese ships were loaded with supplies when they sank, making the seafloor a veritable treasure trove for underwater divers and explorers. Brandi’s pictures of the wreckage at Chuuk Lagoon are particularly haunting. The site is known as “the million dollar wreck” due to the estimated worth of the undersea cargo.
Japanese WWII Planes
The most common Japanese planes found in the South Pacific wreckage are the Mitsubishi G4M, dubbed the Betty Bombers by Allied forces. In Japanese, the planes are referred to as Hamaki, or cigar, due to their shape.
The Empire of Japan produced 2,435 of these warplanes for their naval forces during the Second World War. The models were highly effective and good for long-distances but didn’t provide protection for the crew due to their structural lightness. The Betty Bomber model was retired in 1945 after the war ended.
After the War
Imperial Japan surrendered on August 15, 1945, in a recorded broadcast by Emperor Hirohito, officially bringing the Second World War to a close. On August 28, 1945, the occupation of the Japanese home islands by the Allied forces began.
The war cost the United States around $341 billion dollars, calculated into 2015 currency the war cost over $4.5 trillion dollars. An amount equivalent of 74% of America’s GDP. A staggering amount of Allied equipment was abandoned and dumped into the ocean after the war’s end. But does being underwater for centuries mean these artifacts were now harmless?
So what else lies deep beneath the ocean waves? If it’s up to photographer Brandi Mueller, we will soon find out.
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