Of all the wrecks in Truk Lagoon, the Fujikawa Maru is probably the most famous, and rightly so. For sheer size, intactness, and heart stopping diving it takes some beating and is possibly in the top three most exciting wreck dives anywhere in the world.
Built in 1938 by Mitsubishi for the ship owners Toyo Kaiun, the Fujikawa Maru was 450 ft long and nearly 59 feet in the beam, and was used as a liner on the North American run. Later she saw service in India and South America, where she not only carried passengers in comfortable accommodation, but also cargo’s of raw silk, cotton, jute and flax. In 1940, a year before Pearl Harbour, the Fujikawa was taken over by the Imperial Japanese Navy and converted into an aircraft ferry. During this conversion she was fitted with six inch bow and stern guns cannibalised from old cruisers which had last seen action during the Russian Japanese war. She also had anti aircraft guns mounted on her boat decks close to the bridge wings. Originally stationed with the 22 Air Fleet in Indo China, she ferried aircraft all over the Pacific. On the 12 Sept 1943 the Fujikawa Maru was hit by a torpedo from the American submarine Permit, but despite extensive damage she managed to avoid further action and limped into the safety of Truk Lagoon.
She was back in service by Jan 1944, and continued her role of ferrying aircraft all around the Pacific Islands. On 17 Feb 1944 she was back at Truk discharging 30 Jill torpedo bombers, when she was hit by a torpedoed launched by a strike bomber attached to the carrier group which included the U.S.S. Monterey and Bunkers Hill. The torpedo’s trail ran true, and struck amidships just aft of the bridge superstructure. The Fujikawa was anchored at the time, and as she filled with water she began to slowly sink stern first and ended up on an almost even keel 110 feet down at the bottom of the Lagoon.
Today, most of the dive boats anchor somewhere on the forecastle’s and the first thing that you see is a large six inch gun mounted on the bow. Interestingly this is an English gun made in 1899. Bolted to the breach is a makers plate with all the details and scattered around the gun are plenty of shell cases and a few live rounds. Just behind the gun platform is the forward hold, and if you thought the gun was exciting, wait until you get inside the hold. Here you will find huge amounts of ammunition all clipped up ready to be loaded into the Zero fighter planes stored further down in the hold. Yes that’s right, a hold full of Zero fighters. Of course they are all in pieces with wings, nose cones and whole fuselages jumbled together with tail assemblies and propeller blades, but even so its enough to give you heart failure. In the second hold is a complete cockpit of a Zero. None of the glass in the window frames and the control dials is fitted, but you can clearly see where all the switches should be and where the guns are to be mounted. It is a breathtaking sight, especially when you get used to the gloom and see all the shell cases and propeller blades mixed together with radial engines and their cowlings further down at the bottom of the hold.
Further back towards the middle of the superstructure, the bridge has been partly blown away, but you can clearly see the wooden decking to which is bolted the brass telegraph. Portholes are everywhere and very loose because the metal has rusted away. This means that the portholes can come off in your hand. Do not be tempted, as the dive operators take a very dim view and can levy huge fines on the spot. All around is the rubbish of shipboard life. Old bottles and small plates with the initials T.K. (Toyo Kien) lie scattered along side old gas masks and brass lamps. The coral is terrific. Not enough to obstruct the features of the wreck, but enough to give it life and color, and to support the hoards of small brightly colored fish. In the passages are plenty more artifacts. Bottles,plates and mounds of rice bowls are commonplace. Around this area is situated the galley which has a large coal burning cooking range with various pots and pans lying around. Further along the passage is a bath house with tiled baths built up from the deck, with a row of urinals bolted to the bulkhead. All these areas are coated in a fine sediment, so any unguarded movement can send up clouds of muck which make photography extremely difficult. Also there are masses of old electrical cables hanging down from the deck head so you have to move carefully to avoid becoming tangled up.
Because there are so many portholes you soon transfer your affections to the huge brass navigation lanterns and the smaller but extremely well made bound brass deck lights Going into the murky gloom of the vast engine room was an experience I shall never forget. It is not the size that amazes you but the completeness of the place. You can actually walk along the metal companionways and trip up and down the ladders. All the gauges and instruments are still there, and many have the mercury in the thermometers. Tools lie all around but mostly they are neatly racked in their proper stowage’s on the bulkhead. The boilers with their switches although coated with sediment look almost unused. You feel that if you could throw a switch the whole engine room would burst into life. Soon, in you haste to see everything you stir up the muck and even with a torch you cannot see a thing. so its back up to the deck to look at the after gun, and pick around the gun platform at the spent cartridge cases and the odd little plate or bottle lying buried in the sand.
All together we did three dives on the Fujikawa Maru and one of those a night dive. Night dives are always a bit special, but this was to be a truly magical experience We went in about twenty minutes before the rest of the crowd so that we could explore the forward gun and part of the bridge. When we had finished this we repaired to the huge foremast that rises from the deck of the Fujikawa to within ten feet of the surface. The mast is covered in beautiful yellow and orange cup corals, which in the torchlight looked absolutely stunning. But the best was yet to come. As we sat on the mast’s crosstree we could see the rest of the divers swimming down the rope nearly seventy feet away.
Their powerful torches bathed them in shadowy light and every so often their safety strobes flashed on and off like aircraft beacons. We switched off our torches and could see the wreck lit up below us. As the divers bubbles rose to the surface they caught in the phosphorescence and set off great trails of light like millions of fireflies and every so often a diver would become completely outlined so that his body seemed consumed by fire. With the strobes blinking away and their torches flashing in the gloom, the whole effect was like something out of Close Encounters.
We sat there entranced, but soon it was time to leave and swim back up to the boat and reality.