Relief map of Truk

Photograph of Truk under attack

U.S. Navy. Via Morison (1951)

Truk (151.837E 7.424N) is a collection of hilly islands, the tips of drowned mountain peaks, surrounded by a large barrier reef 40 miles (64 km) across with five passes. It possessed the best fleet anchorage  in the Mandates, and it was rumored before the Pacific War that Japan had turned it into a "Gibraltar of the Pacific." It was known from radio signals intelligence that the Japanese Fourth Fleet had its headquarters here. Its location, at the center of the Caroline Islands, was ideal for exploiting Japan’s interior lines of communications. The Japanese had in fact developed considerable base facilities here before the war, including four separate airfields and storage for 77,200 tons of fuel oil, including a 10,000-ton underground tank and two 33,600-ton above-ground steel tanks (151.883E 7.369N). This was the largest Japanese fuel depot outside the home islands. Truk was also an important submarine base. However, it was never as strong as the Americans initially believed, and it lacked piers and shore services, forcing ships to anchor in the lagoon and have supplies delivered by lighter, while their machinery had to be constantly running to provide power and water. Some of these deficiencies were remedied as the war progressed.

Japanese merchants first visited Truk in 1891, and the island group was seized by the Japanese from the Germans during the First World War. By the time war broke out, there were 3000 Japanese civilians and 18,000 natives living in the group. The latter were excluded from those islands taken over by the Japanese for military use.

The principal town was Dublon (151.877E 7.364N), on the island of the same name. Dublon had about 1200 buildings and facilities for making temporary repairs to warships that included a 2500 ton floating dry dock. Construction of fortifications did not begin until 1940 and was not pressed until January 1944. The garrison reached a maximum of 7500 Army and about 4000 Navy troops by February 1944, and coastal guns were sited to cover all five passes, which were also protected with controlled mines. However, there were only 40 antiaircraft guns with no fire control radar. Facilities completed by February 1944 are listed in the following table:

3340' (1020m) bomber strip
Combined seaplane base and fighter strip
Coastal and antiaircraft guns
Torpedo boat base and torpedo storage
Main docks
Seaplane base
Submarine base
2500 ton floating dry dock
Oil, torpedo, and munitions storage
Coastal and antiaircraft guns
Aviation repair and supply station
Supply center with pier
Search radar
2 5" dual-purpose guns
Search radar
Torpedo boat base
3340' by 270' (1020m by 80m) airstrip
3900' by 335' (1190m by 100m) airstrip
8 5" guns
4 80mm dual-purpose guns
3 medium antiaircraft guns
Radio direction finding station
3 8" dual-purpose guns
4 6" coastal guns
A battery of antiaircraft guns
Torpedo boat base

Truk was smashed by carrier strikes and surface bombardments on 17-18 February 1944 (Operation HAILSTONE) to prevent its use against the American landings at Eniwetok. The Japanese lost two cruisers and four destroyers, 250 aircraft, and a catastrophic 140,000 tons of merchant shipping.  The attacks included the first night shipping strike by carrier aircraft of the Pacific War, which proved highly successful, accounting for a third of all shipping losses inflicted. However, the Japanese main battle fleet had already fled to the Palaus and escaped damage. Truk was never used as a major fleet anchorage thereafter. The Americans lost just 30 aircraft out of 1250 combat sorties, but suffered a torpedo hit on Intrepid from a night attack by six or seven radar-equipped "Kates" launched from Param Field.

The Americans did not make a final decision whether to assault Truk until 12 March 1944, when it was decided that the base would be bypassed. Another series of carrier strikes were carried out on 29-30 April to smash the remaining Japanese air power, which by then had been built back up to 104 aircraft. Of these, about 93 were destroyed in the air or on the ground, at a cost to the Americans of 35 aircraft (including operational losses.) Over half the downed American airmen were rescued by lifeguard submarines or seaplanes, including one crew within Truk lagoon itself. Occasional raids thereafter (mostly from Eniwetok and the Admiralties) prevented the base from becoming a serious threat again.

4 Naval Hospital. The naval hospital at Truk was commanded by Surgeon Captain Iwanami Hiroshi, who led his staff in conducting horrific "medical experiments" on American prisoners of war. These included cutting off the circulation in the arms and legs of prisoners with tourniquets, then releasing the tourniquets after several hours had passed. Two of the prisoners had their tourniquets released after seven hours and died of shock as soon as the tourniquets were released. Two others who had their tourniquets released after just two hours initially survived, but were then tied to stakes and had their feet blown off with explosives before being strangled and dissected. Other prisoners were injected with streptococcus bacteria cultures to induce fatal septicemia or were killed as bayonet practice targets.

Iwanami was convicted of murder and other charges by a U.S. Navy tribunal after the war, and tried to cheat the hangman by throwing himself at the wall of his cell while holding a small, sharpened pencil to his heart. The suicide attempt failed and he was duly hanged.

Climate Information:

Temperatures: Jan 81, Apr 81, Jul 81, Oct 81

Rainfall: Jan 19/8.4, Apr 23/12.3, Jul 25/12.3, Oct 24/13.5 == 137.6" per annum

Newsreel of Hailstone raids

Photo Gallery

Map of Truk

U.S. Air Force

Truk during first Hailston strike
U.S. Navy
Dublon navy yard under aerial attack
U.S. Navy
Param Island
U.S. Navy
Burning ship at Truk
U.S. Navy
Truk after the Hailstone raids
Cratered runway at end of war
U.S. Navy


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Morison (1951)

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