24 February 2019
Solomon Islands: the lasting protector and legacy of lost ships and lost lives during World War II
The recent discovery of the first Japanese battleship, Hiel, sunk by US forces during World War II off Guadalcanal adds to the growing list of ships lying in their watery graves in the stretch of water known as “IronbottomSound,”
The Solomon Islands were the scene of the Pacific wars lengthiest and most bitterly fought naval campaign. Including the fighting in the immediate vicinity of Guadalcanal, more than a dozen battles raged in these confined waters. Most of them were night surface battles, where the weapons and tactics of the Japanese Navy were at their finest. Unfortunately, the Japanese were faced with a foe willing to accept heavy losses in order to prevail, and also one who learned from past mistakes
By the time the fight for Guadalcanal was over, Ironbottom Sound had become the final resting place to some 50 ships and thousands of sailors from both sides.
Ironbottom Sound is the name given by Allied sailors to the stretch of water at the southern end of the Slot between Guadalcanal, Savo Island and Florida Island of the Solomon Islands, because of the dozens of ships and planes that sank there during the Battle of Guadalcanal in 1943-1943.
Before the war, it was called Savo Sound. Every year on the battle's anniversary, a U.S. ship cruises into the waters and drops a wreath to commemorate the men who lost their lives.
For many Navy sailors, and those who served in the area during that time, the waters in this area are considered sacred, and strict silence is observed as ships cruise through.
Iron Botton Sound is also the deep water resting place of MHAS Canberra which was hit 24 times by Japanese cruisers’ gunfire and immobilized on 9 August 1942.
HMAS Canberra was scuttled, the remaining crew evacuated, and the valiant Australian cruiser then sunk by torpedoes from the US destroyer USS Ellef.
In recognition of the valour displayed by the Australian ship and her company, United States President Roosevelt. Who wished to commemorate the loss of HMAS Canberra by naming a US cruiser in her honour and this subsequently occurred on 19 April 1942, and the newly built cruiser became the only United States warship to be named after a foreign capital city.
Canberra's wreck was rediscovered and examined by Robert Ballard and his crew in July and August 1992, almost exactly fifty years after her scuttling. She lies upright on the ocean floor, approximately 2,500 feet (760 m) below sea level, and while her hull is basically intact, she shows visible signs of shell hits and fire damage amidships.
The discovery of the Japanese battleship Hiel adds to our knowledge of history that the Solomon Islands was the staging ground for one of the bloodiest battles in the Pacific during WWII, but the word is still yet to spread about the islands' historical, wartime secrets.
Although still lacking some basic infrastructure and 700 rooms as part of fresh-efforts to fully develop the Solomon Islands tourist potential, the tourists keen to visit the historic battle grounds and see for themselves the wrecks of World War II aircraft, tanks and vehicles will find many if taken on a battle field tour on go on an organized dive.
Leading up to 76th Anniversary of the Battle of Guadalcanal last year, journalist Stefan Armbruster, and writing for SBS in Australia had this to say (quote)
“In this remote corner of the Pacific, the tide of war turned against the Japanese in a series of battles that began with Guadalcanal.
“This where it started, this is where we took ground off the Japanese, and the first step on the road to Tokyo took place here
“For decades he has run war history tours around the capital Honiara, which is built on a battlefield.
“After the Allies landed on August 7, 1942, they fought a brutal six-month battle across the archipelago that cost tens of thousands of lives.”
“Wreckage from the war is littered across the Solomon Islands.”
“Lying in the surrounding lagoons are Koviki Corsair, Wildcat, Douglas Dauntless and P-39 Airacobra warplanes and the Japanese ship Kashi Maru.”
Why not support the Solomons tourist industry and see for yourself the incredible array of war relics above and below water?
There are dive operators who specialize in war wrecks and battle field tours are available.
Contemplating on the battles and loss of life in the past should also make us more determined to preserve the peace.
“To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die.” - Thomas Cambell.