Saturday, March 17, 2012

Saipan, Northern Mariana Islands

Here is a web gallery from the assignment at American Memorial Park with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and Flinders University documenting the WWII Maritime Heritage Trail - Battle of Saipan in 3D. Check out some still images of the wreck sites by clicking HERE.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Saipan By Land

Today Maryann, Lou (from WHOI) and I spend most of day exploring the island with Jen McKinnon from Flinders University. With her extensive knowledge of the Battle of Saipan and the logistics of the Island, she was the ultimate tour guide. The goal was to experience a bit of the geography of the island and see some of the sites – something we RARELY get to do on these underwater assignments. Usually its hotel to dock, to dive site, back to dock, and back to hotel day after day after day. We also were going to film the sites in 3D for the production we were working on.

Maripi Point (aka Suicide Cliff)
We began at the north end of the island, pretty much opposite of the US Invasion forces in 1945. Marpi point is the location where nearly 1000 men, women and children committed suicide in fear of the advancing US forces. Despite both US forces and civilian’s pleading with the hysterical masses, so many chose to take there own life. The stories were horrific. The fear must have been unbearable. Families choosing death over the thought of being separated and possibly tortured despite the US’s desire to simply liberate them from the oppressive Japanese occupation and provide them with food, clothing and shelter.

Next we explored some of the other historical highlights of the
island. The Last Command, which was an arranged, make-shift road side tourist site complete with staged anti-aircraft guns, tanks and other WWII remains. Apparently this site was not truly the last command of the Japanese forces but it was the closest to the main road and thus history is re-written for the sake of the tourist trade.

The most interesting sites were those off the beaten path. The areas without the tour busses and masses of Japanese tourists. Jen arranged for us to meet up a member of the Historic Preservation Office to take us to the very southern tip of the island to a seldom visited Japanese gun emplacement and other remnants of the coastal defenses. After the most amazing 4x4 trek through the jungle we arrived at the bunker. Standing proud was the Japanese cannon pointing out over the water ready to defend the island. From there we progressed to the airport area to shoot the remains of anti-aircraft guns, tanks and bomb storage facilities. The extent of the WWII remnants was quite impressive.

It hard to imagine these pristine tropical location as ground zero for the some to the bloodiest battles in WWII. These little known islands with their content civilizations and traditions thrown into the mania of a world war. Events which forever changed the course of the islands and its people. A story that is repeated over and over again on these small coral islands in a sea of blue. 

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Daihatsu Landing Craft

The Daihatsu Class landing craft was a large motorized boat used by the Japanese Special Naval Landing Forces during WWII. It had a catamaran hull and bow ramp that was lowered to disembark cargo and troops. 

It was powered by a diesel engine and had a relatively long range for its size. Two Daihatsu landing craft are located in Tanapag Harbor, although the circumstances surrounding their loss are unknown.

(Text courtesy of Ships of Discovery/Coastal Resources Management/CNMI Division of Historic Preservation/Flinders University Dive Guide)

LVT (A)-4

LVTs (Landing Vehicle Tracked) were amphibious tractors originally intended to act as cargo carriers for ship-to-shore
operations during WWII. However, they rapidly evolved into assault troop carriers and fire-support vehicles. These craft were capable of traveling through the water and crossing shallow and sometimes exposed fringing reefs.

Seven LVT models were produced and used in the Pacific, including the LVT(A)-4 that fought in Saipan. This type eventually became known as the “Marianas Model” due to modifications made to the vessel by its crew.

(Text courtesy of Ships of Discovery/Coastal Resources Management/CNMI Division of Historic Preservation/Flinders University Dive Guide)

M4 Sherman Tank

The M4 Sherman was the primary tank used by the U.S. Army and Marine Corps during WWII. Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, a technically simple and reliable medium tank, labeled “M4” was put into production post-haste. It was by no means the finest, most powerful, or well-armored tank serving in the worldwide conflict; however, it was accepted as the standard combat tank of the U.S. military. 

It was mass-produced and for this reason it was often said “The M4 Sherman tank was a winner by quantity, not by quality.” The M4 Sherman served in the U.S. military from 1942 until 1955.

(Text courtesy of Ships of Discovery/Coastal Resources Management/CNMI Division of Historic Preservation/Flinders University Dive Guide)

Aichi E13A “Jake”

The Aichi E13A, Allied code name “Jake,” was an Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) long-range reconnaissance seaplane used during WWII for maritime
patrol duties and was considered the Navy’s most important seaplane.
The Aichi E13A1 made its combat debut in 1941 and was used by the Japanese Navy until 1945.

Photo by Lou Lamar
E13A1s participated in a number of significant aerial operations prior to Japan’s entry into WWII, including bombing attacks on the Canton-Hankow railway in China and reconnaissance flights over Hawaii immediately prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor. These initial successes inspired the Japanese Navy to deploy the aircraft from ships and forward shore bases. They were also used in a limited capacity as bombers, but only in areas where air opposition was restricted or nonexistent. Although largely successful in its designated roles, the Aichi E13A1 was impeded by a handful of issues
including a small fuel tank, minimal crew protection and limited defensive armament.

(Text courtesy of Ships of Discovery/Coastal Resources Management/CNMI Division of Historic Preservation/Flinders University Dive Guide)

Kawanishi H8K “Emily”

The Kawanishi H8K (Allied code name Emily) was a large, four-engine Japanese flying boat used in the Pacific as a reconnaissance aircraft, bomber, and transport. Its performance during the war was considered
exceptional combining fast flying capabilities and superior hydrodynamic qualities. The H8K was first used in combat in 1942 and earned a reputation among Allied forces as one of the hardest Japanese aircraft to shoot
down. It was considered the backbone of the Imperial Japanese Navy’s maritime reconnaissance element. The H8K carried a crew of ten and was armed with nose, dorsal and tail machine gun turrets.

(Text courtesy of Ships of Discovery/Coastal Resources Management/CNMI Division of Historic Preservation/Flinders University Dive Guide)

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Invasion of Saipan

Tonight as I sat in the comfort of my United flight from Tokyo and glided over the coastline approaching Saipan I could not help contrast my “landing” on Saipan to that of the Marines on June 15, 1944.
At only 1300 miles from mainland Japan, the islands of Saipan and nearby Tinian became a high priority target for the US military to stop the Japanese advancement through the Pacific. The island contained airfields from which our newly developed B29 could reach the Japanese mainland and conduct bombing runs which would inflicting both a military and psychological toll. The strategic location of the island was not lost on the Japanese, and they were heavily entrenched with extensive costal fortifications, high ground artillery positions and elaborate cave bunkers for defense of the island. The 12 mile island contained more than 30,000 Japanese solders committed to the defense of the island at all cost. On the US side, the largest invasion fleet in the Pacific was assembled to secure Saipan for the Allies. Some 800 ships, 1000 airplanes and 127,000 US forces were amassed for the invasion – numbers that closely rivaled the Normandy invasion a half a world away.

What was originally was believed to be a three day offensive by war planners turned into a three week
close quarters fight with systematic removal of the entrenched Japanese through constant mortar shelling, grenades, and flame throwers into the caves. Many advancement by the US forces were met with  suicide counter attacks by the Japanese forces. When the island had finally been secured by the US Marines by July 9, 1944, some 29,500 of the original 31,000 Japanese troops had been killed while approximately 3,400 of the 67,000 US troops who participated in the battle were killed or reported missing in action. The battle for Saipan had proved to be deadliest conflict in the Pacific to date.

Perhaps most disturbing about the battle of Saipan was the nearly 1000 civilians - men, women and children - who participated in mass suicides by at Marpi Point on the Northern tip of the island. As the battle of Saipan reached its final days, Japanese soldiers and panicked civilians made their way north to Marpi Point. Here, despite repeated calls by the U.S. military to surrender, civilians chose death by jumping off cliffs or drowning themselves in the sea. They had been led to believe that surrender would mean murder, rape and torture at the hands of U.S. forces.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Shooting in the Pacific

When I started working for the National Park Service (NPS) nearly two decades ago as an intern, my primary job was cataloging tens of thousands of slides, by hand and generating a database. Day after day, month after month I viewed the underwater world, including the Pacific, through someone else’s lens. It was the lens of several underwater archeologist and volunteers who were part of the Submerged Cultural Resources Unit (or the SCRU team as we once were known) that had run field projects around the world under the founder and Chief Dan Lenihan’s direction. From 1985-1991 members of SCRU crisscrossed the tiny dots on the map with names like Pohnapai, Kosare, Palau, Chuck, Marjaro, Saipan and Bikini to name a few in a series of “Pacific Swing”. Lenihan was the master of the big picture. For several years he had SCRU partnering with the US Navy under Project Seamark with unprecedented access to Navy assets, divers and support. This partnership in conjunction with official request from several US Trust Territories let to archeological assessments throughout the Pacific that are still the benchmark for research in the area some 25 years later.

From 1941-45 these miniscule dots on a map had the utmost strategic importance for both the Japanese and American forces and the battles that were waged over their control were some of the bloodiest in the history of the war. To the underwater archeologist, these islands hold unprecedented concentrations of WWII era heritage. In most cases, the most preserved icons of the WWII in the Pacific were found underwater – not rotting in the jungles. I often imagined what it would be like to image these relics of war - airplanes and tanks, shipwrecks and submarines as I cataloged the tens of thousands of slides the NPS had generated over their “Pacific swings” back then. I finally get my chance to hit a couple of those dots on the map.

Over the past year, the NPS SRC has been planning a 3D outreach and education project in conjunction with Australia’s Flinders University and the Advanced Imaging and Visualization Laboratory (AIVL) at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI). The concept is to film 3D HD on the already established underwater maritime heritage trail in Saipan, which is part of the Northern Marianas islands some 1300 miles southeast of Japan, to both document the sites but also interpret the underwater WWII remains of the area through a 3D documentary production. The partnership is designed to build on the archeological and interpretive products generated under the direction of Jen McKinnon at the Department of Maritime Archeology at Flinders. Also on the team was Toni Carrell, formally a staff uw archeologist with SCRU who participated in the previous work on Saipan and edited the 1991 NPS publication “Micronesia, Submerged Cultural Resources Assessment, who is currently with Ships of Discovery. Finally, the two main partners in terms of the uw documentation was the well seasoned collaboration between the SRC and the AIVL that has put 3D cameras in NPS units for 15 shoots over the past 4 years. The Saipan project was also an extension of the ongoing 3D documentation in NPS units which now would include American Memorial Park. Although not directly within the park boundary of this NPS unit, the parks mandate is to interpret the events and is thematically linked to the very sites we are targeting to image. The travel has been booked, the logistics worked out and I am heading to the South Pacific to shoot for the first time in my career.