Diving WWII Wrecks, Coron Bay Philippines

Peregrina's Journey
Peter and Margie Benziger
Fri 26 Oct 2012 01:27
12:00.0N  120:12.0E

Diving WWII Wrecks

On the morning of September 24, 1944, crews from a dozen Japanese warships awoke to a calm sea and a golden sun in the protected waters of Coron Bay, Philippines.  This was to be a morning of rest after the ships had hurriedly steamed hundreds of miles south from Manila to escape the reach of the US Navy air fleet patrolling that area.

Shortly after sunrise, and without warning, the morning’s silence was shattered by the screaming roar of the powerful engines of 24 Curtiss SB2C-3 Helldiver Bombers supported by 96 Grumman Hellcat Fighters.  These aircraft had been launched from the U,S. aircraft carriers Lexington, Intrepid and Cabot.  The aircraft had flown for three hours, an extreme range even with wing tanks, and had fuel for only 20 minutes over their targets before they would be forced to return.

But, 20 minutes was enough and, very shortly, 12 Japanese ships lay on the bottom of the ocean.
The Helldiver Bombers, carrying 1000 pound explosives and the 500 pound bombs of the Hellcat Fighters had set ships afire, blown holes right through the bottom of the hulls and torn topsides into a jagged labyrinth of twisted metal.  The sun was blotted out by the pall of burning bunker fuel oil smoke.

This past week, with Peregrina anchored in Coron Bay, it was a great opportunity for me to dive on this piece of history. Margie is not comfortable doing hull penetration dives requiring diving lights so I went on three dive trips with the Sea Divers Company which specializes in wreck diving. We traveled to the wrecks in long hulled vessels with bamboo outriggers and usually did three dives every day.


Over the course of a week I dove on the following Japanese wrecks. The picture below is of the Iraki before it was sunk.

Ships Name
In feet
depth in feet
Iraki Marui
Refrigeration ship
Giant seaplane launcher, deck mounted anti-aircraft guns
Kogo Maru
Armed freighter with anti-aircraft guns
Olympia Maru
Armed freighter
Armed freighter
Armed gunboat
Each dive lasted about 35-45 minutes.  On the deeper dives, some divers used a Nitrox mixture. Normal air is 70% Nitrogen and 21% oxygen. Nitrox reduces the percentage of nitrogen in air and replaces it with higher than normal levels of oxygen.   This allows the divers to stay down longer and requires shorter decompression stops as one ascends.  I was diving with regular air so that I had to adhere to the full schedule of decompression stops on the return.  One of the reasons I chose Sea Divers was the fact that they have the region’s only decompression chamber at their facility in Coron Town.  Thankfully, I had no use for it…

In all the wrecks we explored, we used diving lights to illuminate the interiors. This is a picture of me coming out of a round access hole in the hull.

Here’s a picture of the inside of the ship with one of our exit holes. On the deeper level dives, there is absolutely no light so I, unfortunately, don’t have any pictures. When you are down inside the hull, you are REALLY out of luck if your dive light goes out as it is completely black.

We came across a cannon shell lying on the deck of the one of the ships

If you saw the movie Finding Nemo, you will recognize these little clown fish.

You may also recognize a Moray eel.

And don’t try to blow more air out than this Puffer fish!

Diving on these Japanese ships was an emotional journey for me.  Deep inside one wreck, we saw a complete set of teeth and jawbone of one of the sailors who died. It was sitting on what looked like a shoe or boot sole. Swimming through a passage, I picked up a long piece of water resistant timber that was clearly burned on all sides. Many of the ships had metal beams literally bent in smooth angles that must have been melted by the burning fuel.  All vessels were filled with large areas of jagged metal ripped asunder by the bombs.  Swimming inside the hulls, we had to be careful that our diving gear did not catch and rip on the rusted and coral covered metal.  In the picture below I am about to enter a tight hole.

It was unnerving to think that, underneath all the silt we were swimming over, hundreds of bodies had been burned, blown apart or drowned on that day in 1944 and were resting right below us, hidden from the glare of our dive lights.

Thoughout Peregrina’s journey, we have had the opportunity to visit sites of World War II prison camps, land battles, air attacks and naval engagements. In all of these locations allied soldiers, as well as Japanese soldiers, died fighting for their country.

I know that there are no winners in war and that, in the end, everyone loses. After Margie wrote the story of Corregidor, we received the following note from a US veteran, James Range, who must be very, very old now. He wrote:

“I was in the South Pacific in the 2nd World War with the 1st. marine division, from May 1942 until Nov 1944. We were in Guadalcanal, Goodenough Island, the Pavau Islands Campaign and the Battle of Peleliu. We made the first invasion of Japan in the 2nd World War. Never made it to Corregidor, thank God. It was HELL!”

I was so moved that I wrote back to him:

“Dear James,
The only thing I can say to veterans like you is "Thank you."   I doubt I will ever be able to appreciate the sacrifices you made for your country and for our generation. The more I travel around the world and see the battle grounds, the more I fully understand that you were the heroes that made our present life possible. Thank you.”