31 Days of Halloween: On Atlas Obscura this month, every day is Halloween. Stop by the blog every day this month for true tales of the unquiet dead. Come for the severed heads, stay for the book bound in human skin. Every story is true, and each one is a real place you can visit. We dare you.

Ghost Fleet of Truk Lagoon

Chuuk lagoon entices divers with its gorgeous sheltered reef, its clear, tropical waters filled with exotic fish - and with the hulking, haunting wrecks of more than 50 ships, tanks, and hundreds of Japanese aircraft.

When Jacques Cousteau arrived at the lagoon of Truk (now known as Chuuk) in 1969 he found a forgotten chapter from WWII history. Not only were the waters full of ships, planes, and military equipment - it was also full of bodies. More than 400 Japanese soldiers died in one ship alone, their bodies still trapped in the cargo hold.

The lagoon was the site of “Japan’s Pearl Harbor”, two days of unrelenting attacks on the Japanese Imperial Fleet by the Allies known officially as “Operation Hailstone”. On February 17, 1944, the surprise attack began, and did not end until the fleet was decimated, 50 ships sunk, and approximately 250 aircraft destroyed. After the war, the wrecks were abandoned and largely forgotten by the outside world until Cousteau arrived with his cameras.

Cousteau produced a film called the “Lagoon of Lost Ships”, and as a result of the attention, eventually most - but not all - of the bodies have been removed. Today, you can dive amongst the wrecks and still play a lively game of “spot the skull.”


TRUK LAGOON, Caroline Islands, Palau