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2008 Papahanaumokuakea Maritime Heritage Expedition
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Mission info 2007 Nancy Foster Cruise
 

Mission Blog: August 18, 2008
Midway, WW2-era Military Sites Underwater

By Deirdre O'Regan, Editor, Sea History magazine
National Maritime Historical Society

Midway is aptly named as a point almost perfectly bisecting the North Pacific Ocean between the west coast of the US and Asia. Of all the atolls in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands, it is the most developed, having had a long history of commercial and naval activity. Since the beginning of the 19th century, it has served as a transPacific cable station, a vital refueling stop for Pan American Clipper air service, and, of course, as a naval facility. Midway also marks the turning point for the 2008 maritime heritage expedition. Today ended our diving operations for a while after a nearly twelve-day run of SCUBA diving, with one break on the day we landed at Kure Atoll on August 10th. From here, the ship travels on a reciprocal course, bound for Honolulu, with a detour back to French Frigate Shoals for a few days.

Midway Atoll, with Sand and Eastern Island at the southern side of the lagoon.

Midway Atoll, with Sand and Eastern Island at the southern side of the lagoon.

We spent our morning diving on the engine for the Corsair that team members dove on yesterday. This piece of the plane had yet to be seen by the Sanctuary and Monument’s archaeologists in previous years, but its location was well known by local sport divers, back in the 1970s when Midway was host to a dive shop and excursion boats. The use of GPS makes archaeological field work significantly more efficient as it allows divers to return to exact locations without wasting time on the surface and under the water just to find the sites they are looking for. With the reported coordinates in hand, Hi’ialakai’s coxswain placed the boat precisely over the engine. The engine lies about 300 feet north of the rest of the Corsair’s remains, also in deep water and on a flat expanse of the sandy seabed. Our bottom time at nearly 100 feet was limited, but we had enough time for take close-up shots with video and still photography and for the individual members of the maritime heritage team to get to examine the engine.

The bow of the salvage tug Macaw (1944).

The bow of the salvage tug Macaw (1944).

Our next dive was a monitoring dive on USS Macaw (ASR-11), a naval salvage tug that was wrecked early in 1944 on the east side of the channel between Sand and Eastern Island as it was maneuvering into position to assist the salvage of the submarine FLIER, which was aground on the reef. While considerable effort was made to refloat and salvage the Macaw, ultimately it was a total loss and tragedy ensued with the loss of five members of her crew, including her commanding officer. In 1944, keeping the channel clear at Midway was of utmost importance as the atoll served as a submarine refit base. Over the next few months, thousands of pounds of explosives leveled the stern section of the tug where she lay. Today, the bow section remains fairly intact and the section in the channel is, indeed, blown to bits. With access to Midway only possible by permit and no dive shop for more than a thousand miles, the only visitors to USS Macaw are the occasional researchers that come here and the large schools of sharks that patrol this underwater fish haven.

An engine from the WWII Corsair airplane the team dove yesterday.

An engine from the WWII Corsair airplane the team dove yesterday.

To ask us questions, you can email the team at: sanctuaries@noaa.gov and we will answer your questions within the blog, or in a live internet broadcast later in the cruise. Again, stay tuned for details.

 

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