The Bismarck Sea is not only home to phenomenal marine life, stunning underwater topography and some of Papua New Guinea’s best dive sites. It’s also steeped in World War II history and is home to numerous wrecks which tell the tale of this iconic region.
World War II came to the Australian territory of New Guinea in January 1942 when the Imperial Japanese Army invaded Rabaul in New Britain. Both sides employed some formidable aircraft during the New Guinea Campaign, and both sides lost many planes. Most remain unfound because they went down in remote jungle locations or far out to sea, but each discovery has a special story. There are several wrecks, however, which have been discovered and which make for incredible scuba diving. Here are a few of our favourites along with other highlights of exploring the Bismarck Sea.
The B-17 Black Jack
This has got to be one of the best airplane wrecks in South East Asia – if not in the world. The B-17F Black Jack wreck lays undisturbed in the deep water just off the fringing reef from the remote village of Boga Boga. The B-17 Black Jack was one of the first Flying Fortresses built at the Boeing factory in Seattle during WWII. She is a historic piece from stern to keel.
Black Jack’s final flight was in July 1943, when it left Port Moresby just before midnight on a mission to bomb the heavily fortified Japanese airfields at Rabaul in New Britain. After successfully delivering the bombs, the plane ran afoul of a violent storm while approaching the coast of New Guinea. Running low on fuel, the crew ditched the plane at Boga Boga, escaping just before the Black Jack sank to the seabed some 164 feet (50 m) below, where it lay largely forgotten for 43 years. Then, in 1986, three Australian divers —Rod Pearce, Bruce Johnson and David Pennefather — stumbled on the wreck almost by accident while searching for a different aircraft wreck. Whilst this wreck is out of recreational dive limits she is explorable by tec and decompression divers – this is an epic dive into Bismarck Sea history.
New Ireland’s Deep Pete
Deep Pete is a Mitsubishi F1 float plane and one of Papua New Guinea’s most photogenic aircraft wrecks. The Deep Pete was unique as it was designed and built for launch by catapult from battleships, cruisers and aircraft tenders. It was meant for reconnaissance but was also called into action as a fighter when needed.
Rabaul was Japan’s main base along the southern rim of the Pacific and Kavieng, in nearby New Ireland, also played a significant role. Here, the Japanese significantly expanded the original Australian-built airfield and set up a seaplane base which, when the tide of war turned, became an important target for Allied forces. There are more known aircraft wrecks in this area than anywhere else in Papua New Guinea.
Because the Japanese naming of aircrafts was difficult to understand, the Allied Forces used codenames – with men’s names replacing the Japanese names – hence the name “Pete”.
The wreck lays in 40m (130 feet) of water on the western side of Nusa Lik (small Nusa) island which, along with Big Nusa island, provides the shelter for Kavieng’s harbour. If dives are timed with the incoming tide one can experience exceptional visibility – often exceeding 30m.
Upon first view of the wreck you’ll find that it’s lightweight bi-plane structure is incredibly still intact. You’ll also love the marine life which surrounds the wreck – schools of yellow lined sweetlips, batfish and barracuda are all common sightings.
New Ireland’s Catalina Wreck
This wreck sits at just 20 metres (66 feet) and so is accessible by all levels of diver. The remains of the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) PBY Catalina A24-11 are located near the entrance to Kavieng’s harbor. The U.S. Navy developed the Catalina as a flying boat in the 1930s and it was designed to function as a long-range patrol bomber. Catalina’s were slow and somewhat difficult to handle but despite their downfalls they served with distinction during WWII. The Catalina’s were also often used as rescue craft for downed airmen.
Kimbe Bay’s Zero Wreck
Shortly after a small plane had crashed on take-off from Hoskins Airport in Kimbe Bay,William Nui (a local villager) found the wreck of the Zero. Little did he know that he hadn’t found the recent wreck but had actually stumbled across a WWII Japanese fighter plane that had been sitting on the sea floor for almost 60 years.
Despite over six decades underwater, this Mitsubishi Zero remains in top condition. Upon inspection of the aircraft it was realised that the plane was not shot down in action – instead, the throttle was in the “off” position and there were no bullet holes or damage. All signs clearly indicated that the plane had undertaken a controlled crash landing.
During 1942 it was a common occurrence that pilots got lost and ran out of fuel in Papua New Guinea – resulting in emergency landings. Japanese records for this period show that 10 Zero pilots were shot down but 16 Zero aircrafts disappeared due to unknown causes.
Sharks And Whales In The Bismarck Sea
Not only is the Bismarck home to this phenomenal collection of aircraft wrecks it also offers incredible shark and whale sightings for snorkelers, divers and cruisers.
Common species include white and black tip reef sharks, scalloped and great hammerheads, orcas and sperm whales. There is little marine research on this area and so we hope with our exploration voyages to find out more about one of the most unique and remote areas on the planet.
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