I recently had the pleasure of doing a Valentine’s Day dive with three of my girlfriends. My husband took us out on the boat to celebrate my friend Juli’s birthday, which happens to be on Valentine’s Day. She traveled back to Guam from halfway around the world for the occassion.
We began the dive at Coral Gardens, navigating a bit south from our point of entry. We saw colorful coral, a wide variety of fish, a stingray, a large anemone, blue linckia starfish, and a couple of different varieties of nudibranch. It was pure joy to watch my friends each happily enjoying our underwater playground. Words can’t express how much I love and appreciate this adventurous group of ladies and this beautiful island I call home.
Towards the end of our dive, as we made our way back to the boat, we stumbled upon an old airplane propeller. My friend, Casey, was a couple of feet in front of me, and even before she turned to me, I could already picture the wide-eyed glee in her expression. We had never heard of an airplane propeller being found in this area, and we were delighted by this surprise. It had clearly been down there a long time, and it was missing one of its blades. What remained had become an artificial reef. We have a fair amount of World War II wreckage around Guam, so we assumed it may have been from that time period.
After our dive, my friend, Casey Radican, did some research to try to learn more about the mysterious airplane propeller. After uncovering this helpful clue, she proposed that the propeller was most likely from a Japanese Zero airplane that crashed during the liberation of Guam air fights that took place in June of 1944.
According to the U.S. National Park Service:
As of June 1, 1944, Japanese air strength on Guam consisted of 100 Zeros and 10 Gekkos (night fighters) at Airfield #1 and 60 Ginga (bombers) at Airfield #2. It is not clear from the source material, which of these two airfields was Orote Field. However, American raids on June 19, 1944 destroyed the landing fields, the aircraft on the ground and such aircraft that managed to take off. American pilots reported extremely intense antiaircraft fire around Orote Field. Fifteen Japanese airplanes crashed while attempting to land on Orote Field on June 19, 1944. On June 20, 1944, numerous actions occurred in the immediate vicinity of Orote Field between American carrier airplanes and Japanese aircraft seeking refuge at Orote Field after flying from their carriers, or Japanese airplanes needing to refuel and rearm to attack American carriers. Numerous dogfights took place in the air above Orote Field and numerous strikes by American airplanes destroyed Japanese facilities and airplanes on the ground. This was significant because it denied the Japanese the use of a crucial airfield in the battle.
Casey also visited the American Memorial Park museum in Saipan last week, where she saw an airplane propeller on display that looked very similar to the one we observed on our dive. She spoke with a representative from the musem, Renee Ann Manibusen, who informed her that the propeller on display was a “Japanese Zero also known as the Mitsubishi A6M or the Navy Type 0. That museum aircraft had crashed at the airport on Saipan during the Marianas Campaign of WWII.”
We asked at Axe Murderer Tours dive shop if they were aware of the airplane propeller, and no one in the shop that day had seen it before. Does that mean we get to name this dive site? How about Propeller Reef?
These photos were taken during our dive by my talented friend and dive instructor extraordinaire, Sheila Mollot.