Hakkai Maru

Text and photos by Bob Hampton

The Hakkai Maru was the biggest and best of the World War II shipwrecks at Rabaul.  It was a big Japanese freighter, at least 400 ft. long, that had been converted to a repair ship.   It was sunk at 5:40 PM on January 17, 1944 - skip bombed while at anchor by a U.S. Mitchell bomber.  It settled upright onto the 170 ft. deep floor of Simpson Harbor.

Cannon on the Hakkai Maru

The cannon on the stern of the Hakkai Maru

I instantly felt right at home on the Hakkai Maru, it just seemed so hauntingly familiar.  The basic ship was a typical freighter, very much like "my" ships at Kwajalein.  It had shadowy masts and riggings looming over dark and mysterious cargo holds, like monsterous undersea titans guarding the entrances to a deeper underworld.  It held a black maze of passageways and compartments inside it's massive, ethereal superstructure.  It had the same dark glow.

Engine room of the Hakkai Maru

Inside the engine room of the Hakkai Maru

But this wasn't just another (mostly) empty merchantman like the wrecks at Kwajalein.  The Hakkai Maru's cargo holds were full of machinery.  Drills, lathes, presses, welders, and every imaginable type of metal working machines lined the decks on all levels.  Equipment and materials were everywhere!  Everything you might need if you had to repair a war damaged major warship at sea.  It was all there, everything from hull plates to torpedoes!  It was an amazing assortment of heavy metal construction implements.

Kingpost of the Hakkai Maru

One of the Hakkai Maru's towering Kingposts

The Hakkai Maru had, in fact, been making repairs to a Japanese cruiser in the Bismark Sea just a few hours before being sunk at Rabaul Harbor.  Ironically, it had sought refuge at Rabaul after the cruiser it had been repairing was sunk by Allied bombers.  Forty minutes after the Hakkai Maru anchored at Rabaul the U.S. Mitchell bombers arrived there and promptly dispatched her to the bottom of the harbor.

Forecastle of the Hakkai Maru

The forecastle of the Hakkai Maru

The Hakkai Maru was what I had been looking for.  It was the quintessential shipwreck, the full experience right there in one gigantic sunken relic.  This was what I had come for!  To be in this towering, elegant cathedral of my deeper, darker dreams.  It was inspirational.  The Hakkai was a power dive!

Text and Photos © 1999 by Bob Hampton  All Rights Reserved

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