Pacific war


“You’re only the second visitors to see this” Sylvester tells us as he hacks away at the thick branches with his machete to reveal a rusting tank. He shrugs his shoulders when I ask him whether it’s American or Japanese, so I go rummaging through the wreckage and soon find a line of Kanji characters in the fractured metal near the machine gun.




A short while later our boatman stops in the shallow lagoon and we jump in with our snorkel gear, directly over a 1940s commercial Sea Star DC-3 aircraft and the remains of a military helicopter.




Hang out in the Marshall Islands for a little while and you’ll soon stumble upon WW2 artefacts. This was the scene of a fierce battle between the US and Japanese forces which fought to the death for control of the all-important mid-Pacific. The best wrecks can be found in the waters around Bikini Atoll, a place with one of the darkest chapters in 20th century history.




It was on Bikini that the Americans decided to set up their nuclear testing programme immediately after the end of the Second World War. The first bombs were detonated in 1946 and over the next 12 years 67 bombs were dropped over Bikini Atoll and nearby Enewetak – the largest explosion being around 1000 times the power of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. During these tests a number of warships were scuttled in the atoll by the US military and have remained in the waters around Bikini ever since.




Visit the Marshallese capital Majuro and you’ll find several signs of the Bikinian legacy. There’s the Bikini Town Hall for a start, located in downtown Majuro and one of the few attractive buildings on the island. Nearby is the office of the Nuclear Claims Tribunal, now just a shell but for a long time the place where displaced islanders affected by radiation from the tests would come to seek some form of justice. Meanwhile a sizeable proportion of those living on the Majuro atoll are there because of the exodus sparked by the bomb tests. Ask a taxi driver or a waiter and the chances are they’ll have a relative or friend who was affected by the nuclear legacy.



You can still go to Bikini atoll and explore some of the world’s most impressive wrecks submerged in its lagoon, including the US aircraft carrier the Saratoga and the Nagato, flagship of the Japanese Navy. Radiation levels are now at levels that shouldn’t give any cause for concern for short-term visits.




Trips to Bikini are arranged via chartered flight and run into thousands of dollars, so are really for the die-hard divers only.  Thankfully for those coming to the Marshall Islands who don’t have the time or money to make it out to Bikini, there are plenty of fascinating WW2 leftovers to explore within the relative convenience of Majuro.


You can get the Marshall Islands included in your RTW here