The vast size of the ocean and the depth to the ocean floor means very few people get to explore the deepest levels our oceans. The ones who do are expert deep sea divers. Even the most experienced and expert divers in the world have only explored 5% of the world's oceans. Just a few make it to the very bottom, and when they do, they have limited time before they have to resurface.
The official name is the Republic of the Marshall Islands as it is a country consisting of 29 islands. It's located close to the equator and is also part of country Micronesia.
The 29 islands around the area are all just corals and barely sit above sea level. The Atolls that form the islands are actually the top of submerged volcanoes. That'll give you an idea of what the scenery is like underwater in the region.
The country is now a sovereign nation, but that wasn’t always the case. Just over seven decades ago, the U.S Forces occupied the islands. Now they rent Kwajalein atoll as a military test range for missiles. That’s a lot different to the post-war era where it the base was used for testing nuclear weapons.
It’s the story behind the story that makes what Brandi Mueller caught through the lens of camera underwater all the more compelling.
From above, the island looks like this.
Underwater though, this is what’s lying on the ocean bed.
It paints a very different picture from the idealistic view you get above water.
Amidst the planes, there’s an enormous amount of debris spread across the ocean floor
The pictures Brandi was able to snap revealed a lot more than airplanes lying at the bottom of the sea. The planes were surrounded by shards of glass and remnants of shattered metal. Naturally, the metal was long rusted given the debris has been down there for over 70+ years.
The whole surface of the ocean floor tells the story of a long forgotten past, brings it to the surface and reminds us all of the war that was won by the US at the cost of thousands of lives.
It’s been known all along what was in the water in the Marshall Islands region, but until now, nobody has ever been there long enough to get photos of the underwater world. Only a few have actually been able to dive so deep down to the bottom of the ocean only to find they need to resurface.
What Brandi Mueller has done is quite like the impossible. She’s deep dived to the bottom of the ocean, with a camera, and successfully taken superb photographs evidencing the troubles of past conflict during World War II.
Days went into capturing the photographs
Due to the time limitations and difficulty working at such deep levels, it took multiple days and frequent deep dives into what must’ve felt like oblivion. A time capsule or something. Not your average experience of any type of diving.
Planes are the last thing you’d expect to find on the ocean bed. Boats, yeah. They’ll sink, but planes fly and to land on a warplane when you’re not expecting it, you’d be forced to ask what happened? Were they shot down? Run out of fuel? And if so, what happened to the pilots? Maybe the aquatic life took care of that.
Even more complexing, the planes were flawless (except rust)
Among the planes buried deep at sea, it was like they were frozen in a time capsule.
The picture above shows a U.S. military aircraft which has landed on its propeller, stood upright and remained in that position since 1945.
All in, there are over 150 airplanes, all in impeccable condition except for rust. Even though they are rusted, they’re also the habitats for the marine life and the coral reefs and all other ocean plants found along the seabed.
As Brandi and her diving colleagues swam around the airplane graveyard, they could see the fish weaving in and around the aircraft relics. Now they’re serving as protection for the smaller fish of the oceans to hide from the larger predators in a bid for survival.
If you didn’t know what you were looking at, you couldn’t tell if the planes once belonged to the Japanese or if they were U.S aircraft. At this site at Kwajalein Atoll, the 150+ planes are all U.S. There is nothing inside them belonging to any pilots, there are no signs of any remains, and any visual clues of where the aircrafts were from, were covered by rust.
So who’s planes were these and what happened to the pilots?
This is where history reveals its troubled past. The aircrafts had absolutely nothing wrong with them, each of the pilots was safe aboard aircraft carriers before the downing of the planes.
The gruesome airplane graveyard was relics from WWII when the U.S military ditched them from carriers because they were surplus and being retired anyway.
Following the U.S victory of WWII in the war against Japan, surplus equipment was manufactured, which would cost the U.S a fortune in storage, and then more to retire the fleet since they already had better and faster planes being built.
These planes were no longer required and had served their purpose. They had dealt devastating blows to Japan in the aftermath of the Pearl Harbour surprise attack in 1941. The ultimate decisive battle that served as a turning point for the Navy was the Battle of Midway. The U.S has a base there, and as the name suggests, it is midway between the U.S and Japan. Both sides knew the strategic importance as with the base there; it was within striking distance of the enemy.
The U.S. successfully deciphered Japan's coding and gained credible intelligence about their planned attacks. The intent was to ambush the U.S. and bomb its military base at Midway. Instead, since the U.S. Navy intercepted the communications, they deployed their resources to squash Japan's plans. Navy carriers, ships, and aircrafts were deployed. At the first sign of Japanese attacks, American torpedo planes were deployed along with dive bombers. That day on June 4th, 1942, each of the four advancing Japanese carriers was sunk by the end of the day.
The atolls around Marshall islands are extremely strategic for the military. Ferocious battles took place all around the islands during WWII, but it was the Battle of Midway that proved to be the most decisive of all actions by the U.S. Navy.
While it was a decisive battle and turning point during the war, it wasn't the final blow. That came on August 6th, 1945 when the U.S. deployed a Boeing B-29 Superfortress and became the world's first aircraft and military to drop an atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima.
What Brandi Mueller had captured on her camera while deep sea diving around the Marshall Islands was indeed the relics of a gruesome dark period for America, Japan, and the Marshall Islands.
The airplanes were long forgotten about, and most of the world would never know of their underwater existence if it wasn’t for Brandi having the expert deep-sea diving skills and a love for underwater photography.
For the vast majority of people who aren’t capable of driving to the bottom of the ocean, these are just some of the 100+ pictures captured that reveal the horrible dark days and remind us that America has allies and air bases strategically placed around the world. The Marshall Islands airplane graveyard serves as a reminder of when just one airbase was put into action by the U.S. Navy.