WAILUKU - Information gathered during a survey of 1940s-era wrecks submerged off South Maui will be used on a website to tell people about Maui's important role in the training of U.S. troops during World War II.
Maritime archaeologist Hans VanTilburg said the detailed sketches of the sites, combined with additional document-based research, would provide new insights into Maui's wartime history. He noted that many original photographs and documents from the era are unavailable because of the U.S. government's strict censorship of information on military operations during the war.
The findings would eventually be shared on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Marine Sanctuaries website, he said.
Earlier this summer, University of Hawaii students learning underwater archaeology in the Marine Options Program spent two weeks diving and surveying the sites off South Maui, several of which had not been closely studied before.
They were able to complete detailed drawings of two sunken planes - an almost completely intact Helldiver as well as the broken wreck of an F6F Hellcat. They also visited the sites of two sunken amphibious landing vessels, but were not able to survey them in detail because the wrecks were too deep to linger at for a long period of time, he said.
VanTilburg said he believed the amphibious craft were used in training exercises and practice invasions staged on the beaches of South Maui during April and May of 1944. The craft were first used in the invasion of Saipan in June of 1944, he said.
"We'd like to do a little more digging to see if there was any kind of record for the losses of those things" off Maui, he said.
Along with the drawings, VanTilburg said researchers at the Bishop Museum had found a collection of old photographs showing the landing craft. He said the photos would likely have been destroyed if discovered by the U.S. military during the war years.
"It's very rare to see that kind of stuff," he said.
While researchers have documented the Helldiver ditched in waters off Maalaea during a training exercise in which there were no fatalities, VanTilburg said he hoped to also get a positive identification on the Hellcat and find out the story behind the wreck.
The research is helping to tell the story of troops who came to Hawaii to train and prepare before heading off to war in the Pacific, he said.
"It really is quite the Maui story," he said.
He hoped the information would be shared at sanctuaries.noaa.gov/maritime within the next few months.
* Ilima Loomis can be reached at email@example.com.