My relationship to the Middle East is like a long-running but complicated love affair. I keep being attracted to it and keep coming back. Each time I step out of the airplane when I arrive there, I am embraced by a pleasant, complex, and—dare I say—almost sensual scent so full of notes, most of which I have never been able to identify.
World War II came to the Australian territory of Papua New Guinea in January 1942 when the Imperial Japanese Army invaded Rabaul in New Britain, followed shortly after by the taking of Kavieng in New Ireland. The invasion turned Papua New Guinea into a major theatre of war in the battle for the Pacific, and there were many brutal encounters between the invading Japanese and the defending Allied forces.
There are places in the world where time seems to stand still, where you will find contemporary witnesses of events that can take your breath away. I visited just such a place more than 100 meters deep in a French lake—Lac du Bourget. Here, for more than 70 years, rests a Focke-Wulf Fw 58C—a German WWII airplane. This particular aircraft is one of the last of its kind that exist in the world.
Of the numerous types of fighter planes used in WWII, the Curtiss SB2C Helldiver is an incredibility rare aircraft. There is only one remaining in the world that is still in flying condition. Finding one of these largely intact underwater is, to say the least, highly unusual. The first such underwater find was not made until January of 2010, when a scuba shop owner in Maui discovered a Helldiver resting in 50ft (15m) of water in Maalaea Bay.
The 21st of January in 1942 was a really bad day to be a resident of Kavieng, in New Ireland, Papua New Guinea. On that fateful day, the full might of the Imperial Japanese Navy was unleashed on this small town on the remote eastern edge of the Bismarck Archipelago, as it prepared to seize the main prize of Rabaul in nearby New Britain.
Before they were sunk into the Gulf of Mexico, the jets were gutted and attached to concrete anchors. Both jets were slowly lifted from the barge and briefly floated on top of the Gulf before they headed toward the ocean floor.
The two planes are now about 74 feet underwater and about 3 nautical miles from the M.B. Miller county pier. Divers expect fish to start coming to check it out any day.