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National Wealth Beneath the Waves

Legends abount about supposed lost hoards and buried treasure of the Second World War. Unfortunately,  when closely examined, most of these stories appear to be without foundation. This is not because many precious items were not hastily concealed during the panic of impending disaster, but because usually too many people were in the know. Most caches of loot were recovered by the authorities or dug up by official salvors soon after the end of hostilities. However, of the whereabouts of two Second World War treasures  there is no doubt.

• Admiral Isoruku Yamamoto died when his aeroplane was shut down by the US fighters  on the island of Bourgainville on April 18, 1943.
• The late Commander in Chief of the combined fleet Admiral Isoruku Yamamoto.

At the entrance ot Manila Bay lies the small island of Corregidor, upon which stands a formidable ancient fortress. It was to this place, in 1942, that the Philippine national treasury was brought. The Japanese were advancing steadily and it could not be long before the capital fell into their hands. In February the gold was got away: five and a half tons of ingots were loaded aboard the USS Detroit and conveyed, via Pearl Harbor to America. The paper currency was later burned. This left 15,792,000 silver pesos, at that time worth  almost £5,000.000. The enemy was drawing rapidly closer and there was no means of saving the money.  The harbour commander therefore decided to sink it in the deepest part of the bay. In the last days of April  1942 the minelayer Harrison made a number of night-time sorties and cumped 2,632 boxes in about eighteen fathoms. Thedefenders, however, had reckoned without the Japanese talent for extracting information. The  new masters of the Philippines soon learned the whereabouts of the silver and began salvage operaitons,  using prisoners of war as divers. But the workers gave their conquerors the minimum possible cooperation,  and by the end of 1942 only 2 1/4 million pesos had been raised. Before the war ended a gang of private  American treasure-hunters appeared on the scene. They salvaged per half a million pesos before being  warned off by the authorities. Later, official expeditions recovered the bulk of the treasure, but it is estimated  that about 1,176,000 pesos still lie on the floor of Manila Bay.
A large consignment of Japanese war loot lies in thirty  fathoms of water at the bottom of the Formosa  Straits. In the early months of 1945 the freighter Awa Maru was allowed by the Americans to make thre  emercy missions to South East Asia, ferrying Japanese wounded back to their homeland. However, the  captain also loaded his hold with an immense quantity of loot, intending to smuggle it to Japan to resuscitate  the war effort. An unofficial inventory lists the following items among the Awa Maru’s cargo: twelve tonnes  of platinum, forty cases of art treasures, 150,000 carats of uncut diamonds, forty tonnes of gold buillion,  2,000 tonnes of tungsten and 3,000 tonnes of tin. The Awa Maru was threequarters of the way home when  she encountered the US submarine Queen Fish on 1 April 1945. Whether what followed was an accident or  whether the American navy had discovered the real purpose of the ship’s mission has never been quite clear.  In any event, the Awa Maru was torpedoed fourteen miles off the Chinese mainland. She took to the bottom  her precious cargo –– and 2,008 human beings. A number of salvage operations have been mounted to find the Awa Maru, none of them successful. If the treasure is raised in the near future the salvors could find  themselves with a considerable problem on their hands: there are thousand of people still living who might  have legitimate claim to many of the plundered items. 

– From the book The World Atlas of Treasure by:
Derek Wilson
KASAYSAYAN
By: WILLY B. PAÑGILINAN │Operation Eposé Vol. 9 Blg. 50 June 24-June 30, 2012 issue

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