A Cold War Mystery...

Figure 1:
This boat was towed into Truk lagoon (at Baker Dock) several days after an above-ground bomb test.  Note the number "OT-25" (or "OJ-25") that appears on the hull.  Click on an image for a larger picture. Warning:  These are very large images!

In the early 1950's, my mother lived, with her mother, stepfather, and siblings for several years on various islands in the South Pacific.

For those familiar with history in any way, one may realize that this time coincided with numerous above-ground tests of thermonuclear devices in this part of the world - some of which have become rather infamous (e.g. the "Lucky Dragon" incident.)  This boat was not the Lucky Dragon:  The story of that vessel is well-publicized (see the web link above) and the boat itself is currently on display in Japan.

The Story:

The "back-story" - boiled down to simple facts - is this:

Figure 2:
Close-up/enhanced images of the sign above the wheelhouse of the boat.

Click on the image for a larger version.
If you are able to translate this script, please let me know.

These are consistent details that I'd heard on different/separate occasions from both my Mother (who was 11-12 years old at the time) and my Grandmother (now deceased, having died of a blood disorder - Myelodysplastic Syndrome - link) - My "step-grandfather" died long before I would have the opportunity to ask about it.  I have omitted most other details of what they personally speculated happened or what they thought that the purpose of the boat happened to be - most of it based on later rumor and unscientific speculation.  Shortly after posting this web page, I ran across mention on a SCUBA-related web page relating a very similar story (referring to Baker Dock at Truk) in which a boat and its crew was caught in fallout from a test and the boat was later scuttled and is now one of the many wrecks on which enthusiasts dive:  I am still trying to determine the source of this story.

These pictures came from Kodachrome 35mm slides taken at the time and are the only ones known to exist.  Unfortunately, the film for these slides sat, exposed but undeveloped, for a year or two until they could be processed, and the slides mounts themselves bear no imprint of the processing date:  At the moment, the closest narrowing of the date (without further scrutiny of family memorabilia, etc.) would place it in the range of mid 1953 through 1954.

What's in a name?

The pictures contain some information that may aid in the identification of this vessel.  The bottom two pictures, in particular, were taken at a close enough range that some detail of the sign above the wheelhouse can be discerned.  It is unfortunate, however, that these details are somewhat obscured by the resolution of the film and that of the lens on the camera itself:  In other words, these images show all detail that it is possible to extract from the film.  The processed images of Figure 2 show two very different attempts at sharpness/image enhancement (see below) to attempt to bring out additional detail.  Between this script and the "OT-25" (or possibly "OJ-25" on the hull) it may be possible to identify this boat.

Initial attempts at deciphering this script by native Japanese speakers indicate that the left-most of these Kanji characters would appear to be "Maru" - roughly meaning "boat" (or, at least, is commonly used in that manner.)  The far-right character (two boxes) would appear to be a symbol that has the approximate meaning of "prosperous" or "glorious."

To my surprise, the center character seems to be stumping those trying to decipher it.  The current "best guess" would appear to be a symbol meaning "carry" or "move" or even "fortune."  Remembering that this would be read from right to left, this would mean that the boat's name would literally be something like "Prosperous Fortune Boat" or simply "The Prosperous Fortune."  Of course, this is a (mostly uneducated) guess.

For a bit more information about "Maru" and the naming convention of Japanese boats, look at this entry in the Wikipedia. 

Another native Japanese decided to take a crack at a bit of research to find something about this boat and here is what he came up with:

The kanji name seems "昌進丸" or Shou-shin-maru for most of Japanese.  Written in reverse direction, which is usual in ship name case.


http://homepage3.nifty.com/jpnships/showa2/showa_senpyo_e_class_list.htm http://homepage3.nifty.com/jpnships/company/prof_dairenkisen.htm http://www5f.biglobe.ne.jp/~travel-100years/travelguide_074.htm There was a ship named "昌進丸" belonged to 大連汽船 or Dairen Kisen. So the ship sailed between Japan and China. But there is no additional information about the ship on the Internet. No information after it worked for Dairen Kisen…
Again, the middle character seems to be the one that is causing difficulty, a point made by the author of the above comment elsewhere in his original email.

Figure 3:
This picture was taken on Truk, shortly after an above-ground bomb test and soon after or before the above pictures.

Click on the image for a larger version.

How the pictures on this web page were processed:

Using a Canon FS2710 film scanner, the original slides on this web page were subject to a "deep scan" using the program VueScan by Hamrick Software to maximize both dynamic range (e.g. brightness/darkness) as well as resolution.  In doing this, the limitation of the quality and sharpness was a matter of what was on the film rather than the means of electronically reproducing it.

For one of the images of the Japanese script in Figure 2 the scan of the bottom image of Figure 1 was electronically zoomed and sharpened.  For the other image in Figure 2 the original slide itself was projected at a distance of 10 meters onto a high-quality screen and a photograph was taken of the projection using a digital SLR camera.  These two methods - being very different - were employed in an effort to get the best possible image from this particular slide to increase the possibility that the Kanji characters could be deciphered.

The final step in producing the images of Figure 2 were to produce monochrome images using only the red, green and then blue colors from the scan and screen photograph to see which one was the sharpest - and it turned out that the green image in each case was the one that was used and then converted to grayscale.  This "selective color" approach was done to minimize the effects of chromatic aberration - link - an artifact of lenses that can cause some blurring of pictures by separation of colors:  By removing all but one color - and picking the one that yielded the sharpest image overall, the best-possible image could be produced.

The pictures in Figure 1 have been minimally enhanced:  Only minor color correction was done, the images were upsampled to double size using a cubic algorithm, slightly sharpened, and cropped slightly to remove the slide mount from the frame:  The scratches on the slides and mold/mildew damage are clearly visible.

Figure 3 is a picture that was taken hours after one such test, having been taken some time hours or a day, perhaps) after a detonation.  The entire reason that this picture was taken was due to the the odd cloud formations and the eerie calmness of the ocean. (This last picture has had some color correction and scratch/dust removal done to compensate for dye fading and damage.)  It is not certain, but it is believed that this picture was taken by my mother at about the same time as the arrival of the boat, but it was definitely on the same roll of film.

If you have any more information or some questions, please send email.

This page last updated 20130402

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