World Class Shore Diving on the USS President Coolidge
The conflict in the Pacific during the Second World War is part of our modern history. Many lives were lost at this time and there is much for us to learn of the collective history of this period. It could be said that the war in the South Pacific was the turning point for the American involvement in the Second World War.
It is not surprising then that the former luxury liner SS President Coolidge was converted to serve in the war effort as a troop carrier. Fully laden with troop and equipment she was sent to support troops throughout the Pacific. This theatre of war was huge for America at the time and a clear demonstration of her commitment to the war effort. What is surprising is that she hit a “friendly” mine and sank in less than 90 minutes, within sight of her destination, incredibly with the safe landing of 5000 Army personnel.
The luxury liner SS President Coolidge was a product of the 1930-31 depression. She and her sister ship SS President Hoover were each built for the contract price of $7,050,000, with construction commencing in 1930. They were identical twins, 200 metres long and 21,936 tons gross. They were driven by turbo electric engines and were capable of a cruising speed of 21 knots.
The President Coolidge was delivered in September 1931 and commenced her run across the Pacific to Asia and around the world returning to New York. She was not regarded as a luxury liner in the same class as the famous Queens or the speedy United States. She was lavishly appointed in the art deco style and boasted many grand rooms and fittings befitting an aspiring luxury liner.
All of this came to an end when she was stripped of her finery and placed into war service as a troop carrier in 1942. Her destination was the South Pacific to counter the advance of the Japanese whose intention was to isolate Australia, especially from America. It seemed only a matter of time before the Japanese would occupy Australia. It was decided at this point, to make the islands of the New Hebrides (now Vanuatu) a safe harbour for allied warships from which to launch defensive and later offensive campaigns.
As the President Coolidge made her way down the Segond Channel she hit a mine laid the day before by the minelayer USS Gamble, just off (the present day) Million Dollar Point. Mortally wounded, she drifted westward and was run aground by her Captain to arrest the sinking of the ship, whereby she listed to port side and commenced to go down by the stern. When she sank, she slid down a steep sandy embankment adjacent a pristine coral reef, with her “passengers” standing on a tiny sandy beach with only the mosquitoes and mangroves for company.
Diving the Coolidge today opens up the opportunity to glance back to the war period, as the ship is a virtual time capsule containing relics from that time.
Your dive is structured from 18 metres depth at the bow and progresses in tune with your ability. It normally takes ten dives to explore the ship from stem to stern. Not only is the Coolidge an incredible wreck dive, it is possibly the best artificial reef dive that is easily accessed as a shore dive. You will also have the opportunity to dive Million Dollar Point, where thousands of tonnes of war surplus were dumped close to shore.
There are several dive operations in Luganville and divers can book in all year round, as there is no real high or low season.