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Not until he arrived did he finally find out what he was there for. The mission was to locate and hopefully recover 270 tons of silver pesos, valued at $8,500,000, that had been dumped into Manila Bay off the island of Corregidor by orders of General Jonathan Wainwright in April 1942, when the surrender of U.S. forces to the Japanese appeared imminent. Gold, securities and the silver coinage had been brought from the Treasury in Manila to Corregidor before the city was ceded to the Japanese invading forces in January; the gold and securities had departed with General Douglas MacArthur to Australia on the famous PT boat, but the silver was too heavy to move, so it had been carefully boxed up and dumped into 130 feet of water in an area between Corregidor and the mainland. The site was carefully surveyed at the time, but in the terrific destruction caused by the bombing and shelling of Corregidor, all the landmarks had been blown up.   In an interview he gave on the “Engineer Show,” a radio show broadcast from Fort Belvoir, Maryland, Anderson’s home base, shortly after the war ended, Anderson explained a little more thoroughly:

Anderson: Here at the Engineer Board, we had developed an underwater mine detector that we were anxious to test in tropical waters. And when we were asked to aid in finding the treasure, I was send to Manila to… well, you might say, kill two birds with one stone: first, find the silver and second, test the detector.

The Interviewer (an officer not otherwise identified named Warren): Then your job was to find the stuff. Who actually recovered it?

Anderson: You can give credit to the 1054th and 1059th engineers Port Construction and Repair Groups and Navy Ship Salvage Units for bringing the silver up.

As part of a Joint Army-Navy Port Repair and Salvage Group, he shortly boarded the Submarine Net Tender Teak (“All net tenders are named for some kind of wood,” Anderson tells the interviewer), which was fully equipped for salvage. “There were no officers’ quarters for me, the only army officer,” Anderson recalls in another memoir, “so they rigged a big tarpaulin on the foredeck with an army cot; of course I took my meals in the wardroom with the rest of the officers.”

Recounts Anderson, “Using a technique Schlumberger had described to us for finding metals in seawater, I borrowed the 50-microampere multimeter from the radio room and built the Schlumberger apparatus. We soon located the silver.”

Warren: Did you have any trouble in locating the pesos?

Anderson:  Plenty! It seems the original charts were misplaced. And local natives, who had probably seen the silver dumped, had been diving for it with some success. Of course, we investigated, but found only a small amount where they were working.

Warren: In other words, they hadn’t found the main treasure.

Anderson: That’s right. The only thing we could do was survey the entire area of Manila bay around Corregidor. We found it impractical to send a diver down 110 feet with our portable underwater Mine Detector Set, so we rigged up a device I call the “Slido Wire Potentiometer.”

Warren: Sounds highly technical, Lt. Anderson.

Anderson: It’s really simple… an electric cable with a copper ball at the end was suspended to a point six feet from the bottom of the bay. As soon as it came near the silver metal, we got our reaction and a reading on the “Potentiometer.” Then a diver went down to make sure.

Warren: And if he found silver?

Anderson: We’d anchor, using four cardinal direction anchors so that fine adjustments of the ship’s position could be readily made, and, under the supervision of the Navy, begin to haul the pesos up… What we did was to drop a line with a GI [garbage] can tied to its end and the diver, using a bucket, would fill the can with silver. It was tough work. Using hardhat diving suits, the diving team could only stay down about 30 minutes. They would then have to spend 45 minutes, in three stages, to decompress on the way back to the surface. Yet each haul, weighing about 500 pounds, netted about 11,000 pesos, or $5,500.

Warren: You say they had to use a bucket. I thought the money was dropped in boxes.

Anderson: It was. But tropical worms had eaten through the wooden boxes and when the divers touched them, they disintegrated. The silver spilled out all over the muddy bottom.

Warren: I always thought recovering treasure would be more exciting.

Anderson: Maybe it would be, if it was finders keepers, but as it turned out, it was just another job for us. There was an M.P. Security Officer, Lt. Hagerman, on board who saw to it that we didn’t pocket any fortune. Believe me, he didn’t watch us any closer than we watched him. And the M.P.’s came every second day and returned the pesos to the Treasury. Besides, the salt water had corroded most of the pesos, and before they could be used, they’d have to be melted down and recoined.

Said Anderson in a more recent memoir, “When I drew my last pay in the Philippines, I was issued some of those coins, though by that time everybody had a bag of his own. I still have two left.”

Lt. Anderson supervised the recovery of nearly $3,000,000 worth of pesos, which were presented to the Treasury in September 1945. The work continued for some months thereafter, but the full amount was never recovered. In addition to the local divers’ depredations, an unknown amount had been recovered by the Japanese and shipped out in two boats, which were later sunk.

 

—Sara Collins Medina

THE GREAT MANILA BAY SILVER OPERATION | THE JAPANESE OVERSTRIKE COIN

H Version 03.29.11

POST-WAR RECOVERY OPS 1945-88 | SPEEDY GONZALES  |   BATTERY MORRISON  | AH-MOON'S   |  THE ENGINEERING TUNNEL   |   GRAVE - GOLD   |   THE MARCOS CONNECTION   |   THE NORTH DOCK GOLD HOLE   |   THE FOURTH LATERAL   |   THE NORTH HARBOR SALVAGE BARGE   |    THE PRESIDENTIAL YACHT "CASIANO"   |   THE LORCHA DOCK   |  SILVER PESOS    |  NO MORE GOLD   |   CONCLUSION

CORREGIDOR - THE TREASURE ISLAND OF WWII    |    GOLD IS ALSO BALLAST    |    THE GOLDEN PATROL OF THE USS TROUT |  SALVAGING A SILVER TREASURE  | THE JAPANESE OVERSTRIKE