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The North Harbor Salvage Barge

 

South Mine Dock 1988

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Recoveries from South Mine Dock 1988

 

 

 

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As previously mentioned, the Japanese occupation forces were well aware of the fact that the bulk of the Philippine silver stocks were dumped overboard in San Jose Bay. The American divers who were forced to retrieve these coins did everything within their power to prevent these stocks from falling into the hands of the Emperor’s troops. Since the Japanese were successful in recovering only two million of the fifteen million pesos known to have been jettisoned I would have to say that the diver’s many acts of sabotage and trickery paid off!

One of those US Navy divers involved in the dumping and subsequent ‘forced salvage’ of those pesos was US Navy 1st. class diver Morris Solomon. In an interview with this man many years after the fact I was to learn first-hand of some of the more interesting historical facts surrounding these events, as well as a couple of little unknown treasure stories.

‘Mo’, as his closest friends call him, was not immediately shipped to those infamous prisoner of war camps on the Philippine mainland as so many were, but was kept on the island in a small PW enclosure near the old Navy sea-plane hangers down at bottomside. The Japanese kept a 300-man prison labor force at Corregidor to help clean up the aftermath of war and re-build the more vital military areas of the installations. A dozen or two of these men were Navy divers and the Japanese command eventually transferred them to a barge moored just off the North Dock.

The men were given a proposition that they could not refuse, and that was to help the local Japanese command recover the millions of silver pesos on the bottom of San Jose Bay. Every day the barge would be towed around to the South Harbor for the operations and ‘Mo’ described in detail how the PW guards would watch his small group as they entered and left the water in their attempts to locate raise the hundreds of boxes of silver. Each diver was issued an empty gas-mask bag and was expected to return to the deck of the barge and pour out the contents of his bag into a pot in front of the guards.

Quite often, in fact every day, the divers would successfully smuggle most of the pesos off the barge at the end of the day’s work. It started with small lunch bags filled with silver while being escorted back to their enclosure, and when the lunch bags became lunch-pails, the guards seemed not to notice. However, one day, after the barge was secured to her mooring, the divers noticed that one of the higher-ranking Japanese officers was heading down the dock in their direction for a surprise inspection.

Fearful of being caught with hundreds of silver pesos on their persons, the divers slipped the coins through an opening into the bilge of the barge. Since the barge was constructed of wood the coins made very little noise as they were poured in by the hundreds. After the inspection the Japanese inspection staff walked away shaking their heads. They knew that their land-based prison guards were being bribed and ‘bought-off’ for special favors with silver pesos by the prisoners in the enclosure, but they failed to find the source of the coins.

Over the next couple of months ‘Mo’ and his fellow divers poured at least half of their recoveries down into the bilges of that wood barge before tying up to the mooring in North Harbor. In his own words, ‘Mo’ says: "We stole a million, we gave them a million, we had to! But they never got what was inside that barge!"

Three years later that very same barge was photographed by US Army Ariel recon. Planes just prior to the retake of Corregidor Island by American troops in 1945. It was still sitting at its usual mooring near the North Dock, but by the next day, the barge had been sunk by American aircraft.

Today, the remains of this heavily framed vessel is easy to find within the North Harbor waters. In 1988 I was able to actually dive on this wreck and was rewarded with hands full of silver pesos, which were clumped together in mass along the interior keel of the wreck.

There are many pesos still left within this wreck waiting for the next diver. This, at least, is one treasure story of Corregidor that is true! (19)

 

1999 Edward Michaud

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

H Version 09.09.11