Archive for September 15th, 2008

It’s an itty-bitty island.  If “nowhere” was a place, this would be just about in the middle.  Its name is strange and initally hard to pronounce.  But for the survivors of the battle fought over this 13-square-mile chunk of coral, the memories are black.

Furthermore, the circumstances surrounding the battle for Peleliu (pell-li-loo) make it one of the most controversial battles fought in the Second World War.  In 1944, the Japanese military was falling backwards towards Japan and the U.S. was preparing to retake the Philippine Islands.  General Douglas MacArthur believed strongly that Peleliu, one of the most heavily defended islands in the area, needed to be neutralized to protect his right flank.  Admiral Chester Nimitz also believed the island needed to be taken, but moreso because he favored it in his plans to drive the Japanese from Taiwan.

But then the Navy attacked the island in March of 1944 with carrier aircraft to great success.  Nearly all the aircraft parked there were destroyed, along with much of the infrastructure and the runways.  Peleliu became, for all intents and purposes, a toothless giant…a powerful garrison that posed very little long-range threat.

By mid-summer, Nimitz had begun to question the necessity of taking Peleliu, but MacArthur held firm.  President Roosevelt, hearing both plans, sided with MacArthur making good on his promise to return to the Philippines…and Peleliu.  And so the 1st Marine Division departed and, on September 12th, the U.S. Navy began its three-day pre-invasion bombardment.  But after the shelling stopped on the 13th, Rear Admiral Oldendorf said there would be no third day of bombardment, because the battleships, cruisers, and dive-bombers had run out of targets.

In fact, the Japanese emplacements were so well-dug and well-fortified (coral is extremely tough) that the U.S. Navy inflicted little or no damage on anything.  And while the 1st Marine Division maintained a force larger than the roughly 11,000 defending Japanese, fewer than 10,000 would make the initial landings.

So, when the Marines hit the beaches on September 15, 1944, they were fighting more troops who were on higher ground and had far better protection…and were nearly untouched after enduring everything the Navy could hurl at them.  Marine General William Rupertus predicted a battle lasting three or four days.  Oh, how wrong he would be!!  Soldier-for-soldier, Peleliu would be the bloodiest battle in the Pacific War.

Recommended Reading: Brotherhood of Heroes – Sloan’s book on Peleliu, much like his recent work on Okinawa, is terrific.

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