Posts Tagged ‘Admiral Chester Nimitz’

For the Japanese military, 1942 was a study in contrasts.  The first half of the year was filled with heady exhilaration, as victory after victory was achieved with stunning speed.  One by one, each objective was marked off the list.  It started at Pearl Harbor and was quickly followed by the Philippines, Burma, Singapore, and Malaysia.  All over the central and south Pacific, Japanese forces pushed their American, British, and Australian counterparts back.  As May rolled around, Australia looked ripe for the picking.

It was then that things begin to change.  The Americans fought the Japanese to a draw in the waters of the Coral Sea.  A month later, Admiral Spruance’s forces shocked a vastly superior Japanese force at Midway, taking down four Japanese carriers and halting Japan’s advance in the central Pacific.

Of course, a defeat at Midway didn’t cause the Japanese Navy to simply roll over or run away.  In fact, the Japanese, despite their losses, were still in a much better position than the Americans, who still could only boast a single aircraft carrier to cover the entire Pacific.

At this point, the Japanese started looking for ways to strengthen their perimeter.  As early as mid-May, they had been scouting the Solomon Islands, and before a month had passed, the decision was made to build an airfield on the largest of the islands – Guadalcanal.  The second week of June, even as final plans were still being made, the first Japanese soldiers arrived, with the task of building a wharf. Before too long, heavy smoke hung in the air as large areas of grass were burned on the Lunga Plain.

And on July 6, 1942, the first serious forces arrived on Guadalcanal.  A twelve-ship convoy landed, disembarking 2,500 men of the 11th and 13th Construction Units.  Their job was to build an airfield.

Not a single one of these 2,500 men could have possibly known that, just the day before, the American military (through its knowledge of Japanese codes) had discovered Japan’s interest in Guadalcanal.  Suddenly, Admirals King and Nimitz were also interested in owning this piece of real estate as well.

And thus was set in motion the single most pivotal land campaign in all the Pacific War…the Battle of Guadalcanal.

Read Full Post »

The two-and-a-half month battle fought on Peleliu in the fall of 1944 was one of the most vicious engagements of the entire war.  Thirteen hundred Marines and more than five hundred Army soldiers were killed in the process of subduing nearly 11,000 Japanese soldiers that were incredibly well-entrenched.  But regular readers of Today’s History Lesson probably know all this.  Other than Guadalcanal, I think I’ve spent more time discussing Peleliu than any other single battle, so it’s no big secret.

It’s also no secret that, even after nearly 70 years, a pall of controversy hangs over this 13 square miles of coral.  And much of the debate stems from the events that happened on this day…March 2, 1944.

As the sun rose on that day, American forces in the Pacific were knocking the Japanese all over the place.  Their naval base at Truk was abandoned and in ruins, having been plastered by U.S. carrier aircraft in mid-February.  More than 250 aircraft and three dozen ships were destroyed.  Admiral Koga packed (what was left of) his bags and retreated to the Palau Islands, setting up a temporary base on Peleliu until a bigger naval base could be completed in the Philippines.

But by the time the sun had set that day, Koga’s plans, to quote Bill Sloan’s outstanding Brotherhood of Heroes, “…went up in smoke – along with 160 more Japanese planes.”  He continues, “…scores of Hellcat fighters and Dauntless dive-bombers from the carriers Hornet, Lexington, and Bunker Hill ravaged Peleliu’s airstrip in relentless day-long raids.  Low-flying Avenger torpedo planes sowed hundreds of magnetic mines across the entrances to Malakal harbor, trapping some thirty enemy ships inside, then returned to sink or disable all of them.”

Peleliu was a wreck.  Whatever offensive punch the island possessed on March 1st was gone.  The garrison stationed there was still strong but, like Truk, it no longer posed any long-range threat to General MacArthur’s designs on the Philippines.  Even the Japanese knew that was true, and declared the garrison expendable.

But the 1st Marine Division became part of a power struggle between MacArthur, who really considered them to be “his” Marines and wanted to keep them, and Fleet Admiral Nimitz, who wanted them returned to Navy control.  And General MacArthur’s passionate appeal to President Roosevelt carried the day, and the Philippines operation, with Peleliu as a flanking maneuver, was on.

So the 1st Marine Division, followed later by the Army’s 81st Infantry Division, would be called upon to expend a lot of blood to capture a postage-stamp-sized piece of real estate that, in all likelihood, wouldn’t have changed the outcome of the Pacific War one iota.  A piece of real estate that had been pretty much defeated six months prior to invasion.

Throughout our discourses, I’ve visited Peleliu numerous times.  If you’re interested, here are links to those pieces:

Sep 4, 1944 – Leaving Pavavu: Out of the Frying Pan…
Sep 15, 1944 – Peleliu: The War’s Most Controversial Battle
Sep 18, 1944 – Action Jackson: Hero of Peleliu
Oct 12, 1944 – Andy Haldane: Loved and Lost on Peleliu’s Hill 140
Oct 13, 1944 – Corporal Andrusko: 1 Bullet, 3 Wounds, 1 Miracle
Nov 27, 1944 – The Guns on Peleliu Fall Silent
Feb 1, 1945 – Japanese Holdouts Give it up on Peleliu

Recommended Reading: Brotherhood of Heroes

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

The early part of 1942 had been particularly kind to Japan’s military.  Not only had it scored a staggering victory at Pearl Harbor, it had added insult to injury by taking the Philippines, Hong Kong, Singapore and the Malay Peninsula, the Dutch East Indies, and islands in the Aleutians.  For the American military, the task of battling an enemy with a 5,000-mile front was, at the very least, daunting.

But U.S. forces were also faced with another dilemma.  Who would be in charge of the Pacific campaign?  The fight would be long, it would cover a vast area, and it would require both the Army and the Navy.  The Navy was the logical choice to lead, but the Army refused to be subordinate to the Navy.  And, of course, the Navy wouldn’t play second fiddle to the Army.

Fortunately, a compromise was reached.  On March 30, 1942, the Pacific was divided by the Joint Chiefs into two theaters.  The Pacific Ocean Areas would be under the watchful eye of Navy Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz, shown on the right.  The Southwest Pacific Area would be led by Army General Douglas MacArthur, pictured on the left.

There would be bickering between the services and hard feelings over decisions about resource allocation throughout the war, but the Army and Navy could fight a coordinated campaign separately, and that was probably just fine with both.

Read Full Post »