Peleliu. A Battle Few Have Heard Of Was Considered The Hardest Fought In The Pacific.

by Daniel Russ on August 3, 2014

 

Wounded_Marine_on_Peleliu

 

The Japanese Imperial Command was the last organization in Japan to get the message that the United State’s juggernaut advance up the Pacific was not going to end soon. Out of a medieval Samurai value system, the Japanese believed it was incumbent upon them to resist at all costs. It can be argued also that the United States Army and the US Marines were sometimes asked to fight for real estate that we didn’t need. By the middle of the Summer of 1944, we were launching B-29 and B-24 raids on Japan. That said, Peleliu Island had a large airstrip on the western edge. The US decided that the airstrip was worth taking. Marine Major General William H. Rupertus led a total force of 27,000 men including the 81st Army Infantry, the 1st Marine Marines, the 5th Marines, the 7th Marines and the 11th Marines. He faced a force of 11,000 hardened Japanese soldiers of the 14th Infantry Division under the command of General Kunio Nakamura. 

Pelelilu was only six miles long. Admiral Bull Halsey suggested they bypass the island. But Nimitz insisted that the airstrip was necessary. That said, the invasion went forward. 

Nakamura had a great strategy. He also had an almost unassailable position: all his men were deeply dug into the tortuous hills and trails that skeined through the mountainous and heavily wooded island. His strategy was not to stop the invasion on the benches, but to draw the Americans into the interior of the island where they would encounter interlocking fields of fire. It worked. He inflicted almost 11,000 casualties on the Americans awhile suffering 11,000 casualties himself.  The US casualties meant 8,000 dead and Nakamura lost all his men save for 301 captured.

The battle opened on September 15th, 1944 when Marines invaded Peleliu, General Rupertus told his commanders it would last three days.  It would be a cakewalk, the told them, revealing either his arrogance or the lack of intelligence he was supplied with. The three day campaign lasted 78 days and went don as one of the bloodiest, hardest fight battles of the Pacific. The artillery barrage lasted three days. The heavy guns of five battleships, eight cruisers, and fourteen destroyers pounded Peleliu. The Navy was firing 14 and 16 inch guns before the 17,000 men of 1st Marines were tasked with taking the island quickly. The Battle of Peleliu first wave 4,500  headed to island in LVTs, or tracked landing craft. 

The Japanese has purloined the island in 1922 in the run up to the invasion of China. They had plenty of time to create the bomb proof caves and hidden redoubts. Peleliu was fairly close to the Japan mainland. So the Japanese knew that soon after Pleleliu the Americans would be invading the island of Japan itself. They fought like Hell. They were disciplined as well, holding their fire until the last moment. Only a few months after the Peleliu invasion Douglas MacArthur retook the Phillipines. Once the Marines headed inland, all hell broke loose. 

The beaches were named White 1 and White 2.  Both beaches were well in range of Japanese artillery and heavy machine gunfire. The Marines invaded in specially armored landing craft, some armed with 75mm and 37mm guns. The LVTs hit a coral reef 800 yards long and were sitting ducks to Japanese gunners. the Invasion began at 8:30 AM. While three regiments pushed through the defenses, by the mid afternoon the first day 6o LVTs were hit and on fire. The casualties were so severe that Navy Corpsmen fan out of gauze and medicine. men were literally bathed in blood.

Marines said the enfilading artillery and machine gun from the Japanese positions were more intense than anything they had ever seen. The 1st Marines were pushing in on the left flank. The 5th Marines were pushing in the center and the 7th Marines were on the right flank. The 1st Maines were cut down as fast as they advanced on the battlefield and could go no further. 

The first hillside the Marines invaded was known as Bloody Nose Ridge, and it took days before the Marines could get past it. In an act of hubris that cost probably thousands of lives, Rupertus forbade the US Army 81st infantry division from joining the invasion because he wanted this to be a Marine only glory. In a  few weeks he had to ask for their help. Thy suffered 3,300 dead.

From Wikipedia, here is a description of the attack around a redoubt known as The Point. “K Company had captured The Point, but Nakagawa counter attacked.  The next 30 hours saw four major counterattacks against a sole company, critically low on supplies, out of water, and surrounded. The Marines soon had to resort to hand to hand combat  to fend off the Japanese attackers. By the time reinforcements arrived, the company had successfully repulsed all Japanese attacks, but had been reduced to 18 men, suffering 157 casualties during the battle for The Point. Hunt and Hahn were both awarded the Navy Cross for their actions.”

At the end of two and a half months the US had rolled up the tenacious Japanese on a promontory called Umbrogol. Also from Wiki,… “The reduction of the Japanese pocket around Umurbrogol mountain has been called the most difficult fight that the U.S. military encountered in the entire war.[10] The 1st Marine Division was severely mauled and it remained out of action until the invasion of Okinawa on the 1st of April 1945. In total, the 1st Marine Division suffered over 6,500 casualties during their month on Peleliu, over a third of their entire division. The 81st Infantry Division suffered nearly 3,300 casualties during their tenure on the island.”

Marine and Navy fighter aircraft dropped napalm and stated Japanese caves and pillboxes during the last two months of the war. Many Japanese caves were sealed with grenades. Others were attacked with flamethrowers. Heavy naval gunfire penetrated some fortifications, also burying Japanese defenders inside

There are lots of questions about the utility and futility of this attack. One airfield for all these casualties was questionable. General Rupertus was more interested in honor than his men’s lives. I think Generals like he and Mark Clark in Italy should have their records re-examined. The blood we shed to take this shit hole that could have been by passed was hardly worth the history. Not every battle is necessary. Napoleon remarked that men would go around the world and fight and die for colored strips of ribbon. This is what strikes me about military history. It’s brave and true. And mostly forgotten.

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Sources: History Channel, Wikipedia

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