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Marines resting after landing, Peleliu 1944

Marines who landed on Peleliu taking cover from Japanese machine gun fire

The Battle of Peleliu or "Operation Stalemate II" was a major battle fought from September to November 1944 by the 14 Infantry Division, Imperial Japanese Army, the First Marine Division, United States Marine Corps, and the 81st Infantry Division, United States Army in the Pacific Theater at Peleliu in the Palau Islands. There were 1,252 killed, 5,274 wounded or missing Marines, 542 killed, 2,736 wounded or missing US Army troops, and 10,695 killed and 202 captured Japanese.

The island held great strategic importance because of its key location near the islands of Iwo Jima and Okinawa which were locations decided upon to be air bases for prolonged operations against Japan. Therefore, Peleliu in the Palau islands was a staging point that made way for battles later in 1945. Though, controversy has arisen for the cost of the battle and how important the end result was in the war.[1]

Planning and Preparation

Located on Peleliu was a single Japanese infantry division of about 11,000 veteran soldiers who had been recently dropped off from heavy fighting in China.[2] Furthermore, the Japanese commander on the island, Kunio Nakagawa, did not believe in wasteful suicidal attacks and he made sure that the Japanese defenders would fight to their best ability to the very end, rather than give in to suicide. He also prepared a complicated defence of camouflaged pillboxes and trenches and was prepared to retreat and save his troops, if need be.

Marines on Orange Beach, Peleliu 1944

Marines resting on Orange Beach during the battle of Peleliu.

One of the most important things in the Japanese arsenal on Peleliu was its artillery a munitions supply. On the island were numerous AA emplacements guarded by bunkers and a tank detachment. The American approach led by William Rupertus to the battle was similar to other American invasions carried out during the war. The main premise was to split up the landing force to land at five different beaches, Purple, Scarlett, Amber, White, and Orange. For the battle, around 27,000 American troops were dedicated to the region. Prior to the landings was the standard preparatory bombardment.[3] The marines would be first to land while the 81st Infantry division would begin its assault on Anguar and Ulithi. In total, the invasion was scheduled to last for only four days.

The Battle

More Info: Japanese Reconnaissance Tactics

The battle of Peleliu began on 15 September 1944 with a detachment of 1st Marines landing first on white beach. Immediately, the marines came under heavy artillery fire and oftentimes their LVTs were hit before they even reached the beachhead. As additional reinforcements arrived, the marines slowly pushed through the thick jungle until reaching the airfield where they encountered stiffer resistance from the tank detachment.
Life mag peleliu2

Smoke from Japanese positions, during the battle.

By the second day, most of the airfield was secured. Though eventually, the attack was ground down to a complete near complete stop as American troops finally encountered what was nicknamed as "The Point". Entrenched in this coral mountain complete with deep caves perfect for defensive operations was one of the larger parts of the Japanese garrison. Cave entrances were often closed off be heavy steel doors and holes were made in the rock and coral so that anti-tank guns and heavy machine guns could still fire back at marines. Even with tank support, the marines struggled to get past this obstacle.
Battle of Peleliu Map

A battle map of the American landings on Peleliu

Following these initial confrontations, the marines pressed into the island from three sides. Japanese troops still managed to carry out a tank and infantry counterattack, though it was later repelled by marines protecting the airfield. Over time, prolonged offensives carried out by American troops pushed back the Japanese defensive line. Once again, marines had to defend against Japanese counterattacks and by this time, the marines had been ordered to push through what became known as "Bloody Nose Ridge". Nightly Japanese raids just further deteriorated American morale. By September 23, units from the 81st Infantry Division had began their attack on Ngesebus Island, an island off the coast of Peleliu. On October 15, the 1st Marines were replaced on the front lines by the 81st so that they could rest after taking hundreds of losses. Now in command, the 81st fought the Japanese through the maze of caves and defenses until November 27, when the island was finally captured. Nakagawa had committed suicide several days prior.



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