Everybody remembers the Greatest Hits of World War II: Normandy, Stalingrad, Iwo Jima, Dunkirk. Those names have been engraved into the national and world consciousness and likely will never be erased. Then, there are places like Tarawa and Peleliu.
|A marine on Peleliu after several days of endless fighting.|
|Chow time on Peleliu, 1944|
|The first wave of LVT transports moved toward Peleliu invasion beaches, Palau Islands, 15 Sep 1944; note the bombardment lines consisted of LCIs, cruisers, and battleships; photo taken by a USS Honolulu aircraft pilot.|
Nimitz' plan promised a quicker advance along a chain of small islands but put extreme pressure on his marines, who were forced to storm one gloomy beach after another. Ultimately, Nimitz and MacArthur got their men to the same destination at the same time, and each left an awful lot of young men in jungles strewn across the Pacific. Peleliu was just one stopping point for Nimitz that led to another. It was quickly forgotten by just about everybody except the families of those who stayed there forever.
|Marines advance at Peleliu over the limestone cliffs|
The 1st Marine Division had gone through the tortures of Hell on Guadalcanal, losing more men to sickness and disease than to the Japanese jungle fighters. That had led to the Battle of Cape Gloucester, which also was no picnic. What it all meant was that the division only activated in February 1941, was well-seasoned once it was put on the barges to hit another beach, this time at Peleliu.
|A marine at Peleliu. The Battle of Peleliu was codenamed Operation Stalemate II.|
The Japanese had given up their plans for the advance by September 1944 and were forming island hedgehogs. The strategy had a name - "endurance engagements" - and what it entailed was putting a bunch of guys on some rock and telling them they were on their own, and that they could either keep the rock or jump into the sea, but either way they weren't coming home. If you surrendered, you might as well never return to Japan, where you would be called a traitor and a coward. So, almost nobody did.
If they did somehow survive the battle, one way or the other, they would become pariahs at home and be shunned by everyone. Even if you simply lost a battle through sheer chance and events outside your control, such as Admiral Nagumo at Midway, you would become toxic and ultimately be sent to some rock to "command" and wait for the Marines and the battleships to show up and signal your doom. Since surrender was inimical to the Japanese martial spirit, this didn't leave a lot of choices. Fighting desperate men with no fall-back position is one of the most difficult battles possible, and this is what the 1st Marine Division was facing. Again.
|Aiding an injured comrade.|
|September 15, 1944 – Battle of Peleliu begins as the United States Marine Corps' 1st Marine Division and the United States Army's 81st Infantry Division hit White and Orange beaches under heavy fire from Japanese infantry and artillery|
|Marines assaulting Peleliu, the smoke is from destroyed landing craft|
|We Remember Donald Mellins, KIA on Peleliu, 1944, one of many who perished.|
|The only thing worth having on Peleliu was the airstrip. [Source: "Killing the Rising Sun: How America Vanquished World War II Japan"]|
A number of landing craft were hit, and many marines had to get ashore in full battle gear through sharp coral in deep water with the Japanese firing at them. It wasn't fun at all, but the landing was a success and a 2-mile beachhead was taken.
|Marine Corsairs on Peleliu|
|Sherman tanks on the prowl at Peleliu|
|Typical hidden Japanese defensive artillery on Peleliu|
Even after the Point, the island still wasn't suppressed. Further north, the surviving Japanese regrouped behind a hill later called "Bloody Nose Ridge." The marines were taking so many casualties and became so over-extended that they occasionally ran out of ammunition and had to resort to fighting off the Japanese with knives and fists.
|1st Marines boarding ships to go to Peleliu|
|Wreckage, decades later|
|General Lewis "Chesty" Puller at his command post during The Battle of Peleliu, September 1944|
The 1st Marine Division suffered over 6500 casualties and was out of action until the following April, while the 81st Infantry Division which came along later (the standard practice) suffered 3300 casualties.
|Marines of the 1st Marine Division in the Peleliu airfield standing next to smashed Japanese tanks Type 97 Ha-Go, Sept 1944.|
|First wave of the Marines.|
|Japanese headquarters at Peleliu today.|
Japanese CemeteryOne last thought: the graves of the roughly 10,200 Japanese soldiers and support personnel on Peleliu are unmarked and their locations unknown. Many of the Japanese were simply sealed in caves and bypassed, left to die. There supposedly is a mass grave of Japanese somewhere on the island, and all that is known about its location stems from a random 11 January 1945 map that was found at a small U.S. Navy Construction Battalion ("Seabee") museum in Port Hueneme, Calif with the notation "Jap Cemetery." The map is crude and has that notation in the middle of the island, without other identifying information.
|Japanese Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko place a wreath at a memorial for U.S. troops on Peleliu on April 9, 2015. (Pool Photo)|