Saturday, July 7, 2018
Peleliu's network of rocky ca
ves, which the Japanese connected with tunnels, effectively acted as a fortress. The Japanese used Peleliu's unique terrain to their advantage, stationing troops in caves just above invading U.S. forces so as to inflict the maximum amount of damage on the troops below.
Peleliu–a volcanic island just six miles long and two miles wide–was held by a garrison of more than 10,000 Japanese troops. The island’s airfield would allow Japanese planes to threaten any Allied operation in the Philippines, and General Douglas MacArthur pushed for an amphibious attack in order to neutralize this threat. Admiral William Halsey reported that enemy resistance in the region was far less than expected; he recommended that the landings in the Palaus be canceled entirely and MacArthur’s invasion of Leyte Gulf (in the Philippines) be moved up to October. MacArthur and Admiral Chester Nimitz followed Halsey’s advice about Leyte, but chose to go ahead with the attack on Peleliu.
On the morning of Sept. 15, the 1st Marine Division landed on the southwest corner of Peleliu. U.S. forces had refined their amphibious strategy over a year of hard fighting, and by this time had it down to a science: Massive naval bombardment of land-based targets preceded troop landings, which were supported by strafing and bombing runs by carrier-based aircraft. The troops arrived on shore in waves, gathering on an island’s beaches until they had sufficient numbers to push inland. These methods had worked in earlier landings and were expected to work again on Peleliu.
The Japanese still held out, and would only be dislodged after much bloodshed throughout October. More U.S. reinforcements arrived, and the ridge was finally neutralized on November 25. Characteristically, the Japanese defenders refused to surrender, and virtually all of them were killed.
The battle of Peleliu resulted in the highest casualty rate of any amphibious assault in American military history: Of the approximately 28,000 Marines and infantry troops involved, a full 40 percent of the Marines that fought for the island died or were wounded, for a total of some 9,800 men (1,800 killed in action and 8,000 wounded). The high cost of the battle was later attributed to several factors, including typical Allied overconfidence in the efficacy of the pre-landing naval bombardment, a poor understanding of Peleliu’s unique terrain, and overconfidence on the part of Marine commanders, who refused to admit their need for support earlier on at Bloody Nose Ridge.
On the other hand, the capture of Peleliu served as a means to MacArthur’s much-desired end: the recapture of the Philippines, and the drive towards Japan’s home islands. The lessons learned at Peleliu also gave U.S. commanders and forces insight into the new Japanese strategy of attrition, which they would use to their advantage in later struggles at Iwo Jima and Okinawa.