Saturday, September 15, 2007

D-Day on Peleliu
Sept. 15, 1944

(Noah was there) On that day, the Marines of the 1st Marine Division planned to land on thewestern beaches of Peleliu three regiments abreast. 1st Marines were to assault the beaches on the left, which were designated White 1 and White 2, and push through the enemy toward the northwestern peninsula of the island.

In the center, the 5th Marines were to land on Orange beaches 1 and 2 and drive across to the island's eastern shore. They would be responsible for securing the island's airfield before moving to seize the northeastern part of the island.

The 7th Marines on the right were to assault Orange Beach 3 and move to take the southern tip of the island.

The U.S. Navy demonstrated the value of sea power by blocking the Japanese access to sea lanes that would have enabled them to reinforce and resupply their men on Peleliu.

Three days of naval gunfire had preceded the Marines' landing, but it proved inadequate against the type of Japanese defenses created on the island. The Japanese took advantage of the rugged, ridged terrain around Umurbrogol Mountain (unreported by American reconnaissance units) to construct a series of interlocking underground shelters and well-concealed concrete bunkers. As the troops came ashore, they faced enfilading fire from these bunkers and from the high ground above the beaches.

The enemy fought tenaciously to prevent the Marines from securing a beachhead. The first night ashore was grueling: small infiltration parties hit the Marine lines repeatedly. The cruiser Honolulu and three destroyers provided star shell illumination to help the Marines turn the infiltrators back, but the rest of the fleet withdrew toavoid enemy submarines. The Marines fought the night away, well dug in, in their foxholes. In the south, the foxholes filled with stinking swamp water. By the morning of the 16th, the Marines were, according to one observer, mean and thirsty. That day, the 5th and 7th Marines advanced relentlessly; the 1st Marines more slowly, encountering fierce resistance from the northernridges they were assigned to take.

Brigadier General O.P. Smith, assistant division commander, said of the first week of fighting, "Seven days after the landing, all of the southern end of Peleliu was in our possession, as well as the high ground immediately dominating the airfield. All the beaches that were ever used were in use. There was room for the proper deployment of all the artillery, including the Corps artillery. Unloading was unhampered except by the weather and hydrographic conditions. The airfield was available and essential base development work was underway.

"Temperatures on Peleliu rose as high as 115 degrees, and drinking water was scarce during the initial combat. Marines on the front lines were parched, pleading for water. Hearing this, the crews of some of the ships offshore, to the surprise and delight of many Marines, sent cases of fruit and tomato juice ashore for distribution among the front line troops.

The battle for Peleliu provided an opportunity for Marines to practice and perfect their skills in close air support. Marine aviators demonstrated ingenuity and courage, but their efforts would have little effect on the underground fortresses built by the Japanese. Following the fighting, one report estimated the existence of more than 500 caves. Long-range flame throwers mounted on amphibian tractors, employed for the first time on Peleliu, proved to be the most effective weapon against thesewell-fortified caves.

In later phases of the operation, the seizure of Umurbrogol Mountain and the northern area of Peleliu was among the most difficult assignments faced by the Marines. This move was tactically important as a means to bypass and isolate enemy pockets of resistance. The northern ground was also to be used as a platform to attack the neighboring small island of Ngesebus. Ngesebus, connected to Peleliu by causeway, was an original campaign objective because of its unfinished fighter air strip.

The seizure of Umurbrogol Mountain took five regiments close to two months of battle to accomplish. The 1st Marine Divisionhad suffered so many casualties as it fought to achieve the objectives that the Army's 81st Infantry Division, known as the"Wildcats," was called in to relieve the diminished 1st Marines. The Wildcats' initial mission to seize Angaur had been accomplished on Oct. 21 when the division over ran Angaur's remaining resistance and the island was declared secure.

The Wildcats then began the tough job of relieving the 1st Marines and isolating the enemy pockets of resistance on Umurbrogol Mountain. Over the next weeks, the Wildcats would advance slowly around the Umurbrogol pocket, gradually eliminating all enemy resistance. Unlike earlier battles, the Japanese defenders did not attempt banzai charges. Despite their declining numbers, they fought on to take as many Americans with them as possible. On Sept. 27, Major General Geiger declared the island secure and raised the American flag over the battlefield. Before it was all over, Operation Stalemate II had become the Pacific's largest amphibious operation thus far, involving more than 800 vessels and 1,600 aircraft.

Campaign Results
Throughout the battle naval forces had prevented the Japanese from reinforcing, allowing ground troops a victory over thewell-entrenched Japanese force. That victory denied the Japanese a staging area for attacks on the U.S. fleet in the South Pacific and denied the Japanese the ability to communicate with their forces in the Philippines.

The cost of the battle was high. On Peleliu, Marine casualties were 1,336 killed and 5,450 wounded. The 81st Infantry Division suffered 1,393 casualties including 208 killed in action. On Angaur, the 81st Infantry Division had 1,676 casualties, including 196 killed in action. The Japanese lost an estimated 10,695 men. An additional 301 became prisoners of war.