Tuesday, September 3, 2013

15 September 1944
69th Anneversity
(Noah was there)
By 1944, World War II brought U.S. island-hopping strategies into the Pacific in an upward swing towards the Philippines and ultimately Japan. Palau was thought to be the crossroad in the western Pacific. Taking Palau would cut off large Japanese forces occupying the Netherlands and East Indies and seal the fate of the Japanese garrisons who had already been isolated in western New Guinea. The airstrips on Peleliu and Angaur were considered a threat to General Douglas Mac Arthur's invasion of the Philippines at Leyte, scheduled for October 20~ 1944. Operation ?Stalemate II?, the Palau campaign was set.

Stationed on Babeldaob, the large island of Palau and the likely target of invasion, were 25,000 Japanese troops. General Sadae Inoue in Koror, knew the value of defensive strategy, using well placed strongly entrenched fortifications and tunnels and surprise attacks over banzai charges. The once Japanese supply base was transformed into an island fortress to be held at all costs.

Peleliu island was defended by a Japanese garrison of 13,500. In April of 1944, Colonel Kunio Nakagawa who was transferred from Guam, was placed in charge of defenses in Peleliu. In addition to the Japanese Navy's artificial tunnels, Colonel Nakagawa constructed mines and obstacles on the beaches and fortified over 500 caves. In preparation for the expected invasion of Peleliu and Angaur, the local population of Palauans were removed and brought to Koror and Babeldaob. More than a hundred Palauans from Angaur were not able to escape before the invasion took place and they were stranded and forced to hide out in caves during the invasion.

U.S. intelligence, through the use of aerial photographers, Navy frogman and submarines, produced geographic maps of Peleliu showing the beaches and had incorrectly indicated Peleliu to be basically flat. The seven-mile long island of Peleliu, volcanic in origin, in areas rose 500 feet above sea level. Not noted in U.S. intelligence maps was the Umurbrogol mountain area, soon to be renamed as Bloody Nose Ridge and "The Point" behind White Beach 1. The maps also did not show how rough and jagged parts of the terrain really were, or how honeycombed the island was with caves all but immune to bombs, artillery, and napalm.

Air attacks on Palau began in early 1944, targeting Babeldaob radio stations at Airai and Ngatpang, and other military installations in the southwest part of the island. The biggest strike prior to the invasion of Peleliu and Angaur was on March 30 and 31 when a number of Japanese vessels were sunk in the vicinity of Malakal Harbor, 160 Japanese aircraft were destroyed, and naval and shipping facilities were badly damaged. By June, Palau was under constant air attack by the U.S. Fifth and Thirteenth Air Force bombers Through September 6, the U.S. military continued to keep the Japanese guessing as to where the invasion would take place when Admiral William F. "Bull" Halsey's U.S. Third Fleet joined the air attacks and raided Yap, Palau, and Mindanao islands. Through the success of the constant air attacks, Palau no longer posed a threat to General Mac Arthur's return to Leyte in the Philippines. Admiral Chester Nimitz ignored the recommendations of his Junior officer, Admiral William "Bull" Halsey, to bypass Palau. Admiral Nimitz's rationale was that the U.S. marines were already within striking range and the island could be captured in three days.

Within a ten-mile circumference around Palau, Military support, for Operation Stalemate II consisted of 202,000 seamen aboard 800 ships, 49,650 troops of the III Amphibious Corps and 1600 aircraft. Principal assault troops under the command of General William Rupertus, were the 1st Marine Division assigned to take Peleliu. Under the command of Major General Paul J. Mueller, 16,000 of the Army's 81st Infantry Division's main target was Angaur. D-Day on Peleliu was scheduled for September 15 at 8:00 a.m. and Fox-Day on Angaur was scheduled for September 17 at 8:30 a.m.

Admiral William F. "Bull" Halsey's Third Fleet shelled Peleliu for three days. On D-Day, for two hours prior to H-Hour, sea and air support fired nonstop into the beaches. Its mission was to keep the Japanese pinned down until the first wave of Marine assault troops landed and established functioning beachhead.

The 1st Marine Regiment was to land on White Beach 1 and 2, head inland, then swing left to the Umurbrogol Mountains. The 5th Marines were to land on Orange Beach 1 and 2, with one regiment to cross to the East Coast then turn north. The 7th Marines on Orange Beach 3 were to clean up the South end of the island. Waves of LVT's, DUKW's, and waterproofed Sherman medium tanks, under heavy artillery fire, made their way across the reef, which averaged 700 yards in width. Eighteen American tanks were sent towards shore on D-Day and all but one was hit. Three were stopped before they could make it to the beach and six more were lost ashore.

Once ashore, Marines were faced with razor sharp coral and heavy resistance. Over 13,000 Japanese protected by heavy steel and concrete reinforced underground fortifications, concrete casements and pillboxes fronted on all the beaches, unleashed a storm of coordinated mortar and machine gun fire upon the first wave of troops. Marines found their way inland blocked by extensive minefields and pillboxes carved into the raw coral. Japanese defenses blended in "so well with the natural terrain that a man had to walk practically up to the narrow firing apertures before recognizing them for what they were." Roads were covered by strongly entrenched antitank guns and automatic weapons. Inland traps were constructed to channel an invader's movement into lines of fire while artillery and heavy mortars covered the high ground. American losses on the reef and beaches were heavy. The ghastly horror of D-Day, left 210 of the 1st Marines dead with an additional 500 casualties.

The second day brought hand-to-hand combat in a former barracks near the airfield. By the end of day two the airfield was seized. The 1st Marines were already depleted by 33 %. By the 17th, they suffered 1,000 of the total 1,500 casualties and were now facing the Umurbrogol Mountains where the Japanese had pulled back into the 500 intricate, well camouflaged caves and pillboxes.

While Marines battled to gain a stronghold on Peleliu, the 81st Infantry Division and 710th Tank Bn. landed on the tiny island of Angaur on September 17th. Defended by 2,600 Japanese troops, Angaur lay only 10 miles south of Peleliu. The 321st and 322nd Regimental Combat Teams, two-thirds of the 81st Division, went ashore simultaneously, on separate beaches, and seized beachheads the first day. Both regiments joined together and fought their way across Angaur.

The 81st Wild Cats were able to secure Angaur within 72 hours. Organized fighting on Angaur continued until Oct. 21 when the last pocket of Japanese soldiers was overrun in the northwest. U.S. casualties on Angaur numbered 2,559, including 264 KIA, 1,355 WIA and 940 non-battle losses. Japanese casualties were 1,300 killed and only 45 surrendered.

By September 20, the 1st Marines continued to suffer serious casualties on Peleliu. In the 1st Battalion alone three companies had already been reduced to 15% strength. In 100 degree heat, the Marines clawed and crawled their way up the hill as caves and pillboxes opened fire and Japanese darted out to throw grenades at the approaching troops. The Marines started referring to Umurbrogol Mountain as "Bloody Nose Ridge." Six days since D-Day and running into Umurbrogol, the bloodied 1st Marines were finally pulled off the embattled front line and replaced with the 7th Marines, who had secured the southern end of the island. The 7th Marines battled the mountain, but soon suffered similar losses.

Within one week the basic mission on Peleliu was accomplished. The airfield was operational, the beaches necessary for landing of supplies were in use and development of the island had begun. Ngesebus Island along the coastal plain and the tip of the peninsula, contained a small airstrip and was taken by the 5th Marine Regiment on September 27. The semi-connected island of Olngeuaol (Ngercheu) was seized the following day. All that remained was "the Pocket" and "Bloody Nose Ridge?.

The 81st Division's 321st RCT landed as reinforcements on Peleliu on September 23 and joined the fierce struggle around Bloody Nose Ridge. The 5th Marines seized the northern part of the island and doubled back to challenge the ridge from behind. From 100 degrees heat one day to typhoons the next the Army and Marines pinched the enemy from his mountain stronghold. By the end of October, the 1st Marine Division had been reduced to less than half strength. Colonel Kunio Nakagawa had only six hundred and fifty men, with many of them sick. Responsibility for the battle was handed over entirely to the 81st Division. Defenders continued the battle for was handed over entirely to the 81st Division. Defenders continued the battle for another month. Colonel Nakagawa ordered his commanders to fulfill their duty to the Emperor and the Land of the Rising Sun, and to inflict as much damage as they could to American troops. Finally, at 10:30 a.m. on November 25, Colonel Nakagawa radioed his final message to General Inoue on Babeldaob, "Sakura Sakura", all is over in Peleliu, he reported. With Major General Murai at his side, Colonel Nakagawa burned the beribboned ceremonial colors of his command. He and Murai committed suicide with ancient jeweled daggers in the traditional last rites of Japanese Samurai warriors. By November 27, the Battle of Peleliu was finally over. Peleliu and Angaur were converted into a U.S. fueling base.

Eight Americans earned the Medal of Honor on Peleliu, five for acts which cost them their lives. Captain Pope led his 242 men rifle company onto Peleliu. Four days later, only eight men were left. Pope's valiant leadership above and beyond the call of duty brought with it a promotion to Major, a citation signed by President Roosevelt, and the ultimate award of Medal of Honor. Private First Class Arthur J. Jackson received his Medal of Honor when after his commissioned second lieutenant commander and senior sergeant were killed, he took things into his own hands and single handedly, under heavy enemy attack, wiped out 12 pillboxes and over 50 enemy soldiers.

The former Secretary of State, George Schulz, was a Veteran of both Peleliu and Angaur. The former Captain, Schulz is the only marine recorded as landing with RCT 321 of the 81st. Army Division on Fox Day, September 17, 1944 on Angaur. He was attached to the unit as its Marine Corps liaison officer.

The Battle of Peleliu ranked with Tarawa and Iwo Jima as one of the bloodiest battles of the Pacific with the highest percentage of casualties by any marine unit in the Pacific. The price of victory cost the U.S. 9,800 casualties, including 1,121 Marines / 278 soldiers KIA; 73 Marines / 373 soldiers missing; and 5,142 Marines / 1,008 soldiers WIA.

Japanese garrison suffered over 13,000 casualties. The number of prisoners taken by the U. S . forces was less than 300. Most were captured near the end of the campaign, when they started running out of food and water. Twenty six Japanese soldiers held out in the caves in Peleliu until 1947 and finally surrendered after a Japanese Admiral from Japan convinced them the war was over.

The Japanese garrison of 25,000 in Koror and Babeldaob was effectively isolated by U.S. forces, without supply or hope of escape. They surrendered at the end of the war. World War II finally ended on August 14, 1945 when Japan surrendered following the dropping of Atomic bombs on Hiroshima on August 6 and Nagasaki on August 9.