BLOODY BEACHES: The Marines at Peleliu
by Brigadier General Gordon D. Gayle, USMC (Ret)
Post-assault Operations in the Palaus
When on 20 October Major General Mueller became
responsible for mopping up on Peleliu, he addressed the tactical problem
as a siege situation, and directed his troops to proceed accordingly.
Over a period of nearly six weeks, his two regiments, the 322d and 323d
Infantry, plus 2/321, did just that. They used sandbags as an assault
device, carrying sand up from the beaches and inching the filled
sandbags forward to press ever nearer to positions from which to attack
by fire the Japanese caves and dug in strong points. They made liberal
use of tanks and flamethrowers, even improving upon the vehicle-mounted
flamethrower. They thrust a gasoline pipeline forward from a roadbound
gasoline truck, thereby enabling them, with booster pumps, to throw
napalm hundreds of feet ahead into Japanese defensive areas. Noting the
effectiveness of the 75mm pack howitzer which the Marines had wrestled
up to Hill 140, they sought and found other sites to which they moved
pack howitzers, and from which they fired point-blank into defending
caves. To support their growing need for sand bags on ridge-top
"foxholes," their engineers strung highlines to transport sand (and ammo
and rations) up to such peaks and ridgetops.
result of Maj Gayle's targetting of enemy positions in the Umurbrogol,
napalm-laden Marine Corsairs lifted from Peleliu's airfield, and
returned to the field to be rearmed, in perhaps the shortest wheels-down
bombing run of the Pacific War. Department of Defense Photo (USMC)
Notwithstanding these deliberate siege tactics, the
81st troops still faced death and maiming as they ground down the bitter
and stubborn Japanese defenses. The siege of the Umurbrogol Pocket
consumed the full efforts of 81st Division's 322d RCT and 323d RCT, as
well as 2/321, until 27 November 1944 (D plus 73).
This prolonged siege operation was carried on within
25 miles of a much larger force of some 25,000 Japanese soldiers in the
northern Palaus. Minor infiltrations aside, those Japanese were isolated
by U.S. Navy patrols, and by regular bombing from Marine Aircraft Group
11, operating from Peleliu.
Difficult and costly as the American advances were,
the Japanese defenders in their underground positions had a similarly
demanding and even more discouraging situation. Water was low.
Sanitation was crude to nonexistent. Rations were short, and ammunition
was even scarcer. As time wore on, some of the Japanese, when afforded
opportunity, chose to leave their defenses and undertake futile, usually
suicidal night attacks. A very few succeeded in being captured.
Toward late November, even Major General Murai
apparently came to this point of view. Still not in command, he
nevertheless proposed, in a radio message to Lieutenant General Inoue on
Koror, a banzai finale for their prolonged defense. But General
Inoue turned down the proposal. By this time, Nakagawa's only exterior
communications were by radio to Koror. As he had anticipated, all local
wire communications had been destroyed. He had issued mission orders to
carry his units through the final phase of defense.
(click on image for an enlargement in a new window)
As the tanks and infantry carefully pressed their
relentless advances, the 81st Division's engineers pressed forward and
improved the roads and ramps leading into or toward the heart of the
Japanese final position. This facilitated the tank and flamethrower
attacks to systematically reduce each cave and position as the infantry
pushed its sandbag "fox-holes" forward.
On 24 November, Colonel Nakagawa sent his final
message to his superior on Koror. He advised that he had burned the
colors of the 2d Infantry Regiment. He said that the final 56 men
had been split into 17 infiltration parties, to slip through the
American positions and to "attack the enemy everywhere." During the
night of 24-25 November, 25 Japanese, including two officers, were
killed. Another soldier was captured the following morning. His
interrogation, together with postwar records and interviews, led to his
conclusion that Colonel Nakagawa and Major General Murai died in the CP,
in ritual suicide.
The final two-day advance of the 81st Division's
soldiers was truly and literally a mopping-up operation. It was
carefully conducted to search out any holed-up opposition. By mid day on
27 November, the north-moving units, guarded on the east by other Army
units, met face-to-face with the battalion moving south, near the
Japanese CP later located. The 323d's commander, Colonel Arthur P.
Watson, reported to General Mueller that the operation was over.
27 September 1944, the U.S. flag was raised over Peleliu, symbolizing
that the island was secured. The honor guard was comprised of 1st Marine
Division Band members. The general editor of this pamphlet, Benis M.
Frank, is eighth from the left.
Not quite. Marine air on Peleliu continued to attack
the Japanese positions in Koror and Babelthuap. joining the patrolling
Navy units in destroying or bottling up any remaining Japanese forces in
the northern Palaus, A late casualty in that action was the indomitable
Major Robert F. "Cowboy" Stout, whose VMF-114 had delivered so much
effective air support to the ground combat on Peleliu.
The stubborn determination of the Japanese to carry
out their emperors war aims was starkly symbolized by the last 33
prisoners captured on Peleliu. In March 1947, a small Marine guard
attached to a small naval garrison on the island encountered
unmistakable signs of a Japanese military presence in a cave in the
Umurbrogol. Patrolling and ambushes produced a straggler, a Japanese
seaman who told of 33 remaining Japanese under the military command of
Lieutenant Tadamichi Yamaguchi. Although the straggler reported some
dissension within the ranks of that varied group, it seemed that a final
banzai attack was under consideration.
The Navy garrison commander moved all Navy personnel,
and some 35 dependents, to a secure area and sent to Guam for
reinforcements and a Japanese war crimes witness, Rear Admiral Michio
Sumikawa. The admiral flew in and travelled by jeep along the roads near
the suspected cave positions. Through a loudspeaker he recited the
then-existing situation. No response. Finally, the Japanese seaman who
had originally surrendered went back to the cave armed with letters from
Japanese families and former officers from the Palaus, advising the
hold-outs of the end of the war. On 21 April 1947, the holdouts formally
surrendered. Lieutenant Yamaguchi led 26 soldiers to a position in front
of 80 battle-dressed Marines. He bowed and handed his sword to the
American naval commander on the scene.