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Bloody Beaches: The Marines at Peleliu

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Peleliu was one the most difficult operations in the Pacific War. Marked by jagged coral ridges and covered by thick growth, the island was garrisoned by over 10,000 Japanese troops with further reserves on the neighboring islands in the Palau group. The 1st Marine Division, under the command of Major General William Rupertus, assaulted the western beaches on September 15, 1944. Crossing a reef in amphibious tractors, the Marines met with withering Japanese fire on all five narrow beaches. Temporarily stalled near the beach, the Marines were hit by stiff, but unsuccessful, combined infantry and armor counterattack across the airfield on the afternoon of D-Day .

With the 7th Marines pushed southward and the 5th Marines drove eastward, the 1st Marines wheeled to the north and began the reduction of numerous, well emplaced Japanese defensive positions in the high ridges which form the backbone of the island. The Japanese has prepared their defensive positions in depth, a radical departure from their earlier strategies, and had honeycombed the ridges with interconnecting caves and gun positions. The campaign that was expected not to last more than three says dragged into weeks. Losses mounted to alarming rates, necessitating the employment of the US Army’s 321st Infantry Regiment and eventually, the rest of the 81st infantry division.

The center of the island, and area of sharp ridges known as the Umurbrogol, had been bypassed during the first two weeks of the campaign. The next two weeks saw a bloody series of small unit actions in which Marines used flame throwers, hand and rifle grenades-, point blank artillery fire, and small arms to gain control of these ridges. Although the island has been declared prematurely secure in early October, the battle was not actually over until late November.

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