Marines in World War II Commemorative Series
The Japanese Defenses
The Assault in the Center
The Assault Continues
The Early Battle in the Division Center
The 7th Marines' Complete Destruction of Enemy in the South
Maneuver and Opportunity
Encirclement of the Umurbrogol Pocket
Encirclement of Umurbrogol and Seizure of Northern Peleliu
The Umurbrogol Pocket: Peleliu's Character Distilled
Post-assault Operations in the Palaus
Was the Seizure of Peleliu Necessary? Costs vs. Benefits
The Divisions and their Commanders
For Extraordinary Heroism
Special Subjects
The Changing Nature of Japanese Tactics
Naval Gunfire Support for Peleliu
A Horrible Place
Special Reef-crossing Techniques
A Paucity of Reserves
Tom Lea's Paintings

BLOODY BEACHES: The Marines at Peleliu
by Brigadier General Gordon D. Gayle, USMC (Ret)

The Early Battle in the Division Center

On D plus 1, when the 1st Marines had launched their costly Umurbrogol assault, the 5th Marines on its right also faced an assault situation, but one of substantially less opposition and easier terrain. Lieutenant Colonel Boyd's 1/5 had to fight across the airfield, from southwest to northeast, and through the built-up area similar to that which faced Honsowetz's 2/1. The battalion was subjected to observed fire from the Umurbrogol and to small arms fire from Japanese defenders in the rubble-filled built-up area. Boyd's coordinated tank-infantry attack quickly carried the day. He soon had control of that area, and the east- west, cross-island road, which could lead the 5th toward its next objective, the eastern peninsula of Peleliu.

Harris, Geiger, Rupertus
At a conference held in the 1st Marine Division command post, Col Harold D. "Bucky" Harris, 5th Marines commander, center, explains to MajGen Roy S. Geiger, Commanding General, III Amphibious Corps, left, and MajGen William H. Rupertus, commander of the division, his plan of operations in northern Peleliu. Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 95661

On the 5th Marines' right, 2/5 had a more difficult time. Its progress was stubbornly opposed by infantry from the woods on its right, and by artillery from Umurbrogol, which took a particular interest in the tanks 2/5 was using to support its attack along the edge of the woods. Whether the Japanese infantry in those woods had been posted to defend that position, or whether they were just surviving Japanese infantry from the D-Day counterattack, was never established. The fight took all day and inflicted heavier casualties on Gayle's battalion than had D-Day. By dusk, 2/5 had battled beyond the north end of the airfield, and halted for the night near the woods concealing the approaches to the eastern peninsula.

As the two-battalion attack of the 5th Marines (D plus 1) was heavily engaged on its front and right, the regimental headquarters near the beach was hit by an artillery barrage which, coupled with D-Day's loss of 3/5's commanding officer and executive officer, engendered a significant rearrangement in command assignments. The early D plus 1 barrage hit the regimental CP, took out numbers of the staff, and buried the regimental commander in the crumbling Japanese antitank trench in which the CP was "sheltered." Fortunately, the burial was temporary, and Colonel Harris emerged with a twisted and battered leg, but still able to hobble. Two of his principal staff officers were casualties, and his sergeant major killed. Harris elected not to be evacuated, but he needed help in the regimental CP. Ordering Lieutenant Colonel Walt back from the 3d Battalion to the regimental CP, Harris directed the commanding officer of 2/5 to send his executive officer, Major John H. Gustafson, to take command of 3/5. Then Harris directed Boyd to send his 1/5 operations officer, Major Hierome Opie, to join 3/5 as Gustafson's executive officer.

Fortunately, 3/5 was having a relatively quiet day, unlike its hair-raising regrouping on the night of D-Day. After daylight, as 2/5 attacked north, 3/5 stretched along the east edge of the mangrove lagoon which separated Peleliu from the eastern peninsula. In that position, 3/5 also tied into 3/7 as that battalion attacked south. Thus 3/5 protected each regiment's flank against any Japanese movement across the intervening water, and into the rear of the attacking battalions. No such threat developed, and as the afternoon grew on, there emerged a more pressing employment for 3/5.

As Walt returned to his post beside the now only semi-mobile Harris, Major Gustafson was told to get 3/5 to position to bolster and then relieve 1/5, as it closed in on its 0-2 objectives.

Throughout the next day (D plus 2), the 5th Marines kept tied in with the 1st Marines on its left and captured some control of the foot of the East Road. On the right, 2/5 hacked and combed its way through the jungle and mangrove north of the airfield, alongside the road leading toward the eastern peninsula. The thick scrub, nearly impenetrable, reduced progress to a crawl. It compensated by concealing most of the advancing Marines from enemy observation from high ground to 2/5's north and northwest.

That 5th Marines' forward position generally coincided with the northeast sector of the airfield earlier mentioned. Possession of that visual boundary meant that in most places on the regimental right, front-line Marines were spared the hostile observation and directed fire from Umurbrogol. As with the 7th Marines, largely hidden in the jungle of the south, this lessened the need for headlong assault. There would now be freedom to maneuver more deliberately and to coordinate supporting fire more carefully.

The 7th Marines' Complete Destruction of Enemy in the South

In the south, from D plus 1 through D plus 3, the 7th Marines was in vigorous assault against extensive fortifications in the rear of the Scarlet Beaches. These were defended by a full battalion, the elite 2d Battalion, 15th Regiment. Although isolated and surrounded by the Marines, this battalion demonstrated its skill and its understanding of Colonel Nakagawa's orders and mission: to sell Peleliu at the highest possible price. The 7th Marines attacked with 3/7 on the left and 1/7 on the right. They enjoyed the advantage of attacking the extensive and well-prepared defenses from the rear, and they had both heavy fire support and the terrain for limited maneuver in their favor. Both sides fought bitterly, but by 1530 on 18 September (D plus 3), the battle was substantially over. The Marines had destroyed an elite Japanese reinforced infantry battalion well positioned in a heavily fortified stronghold. Colonel Hanneken reported to General Rupertus that the 7th Marines' objectives he had set for D-Day were all in hand. The naval gunfire preparation had been significantly less than planned. The difference had been made up by time, and by the courage, skill, and additional casualties of the infantry companies of 1/7 and 3/7.

Now the 7th Marines, whose 2d Battalion was already in the thick of the fight for Umurbrogol, was about to move out of its own successful battle area and into a costly assault which, by this time, might have been more economically conducted as a siege.

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Commemorative Series produced by the Marine Corps History and Museums Division