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)

Was the Seizure of Peleliu Necessary? Costs vs. Benefits

What advantages to the United States' war effort grew from the conquest of Peleliu? It assured absolute domination of all of the Palaus, thereby adding, marginally, to the security of MacArthur's right flank as he continued westward, then northward from New Guinea into his Philippines campaign. Within the Palaus group, it destroyed facilities which survived Admiral Marc A. Mitscher's devastating strike of March 1944. It insured total denial of support to the enemy from Koror's submarine basing facilities, incrementally decreasing the already waning Japanese submarine capability east of the Philippines. The United States position on Peleliu completed the neutralization of the some 25,000 Japanese troops in northern Palau. The landing on Peleliu did not contribute to the Regimental Landing Team (RLT) 323 unopposed seizure of Ulithi. Admiral William F. Halsey had earlier believed that his forces could seize Ulithi without first seizing Peleliu.

The most visible benefit of a subdued Peleliu lay in its use as a link in the flight path and line of communications from Hawaii, and from the Marianas, to the Philippines. The holding was a convenience, but not a necessity.

Such judgment could be disputed, however, by the survivors of the Indianapolis' 29 July 1945 sinking. Having delivered atomic bomb parts to Tinian shortly before, the ship was headed for the Philippines, when it was suddenly torpedoed at night. The ship went down in 12 minutes, and no report of the contact or the sinking was received. The fourth day after the sinking, its 316 survivors (from a crew of 1,196) were sighted by a Navy patrol bomber working out of Peleliu. The sighting led directly to their rescue, and most certainly would not have occurred, but for American occupation of Peleliu.

cemetery dedication
With the senior officers present, division chaplains dedicate a new cemetery created at Orange Beach 2. The 1st Division commander, MajGen Rupertus, with a cane, is near the center and to his right is Col Puller (1st Marines). Grouped on the extreme right are: BGen Smith, assistant division commander; Col Harrison (11th Marines), and Col Harris (5th Marines). Not present at this time was the 7th Marines' commander, Col Hanneken, whose regiment was still engaged with the enemy. Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 96989

Tom Lea's Paintings

Tom Lea
Life Magazine artist Tom Lea accompanied Marines on Peleliu.

Tom Lea, the artist of the paintings which illustrate this pamphlet, wrote of his experiences on Peleliu in Battle Stations, published in 1988 by Still Point Press in Dallas. Some of the sketches from this book were reproduced with commentary in Volume 14, Number 2 of Discovery, a journal published by the University of Texas at Austin. In this issue, James Jones, author of From Here to Eternity, wrote: "Lea was one of the artists put in the field by Life . . . Various of his works appeared in the magazine, and up until the time he went into Peleliu, most of them could be pretty well classified as excellently done but high-grade propaganda. There was very little American blood, very little tension, very little horror. Mostly, it was what could be called the Bravo America! and This is Your Boy type of war art. His almost photographic style easily lent itself to that type of work . . .

"But something apparently happened to Lea after going into Peleliu. The pictures painted out of his Peleliu experience show a new approach. There is the tension of terror in the bodies here, the distorted facial expressions of the men under fire show it, too . . .

"One of the most famous, of course, is the Two-Thousand-Yard Stare portrait of a young marine who has had all, or more than, he can take. The staring eyes, the slack lips, the sleepwalker's stance. I've seen men with that look on their faces. I've had it on my own face. It feels stiff, and the muscles don't want to work right when you try to smile, or show expression, or talk. Mercifully, you're out of it for awhile; unmercifully, down in the center of that numbness, though, you know you will have to come back eventually."

Reprinted by permission of Discovery, the University of Texas at Austin. Tom Lea's artwork in this pamphlet is reproduced with the permission of the artist. The captions under each of the Lea paintings are the artist's own words.

Benis M. Frank

"Counterattack" The phone rang. A battalion CO reported the Japs' infiltration and the beginning of the counterattack. He asked what reserves were available and was told there were none. Small arms fire ahead of us became a continuous rattle. Abruptly three star shells burst in the sky. As soon as they died floating down, others flared to take their place. Then the howitzers just behind us opened up, hurling their charges over our heads, shaking the ground with their blasts.

"Artillery Support" At the southern end on our side of the field opposite the hill our artillerymen had dug holes and carried 75-mm field howitzers to the sites. As we came down to them these batteries were firing continuously, throwing shells into the Jap hangars and buildings at the foot of the hill, and at caves in the hill where Jap mortar and artillery and machine-gun fire was dealing out misery to marines.

"The Blockhouse" Looking up at the head of the trail I could see the big Jap blockhouse that commanded the height. The thing was now a great jagged lump of concrete, smoking, I saw our lead man meet a front line detail posted by the blockhouse while the other troops advanced down the hill with the three tanks and the flamethrowers. Isolated Jap snipers were at work on our slope, small groups of marines fanned out on both sides of the trail to clean them out, while we climbed toward the blockhouse.

What did the seizure of Peleliu cost? Marine casualties numbered 6,526, including Navy corpsmen and doctors, of whom 1,252 were killed. The 81st Division totalled 3,089 casualties, of whom 404 were killed in action. Total U.S. troop casualties was 9,615 for Peleliu, Angaur and Ngesebus, with 1,656 dead.

By inflicting that many casualties, the Japanese were successful in implementing their longstanding "delay and bleed" strategy. The actions cost them an estimated 10,900 casualties, all but a tiny fraction killed. Just 202 prisoners of war were captured, only 19 of whom were Japanese military (seven Army, 12 Navy). The others were laborers, largely Korean. Among the Japanese military defenders, less than two per thousand were captured.

For Extraordinary Heroism

The Secretary of the Navy awarded the Presidential Unit Citation to the 1st Marine Division, and its reinforcing organizations, for "extraordinary heroism in action against enemy Japanese forces at Peleliu and Ngesebus from September 15 to 29, 1944." In addition, Marine Aircraft Group 11 and the 3d 155mm Howitzer Battalion were awarded the Navy Unit Commendation. On an individual basis, 69 participants in the battle for Peleliu were decorated with the Navy Cross, the second seniormost combat award in the Naval services.

The nation's highest award: the Medal of Honor, was presented to eight Marines in the fight for Peleliu; five were decorated posthumously, as indicated by (*): *Corporal Lewis K. Bausell, USMC, 1/5; Private First Class Arthur J. Jackson, USMC, 3/7; *Private First Class Richard E. Kraus, USMCR, 8th Amphibian Tractor Battalion; *Private First Class John D. New, USMC, 2/7; *Private First Class Wesley Phelps, USMCR, 3/7; Captain Everett P. Pope, USMC, 1/1; *Private First Class Charles H. Roan, USMCR, 2/7; and First Lieutenant Carlton R. Rouh, USMCR, 1/5.

Medal of Honor

The costs at Peleliu held warnings aplenty for the remaining Allied operations to be conducted across the Pacific to Japan. Even with total local air and naval superiority, with lavish naval gunfire and bombs, with the dreaded napalm weaponry, and with a 4:1 troop superiority, the seizure of Peleliu consumed one American casualty and 1,589 rounds of heavy and light troop ammunition for each single Japanese defender killed or driven from his prepared position. A few months later, the attacks on Iwo Jima and Okinawa would confirm this grim calculus of war against determined Japanese defenders, ably led, in prepared defenses.

The question of whether the Peleliu operation was necessary remains moot, even today, some 52 years after the 1 September 1944 landing. The heroism and exemplary conduct of the 1st Marine Division, its Marines and Navy corpsmen, and the soldiers of the 81st Infantry Division on that miserable island is written in the record. But there is an enduring question of whether the capture of Peleliu was essential, especially in view of Admiral William F. Halsey's recommendation through Admiral Nimitz to the Joint Chiefs of Staff on 13 September 1944, two days before D-Day, that the landing be cancelled. By that time, it was too late. And Peleliu was added to the long list of battles in which Marines fought and suffered, and prevailed.

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Commemorative Series produced by the Marine Corps History and Museums Division