Monday, September 14, 2015

CORAL HELL - PELELIU, 1944

9/14/1944 - One of the least known, and most horrific, island invasions of WWII in the Pacific begins on this day as Operation Stalemate II (hindsight 100%, after the battle many historians will believe that the invasion was unnecessary), the Ist Marine Division's storm landing on the coral beaches of Peleliu (the National Museum of the Marine Corps calls the battle "... the bitterest battle of the war for the Marines).
First wave of LVTs moves toward the invasion beaches - Peleliu.jpg
First Wave Prepares to Land
Assault on Peleliu by Howard David Johnson

Deemed a necessary task to protect the flank of American forces soon to invade the Philippines by taking the island's airfield, the commander of the Marine invasion team, Major General William Rupertus (suffering from a broken ankle received during the prep work for the invasion, the general will not arrive on the island he is responsible for taking until 9/16, D+2), plans for a battle which he predicts will last only four days (comparing it to 1943's Tarawa), but he is unaware that the Japanese have changed battle tactics for the upcoming clash (the brain child of the Japanese commander, Colonel Kunio Nakagawa) ... instead of Banzai attacks which quickly have ended resistance on other islands, for Peleliu (14 square miles of Hell ... there is no surface water at all on the island!), Imperial troops will remain hidden and have to be rooted out of coral and concrete reinforced bunkers, pillboxes, and caves ... a task that Allied troops will not complete until November 27, 1944 (maniacs when it came to fighting for the emperor, a Japanese Lieutenant with 26 infantry soldiers and 8 sailors will hold out in the island's caves until April 22, 1947).
William H. Rupertus.jpg
Rupertus
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Nakagawa

Marines at Peleliu
Pinned Down

After a morning of battleship, cruiser, and destroyer bombardment (along with bombing and strafing runs by the Navy's task force planes), landing on beaches designated White 1, 2, and 3, and Orange 1, 2, and 3 at 8:32 in the morning, the 1st Marine Division rapidly learns that the battle for Peleliu will not be the "quickie" walk-over that some executives of the division have been crowing about for weeks ... not when the force is brought under fire from well placed machine gun, small arms, and artillery fire, and from a 30 foot high ridge of coral called "The Point" on the extreme left flank that has not yet been pacified (Captain George P. Hunt will win the Navy Cross for the 30 hour fight his company has with the Japanese for the position ... a fight that causes K Company 157 casualties, and a reduction in the force by battle's end to only 18 men standing).  And seemingly not humanly possible for conditions to be made worse, the Marines battle the Japanese while temperatures hover around 115 degrees, and largely without water (many of the oil drums used for the transportation of water have not been properly cleaned and have tainted the wet they carry).  After fighting off a Japanese tank attack, the first day on Peleliu finds the Marines holding a two-mile beach area, their biggest push inland is only one mile, and they have suffered 200 dead and 900 wounded in the clash! 
Orange Beach
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On the Beach

And things only get worse when the Marines finally fight their way off the beaches and into the ugliness of the Umurbrogol Mountains ... a collection of coral hills and ridges at the center of the island rising up to 500 feet above sea level and containing over 500 caves made into an almost impregnable position that in Marine Corps history will come to be known as "Bloody Nose Ridge."
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Into the Umurbrogols

Warning of Approaching the Front Line
Napalm on Umurbrogol
Wounded Marine Gets a Drink


Deeply mauled, it will take the 1st Division until April of 1945 and the invasion of Okinawa, to recover from its ordeal on Peleliu.  Later, it will be calculated that it requires 1,500 rounds of ammunition to end the life of each Japanese soldier fighting on the island, and that these totals were also expended conquering the defenders of Peleliu: 13.32 million rounds of .30-cailber ammo, 1.52 million rounds of .45-caliber ammo, 693,657 rounds of .50-caliber ammo, 118,262 hand grenades get pitched, and 150,000 mortar rounds are fired ... lots of lead to eliminate 10,700 troops (from a force of 10,900) at a cost of 1,300 Marines killed, another 6,635 woundings, and 36 men that simply vanish in the holocaust (in support, the 81st Infantry Division will also have almost 1,400 casualties) ... over a third of the division will get hit in the fighting!
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Below Bloody Nose

And as always with the Marines, acts of heroism are everywhere ... eight Marines will be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, Corporal Lewis K. Bausell (20-years-old when he jumps on a Japanese grenade), Private First Class Arthur J. Jackson (19-years-old when he destroys 12 enemy pillboxes and kills 50 enemy soldiers), Private First Class Richard E. Kraus (18-years-old when he jumps on a Japanese grenade), Private First Class John D. New (19-years-old when he jumps on a Japanese grenade), Private First Class Wesley Phelps (21-years-old when he jumps on a Japanese grenade), Captain Everett P. Pope (25-years-old when he commands a force that takes and holds Hill 154 ... a force that by the next morning is reduced to eight men that fight on though out of ammunition with fists, stones, and knives), Private First Class Charles H. Roan (21-years-old when he jumps on a Japanese grenade), and First Lieutenant Carlton R. Rouh (25-years-old when he jumps on a Japanese grenade ... and lives ... one of only four Americans that survive dropping on a grenade during the war)... five of them posthumously!
Bausell LK USMC.jpg Kraus RE.jpg Jackson AJ.jpg
L to R - Bausell & Kraus & Jackson
Service Photo Pope EP.jpg
L to R - New & Pope
Portrait
Roan
Rouh CR.jpg Image result for wesley phelps
L to R - Rouh & Phelps

9/14/1944 - The 73-day-long battle for Peleliu Island begins!

The Price, 1944 by Tom Lea
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Today
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