Chapter 13

The ground operations discussed in this volume, notably Peleliu and Iwo Jima, span the period of seven months from September 1944 to the end of March 1945. Within the overall context of World War II, this time span was most significant. In Europe, this period saw the advance of Soviet forces into Germany proper, the collapse of the German allies in Scandinavia and the Balkans, and the slow but steadily accelerating drive of the Western Allies into western Germany.

An ingenious offensive in the Ardennes and the introduction of new types of rockets failed to halt the steamroller that was beginning to engulf the Reich from the west, east, and the south. Dissent within the ranks of the Germans themselves had been all but snuffed out following the abortive attempt on Hitler's life in late July. The harsh measures that followed in the wake of the Generals' Plot all but silenced those who might have raised their voices against the continuation of a war that the overwhelming majority of the military, as well as the civilian population, already had to consider lost. The heavy Allied air raids, carried out in such force that entire cities were literally obliterated from the face of the earth only underscored the fact that time was on the side of the Allies. Despite reports of the miraculous effect of those wonder weapons already existing and those yet to come, both pessimism and fear were dominant: pessimism as to what would happen to the country and its people once the Allies had won; fear of death from the air for the civilian populace; fear of death or capture on the part of the military, particularly those facing a merciless enemy on the Eastern front; fear of the numerous foreign workers who, in many cases forcibly conscripted and not always well-treated, posed an increasing threat to internal security as the ring closed around Germany.

Finally, there was fear of the ruling police and semi-military organizations whose measures against military personnel and civilians alike became ever more menacing as the strategic situation deteriorated. During the late fall and throughout the winter of 1944 1945, the German war machine still functioned efficiently despite heavy losses in personnel and materiel, devastation from the air, increasing shortages in raw materials, and covert popular discontent, The German offensive in the Ardennes, the last of the great German offensives of World War II, represented but the final gasp of a machine that had waged almost unlimited blitzkrieg during the initial years of the war. When this offensive fell short of its goals and could not be sustained, the end of the war in Europe became a visible goal,


at the most only months away. As one history of that war was to sum it up:

. . . the roads back over the Eifel led straight to the decimation and collapse of the German armies on the banks of the Oder River, along the Danube, in the Ruhr pocket, and, at last, to the bunkers of Berlin.1

In comparison with operations in Europe, the war in the Pacific Theater during the latter part of 1944 and through the early months of 1945 showed certain similarities as well as marked differences. The vital gains in territory and raw materials made by the Japanese during the early months of the war had realized for them most of the tactical and strategic objectives they had embarked on. Beginning with the American landings in the Solomons, prolonged operations in New Guinea, and the American recapture of islands in the Aleutians, the Japanese situation had very gradually deteriorated, though such setbacks were in no way overly worrisome to the Japanese leaders who continued to maintain an optimistic outlook as to the eventual outcome of the war. They hoped that, in time, a negotiated peace would permit Japan to retain at least some of the vital areas from which she drew her raw materials.

The heavy American losses at Tarawa only strengthened the Japanese belief that the United States would not be willing to continue paying such a heavy price for each island that would have to be seized before the war was carried into the Home Islands. Meanwhile, despite increasingly heavy interference by American submarines with Japanese shipping, raw materials continued to flow to Japan from the conquered territories: urgently needed rubber arrived from Burma, Malaya, and Indochina; vital food products and petroleum made their way north from the Philippines and from the former Dutch East Indies; and war plants in Manchuria and Korea were producing at full capacity. The vast pool of Japanese manpower had been barely touched by combat losses, though the caliber of the aviators was diminishing.

Both the Japanese military and the civilian population stood solidly behind the government, at whose apex was the Emperor against whom no voice of dissent could be raised. The entire population was in some way involved in the war effort. There was absolute confidence in the leadership and the foreign policy pursued by the country. The borders of Japan were secure. There were still the numerous island outposts to the south and west; much of the Chinese mainland, especially the vital coastal areas, was under Japanese control and the possibility of Russia's entry into the war against Japan on the side of the Allies appeared remote. Within the Home Islands, the entire nation was functioning as a military-civilian team under quasi-military rule. There were few foreigners in the Home Islands, aside from closely guarded Allied prisoners of war and civilian internees, including missionaries, all of whom represented an infinitesimally small number that posed no threat to the Japanese war effort. Their presence


maintaining the agriculture or industry of Japan.

The spring and summer of 1944 saw a rapid acceleration of Allied operations in the Central Pacific, primarily an American effort, Based on the bitter lessons of Tarawa, U.S. Marines had perfected their planning and refined their techniques until their drive into the Marianas "saw the flowering of a vital skill, logistics planning, whose incredible complexity met the need to sustain massive assaults and at the same time provide a continuous flow of men, supplies, and equipment for a host of existing and future requirements."2

Noting the change in the strategic situation in the Pacific brought about by American seizure of the Gilberts and Marshals, one postwar survey has noted that:

The United States position was firm indeed in early March 1944. The initiative had been won, adequate forces were in sight, and it was possible to plan in orderly fashion for future operations. Japan, on the other hand, was faced with the most urgent need for devising means to counter the unpredictable but obviously intended blows at her inner perimeter, with forces so limited that opposition with the slightest chance of a favorable outcome could only be offered under ideal conditions.3

The stage was now set for an American advance into the inner perimeter of Japan's defense. The possibility of an American invasion of the Marianas in the spring and summer of 1944 hardly came as a surprise for the Japanese, who nearly a year earlier had already designated these islands as an "absolute strategic area within the absolute zone of national defense."4 What did cause great surprise and consternation were the might of the American naval bombardment, notably at Saipan, the great speed of the landing operations, and the overwhelming superiority of the Americans in the air, which underscored the loss of the well-trained and seasoned aviators that Japan had possessed at the beginning of the war.

The success of the American landings on Saipan only nine days after the Normandy invasion, coupled with the subsequent operations against Tinian and Guam, struck the Japanese with the same impact that the Allied invasion of Europe had on the Germans. In either case it was less the initial success of the landings that confounded the defenders than the fact that the invasion force could not be confined to the beaches or driven back into the sea. There were several fringe benefits for the Americans inherent in the Saipan operation. First, the fact that "it lured the Japanese carriers to defeat might alone be enough to call it the decisive operation of the Central Pacific Campaign."5 The capture of Saipan provided the Americans with a base from which giant B29s would soon be able to launch a devastating air offensive against the Home Islands. The sea battle in the Marianas resulted in the loss of most of the carriers and air strength of the Combined Fleet, which gave American aircraft full control of the air while the U. S. Navy dominated the Central


Pacific. Without support from sea or air, Tinian and Guam were for all practical purposes isolated plums ripe for the picking. Since the loss of 300 naval aircraft had all but wiped out naval strength in the Marianas and the Japanese Army had only few planes with sufficient range to fly from bases on Iwo Jima to Saipan, there was no hope that Japan would regain command of the air over the Marianas. With this realization went any Japanese hopes of recapturing either Saipan, Guam, or Tinian.

Beyond this, from the Japanese point of view:

. . . there appeared a wide gap in the absolute zone of national defense in the Central Pacific region. The advance of the U.S. Navy toward Japanese waters was facilitated by this breach, which threatened the very security of the homeland. Even more painful for Japan, the American Air Force began to bomb the main islands from bases on Saipan and Guam--raids which began on September 24.6

Following the successful Allied invasion of Normandy, and in the weeks that followed, it is interesting to note that a group of German general officers, many of them members of the General Staff, concluded that the war could no longer be won and set about to remove Hitler before attempting to reach a negotiated peace with the Allies. In Japan, at approximately the same time, the situation was directly reversed. It was recognized that, with the loss of Saipan, the war situation had reached a critical phase. However, while the Emperor and the senior statesman "grew anxious and perturbed,"7 the military radiated an air of optimism, which went so far as highly placed officers making profuse assurances "that our fleet had emerged victorious from the engagement (in the Philippine Sea). They even drank hilariously to the spectacular victory."8

In Germany the question of continuing the war or finding a way to the peace-table resulted in an ever widening chasm between the Armed Forces and the Nazi Party, with the former favoring an end to the war. In Japan, the military closed ranks in favor of fighting to the last man, woman, and child, if necessary, though major differences as to the further prosecution of the war remained between the Army and Navy. The dismissal of Tojo as Premier on 18 July preceded the assassination attempt against Hitler by two days. Whereas the abortive General's Plot resulted in a major upheaval in the German ranks with numerous courts martials and summary executions in its wake, the transition from the Tojo Government to a new cabinet took place in an orderly fashion, though it was far from routine. Never having been questioned, the stature and authority of the Emperor remained unchanged. In order to put and end to Army-Navy antagonism, both the War Minister and the Chief of Staff made efforts aimed at resolving the long-standing rivalries between the two Services, though the time was late.

While the drive across the Central Pacific was aimed directly at the Japanese Home Islands, General Douglas MacArthur was embarked on the road to Tokyo over a more circuitous southerly


route which would take him from New Guinea to the Philippines. As compared to the European Theater, this drive might be likened to the Allied invasion of North Africa and the subsequent moves to Sicily and Italy. Where the seizure of North Africa and Italy had been intended to open a door into Europe through the supposedly "soft belly" in the south, MacArthur's strategy of isolating Japan from her sources of supply in the Philippines and freeing the inhabitants of these islands from Japanese oppression, as he had promised, was to serve as a stepping stone towards the invasion of the Home Islands. Both in southern Europe, as in the southern Pacific, the respective campaigns proved costly, arduous, and time-consuming. Neither the recapture of the Philippines nor the plodding advance up the Appenine Peninsula yielded quick results that would have brought the war to a rapid end in either theater; nor was there any clear agreement in early 1944 where MacArthur would go once the liberation of the Philippines had been accomplished.

It is in the light of this overall situation that the seizure of the southern Palaus, Operation STALEMATE, must be viewed. During the early part of 1944, the Palaus represented one of the key strongholds in Japan's second line of defense. Once New Guinea and the Marshall Islands had been seized by the Americans, the Central Carolines had been bypassed, and the Marianas had fallen, the Palaus moved into the first line of defense for Japan. They became the most powerful and strategic enemy outposts halfway between the Central Pacific drive in the northeast and Mac- Arthur's drive from the south. Since the Palaus were situated only 500 miles eaSt of the Philippine island of Mindanao, their permanent neutralization from sea or air was impractical; as result, the southernmost of these islands became the target of invasion.

At the time Admiral Nimitz, General MacArthur, as well as the Joint Chiefs of Staff, were in general agreement as to the necessity of securing the southern Palaus, notably Peleliu and Angaur, as well as islands closest to Guam, notably Yap and Ulithi in the Northern Carolines. Possession of the smaller islands to the northeast and south of Babelthuap, the largest and most heavily-defended island in the Palaus, would permit the neutralization of that stronghold. At the same time that a joint force of Marines and Army troops assaulted Peleliu and Angaur respectively, MacArthur's forces prepared to assault Morotai, located about halfway between the western tip of New Guinea and Celebes, 480 miles southwest of Peleliu. Seizure of Peleliu and Angaur to the north (with Morotai as a stepping stone in the south) would effectively screen General MacArthur's drive into the Philippines, at the same time providing vital airstrips to the Americans from which aircraft could neutralize enemy forces and such air power as remained to the Japanese on adjacent islands.

The overall situation that had developed by mid-summer made it possible to scrap the planned operation against Yap Island in the northern Carolines. The invasions of Peleliu and Morotai took place on 15 September, followed two days later by the assault on Angaur. Fighting on Peleliu, in particular,


proved long, bitter, and costly, so much so that at the conclusion of the operation doubts arose as to whether results had been worth the effort, particularly in view of the fact that last-minute changes in plans for subsequent operations, specifically the invasion of the Philippines, "made it all but impossible to fit the Palaus into the operational role originally planned for them."9 The capture of Angaur also failed to provide immediate support to MacArthur's forces. Terrain difficulties and inadequate gasoline storage facilities prevented the operation of bombers from Angaur until 21 October, the day after American forces had landed on Leyte in the central Philippines.10 Even then, it was not until 17 November that the first bomber mission was flown against the Philippines from a field in the Palaus. In time, Angaur became an important base for heavy bombers and an aircraft staging point, from which operations on Luzon could be supported. Aircraft based on Morotai did not fly sorties against Leyte, but flew many missions over Mindanao and other islands in the southern Philippines. After 7 October, fighters based on Morotai flew cover for Allied bombers en route to Mindanao and the Visayan Islands.

An unexpected dividend accruing to American forces from the seizure of the Palaus was the capture of Ulithi Atoll by Army troops. Seized in an unopposed operation from 2224 September, this atoll became an extremely valuable base for the U.S. Pacific Fleet. As the war progressed, it became an important staging area for the fleet and amphibious forces taking part in the invasion of Okinawa. Generally speaking, seizure of some islands in the western Carolines, including Peleliu, gained for the Allies valuable bases, though the accelerating drive towards Japan made it necessary to convert these newly seized bases to uses other than those originally anticipated.

For the men of the 1st Marine Division who assaulted Peleliu, the seizure of the island meant a hard and bloody campaign. Of particular interest is the ratio of forces employed by both opponents. At Attu in the Aleutians, the American forces had enjoyed a numerical superiority of 5:1. The ratio was 2.5:1 in favor of the attacking force at Saipan, and at Guam it amounted to 2:1.11 In the Palaus, the defending Japanese were considerably superior in number to the invasion force. Yet the latter was able to bring its full striking power to bear against the objective, while the main Japanese garrison on adjacent Babelthuap was effectively blocked by the U. S. Navy from giving any relief to its hard-pressed comrades in arms on Peleliu.

Completion of the operation in the Western Carolines placed the United States in a favorable position for carrying the war to the enemy at an accelerated pace. Since early summer of 1944, the Japanese situation had deteriorated alarmingly. Even while Japan attempted to bolster her sagging line of defense, the Japanese air garrison in the Philippines had suffered staggering losses, as had Japanese shipping,


both through U.S. submarine action and later through carrier and shore-based air strikes.

The arrival of 1945 saw an almost complete reversal of the still fairly stable position of Japan just one year earlier. The final months of 1944 had faced the Japanese with almost unimaginable reverses that the nation could no longer compensate for. Loss of the Philippines to General MacArthur's forces was not only a very sore blow to Japanese pride, but more practically:

The Southern Resources Area, the prize for which the war had been fought, was gone and American fleets sailed with impunity to the shores of eastern Asia. All hope of future resistance had depended upon oil and now the tankers were sunk and the oil cut off. The surface fleet was gone, and so were 7,000 aircraft, expended in four months defense of the last supply line. Suicide attack, bleeding tactics, were now the last hope of this shrunken empire, and even these economical methods of defense suffered from the blockade.12

From the Marine Corps point of view, the tactical development of close air support had been one of the most distinguishing features of the Peleliu operation. The remarkable performance of Marine aviators during the capture of Ngesebus Island had been but a forerunner of what Marine air was shortly to accomplish in the Philippines in support of Army troops. This development had been slow in coming, the inevitable result of the early wartime naval training of Marine pilots, which devoted little serious attention to closely coordinated air attacks in support of ground units. By late 1944 the winds of change had begun to blow at a stiffer pace, and the employment of Marine air for close support missions became a distinct possibility. In anticipation of such a development, MAG-24, then stationed at Bougainvillea, began the crash training of Marine pilots for close support. A radical departure from orthodox methods was the adoption of direct communications between pilots and ground-based air liaison parties. The performance of Marine aviators on Luzon Island and in the Southern Philippines was to become an outstanding chapter in a long history of excellent achievements, combining raw courage with skill and flexibility. The activities of Marine air in the Philippines constituted one of the few opportunities that Marine air groups had to show their skill in close air support. Except for a brief period of employment during the early days of the Iwo Jima operation, there would be little occasion for the Marine flyers to give any further demonstration of their close support prowess. Only later, on Okinawa, would Marine pilots have a final opportunity to perfect their close support tactics.13

The early days of 1945 were bleak ones for Germans and Japanese alike. In the case of the former, the Ardennes offensive had failed and only further weakened the depleted divisions of the Reich, which was now under aerial attack around the clock, while invading armies were striking at her interior from three directions. For the Japanese, the fortunes of war had come full


circle. The spirit of optimism that had still filled the people of Japan with hope during the summer of 1944 had now vanished. The news from the battlefronts was all bad, and it could no longer be kept from the populace. The thought of rebellion against the Emperor was still unacceptable to the Japanese, but there were some effects, notably to morale: "At home the bad news began to be known and mutterings of negotiated conditional peace arose even in the armed forces. Japan was defeated: it remained only necessary to persuade her of the fact."14

As the war situation deteriorated for the Axis, the peoples of Germany and Japan realized that nothing short of a miracle could still save their situation. In Germany, the die-hard optimists looked for a reversal of imminent defeat through the V-Weapons, whose development assumed ever grander proportions, though reality lagged far behind wishful thinking. As early as 1943, the Japanese received word that Germany was working on atomic weapons, but nuclear physicists maintained that such weapons were not far enough advanced for use in World War H. Nevertheless, an attempt was made to employ science in a bid to solve the numerous military problems.

During 1944, an increasing number of scientists and technical experts were pressed into service in order to test a number of unorthodox devices that were to be employed in the decisive battle. Thus, the Japanese Army experimented with a thermal ray and bombs that would be guided to their targets by sources of heat, notably American troopships. Actual experiments had been carried out during the summer of 1944, but the onrush of events overtook the slow experimentation before a multitude of technical problems could be eliminated. In the end, the "weapons of science" could not be put to any practical use, and "weapons for decisive combat thus came to mean suicidal expedients," such as the kamikaze.15 The only practical Japanese secret weapon ever to be used against the United States was a balloon bomb, which for about six months after 1 November 1944, was released daily from Japan. Purpose of the bomb was a psychological one: "Americans were to be made to feel uneasy because of surprise explosions scattered throughout the United States." While a number of these balloons actually reached the Continental United States, their effectiveness was practically nil; only a few grass fires resulted from 9,000 incendiary balloons launched.

The invasion of Iwo Jima must be viewed in the light of what the loss of the island would do to Japanese civilian morale, coupled with the benefits the use of the island's three airfields would provide to the Allied air effort against Japan. Because of the serious losses incurred in the Philippines and other campaigns, together with a breakdown in the pilot replacement program and a critical shortage of fuel, the Japanese Army and Navy Air Forces were no longer effective deterrents to American incursions at sea or in the air. On the other hand, the American potential for waging war was at its height. The Americans


were stronger in numbers, better trained, and moving forward with an overwhelming offensive power. "United States domination of the Pacific Ocean Area was complete and the time was at hand to strike in earnest toward the heart of the Japanese Empire."16

The Iwo Jima operation was wedged in time into a very narrow period, barely preceded by the American landings on Luzon and shortly followed by the invasion of Okinawa. The ambitious plans for this decisive period almost exceeded the capabilities of a fully mobilized United States, particularly when the Tokyo carrier strikes were included. As a result, the landings at Iwo Jima took place under the shadow of the major invasion of Luzon in the south, the imminent assault against the Ryukyus, and a carrier-based aerial assault against the Home Islands. This accelerated schedule of events contributed to the reduction in the number of days available for the prelanding bombardment of Iwo Jima. That the island could be taken at all in view of the strength of its defenses and the casualties incurred by the attacking Marines is proof of the latters' courage, highly advanced state of training, and the soundness of amphibious doctrine that had become an integral part of Marine Corps tactics.

Control of Iwo Jima provided the Americans with airfields 600 miles closer to the Home Islands, opening the doors wide to a full-scale aerial assault on Japan. The early months of 1945 thus saw a further extension of American power towards the inner defenses of Japan. Even as bitter fighting raged on Iwo Jima, a huge American invasion armada was already en route to Okinawa, which was ultimately to turn into "the most difficult operation undertaken in the Pacific by United States forces,"17 though from the point of view of the Marine Corps, the Iwo Jima campaign remains aptly designated as "The Supreme Test."18 A comparison of the lwo Jima and Okinawa operations does not fall within the purview of this volume; the latter operation has been most aptly described elsewhere in this series.19

The seizure of Iwo Jima eliminated a strong Japanese bastion of defense near the Home Islands; it provided the Americans with forward airfields; and the U. S. presence on Iwo Jima was decisive in neutralizing other fortified enemy islands in the Bonins. As the war in Europe thundered to its conclusion, the inevitability of defeat following the fall of Iwo Jima was impressed on all Japanese. As the shadow of American airpower and the specter of an all-out assault against the Home Islands themselves became a distinct possibility, Japanese diplomats began delicate maneuvers behind the scenes to save what could be salvaged from a misguided and misconceived war. Japanese defeats in the Pacific also were beginning to have international repercussions, notably with regard to the Soviet Union, which was beginning to waver in its neutrality towards Japan. The horror of atomic warfare was yet unheard of during


these early months of 1945. But the remains of Japanese dreams, and it each succeeding American assault across was on islands such as Peleliu and Iwo the Central Pacific had driven the nails Jima that these dreams were finally laid of defeat deeper into the coffin that bore to rest.


Table of Contents ** Previous Chapter (VI-12) * Next Appendix (Bibliographic Notes)


1. Hugh M. Cole, The Ardennes: Battle of the Bulge--THE U. S. ARMY IN WORLD WAR II (Washington: Office of the Chief of Military History, Department of the Army, 1955), p. 673.

2. Shaw, Nalty, and Turnbladh, Central Pacific Drive, p. 583.

3. USSBS, Pacific Campaigns, p. 204.

4. Hayashi and Coox, Kogun, p. 109.

5. Shaw, Nalty, and Turnbladh, Central Pacific Drive, p. 583.

6. Hayashi and Coox, Kogun, p. 109.

7. Ibid.

8. Ibid., p. 208.

9. Smith, Approach to the Philippines, p. 572.

10. Ibid., p. 573. p. 573.

11. Hayashi and Coox, Kogun, pp. 110111.

12. USSBS, Pacific Campaigns, p. 289.

13. For a detailed account of Marine Corps operations on Okinawa, see Frank and Shaw, Victory and Occupation, Pt. II.

14. USSBS, Pacific Campaigns, p. 290.

15. Hayashi and Coox, Kogun, p. 118.

16. USSBS, Pacific Campaigns, p. 320.

17. USSBS, Pacific Campaigns, p. 324.

18. Isely and Crowl, U.S. Marines and Amphibious War, ch 10.

19. See Frank and Shaw, Victory and Occupation, Pt II.

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