Beginning with its first amphibious assault, the 1st Marine Division had built up a tradition of extraordinary good luck in making its initial landings against the enemy. At Guadalcanal a low overcast had covered the approach of the convoy, tactical surprise had been complete, and landing conditions perfect. At Cape Gloucester, again tactical surprise was achieved in the selection of the beaches, and D-Day provided virtually the only clear, calm morning which occurred during the entire monsoon season. The sea was placid at Peleliu, too, and the temperature the least debilitating that would be encountered in weeks to come. But beyond this point, any resemblance to the "landing luck" of Guadalcanal and Cape Gloucester was purely coincidental.
Everything that was, or appeared, practicable had been done in preparation. Naval gunfire and air strikes had, presumably, softened up the defenders for the past three days. The underwater demolition teams had cleared the approaches and scouted the reef as well as conditions would permit--and done a satisfactory job, as things turned out. At 0800 direct supporting fire was commenced with high explosive to knock out beach defenses and white phosphorous smoke shell farther inland to screen the approach by blacking-out observation from the high ground north of the airfield. Under this cover the personnel assault waves moved toward the shore behind the "amphibian tanks" of the newly improvised provisional 3d Armored Amphibian Battalion, the naval gunfire moving forward and toward the flanks according to schedule as they drew nearer, and carrier-borne planes coming in to strafe and dive-bomb directly to their front.
All this was as had been planned and rehearsed; a school problem. But presently the Japanese began revising "The Book."
As the leading waves entered the zone between the transfer line and the reef's edge, shells began to fall among the vehicles, throwing geysers of water skyward. This did not appear to be aimed fire, but rather a protective curtain of some intensity which moved shoreward with the approach of the vehicles.1
The smoke screen drifted seaward to obscure the beach and its approaches, dissipating lanquidly in the windless air. And when at last visibility was possible again, watchers still aboard the ships off-shore were appalled to discern smoke of another sort: burning amtracks and DUKW's littered across the length and breadth of the reef.2
Taking their losses in stride, the assault waves pressed on. The LVT(A)'s in the lead, hit the beach at approximately 0830,3 heaved themselves up out of the water and led the inland advance of the infantry through a mounting volume of artillery and mortar fire, picking a gingerly way among the mines thickly seeded on the beach and for an average depth of a hundred yards inland.4 Only scattered enemy infantry had remained in the beach positions throughout the heavy shelling, but resistance developed rapidly as the advance progressed.
Sherman medium tanks began to arrive simultaneously with the fourth wave to take over from the much more vulnerable amphibians. This was much earlier than in any previous Marine operation, as a result of well worked planning. Thanks to excellent water-proofing and the efforts of the underwater demolition teams in clearing away the worst of the obstacles, they were guided across the reef without major physical difficulties. However, so slowly did they have to pick their way and so intense was the enemy fire, that all but one of the 18 machines assigned to support the 1st Marines were struck by high explosive shells before reaching shore.5 Only three were knocked out of action, fortunately, some explosions occurring below the surface where the depth of the water prevented serious damage.
MARINES going into battle.
The tractor-borne waves continued to push in on schedule, taking their losses grimly, and thus the initial momentum was sustained. But subsequent elements were delayed increasingly at the transfer control line as the mounting shortage of LVT's made itself felt.6 The destruction was comparatively light in the center where only artillery and mortar fire was encountered. The flanks, however, were enfiladed by high velocity weapons: emplaced on Peleliu's southwestern promontory and a small unnamed island offshore a few hundred yards below Beach ORANGE 3; and to the north on a point of high ground projecting about 25
LVT(A)'S LED THE ADVANCE across the beach. Wrecked LVT (left background) is one of many knocked out in the first onslaught.
yards to seaward just beyond the ultimate boundary of WHITE 1.7
As has been noted, the scheme of maneuver assigned a particular mission to each of the regimental combat teams. Because these missions varied, and encountered varying fortunes, they are best discussed individually.
The Fight on the Left8
The 1st Marines had as its target the WHITE Beaches, and the assault waves hit these approximately on schedule: 2d Battalion on the right, 3d on the left, with the 1st Battalion to come in behind them at about 0945 as regimental reserve, prepared to participate in the left turn to the north by attacking through the center of the regiment and seizing the high ground to the north of O-2.9
On WHITE 2, the 2d Battalion drove inland against resistance described as "moderate".10 Utilizing all organic regimental weapons and supported by the surviving armored amphibians until the Sherman
Japanese Defensive Plan
MEN OF 1st MARINES advance around unexpected coral ridge inland from WHITE Beaches.
tanks should come up, this unit reached the O-1 phase line--approximately 350 yards through heavy woods--by 0930: an excellent achievement, though not without cost. Here, facing the airfield and building area from the far side of the woods, the battalion tied in with the 5th Marines on its right; and, perforce, was ordered halted and held up pending solution of the problem facing the 3d Battalion.
By this time the 3d Battalion was in very serious trouble indeed. From the moment of landing this unit had run into opposition of the most stubborn and violent kind from strongly emplaced Japanese who added small arms and automatic weapons fire to the brutal artillery and mortar shelling which was blanketing the whole area. What was worse, the leading elements had not advanced a hundred yards inland before they found themselves confronted by a most formidable natural obstacle which showed on none of the advance maps or intelligence reports: a long, rugged coral ridge about 30 feet in elevation, its precipitous face honeycombed with caves and dug-in positions. All initial assaults were repulsed, even after the tanks had been brought up. Troops attempting to storm the northern portion stumbled into a wide, deep anti-tank trench, dominated by the ridge itself and cleverly enfiladed, where many of them remained pinned down for hours.
Company A of the reserve battalion was committed early in the day in support of the 3d Battalion and Company B late in the afternoon, but their most determined efforts failed to close the gap which had occurred over toward the left (see below). Late in the afternoon the securing of a precarious foothold on the southern sector of the ridge top improved the position somewhat but gave cause for little optimism.11
More than eight hours of some of the fiercest and most confused fighting in the Pacific war had produced two major gaps in the line so serious as to imperil the position of the entire division. All the men in reach who could possibly be spared, including headquarters personnel and 100 men from the 1st Engineer Battalion,12 were brought up to form a defense in depth against the threat of a counterattack in force along the corridor between the ridge and the sea which might well roll up the line and sweep down the landing beaches, now congested with gear and supplies owing to the shallowness of the inland penetration.
Fortunately, this particular attack did not materialize. No doubt, the tactical situation was as obscure to the Japanese as it was to the invaders, for their communications system must have been badly battered. Furthermore, the unusually elaborate plans for the defense of Peleliu, as was later discovered, did not envision a major counterattack in this particular sector. Never overgifted with the resourcefulness to regroup quickly in order to capitalize a fluid tactical situation, the Japanese were in no position to do so now. Grimly they went ahead with their preconceived plans and, as happens so often in the confusion of battle, the golden opportunity slipped through their fingers.
To complete the 3d Battalion picture, Captain George P. Hunt's Company K was writing an epic of small unit combat on the extreme left; an action which, owing to the course of events, became in effect a solo performance.13
Company K's position was on the extreme left of the 3d Battalion, thus responsible for securing the flank of the entire division. The most important objective in this zone was the point just to the north, previously mentioned, from which destructive enfilading fire was being poured the length of the WHITE Beaches. The threat this position presented to the entire landing operation was self-evident. Its formidability is best described in Captain Hunt's own words:
The Point, rising thirty feet above the water's edge, was of solid, jagged coral, a rocky mass of sharp pinnacles, deep crevasses, tremendous boulders. Pillboxes, reinforced with steel and concrete, had been dug or blasted in the base of the perpendicular drop to the beach. Others, with coral and concrete piled six feet on top were constructed above, and spider holes were blasted around them for protecting infantry. It surpassed by far anything we had conceived of when we studied the aerial photographs.14
There was no evidence that naval gunfire had had any effect whatever on these installations.
The point was unassailable from the beach. The rifle platoon assigned to deal with it was obliged to fight inland, then execute a turning movement to take it from the landward side. In so doing this platoon lost contact with the other assault platoon which, as it turned out later, had lost its leader, killed, and had been caught in the tank trap where it was pinned down for some time.
Resistance was fierce and stubborn, and Captain Hunt was obliged to commit his support platoon. The ensuing fire fight lasted nearly two hours. During this time most of
the enemy infantry protecting the installations were killed, and at 1015 what was left of the two platoons stormed the point, driving off the remainder and annihilated the pillboxes15 by taking advantage of their blind spots.
The principal installation proved to be a powerful reinforced concrete casemate built into the coral near the base of the cliff and mounting the 47mm antitank-antiboat gun which had been playing such havoc by enfilading the beach all morning. This was taken by creeping down on it from above. Lieutenant William L. Willis, the surviving platoon leader, managed to drop a smoke grenade just outside the embrasure to cover the approach, whereupon Corporal Anderson launched a rifle grenade into the firing aperture. This struck the gun barrel, knocking the weapon out of action, and ignited "something inflammable".16 There was a big explosion, and the whole interior of the casemate was swept by flame. Screaming Japanese, the ammunition in their belts exploding like firecrackers from the intense heat, fled out the rear exit where they were mowed down by a squad of Marines placed there for that express purpose.
So Captain Hunt was on the point with the 30-odd men of the two platoons who had survived the assault. And there he remained isolated for thirty hours as the Japanese, discovering the gap in Company K's lines, moved into the area in force. Repeated efforts by elements of the reserve battalion failed to close the gap, and at nightfall it was necessary to establish a second line of defense to protect the division flank, leaving Hunt and his men to hold the point as best they could against the series of sharp counterattacks which developed.
Later it proved possible to send in water, food and ammunition, and to evacuate the wounded, by amtrack. But it was such a narrow thing that at one stage during the first night Hunt was holding the point with 18 men and leaning heavily on a captured Japanese machine gun to stave off annihilation.17
In the Center18
The 5th Marines, in the center, fared somewhat better. The deadly antiboat fire which played such havoc with the landing vehicles operating against the flank beaches was less effective (though not wholly ineffective) in this regiment's zone, with the result that the assault waves suffered comparatively smaller losses, mainly from artillery and mortar fire in crossing the reef. Nor was the ground to the front so strongly defended.
This regiment also landed two battalions in assault: the 1st on Beach ORANGE 1, the 3d on ORANGE 2. They met only scattered resistance on the beaches and not much more immediately inland. The terrain here was favorable for maneuver, coconut groves providing cover with little obstruction, and contained no such natural obstacles as the formidable coral ridge which was causing the 1st Marines so much trouble. Thus, the 1st Battalion drove through without undue difficulty to the O-1 phase line and there tied-in firmly with 2/119 on the left. And,
1st LIEUTENANT CARLTON R. ROUH received the Medal of Honor for placing his body between a Japanese grenade and two comrades to absorb the full force of the explosion himself.
as with that battalion, here the companies were obliged to remain, owing partly to the inability of the 1st Marines to advance on the extreme left and partly to the murderous artillery and mortar fire from the high ground to the north which now swept the open airfield to their front.
The story of the 3d Battalion on the right developed differently, however. This unit was commanded by Lieutenant Colonel A. C. Shofner, who had previously distinguished himself by escaping from a Japanese prison camp where he had been confined following the fall of Corregidor. His executive officer, Major Robert M. Ash, was killed within a few moments of hitting the beach, and the LVT carrying most of the battalion's field telephone equipment and personnel was destroyed on the reef,20 thereby complicating a control problem which was difficult enough to begin with.21
According to plan, Company I landed on the left, Company K on the right, with Company L coming in immediately behind the assault waves. On the left all went well, or as well as can be reasonably expected in battle: Company I made contact with the 1st Battalion and, advancing abreast, reached O-1 simultaneously with that unit, at about 0930.
Company K, however, ran into trouble at once owing to circumstances which caused many assault elements of the 7th Marines to be landed on the southern zone of Beach ORANGE 2 rather than on ORANGE 3 as prescribed. (See following sub-chapter.) This not only caused confusion on the beach but also delayed the company's advance while its unexpected guests were trying to extricate themselves and make their way to their own designated sector. Further hampered by an enemy mortar barrage, Company K
did not draw abreast of Company I until about 1000.22
But if the situation in the 3d Battalion zone could be said to be fairly stabilized at this point, it was not destined to remain so for long. Company K's line of advance lay through dense scrub jungle which, while slowing progress somewhat, provided concealment from the heavy shelling which was holding up those elements facing the open airfield. Thus, no sooner had the eastward push been resumed (at 1030) than contact was broken with Company I on the left, which had the responsibility for remaining tied-in with the 1st Battalion.
Company L was committed in an effort to close this gap, but the line remained dangerously extended. Fortunately, the 5th Marines Operations Plan called for Major Gordon D. Gayle's 2d Battalion, in regimental reserve, to come in close on the heels of the assault waves and be committed on the right of the 1st Battalion. Advance elements of this unit began landing at 0935, and the battalion as a whole was in position on the O-1 line by 1130.23 Here it relieved Company I, which was ordered to pass around the right of Company L and tie in between that unit and the left of Company K which reported its position as along a trail about halfway across the island.
The 2d Battalion now began a strong drive eastward, described subsequently, preparatory to a turning movement toward the north. Because contact had to be maintained with the 1st Battalion, still on the O-1 line, the completion of this maneuver found 2/5 deployed completely across the southern edge of the airfield.24 Company L, keeping pace, succeeded in reaching Pelelui's eastern shore, thus cutting the island into two parts in accordance with the operations plan, but in accomplishing this eventually lost contact with the rest of its own 3d Battalion.25
Shortly after noon, strong resistance from a nest of pillboxes halted the advance of Companies I and K. By the time this was overcome with the aid of tanks, it was discovered that contact had been lost with 3d Battalion, 7th Marines, on the right.26
Radio communication was established between the two battalions, and 3/5 gave the location of its right flank as along a diagonal north-south trail in Target Square 125-P. Taking stock of its own situation, 3/7 reported its left on a similar trail approximately 200 yards farther forward.27 Thereupon, Shofner's battalion pressed on to the designated spot and, when unable to make contact there, continued the advance to the main north-south road. Here, at about 1600, a subsequent radio message was received from 3/7, stating that the previous location given for that battalion's position was incorrect and that its left actually lay on the trail in "the lower corner of target square 125-P".28
This unfortunate miscalculation is indicative of the difficulties of operating in unfamiliar, sketchily mapped terrain cloaked with scrub jungle and infested with the enemy. The two trails in question ran generally parallel and were difficult of positive identification. So far as it is possible to reconstruct
the situation from extant evidence, it would appear that when the first messages were exchanged the flanks of the two battalions were actually on the same trail, which curved sharply about 100 yards to the east within the zone of 3/7. Thus, while 3/5 pushed ahead to where 3/7 was believed to be, the latter battalion stood fast thinking the former would come abreast of it.
Immediate steps were taken to rectify the situation. In the 3/5 zone, Company K was ordered to bend its right flank back, and all available personnel from Headquarters Company were thrown in to extend the line in this direction in an effort to tie-in with 3/7 which was supposed to be moving its left forward simultaneously.29 But no contact had been made by the time darkness fell.
It was evidently this effort which caused Company K to become separated from Company I, on its left, which in turn had lost contact with Company L sometime during the course of events.30
Then, at about 1700,31 a well placed enemy mortar barrage struck the command post, wounding Colonel Shofner. By the time the commanding officer could be evacuated and the general disruption straightened out, control of the 3d Battalion as a unit had virtually ceased to exist.
Obviously, strong measures were called for. Lieutenant Colonel Lewis W. Walt, executive officer of the 5th Marines, assumed command of the scattered 3d Battalion following the evacuation of Colonel Shofner, but it was after dark before he was able to locate even one of his companies. Inasmuch as what Colonel Walt did to retrieve the situation was largely a one-man operation and is covered in no official report, the account which follows is drawn from his own narration of events,32 except as otherwise cited.
The regimental command had made no radio contact with any elements of the 3d battalion, including the command post, since 1700. The first unit to be located was Company L, less one platoon,33 at approximately 1830, on the right flank of the 2d Battalion. The 2d Platoon was tied-in with that battalion, the rest of the company in the jungle approximately 100 yards south of the airfield and 200 yards short of Peleliu's eastern shore where, out of contact with friendly troops, the men were digging-in an all around defense for the night. These were ordered back to the edge of the airfield, there to set up a lineal defense facing south, tied-in on the left with the 2d Platoon which, in turn, remained tied-in with 2/5, facing east along the shoreline. In this new deployment, Company L's front extended about 200 yards inland.
Walt next located the left flank of the 3d Battalion, 7th Marines. This had been extended by degrees all the way to the southern edge of the airfield at a point about 400 yards in from the western shore where its
left flank element was digging in on a defensive line facing east.34
Accompanied by his runner, Walt then moved out deeper into the dark jungle forward of the 3/7 line where, about 2100, he came upon Company I, some 200 yards south of the airfield and 300 yards short of the eastern shore. This unit, as noted, also had lost contact with friendly troops and was setting up a perimeter defense. It, too, was ordered to the airfield; to take up a position on the right of Company L, with the object of extending the south-facing line eastward to cover the 2d Battalion from attack from its rear.35
Company K was found 100 yards southwest of where Company I had been located and was ordered to the edge of the airfield to complete the new line: to tie-in with the left of 3/7 and the right of the new position of Company I. Then at last (about 2230) radio contact was made with the battalion command post, a short distance behind Company K, which also reached the new area by 2300.
But a gap still existed in the center of the new south-facing line, owing to the inability of Company I, groping in the darkness and jungle, to locate its designated position between Companies L and K.36 This was not so serious as might appear, however, as the final deployment of the missing unit was immediately in front of this gap. In the words of its commanding officer: "Company I spent the night with its left flank on the edge of the airfield and its right flank in the air in the scrub woods. Our backs were to the field. No Japanese counterattack as such ever hit our lines, which was, of course, fortunate."37
The front of the 5th Marines, as it was finally set up for the night of D-Day, presents a rather odd appearance on the operational overlay: the three battalions facing in as many different directions (east, north and south), with 2d and 3d Battalions virtually back to back (see Map Number 6). Yet these lines were well enough integrated to stand firm throughout the hours of darkness.
The Southern Zone38
On the extreme right of the division front, the 7th Marines planned to land two battalions in column on Beach ORANGE 3, the remaining battalion (2/7) being kept afloat as division reserve. The scheme of maneuver called for the leading unit, the 3d Battalion, to drive across to the eastern shore in conjunction with the 5th Marines in order to split the island's defenders. The 1st Battalion, landing immediately behind, was to wheel to the right in line and commence the drive against the Japanese thus isolated in the southern pocket, 3/7 wheeling to move abreast once the island had been crossed.39
JAPANESE ANTITANK DITCH provides cover for 7th Marines Command Post on D-Day.
The 3d Battalion encountered serious difficulties from the outset. The reef in this area was so cluttered with both natural and man-made obstacles that the amtracks were often obliged to pick their way shoreward in column. This slowed down the whole approach and made the vehicles prime targets for the fire which now poured into them from the machine guns and antiboat guns on the southwestern promontory (sometimes called Ngarmoked Island) and the small unnamed island offshore beyond their right flank, as well as the ubiquitous artillery and mortars. Perhaps worse from a tactical point of view, the enfilading fire caused many of the LVT drivers to bear farther to the left, thus landing some elements on ORANGE 2 where they became intermixed with elements of 3/5, as previously noted.40
The inevitable delay attendant upon reorganizing in the designated zone of action was further compounded by a combination of mined beaches, barbed wire entanglements and stiff but spotty resistance from a system of mutually supporting trenches and reinforced
pillboxes dug into, or blasted out of, the coral. Furthermore, naval gunfire, if it had accomplished little else in this sector, had blasted away enough of the jungle growth and inconspicuous terrain features to give the region a much different appearance from that shown in the advance intelligence, making orientation difficult.41
There was one man-made feature, however, which proved extremely useful in a way its makers certainly had not planned. This was a large Japanese antitank trench a short distance inland from ORANGE 3. Its existence had not been known prior to the assault, but one of the support aircraft spotted it in time to flash a report just in advance of the first wave. As the commanding officer of the 3d Battalion describes the situation:
Once officers were able to orient themselves it (the antitank ditch) proved an excellent artery for moving troops into the proper position for deployment and advance inland since it crossed the entire width of our zone of action approximately parallel to the beach. With respect to the battalion CP, I am convinced that it enabled us to join the two principal echelons of CP personnel and commence functioning as a complete unit at least an hour earlier than would otherwise have been possible. I landed with my half of the CP personnel, opposite the southwest turning circle of the airfield near the right flank of the CT-5 zone of action. Major Streit landed, with the other half of the CP personnel, equally as far from our intended position in the opposite direction to the southward. After announcing our early locations to each other, it was simply a question of jumping in the ditch, meeting in the middle, and jumping out again to displace farther inland.42
The advance was finally resumed with two companies in assault and made good progress for a while. By 1045 Company K, on the right, had advanced 500 yards, capturing an enemy radio direction finder in the process. But at about 1300 Company I, which had been experiencing increasing difficulties in retaining contact with 3/5 on the left, was halted before a strong nest of Japanese defenses. This well organized position was "built around a large blockhouse, the concrete ruins of a barracks area, several pillboxes, concrete gun emplacements and mutually supporting gun positions."43 This opposition had been expected, as the position showed clearly on the operational map. So, in order to minimize the casualties which would result from unsupported infantry assault, it was decided to await the arrival of the tank platoon which was an organic part of the landing team and had been briefed in advance for this particular mission.
Here a new and unexpected element appeared to contribute to the confusion: one of those small details which so often escape notice in advance. The flank battalion of each of the two regiments supposed to tie-in was the 3d Battalion (3/5 and 3/7 respectively), containing identically lettered companies (I, K and L). In this particular case, the tanks moving up in support of 3/7 were obliged to skirt the southern edge of the airfield in order to avoid the antitank ditch previously mentioned. Here they came upon a body of troops working forward and paused to inquire the location of "Company I." Informed that this unit was "Company I," they attached themselves and operated with it for some time before discovering that it was Company I, 5th Marines, instead of Company I, 7th Marines, which had been held up all this while awaiting them.
This delay completed the break in the already tenuous contact between the two regiments. Pausing to take stock, 3/7 was able to find no elements whatsoever on its left flank. Actually, Company K, 5th Marines, had pushed ahead, as has been seen. But there was no way of knowing that, for the jungle growth limited visibility in every direction. To protect the open flank in order that the attack might be continued, Company L was placed in position immediately behind Company I and echeloned to the left rear.
In an effort to reestablish contact, Company L worked patrols farther and farther
to the left. Still groping, without success, the foremost patrol emerged at length on the southern edge of the airfield, entirely out of its regimental zone of action and several hundred yards directly in the rear of the unit with which it was attempting to tie-in.44
The command post of 3/7, had been in intermittent radio communication with that of 3/5 throughout the afternoon, with the resultant misunderstanding as to locations previously noted. It was not until Lieutenant Colonel Walt arrived on the scene that it proved possible to orient the units in relation to each other and eventually effect the redeployment described in previous subchapter.
In the meanwhile, the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, had come in behind 3/7 as planned, landing on ORANGE 3 at 1030. By this time some of the early confusion on the beaches had been resolved, but the 1st Battalion encountered many of the difficulties that had plagued the 3d and a portion of its personnel likewise landed on ORANGE 2. Resistance was described as "light, except for heavy mortar fire"45 until about 1200. But as the
BLOCKHOUSE encountered by 3/7 late on D-Day was reduced following morning.
battalion began wheeling southward in accordance with its mission, enemy resistance stiffened notably and the terrain became increasingly difficult. It was discovered that a dense swamp, which did not appear on the operational map, blocked a large portion of the right half of the battalion's zone of action. The single trail skirting its west fringe, in Company C's area, was strongly defended by enemy pillboxes and bunkers.
Company A, groping around the swamp to the east, eventually extended itself some 250 yards into the 3d Battalion's zone. Company B was employed to tie-in the flanks of Companies C and A, but not until 1520 was Colonel Gormley able to announce the seizure of the intermediate phase line designated O-A. During the night the Japanese staged a strong counterattack from the swamp, necessitating the alerting of shore party personnel to serve as a mobile reserve in case of necessity. Fifty of the enemy were killed in this action.46
When reports from shore indicated that the two battalions committed in the south would almost certainly fall short of the ambitious objective planned for the first day, General Rupertus, still aboard USS DuPage, became seriously concerned over this apparent loss of forward momentum. Shortly before noon he ordered the Division Reconnaissance Company47 ashore as a reinforcement, and a little later, after some rather ambiguous communication with officers on the scene, attempted to commit the division reserve for the same purpose.48
The order to dig in for the night reached the front line units in the southern zone about 1700.49
Gains, in relation to the optimistic predictions, were disappointing. The 1st Battalion was on the O-A line, as was the right of the 3d Battalion (Company K); but Company I, still held up before the strongpoint to its front because of the delay in the tanks coming up, was 400 yards short of the intermediate objective. And the still-open gap in the middle of 3/5 on the left constituted a potent threat to the entire southward-facing line.
However, the tactical situation was more propitious than it appeared to the minds of those in the division command post, still afloat, and little genuine concern was felt by the officers commanding ashore.50 Local counterattacks, hampered by extensive illuminations by naval star shells and harassing fire by the 11th Marines, were beaten off during the night without undue difficulty, and the coming of daylight saw a quick rectification of the worst difficulties.
The Japanese Strike Back
As had been anticipated, the Japanese reacted violently as soon as they were able to recover their balance. The first and most vigorous manifestation began at approximately
1650: a tank-infantry sortie in force across the northern portion of the airfield.51
This was not a banzai charge in the usual sense of that term, unless the peculiar conduct of some of the tank operators could be so construed, though the end result proved suicidal enough to satisfy the most discriminating devotee of Bushido. The attack was well planned and well organized; had it been better timed and better integrated, once under way, its chances of success might have been excellent. As it was, the Japanese waited too long, giving the invaders ample time to consolidate their positions. And the route of approach, while employing what was doubtless the terrain best suited to tank operations, led straight to the sector of the Marine front perhaps best prepared to cope with precisely such an assault.
There was nothing coincidental about the latter fact. The main point of contact lay within the zone of the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, a short distance below where the flanks of the 1st and 5th Regiments tied-in. Little surprise was achieved: Japanese tank strength was well known, and every regimental and battalion commander had been looking for something of the kind for the past eight hours. Knowing that the 5th Marines in particular would be facing flat, open ground once the advance passed through the woods, the regimental commander had ordered both assault battalions to land their 37mm guns and heavy machine guns in the assault waves and emplace them in forward positions as soon as the O-1 line had been secured.52 When further advance from there had proved impracticable, Lieutenant Colonel Robert W. Boyd, commanding officer of the 1st Battalion, had parked his three supporting tanks in partial defilade where they would enjoy a maximum of protection and at the same time be able to place fire to the front of the infantry.53
A marked increase in the intensity of enemy mortar and artillery fire brought the first intimation that the long expected was finally brewing. Soon thereafter a Japanese infantry formation of estimated company strength was observed advancing across the airfield. This was no tightly bunched knot of screaming, sword-waving fanatics. These men moved with the cool determination of the veterans they were: keeping well dispersed, taking advantage of the scanty cover of shell holes and ground folds, opening fire as they came within effective range.
In the meanwhile, an air observer spotted enemy tanks forming in defilade east of the ridges a short distance above the airfield, and presently the ground troops sighted these debouching on the open ground, more infantry clustered atop them wherever a handhold could be had. They passed through their advancing foot soldiers about 400 yards forward of the Marine positions, and for a moment the attack assumed aspects of genuine formidability.
But only for a moment. Instead of coordinating their movement to that of the infantry, the enemy tank drivers opened their throttles wide and lit out for the American lines like so many of the proverbial bats; too fast to support their assault troops or for those troops to support them.54
At this point the attack assumed more the aspects of an old fashioned cavalry charge than anything in modern scientific warfare: very dashing and gallant according to the standards of the 19th Century. Only this happened to be the 20th Century. And these flimsy Japanese obsolete model "tankettes" (not comparable even to U.S. light tanks) were little less vulnerable to modern armor-piercing weapons than horse cavalry had been to the magazine rifles, Gatling guns and shrapnel which made that branch obsolete.55
Most contemporary accounts agree that 13 tanks were involved in this attack.56 Beyond this point, however, there are nearly as many versions of what happened next as there were witnesses.
The tank drivers apparently made some effort to take advantage of such scanty cover as there was, keeping as close as possible to the edge of the jungle north of the airfield as long as they could. Thus, when they cut southwestward over the open ground, their course took them diagonally across the front of the 2d Battalion, 1st Marines, where they were subjected to devastating fire into their flank.57 Two of the tanks veered into the lines of this battalion, hurtled over a coral embankment and crashed into a swamp just behind the front where their crews, attempting to escape, were disposed of by the infantry.58
Meanwhile the men of 1/5 had opened with everything they had: 37mm guns, bazookas, AT grenades; all organic infantry weapons plus the 75's of the tanks which Colonel Boyd had posted in support. A Navy dive bomber, happening upon the scene, came in low and dropped a large bomb into what appeared to be the midst of the on-swarming enemy. In the face of all this fire, the tank-riding infantry, so many sitting ducks, simply seemed to disintegrate into thin air. Tanks began exploding and burning, but the survivors kept coming. They struck the 1st Battalion lines in the narrow sector held by the left platoon, of Company B.59 And overran them.
The remarkable aspect here was that, while the enemy tanks overran the lines and penetrated 150 yards beyond--one of them nearly reached the beach before being liquidated--nowhere did they cause a break in the front. If any Marines felt an urge to quit their positions, they scarcely had time, so rapidly did these events take place. Two men were caught in the path of one of these onrushing machines and crushed to death. A few others were burned or wounded by flying fragments as tanks were destroyed in their midst. The rest dodged by one means or another and kept on fighting, for the Japanese assault infantry was still coming--or so they thought.
What happened to these enemy troops is one of the several features of this action which will never be known with any certainty--except that they did not close with the Marines. Perhaps they were annihilated by the fire poured into them before they were able to close.60 Or perhaps they were
JAPANESE TANK-INFANTRY counterattack, afternoon of D-Day, disintegrated in face of Marine fire-power.
so disgusted by the spectacle of their supposed armored support intent on encompassing its own destruction that they simply went away from there. In any event, when the smoke and dust dissipated, a few dead on the scene were all that remained. The fight was over.
Exactly who knocked out what--and where and when--is another matter shrouded in mystery. If two of the enemy tanks escaped, as reported,61 that would mean that only 11 (or 17, depending on conflicting reports) were destroyed. Yet one officer with a flair for figures calculated later that if every individual claim of a tank knocked out were to be accepted at face value, there would have had to be 179½ of them. The fact appears to be that every tank was hit so many times by so many different weapons that in all probability no single hit could be held responsible for its destruction.62
The exact part played by U.S. tanks in the repulse of this attack is another point upon which there has been some disagreement, another example of the platitude that no single man on the ground can see more than a very small segment of any battle, even such a spectacular one fought almost
entirely on flat, open terrain. The three tanks attached to 1/5, as has been noted, were immobilized and played only a static defensive role. And as luck would have it, all but one of the Shermans supporting 2/1 had returned to the beach to rearm at this particular time.63
However, the 2d Battalion, 5th Marines, was operating in the woods across the southern end of the airfield, with its leading element (Company E) and the advance command post near the eastern shore: about 1200 yards away, diagonally across the open ground. The advance of the enemy was plainly visible from there, and Major Gayle immediately dispatched the tanks acting in support of his unit to the scene of the attack. What followed is described by the executive officer of that regiment, who witnessed the action from a vantage point on the right of 1/5:
At the time the enemy tanks were approximately half way across the airfield, four Sherman tanks came onto the field in the 2/5 zone of action on the south end of the airfield and opened fire immediately on the enemy tanks. These four tanks played an important role in stopping the enemy tanks and also stopping the supporting infantry, the majority of which started beating a hasty retreat when these Shermans came charging down from the south. They fought a running battle and ended up in the midst of the enemy tanks.64
But regardless of exactly who did what, the important thing is that the attack was completely frustrated, a fact which was to have a significant effect on the enemy's subsequent conduct of the campaign.
Not that there was no more counteraction on the part of the Japanese. Actually they attacked again and again throughout the rest of the afternoon, short, sharp thrusts against various sectors of the Marine line, and infiltration attempts continued throughout the night. But none achieved the proportions and determination of that first thrust which, in the tactical conception of Peleliu's defenders, was evidently intended to be climactic.
The most notable began about 1730: infantry supported by two tanks (perhaps the two reported to have escaped destruction previously) moving west across the airfield's northern taxiway. This thrust was aimed at the junction of the 1st and 5th Marines, the brunt being borne this time by the former unit. Both tanks were destroyed, and the enemy foot soldiers failed to reach the lines. There was another flurry a half hour later near the center of the 5th Marines where the 1st and 2d Battalions tied in on the O-1 line, but this was quickly over. And before daylight the following morning, 1/5 was hit again by still another two tanks and infantry, without notable results.
The precariously positioned left of the 1st Marines was subjected to unremitting pressure, and Captain Hunt's men passed a nerve-racked night isolated on the point they had captured. But the attack in force along the shore line which might have rolled up the division left flank failed to materialize until the situation there had been rectified (see Chapter IV), evidently because the careful preinvasion plans of the Japanese had not envisaged a major effort from this direction and they were not prepared to regroup in time to make one which had any chance of success.
On the south, too, the situation was one to cause some concern, but not nearly so much. There were many infiltration attempts in this area. The 3d Battalion, 7th Marines, withstood one counterattack of no very formidable proportions shortly after dark,
and 3/5 beat off two others during the early morning hours. In all zones, harassing artillery fire discouraged the enemy, and illumination shells were used liberally to forestall surprise throughout the night.
The order to prepare positions for the night found the units of the division, with one exception, pretty well immobilized: more intent on rectifying their own situations than in making further advances. On the O-1 line, 2/1 and 1/5 were firmly tied-in and well sited along the edge of the woods, facing the airfield, but unable to move owing to the precariousness of the extreme left. In the south, the two battalions of the 7th Marines were well enough off, but too occupied with trying to tie-in with the as yet unlocated elements of 3/5 to be much interested in anything else.
The one exception was the 2d Battalion, 5th Marines. This unit had fought its way across the southern edge of the airfield nearly to the eastern shore, where it was in contact with the lone platoon of Company L which faced eastward along the shore line. Quick to take advantage of the enemy being off balance, the battalion drove northward close in the wake of the repulse of the main tank counterattack and succeeded in reaching nearly the center of the airfield against minor resistance before halting for the night. This was the most substantial advance scored all day, and significant in that it greatly increased the area of depth necessary for the emplacing of artillery.
The Command Situation
The division command post did not land on D-Day, but at about 1130 the assistant division commander, Brigadier General O. P. Smith, came ashore with a skeleton staff and set up an advance command post in an overrun antitank ditch a short distance inland from Beach ORANGE 2. His communications men were able to cut in on the Shore Party telephone line, putting him in touch with the command posts of the 5th and 7th Marines. Radio contact was soon established with General Rupertus still afloat,65 but the line to the 1st Marines zone had been broken, and radio efforts elicited no response from that quarter. As noted earlier in this chapter, five LVT's66 carrying the regiment's headquarters personnel and communications equipment had been hit crossing the reef, a serious loss further compounded later when a Japanese shell struck the regimental CP just after Colonel Lewis D. Puller had moved out to set up farther forward.67
For whatever combination of reasons, the division command had no very clear picture of the 1st Marines' situation during most of the day. A liaison officer was sent in from the regiment about noon, but at that hour there was still no definite indication of how matters might develop. A runner got through during the afternoon, but en route he became involved in the Japanese tank attack and arrived too scared to be very coherent. Toward evening a fragmentary radio message conveyed a disquieting hint with an urgent request for corpsmen and communicators. But when the field telephone line was finally spliced and General Smith put in direct touch, Colonel Puller made no mention of heavy losses, of gaps in his front, nor of needing any help, but reported that the regiment was firmly established on the beach
"SOMETIMES WE GOES where the roads are, but mostly we goes where they ain't." Kipling's verse applied aptly to the tanks on Peleliu.
and held approximately the objective line O-1.68
General Rupertus had planned to seize the O-2 phase line by nightfall, this embracing all of the island below the foot of the northern ridges which commenced a short distance above the airfield. As the day wore on with forward movement halted along most of the front, he became increasingly concerned over what seemed to him the loss of initial momentum by the assault elements.69 But his eye turned not to the north, where the precarious flank situation was holding up the
advance of the left and most of the center, but toward the south, where the O-1 line included the entire zone of action of the 7th Marines.
Accordingly, the commanding general ordered the Division Reconnaissance Company in to ORANGE 3 to reinforce the 7th Marines,70 and shortly thereafter commenced querying the commander on shore in regard to committing the entire division reserve 2d Battalion, 7th Marines.71 His persistence rather puzzled General Smith, whose knowledge of conditions in the area led him to believe that additional troops, far from sustaining momentum, would only further crowd the constricted beachhead then existing. A call to Colonel Herman J. Hanneken confirmed this belief, but the colonel added that, should the commanding general insist on sending the unit ashore, he (Hanneken) would find an assembly area for it where it would not be in anybody's way. This somewhat ambiguous word was relayed to the command ship, and the last reserve under division control was ordered to land.72
General Rupertus was also becoming concerned over remaining on the command ship while obscure but obviously heavy fighting was developing on shore, and began importuning General Smith to inform him when it would be feasible for him to bring in the command post. Smith, who had been less sanguine from the first over the possibilities of a quick conquest, saw little in current developments to inspire optimism. He returned negative replies until, aware of the Commanding General's mounting anxiety, ". . . late in the afternoon, against my better judgment, I radioed him that the situation appeared favorable enough for the CP to move ashore."73
Aboard the command ship, however, Colonel Selden was unalterably opposed to this idea. The chief of staff pointed out that one command group was already ashore and doing all that reasonably could be expected in a situation which he could visualize only too clearly; that to bring the entire staff into a shallow beachhead across a reef which was still under heavy shellfire would be to risk the annihilation of the division's whole top echelon to no useful purpose. In the ensuing debate a compromise was reached. Colonel Selden agreed to take in the bulk of the staff while the commanding general would forego his determination to land until the following morning.
Accordingly the chief of staff ordered his people, who had been standing by all day for such a move, into two LCVP's and set out for shore. Arriving at the transfer control line, he discovered elements of the division reserve standing by in their landing craft for lack of amtracks to ferry them in across the reef. The colonel thereupon
(After Rectifying 3/5)
boarded the nearest control craft to use its superior communications equipment in an effort to clarify the situation.
Everything he could learn strengthened his own conviction that the need ashore was for combat troops rather than additional staff personnel, and that there appeared small likelihood of sufficient amphibian tractors arriving to accommodate both. Finally, with darkness closing in and enemy high velocity guns beginning to range in on the control craft, he radioed General Rupertus to this effect and announced that he was bringing his group back to the command ship in order to give landing priority to the reserve battalion.74
As events decided, sufficient amtracks never did appear that night. Therefore, shortly after the return of the staff the reserve battalion was likewise ordered back to its transports,75 a development which was to prove a piece of good fortune in disguise (see Chap. IV).
So General Smith remained in command on shore throughout that critical night. His troops held a beachhead 3,000 yards in length and averaging 500 yards in depth, with one maximum penetration of about 1,500 yards.76 The artillery had one and one-half battalions of 75mm pack howitzers and one and one-third battalions of 105mm howitzers in position and registered. These gains, so disappointing when viewed beside preliminary predictions, had cost the division 210 dead (killed in action, died of wounds, missing presumed dead), and 901 wounded in action: total casualties of 1,111, not including combat fatigue and heat prostration cases.77
The enemy's impression of what goes on in battle is always interesting, even though, particularly in the case of the Japanese, their reports are sometimes a bit difficult to reconcile with reality. For instance, the several thousand Marines engaged on shore at the time would no doubt be mystified to learn that, according to Colonel Nakagawa's report, their "daring" attempt to land had been completely frustrated: "By 1000 hours our forces successfully put the enemy to route." Then: "At 1420 hours, the enemy again attempted to make the perilous landing on the southwestern part of our coastline. The unit in that sector repulsed the daring counterattack and put the enemy to route once more. However, in another sector of the coastline near Ayame (ORANGE 3)
the enemy with the aid of several tanks were successful in landing, although they were encountering heavy losses inflicted by our forces."78
All of which indicates that optimism was not confined exclusively to the Marines at this stage.
1. 1st Marines Regimental Narrative, hereinafter cited as 1st MarNar.
2. LtCol H. C. Tschirgi, D-4, viewed this scene from the deck of a transport. "I'd never seen combat before," he recalled later, "and the first thing that struck me was that this was a hell of a way to treat $40,000 equipment." Interview with Col Tschirgi, 26Jan49.
3. Exact time of first landing recorded as 0832. 1st MarDiv SAR, II, 2.
4. Many mines were improvised from aerial bombs buried up to the nose in the sand, to supplement land mines of the conventional type and horned anti-invasion mines. Many of the latter were not armed and failed to detonate. It is believed that most of them were set out hurriedly during the night, as the UDT's did not spot them in large numbers the previous day, which would help to explain an otherwise almost incomprehensible piece of carelessness on the enemy's part.
5. This unit was Co. A, 1st Tank Bn. Six more of its machines were knocked out by enemy action during the next few hours, and by the end of the second day it had only five machines operative. 1st Mar Nar. Of the division's total of 30 tanks "over half . . . received from one to four hits during the 10 minutes reef crossing." 1st MarDiv SAR, II, Anex J.
6. Only 26 LVT's were reported actually destroyed on D-Day. Ibid., Annex F. Yet an air observer on one occasion reported 38 burning simultaneously and unofficial estimates by assault unit commanders bring the total knocked out at least temporarily in excess of 60. Partly accounting for the apparent discrepancy might be "the extreme reluctance, short of complete demolition or submersion in over 10 fathoms, of any crew chief to regard his vehicle as destroyed"; also, DUKW'S and LVT(A)'s were being hit and were not readily distinguishable from the air. Reutlinger. Contributing perhaps even more to the growing shortage was the necessity for repair and refueling, and the practice of evacuating the more seriously wounded all the way to the transport area in the slow-moving amtracks.
7. That positions of such obvious tactical importance had not been demolished by naval gunfire and close air support was the subject of much bitter comment by the troops who had to put them out of action after being obliged to land through their fire. But most of these installations were proof against anything short of a direct hit and so well camouflaged that their precise positions could not be spotted; and "The idea . . . of just firing at an island is an inexcusable waste of ammunition." Ltr RAdm G. H. Fort to BrigGen C. C. Jerome, 20Mar50, hereinafter cited as Fort. "My surprise and chagrin when concealed batteries opened up on the LVT's can be imagined." Ltr Adm. J. S. Oldendorf to BrigGen C. C. Jerome, 25Mar50, hereinafter cited as Oldendorf.
8. Wherever possible, this monograph's accounts of regimental actions are drawn from reports submitted at regimental or battalion level, supplemented as practicable by higher echelon reports, personal consultations, letters and private memoirs. Basic sources on 1st Marines are: History of 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marines Regimental Narrative (context of these two works almost identical, latter being a later rewrite of material prepared during and immediately following the operation), 1st Battalion Unit History, and 3d Battalion Record of Events.
9. Ltr LtCol R. G. Davis to LtCol G. D. Gayle, 4Nov49; hereinafter cited as Davis.
10. 1st Mar Nar.
11. Five LVT's carrying the 1st Marines' command group had been badly hit while crossing the reef with the resultant loss of most of its communications equipment and expert operators. Not until much later did the division command have any accurate conception of the precariousness of the 1st Regiment's position. O. P. Smith PerNar.
12. 1st Mar Nar.
13. Captain Hunt, a professional writer in civilian life, has described this action fully in an excellent small book: Coral Comes High, Harper, 1946, from which many of the substantiated details of this account have been drawn.
14. Hunt op.cit., 58.
15. There were five billboxes altogether, four mounting heavy machine guns, the fifth the 47mm. The spider trenches were manned by riflemen and light machine gunners. 3d Bn, 1st Mar Record of Events, hereinafter cited as 3/1 RofE.
16. Lt. Willis quoted by Hunt, op. cit., 65. A subsequent intelligence report attributed the knocking out of this casemate to the use of a flame thrower, a weapon which the platoon did not have available at that particular time, though the end effect was very similar. What the grenade set off was probably stacked up 47mm ammunition.
17. History of 1st Marine Regiment, 7; hereinafter cited as Hist 1st Mar.
18. Except as otherwise cited, this monograph's accounts of all operations of 5th Marines derive from the following basic documentary sources pertaining to that regiment: Regimental Narrative, War Diary, R-2 Reports, 1st Battalion Bn-3 Journal, 2d Battalion Journal, 3d Battalion Record of Operations, 5th Regiment Unit Reports.
19. This short form designates 2d Battalion, 1st Marines: the battalion numeral preceding that of the regiment. Such abbreviations appear in most contemporary reports of the period under discussion, though occasionally appearing in hyphenated form (3-1), and are used throughout this monograph. Companies are sometimes similarly designated: E/5 (Company E, 5th Marines). It should be understood as standing for a reinforced infantry unit, but the terms BLT (battalion landing team) and RCT (regimental combat team) had not come into general use in the Marine Corps at this time and occur with comparative infrequency.
20. Ltr LtCol A. C. Shofner to CMC, 9Mar50, hereinafter cited as Shofner.
21. Considerable confusion exists as to what really happened to 3/5 during D-Day. Only extant official reports from 5th Marines bearing on the subject are Regimental War Diary and 3/5 Record of Operations, which do not agree on all points and frequently conflict with reports of 7th Marines (see sub-chapter following). This account supplements these basic sources with carefully screened material recently obtained from surviving officers who were on the scene. In view of the fallibility of the human memory five years after the event, allowance must be made for a certain amount of conjecture.
22. This is hour given by 5th Marines War Diary hereinafter cited as 5th Mar WD.
24. A subsequent northward surge carried 2/5 nearly to the center of the airfield for the day's most substantial gain. See sub-chapter "The Japanese Strike Back".
25. Exactly when this break occurred is not noted in the contemporary official reports. Shofner records that all three companies were tied-in during the early afternoon: The undisputable fact is that Co. L was no longer in contact with any elements of 3/5 at dusk.
26. 5th Mar WD gives 1400 as the approximate hour this opposition was overcome. Shofner records that the strong point was encountered "about 1230". See also 3/7 War Diary and ltr Maj. C. A. Brooks to CMC, 8Feb50, hereinafter cited as Brooks.
27. 3/5 Record of Operations. Shofner. Brooks.
28. Shofner. There is an apparent discrepancy here, as TX 125-P lay entirely in 3/5 zone of action. Official reports make no specific mention of this message, but 5th Mar WD records: "At 1600 it was discovered that elements of the 3d Bn. had pushed some 300 to 400 yards ahead of the 7th Marines on our right and that the 7th was firing on our troops."
29. 3/7 had been held up for some time before a formidable enemy position and was unable to make any appreciable advance in this area, as described in sub-chapter following.
30. "Company I had no contact with battalion headquarters. Radio batteries, which had been in use throughout the day were dead and replacements had been lost during the landing. . . . As darkness was setting in and adjoining units could not be located I gave orders for the company to dig in for the night. Even as we were digging in we were still attempting to locate companies, or at least friendly units on the left and right flanks. We were unable to do so." Ltr Maj J. A. Crown to CMC, 13Feb50, hereinafter cited as Crown.
31. 5th Mar WD. There is some question as to the exact hour. 3/5 RofO gives it as "shortly before nightfall"; Brooks as "about 1830"; Shofner says merely that it occurred while the attempt was being made to close the gap on the right. Killed by the same barrage was the regimental communications officer, Capt. R. F. Kehoe, Jr., who had just arrived at the CP. Because his body was not readily recognizable, it was first identified as that of Col. Shofner, who was initially reported killed in action. Brooks.
32. Contained in statement by LtCol Walt to Historical Div., USMC, 10Nov49, hereinafter cited as Walt.
33. This platoon had been detached to serve as special security guard to the battalion CP whose position was open to the south because of the unclosed gap. Brooks.
34. This was Co. L, 7th Mar. How it came to be so deep in the 5th Marines zone of action and so far in the rear of the units of both regiments is explained in sub-chapter following.
35. Pending the regrouping of 3/5, Major Gayle, at Colonel Walt's request, deployed the reserve company of the 2d Battalion (Co. F), facing southward, in the rear of the 2/5 line. As will be noted, at this time 2/5 was deployed across the near center of the airfield, facing northward.
36. "I Company was to connect with L Company right flank and K Company left flank, but was unable to locate either company in the darkness and did not get into position." 3/5 RofO. This statement substantiated by Brooks.
38. Basic documentary sources for this narrative of operations of 7th Marines are the following: Regimental Narrative, R-2 Journal, 1st Battalion Historical Report, 1st Battalion Bn-2, Bn-3 Journal, 2d Battalion War Diary, 2d Battalion Unit Journal, 3d Battalion War Diary, 3d Battalion Bn-2 Journal, 3d Battalion Operation Reports. These are supplemented herein from other sources as specifically cited.
39. A somewhat unusual command set-up prevailed in the 7th Marines at this time, described as follows by CO, 1/7: "During the landing and initial operations ashore, Company A was attached to 3/7; to revert to control of CO 1/7 upon his landing. Company A had the mission of advancing south in the left half of 1/7 zone of action. This maneuver was to provide initial flank protection for 3/7 as it was advancing eastward. The support company of 3/7 was attached to CO 1/7 for the landing and reverted to CO 3/7 upon landing." Ltr LtCol J. J. Gormley to CMC, 3Nov49, hereinafter cited as Gormley.
40. This fire, combined with the obstacles mentioned, served to split the landing wave approximately in the center. Maj. Hurst, Bn CO, with about half the CP and half the troops landed on ORANGE 2. Maj. V. H. Streit, Bn ExO, landed with the other half on the southern extremity of ORANGE 3, where for a time this group constituted the right flank element of the division front, though out of physical contact with other elements. Oral statement LtCol Hunter Hurst, interviewed 9Mar50.
41. Oral statement by Major Victor H. Streit, interviewed 14Feb49.
42. LtCol E. H. Hurst in written statement to Historical Div., USMC, dated 23Nov49, hereinafter cited as Hurst.
43. 3/7 War Diary, 5; hereinafter cited as 3/7 WD.
44. Ibid., 6, states: "Patrols from 'L' Company had established visual contact with LT 3-5 on the airstrip and physical contact was established after dark." However, to judge by the relative positions of the units at this time, it was probably 2/5 with which visual contact was established, 3/5 being far ahead and not on the airfield. The physical contact established after dark was with K/5, as noted in previous sub-chapter, which Col. Walt had placed in position here.
45. 1/7 Historical Report, 1; hereinafter cited as 1/7 HistRpt. Gormley states that the battalion "was subjected to antiboat, machine gun, and particularly heavy mortar fire from the southwest promontory (Ngarmoked Island) and the small unnamed island off the west coast just prior to landing."
46. Gormley. One platoon of ReconCo had been moved up earlier to fill a 40-yard gap in the line and sustained strong fire attacks during the night. Ltr Lt R. J. Powell, Jr. to CMC, March 1950, hereinafter cited as Powell.
47. "This company was thrown in on the right with the 1st Battalion and suffered heavy casualties. This was an improper use of the Reconnaissance Company, as there later developed several opportunities for employment of this company in the manner for which it had been trained." O. P. Smith PerNar. See also Fields.
48. This unit was 2d Battalion, 7th Marines, reinforced. For further detail regarding the circumstances of its being ordered ashore, and its failure to get there, see second sub-chapter following.
49. 3/7 WD. 1/7 HistRpt gives the hour as 1715. O. P. Smith op.cit., says that he issued the order to dig-in at 1600 after ". . . I was satisfied that the three regiments were in contact."
50. "The enemy was groggy, disorganized, and devoid of communications, although bitterly defending every step of the way. At no time did we feel him capable of organizing a successful counterattack. . . . We at no time requested reinforcement, and, in fact, recommended against it since the beachhead was already overcrowded." Hurst.
51. After study extending over a period of months, the author is convinced that no satisfactory account of this Japanese attack will ever be written. Official contemporary reports are fragmentary and often conflicting. Consultation with scores of eyewitnesses five years after the event has served only to compound the confusion. It would appear that every Marine who participated, or even viewed the attack from a safe distance, has a personal and very positive version of exactly what happened, and it is virtually impossible to reconcile many of these on any particular points. The following narrative is frankly conjectural. The only undisputed fact, and the one most important historically, is that Japanese tank strength on Peleliu had ceased to exist, to all practical purposes, by the end of D-Day.
52. Walt. Script notes and related interviews with Col. H. D. Harris by Historical Division, USMC, 28-31Oct49, hereinafter cited as Harris.
53. Monograph by LtCol R. W. Boyd, Marine Corps Schools, March 1949, hereinafter cited as Boyd Mono.
54. "Had they advanced at the rate of their infantry, the tankettes (actually only light reconnaissance vehicles) would . . . never have even gotten to the middle of the airfield." Stuart.
55. "These vehicles . . . with only 1/4" to 3/8" armor . . . were never intended for frontal action against heavy weapons of major units and . . . their easy destruction is no grounds for smugness in regard to our antitank prowess. Had the Japanese possessed modern tanks . . . and attacked in greater numbers the situation would have been critical." Stuart.
56. Even on this point there was some subsequent disagreement. A later check-up when it was possible to study the ground carefully indicated that there may have been as many as 19 tanks. Walt. The possible discrepancy stemmed from the highly confused nature of the action itself which made any count unreliable, and the fact that when it was over many of the tanks had been so thoroughly demolished that it was impossible to tell which parts had belonged originally to which tanks.
57. Written statement by LtCol R. E. Honsowetz to Historical Division, USMC, 15Nov49, hereinafter cited as Honsowetz. Most other individuals consulted on this point were under the impression that the Japanese tanks made a beeline across the airfield from the ridge nose to the point of contact.
59. Boyd Mono gives six as the number of tanks getting through to the lines. No other report states any specific number, but all agree that several did.
60. It should be noted that one battery (Battery E) of 2d Bn., 11th Marines, had brought its 75mm pack howitzers to bear on both enemy tanks and infantry. 2/11 Action Report. See also Walt description of U.S. tank sortie, quoted below.
61. 5th Mar WD. 1/5 Bn-3 Journal. Walt. Other pertinent reports simply list all 13 as being destroyed on the scene.
62. An immobilized tank presents an especially tempting target which few troops can resist taking a crack at. Notably, on the occasion of the big enemy tank attack on Saipan on the night of 16Jun44, U.S. tanks and half-tracks, arriving at dawn, began firing into, and claiming destruction of, tanks which the infantry on the scene declared they had knocked out several hours before. Saipan: The Beginning of the End, monograph by Maj. C. W. Hoffman, published by Historical Division, USMC.
63. Honsowetz. "Tanks were in the process of rearming but were able to engage the Japanese tanks by moving only a few yards out of the brush; a distance of approximately 50 yards from our rearming area. At least eight (8) of the tanks . . . engaged the Japanese tanks." Ltr Capt R. E. Brant to CMC, 9Feb50, hereinafter cited as Brant.
64. Walt. "It is not believed that any of our tanks engaged in what is stated as a 'running battle.'" Brant. "The comment of LtCol Walt appears to be most accurate" Jerue. "Enemy tanks were taken under fire by . . . our three tanks in defilade." Boyd Mono. "Tanks of the 2d platoon moved out on the airstrip . . . as soon as the first Jap tank touched the other side of the airport." Ltr Maj J. R. Mundy to CMC, 13Mar50.
65. For maintaining communications on D-Day, the advance CP relied largely on a curious experimental LVT(A) especially equipped to serve as a mobile radio station (facetiously dubbed "USS Fubar"). This performed valuable service in this emergency but developed too many weaknesses to be considered wholly successful. Establishment of the initial wire network presented almost insurmountable difficulties owing to heavy fire, lack of natural growth for raising it aboveground, and the congestion of the beachhead area which caused the wires to be chewed up by vehicles when laid on the ground. Ramsey. See also 1st MarDiv SAR, II, Annex E.
66. 2/1 Bn. executive officer states that these were DUKW's rather than LVT's, traveling in sixth wave. Ltr Maj. C. H. Brush to CMC, undated, hereinafter cited as Brush.
67. O. P. Smith PerNar. 1st MarNar, 3. Hist 1st Mar, 5.
68. O. P. Smith PerNar. Same source adds: "He (Puller) had as yet no very definite idea as to the number of casualties he had suffered." Hist 1stMar covering this period states: "Casualties from the day's fighting were estimated at 500."
69. Personal interviews with Generals O. P. Smith and John T. Selden, February, 1949. As had been seen, Smith was commanding on shore at this time, while Selden, as chief of staff, was still at General Rupertus' side aboard the command ship. Because of their wide separation, the opinions of these officers do not agree fully on all points, but they are unanimous in the belief that it was worry over losing momentum which was mainly responsible for the CG's subsequent actions. General Selden adds that an early dispatch which exaggerated losses sustained by 1/7 in crossing the reef contributed greatly to general mounting anxiety. Substantiated by Fields.
70. "When he committed the Reconnaissance Company it was not, in the CG's mind (in my opinion) that it was a unit but that it was a group of individual infantry replacements." Fields. 1st MarDiv SAR, II, 2, lists 1227 as hour orders were issued. 2/7 Unit Journal says orders were received at 1100, debarkation commenced at 1145 and all Recon Co. personnel off the ship at 1300.
71. This unit, as in the case of all units similarly designated herein, was a battalion landing team (BLT): an infantry battalion reinforced with attached elements of engineers, JASCO, artillery liaison, special weapons, etc., commanded by LtCol Spencer S. Berger. The ReconCo was also one of the original components but was detached at the time it was ordered to land. 2/7 WD.
72. "At 1505 LT 2/7 received orders to be prepared to land in any boats available." Ibid. 1st MarDiv SAR, II, 2, gives 1600 as hour actual landing order was issued. Foregoing version of events leading up to this order derives from interviews with General Smith previously cited, in part elaborated by O. P. Smith PerNar. General Selden, on the command ship, received the impression that the CG committed the reserve with great reluctance, only after the command ashore had specifically requested it. This opinion is corroborated by Fields, but hurriedly compiled 1st MarDiv D-3 Journal logs no such request prior to issuance of landing order. While 2/7 was last reserve under division control, the entire 81st Infantry Division was still available in corps reserve in case of emergency (See Chap. VI.)
73. O. P. Smith, PerNar.
74. "He (the CG) didn't like what I had done at the time and while he did not come out flat-footedly and say so, it was quite evident to all of his staff who were present when we returned aboard." Ltr BrigGen J. T. Selden to author, 26Oct49. The foregoing description of this rather curious incident derives from a series of interviews with Gen. Selden during winter and spring, 1949. Details are corroborated by various staff members present at the time, including this writer.
75. "This (return to ships) was never fully accomplished. Portions of the Battalion landed on Peleliu that evening and night." Ltr LtCol E. D. Graves, to CMC, 14Mar50, hereinafter cited as Graves. "Due to the darkness and fact that transports upped anchor and moved out, it was daylight the next morning before the Battalion was gathered together again." Berger.
76. 1st MarDiv SAR, II, 2. While essentially accurate, the yardage figures convey no true picture of the situation, since military values cannot be assessed in averages. No allowance is made for the critical condition on the extreme left, where the most advanced troops were still far short of the O-1 line, with one element entirely cut off. A synthesis of the several unit situation maps shows the penetration nowhere deeper than about 300 yards north of ORANGE 2, while south of ORANGE 3 more than two days of hard fighting remained to complete the occupation of O-1.
77. Figures certified and released by USMC Personnel Accounting System, 18Apr50. 1st MarDiv SAR, II, 2, citing reports turned in at the time, lists 92 killed, 1,148 wounded, and 58 missing in action, for a total of 1,298. Such discrepancies are characteristic of statistics compiled under the chaotic conditions of battle, when medical personnel are less interested in working out meticulous records than in getting the wounded treated and evacuated. Figures on cases initially reported as missing in action are especially deceptive. See discussion of medical activities, Chapter V.
78. Central Pacific Area Operational Record, Vol II, compiled under the auspices of 1st Demobolization Bureau, Sep46. The Peleliu Garrison command was in communication with Hq Palaus Sector Group throughout the operation. This record of messages received was drawn up by Col Tokechi Tada, IJA, former chief of staff of the higher echelon, assisted by Col Kiyoshi Nakagawa, IJA (not to be confused with Kunio Nakagawa, commanding on Peleliu), a former member of the same staff. Except as otherwise noted, all Japanese material referred to herein derives from this work, hereinafter cited as Tada Record. See also Appendix F.
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