The drive to seize northern Peleliu was motivated by two main tactical considerations. (1) It was desired to by-pass and isolate the pocket of resistance which had stopped both the 1st and 7th Marines, and thus gain less formidable approaches from which to assault it. (2) All of northern Peleliu should be seized in order that suitable ground be obtained from which to stage a shore-to-shore attack on the off-lying island of Ngesebus, whose unfinished fighter strip constituted one of the original objectives of the entire campaign.
And a third consideration had arisen suddenly to give point and urgency to the other two. At dawn on 23 September, the disconcerting discovery was made that, despite all vigilance by naval patrols, the Japanese were reinforcing their Peleliu garrison from the strongly held islands to the north.
Owing to darkness and distance, what actually happened is difficult to reconstruct. According to U.S. reports, several barges were detected approaching some distance north of Akarakoro point and promptly brought under fire by naval vessels and land based artillery, which claimed destruction of seven. At 0245 on the 24th another group was taken under fire; 8 were observed to explode, and 10 wrecks were observed on the reefs after daybreak. According to a captured survivor, the convoy included 13 barges and a motor sampan, all of which were believed destroyed. It was conceded that a few stragglers might have reached shore across the reef, though probably without equipment and certainly without supplies.1
The Japanese version, however, differs substantially. No mention is made of any losses during the first landing: "The advance detachment, part of the 2d Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, made a succesful landing at 0520, under command of 1st Lieutenant Murahori." As for early morning, 24 September: "The main body of the garrison reinforcement left Palau proper [Babelthuap] on the night of the 23d. Nine barges arrived safely, but six were shelled and burned while taking the wrong landing route. Most of the personnel of these were able to land by walking through the shallows."2 So far as Colonel Nakagawa was concerned, the 2d Battalion, 15th Infantry, had arrived, accepting losses inevitable to
SOME DID NOT MAKE IT: LVT(A) patrol investigating Japanese landing craft.
such an operation; a fact partially borne out by subsequent intelligence which indicated that 300 to 600 men of that unit were fighting on Peleliu.3
To prevent any further recurrence of such incidents, LVT(A)'s were detailed to patrol the northern reefs, inaccessible to naval vessels, and air searches were instituted to find and destroy all possible barges and other craft in the Central Palaus. But the surest preventative, obviously, was to seize all of northern Peleliu itself and thus deny the enemy a practicable landing place, which would be one of the many benefits resulting from successful execution of the tactical plan activated by Field Order No. 3-44.
Ever since D-plus 2 the division commander had been facing a difficult tactical decision. From the time the Marines first came up against the ridges on the northwestern peninsula, it had been increasingly clear that the enemy's weakness lay to the west where 3/1, advancing against light resistance along the comparative flat ground, was obliged repeatedly to halt in order to maintain contact with the slow-moving elements in the ridges on its right. The question, then, was whether to exploit this soft spot and greatly extend the front in what might prove a highly complicated maneuver, or to keep hammering at the rugged high ground in the expectation that a decisive breakthrough here would end organized resistaance at a stroke. By the time it became unmistakably evident that no quick breakthrough was possible here, the combat efficiency of the 1st Marines had been so reduced by casualties and exhaustion that that regiment was in no condition to exploit anything.
Clearly, reinforcements were needed. The most readily available unit of appropriate strength was the Army's 321st Regimental Combat Team, a component of the 81st Infantry Division, which had completed its mission on nearby Angaur on 20 September. General Rupertus' reluctance to employ Army troops had become increasingly apparent from the outset,4 and sentiment throughout the division would have preferred a Marine unit had any such been available. However, it happened that RCT 321 was especially well conditioned for that particular mission at this moment, for reasons which will require a brief digression.
The 81st Division on Angaur5
The 81st Infantry Division, commanded at this time by Major General Paul J. Mueller, USA, had received exceptionally thorough training. Nicknamed the Wildcat Division and wearing a reproduction of this febrile feline as a shoulder patch, it had been in existence for two years and three months at the time it was committed in Operation STALEMATE II. During this period the Wildcats had participated in extensive maneuvers in Alabama and Tennessee, and in the California and Arizona deserts. Upon being designated for island operations in the Pacific, they had been taken in hand by the Amphibious Training Command, Pacific Fleet, the resultant specialized training being topped off by landing rehearsals in the Hawaiians and on Guadalcanal in preparation for the first specific combat mission assigned them.6
The STALEMATE II operations plan called for the entire 81st Division to remain afloat, prepared to act as corps reserve as might prove necessary, then to assault Angaur with two regimental combat teams (RCT's)7 on F-Day, the date of which was to be determined by developments on Peleliu. Accordingly, the convoy carrying the Wildcats steamed northward on D-Day and staged a feint landing off the big central island of Babelthuap. When, on the afternoon of 16 September, it became apparent that the Marines had the current situation adequately in hand on Peleliu, F-Day was set for the following morning, and the ships moved to their assigned transport areas.
Angaur is a smaller and more compact island than Peleliu: roughly 5,000 yards long and nearly 4,000 yards maximum width, an estimated area of 2,000 acres. The terrain is generally more flat, hence not so naturally defensible. At the time of the attack the garrison had been reduced to one battalion (1st Battalion, 59th Infantry), plus
some miscellaneous reinforcing elements, with a total strength of approximately 1400.8 To make things even more difficult for the Japanese commander, Major Goto, this small force had to be widely dispersed in order to man the prepared defenses covering Angaur's several excellent landing beaches on the western, southern and southeastern shores.
None of these was chosen for the landing, however. Instead, RTC 321 came in on BLUE Beach, about midway along the eastern shore, and RCT 322 on RED Beach, on the northeastern shore. That they encountered no organized beach defenses and only light, scattered small arms fire plus a few mortar shells testifies to the degree of tactical surprise achieved.
The landings received the full preparatory treatment: naval gunfire, LCI rocket barrages, and strafing and bombing from the air. To furnish additional support, the 8th 155mm Gun Battalion was placed in position on southern Peleliu and registered on Angaur.9 No fringing reef impeded the approach to either beach, so that the landing craft carrying the support waves were able to come all the way in right behind the amtracks--and even the bulky LST's not far behind them. But the Wildcats were not long in discovering why Major Goto had seen fit to concentrate his strongest beach defenses elsewhere. Driving inland from the beach, the advance elements of both RCT's found themselves snarled up in rain forest jungle so dense and tangled as to constitute a far more impenetrable barrier than anything the Japanese could have devised.
And there were Japanese posted in it; not in any great force, but sufficient to constitute an added nuisance and genuine menace. Snipers fought with their customary stubborness, concealed in the foliage of tropical trees and the luxuriant jungle beneath them. Machine guns stuttered from improvised bunkers which the enemy had always proved so skillful in constructing and camouflaging quickly in country like this. Between the jungle and the Japanese, the first hundred yards advance cost the Wildcats an hour of backbreaking labor and their first battle casualties of the war.
RCT 322 had the easier going that day, and the next, and by nightfall succeeded in occupying the northern half of the O-2 phase line in its sector. The 321st dug in beyond the O-1 line at several points, but a pocket of enemy riflemen still occupied the intervening space so that the two units, approximately 1,500 yards apart when they landed, were unable to tie in their flanks. Accordingly, each formed its own perimeter defense, anchored on the beach.
That night was a nerve-racking experience for all hands, as first nights in enemy territory invariably are. Like all troops green to combat, the men were "trigger happy": firing at moving shadows, unfamiliar sounds10--and rain forest jungle is always alive with movement and sound. Both RCT's withstood counterattacks during the hours of darkness, the most severe striking the southern flank of the 321st shortly before dawn: at about 0510 on 18 September. This sector was held by the 1st Battalion the brunt being borne by Company B which was eventually obliged to withdraw approximately 50 yards.
With the coming of daylight, rocket attacks and strafing interdicted further enemy effort in this area, and the Japanese withdrew. Because of casualties sustained, Company B was withdrawn to regimental reserve, replaced in position by Company G. But new counterattacks struck this zone at 0905 and 0935, necessitating a withdrawal of the extreme left to the southern edge of the landing beach in order to allow direct support planes on station to saturate the area with bombs, rockets and machine-gun fire. An LCI gunboat closed in to help, and
Four-day Campaign by 81st Infantry Division
mortar concentrations contributed their share. No further Japanese offensive thrusts developed here.11
Division artillery emplaced on shore contributed to the three hour fire preparation for the second day's attack. RCT 322, advancing westward across the island's greatest breadth, soon reached the outer edge of the jumbled high ground which was to prove the most formidable terrain on the island. Stiffening resistance slowed down forward movement of the center and right, but the left of the regiment succeeded in driving a deep salient which included the large phosphate plant within easy striking distance of the western shore.
On the right of the 321st zone that regiment's 2d Battalion established physical contact with the 322d on the O-2 line, isolating the enemy elements which had prevented this junction the previous day and leaving them to the mopping-up attentions of the Reconnaissance Troop. The center also made good progress westward and began a turning movement toward the south. The 1st Battalion, however, driving in a southwesterly direction on the heels of new counterattacks, soon came up against the first organized prepared positions yet encountered on Angaur.
A complicated system of mutually supporting pillboxes,12 rifle pits and intercommunicating trenches, this strong point had been constructed for the principal purpose of preventing a landing on GREEN Beaches 1 and 2. Hence, its greatest strength faced seaward. But such advantages as accrued to the Wildcats from taking the position on the flank. and rear were mitigated to a great extent by the fact that approaches from the north lay through the dense jungle, and from inland through a swamp as well. The task of bringing up tanks and other supporting weapons through this tangle was time-consuming and backbreaking.
The fighting on the third day (19 September) saw the island cut in two on a wide front, the enemy remnants isolated in three scattered pockets of resistance: the GREEN Beach positions and the southern tip, both in RCT 321's zone, and the much larger pocket embracing all the rugged high ground in the northwestern corner. With the liquidation of the two former the following morning, Angaur was declared secure at 1034 on 20 September.
This did not imply that all fighting was over on the island;13 simply, that the enemy were now considered incapable of further offensive operations of a nature calculated to jeopardize the U.S. grip. A sizeable pocket of resistance remained, isolated in the northwest corner. The terrain here was generally reminiscent of Peleliu's ridges, but fortunately neither so extensive nor so formidable. This lay within the zone of action of RCT 322, which was destined to continue mopping up here until mid-October. But the area was too constricted for the employment of more than one regimental combat team, freeing the rest of the division for new missions.
RCT 323, which had been kept afloat as corps reserve, was now committed for the seizure of Ulithi, the mission for which it had been designated at the time of the final revision of the STALEMATE II plan. The regiment departed early the following day (21 September) and secured the target without
opposition, but was wholly absent from the Palaus area for a month. (See Chapter VIII.)
That same afternoon the corps commander, taking matters into his own hands,14 queried the commanding general, 81st Division, regarding the possibility of obtaining a regimental combat team for immediate employment on Peleliu. General Mueller replied promptly that the 321st would be available as soon as it could be reorganized, whereupon Generals Geiger and Julian Smith and Admiral Fort proceeded at once to his headquarters to expedite arrangements for the unit's transfer to the other island and operational attachment to the 1st Marine Division.
The three-day fight on Angaur had provided just what was necessary to convert a well trained, fundamentally sound regimental combat team into a genuine combat unit. The Wildcats of the 321st had met the enemy and overcome him. They had seen their own dead and wounded, and now that they knew what Japanese fire sounded like, their original trigger-happiness had notably diminished.
The strain had not been so long, nor the casualties so severe, as to impair the unit's strength, while morale grew through the regiment's newly confirmed confidence in itself and in its leaders. In short, officers and men were ready, willing and able.15
RCT 321 was commanded by Colonel Robert F. Dark, USA. At the time it was attached operationally to the 1st Marine Division on Peleliu it was composed of the following elements:16
321st Infantry Regiment
Company A, 306th Engineer Combat Battalion plus Detachment, Headquarters and Service Company
Company A (plus Company D less two platoons) and Detachment of Headquarters, 306th Medical Battalion
Detachment, 781st Ordnance Light Maintenance Company
154th Engineer Combat Battalion (less one company) plus Detachment, Headquarters and Service Company, 1138th Engineer Combat Group
Detachment, 592d Joint Assault Signal Company
Detachment, 481st Amphibian Truck Company
Company B, 726th Amphibian Tractor Battalion, plus Detachment, Headquarters and Service Company
Company A, plus Provisional Mortar Platoon, 710th Tank Battalion
Detachment, Provisional Graves Registration Company
Detachment, Translator-Interpreter Team "A", Headquarters Company, Central Pacific Area.
Brigadier General Marcus B. Bell, USA, assistant division commander of the 81st, was designated liaison representative to Headquarters IIIAC to coordinate details of the movement from Angaur to Peleliu, supply, and attachment of RCT 321 to the 1st Marine Division, and took over in this capacity on 22 September (D-plus 7). On the same day Colonel Dark reported for instructions, first to commanding general, IIIAC, then to commanding general, 1st Marine Division. An advance echelon of the 321st was dispatched to Peleliu to complete arrangements, and the remainder of the unit began debarking on ORANGE Beach at 1200 the following day.
Isolation of the Umurbrogol
Of the two tactical objectives previously listed, that of isolating the pocket of enemy resistance in the region labeled on the map "Umurbrogol Mountain" was assigned to RCT 321, with cooperation of the 7th Marines.
The latter regiment, it will be recalled, had relieved two battalions of the 1st Marines and held the line directly below the formidable terrain which had halted the northward drive through the ridges. It now became the task of the 1st and 2d Battalions
WILDCATS ARRIVE. Men of RCT 321 land on Peleliu via pontoon causeway built across the reef.
to contain the Japanese under pressure on the south (swamps contained them effectively on the east). The 3d Battalion was to extend the containing line northward along the ridges following behind and in contact with the Army regiment, whose advance lay through a zone of action extending from the western shore to the crest of the nearest high ground. That unit's mission was to by-pass the pocket for as far as might prove necessary, probing meanwhile for a soft spot in the enemy defenses which might be exploited successfully for a drive across the high ground to the eastern shore of the peninsula.
Immediately upon landing (on 23 September), the 2d Battalion, 321st Infantry, moved up the west shore and relieved the 1st Marines17 in position at 1500. The 3d Battalion followed, prepared to act in immediate support, while the 1st Battalion was designated as regimental reserve and bivouacked around the newly established command post.
Although patrols from 3/1 had already penetrated as far as the village of Garekoru, some 1,200 yards forward, Colonel Dark, quite understandably, wished a first-hand reconnaissance and immediately sent out a patrol from his own unit over the same ground. Like the previous patrols, this one encountered negligible resistance and sighted only a few indifferent defense works. This led to the belief that the enemy had withdrawn; so upon receipt of Colonel Dark's report, the division command ordered a general advance in an effort to reach the O-4 line, a short distance beyond Garekoru, before nightfall.
Now the inadequacy of this and previous reports became quickly apparent. The patrols
had all operated close to the shore, west of a low coral ridge which partially masked their movements from observation by the enemy in the main ridge system. The company moving over the same ground now advanced a hundred yards with no more difficulty than had the patrols. But the elements on the open flat to the right of the road were in plain view of the Japanese observation posts and were promptly pinned down by heavy plunging fire from the high ground. By then the hour was past 1730, so the left was withdrawn to rectify the line and defenses for the night were prepared.
The following morning (24 September) 2/321 moved out again in the wake of an hour of naval and air preparation and 15 minutes of intensive artillery fire. This time the battalion formed with its main strength in partial defilade to the west of the road where excellent progress was possible. However, elements on top of the ridge encountered such heavy fire that the 3d Battalion, 7th Marines, was unable to detect any appreciable advance as late as 0950,18 hence could not advance itself.
The tactical situation at this stage and the developments which followed are described in the words of the then commanding officer, 3d Battalion, 7th Marines:
The ridge in question parallels the West Road and completely dominates the road at that point, being only approximately 50 yards away. For this reason, the ridge was made inclusive to the 321st's zone of action as further evidence of the recognition that it had to be controlled to insure the safety of the movement northward along the road. It was perfectly obvious to anyone who stood on that ridge that its control by the Japs would have been disastrous to the whole effort. We had been ordered to maintain contact with them (RCT 321) by trailing their right flank in column along the crest of the ridge from the point where we had earlier tied in with 3/1. They moved forward along the ridge for a few yards until they encountered the first enemy positions, then gave it up as a bad idea, and bore sharply to their left front to the coastal road below.19
This withdrawal from the high ground created a gap on the right of RCT 321, and complaint by that unit caused one platoon of Company K to be committed down the slope on the left of 3/7. A second platoon was similarly committed at 1007 upon receipt of an order from commanding officer, 7th Marines, for the 3d Battalion to "extend their left flank to relieve and assist 321st."20
Meanwhile, Company G, leading the advance of 2/321, moved rapidly along the shore. The coastal flat widened gradually as the troops moved northward, scrub jungle giving way to coconut groves and the high ground receding to the eastward. At about 1200 the forward elements came to a point, some 300 yards short of Garekoru village, where a well defined trail angled eastward from the main road across a patch of swamp into the ridges. The tactical potentialities of this were quickly recognized and steps taken to seize it.
The junction was defended by a few prepared positions, but these proved to be held in no great strength. In overcoming them, the Wildcats captured one antitank gun, three machine guns, and a partially emplaced naval gun. Leaving more rearward elements to exploit this acquisition, Company G rolled on through Garekoru and reached the O-4 line at 1535.21 This being the objective ordered for that day, the advance halted here and commenced preparing positions to secure what would be the regiment's left flank when the planned movement had been completed.
This rapid pace had placed the 2d Battalion well ahead of 3/7. The 3d Battalion, 321st, followed in column, and it was this unit with which Company K, 7th Marines, tied-in by sending two platoons down from the high ground to the open area on the right
of the road,22 sustaining several casualties in the process. What happened next, in accordance with the original tactical plan, is described in 81stDiv OpnRep.:
The 3d Bn 321 Inf advanced along the left of the road. The movement was partially defiladed by the low-lying ridge which paralleled West Road. Its leading elements soon outdistanced those of the Marine battalion on the right and began probing the ridge23 to the east to find a weakly defended route over which an advance could be made to outflank from the north enemy forces in the Umurbrogol Mt. area. This effort brought troops out into the open ground where they too suffered the well aimed fire from the enemy held ridge.24
Failure of the Wildcats to regain the vacated positions on the ridge crest, along which it was 3/7's mission to follow them, was causing Major Hurst increasing concern for the success of the northward movement, since this high ground dominated the narrow line of communication.25 Accordingly, he committed Company I on the left of Company K, and in a dispatch logged at 1310 informed his regimental commander: ". . . 3 Bn. 321 has withdrawn from the hills toward the road leaving a gap on the left flank of 3/7 undefended. The Japs reoccupied the hills and 3/7 is fighting to retake them."26
The commanding officer of Company I was killed in the ensuing action, which led to a certain amount of bitterness among the officers and men of the 3d Battalion, who, not fully understanding the 321st's mission, expected that unit to hold the ground, making this particular fight unnecessary.
Contact was reported reestablished at 1450, with the left of Company I echeloned down from the high ground to within 30 yards of the West Road. This position was reported as unchanged at 1620,27 but a subsequent attack by 3/321 gained a foothold on the ridge farther to the north, and this time the Wildcats stayed there. (See below.) However, the 3d Battalion, 7th Marines, dug in that night on a front of 400 yards, facing eastward toward the heart of enemy pocket with the left flank deeply refused. Company I, which had borne the brunt of the day's fighting, was relieved on the left by Company L and passed into battalion reserve.28
If operations in this area proved somewhat confused and indecisive, the achievements of the 2d Battalion, 321st, appeared very promising indeed. With Company G at work consolidating defensive positions along the O-4 line, a strong combat patrol supported by both Army and Marine tanks and Navy LVT-mounted flame-throwers was dispatched forward along the coastal flat to ascertain the strength and disposition of enemy defenses in that area. This force proceeded some 2,000 yards farther northward, to within sight of the large Japanese radio station, without encountering any notable opposition. A number of pillboxes, caves, and
THE IMPOSSIBILITY OF DIGGING IN beyond the beaches was an important aspect of Peleliu fighting.
entrenchments were observed, however, and their locations noted down for future reference.29 This success strengthened the growing conviction that the enemy were determined to concentrate their strength in the high ground and would be unlikely to interfere seriously with troop movements elsewhere.
While this reconnaissance was taking place, Company E turned eastward along the trail which had been discovered earlier in the afternoon, now named in honor of the regiment: 321st Infantry Trail. This traversed a wide stretch of swampy land before beginning the climb of the ubiquitous coral ridges. It was narrow and primitive in spots, but appeared readily convertible into a practicable communications route, which any sustained drive in this direction would sorely need.
Just as the coastal flat widened in this region, so did the ridge system become narrower and somewhat lower. The elevation which most directly dominated the trail, Hill 100, marked the northern extremity of that weird formation known as Umurbrogol Mountain, in which it was becoming increasingly evident that the main center of Japanese resistance was located. The tactical importance of Hill 100 was immediately apparent, and Company E, attacking with great determination, succeeded in seizing it
before nightfall. Bulldozers of Company A, 306 Engineer (C) Battalion, commenced work on the 321st Infantry Trail at once.
Company I, foremost element of the 3d Battalion, attacked in conjunction with Company E, gained a foothold on the western rim of the ridge running south from Hill 100, and tied in with the latter unit's right. In the meanwhile, Company F had moved into position between Company E and Company G, thus completing the defense perimeter along the northern flank.
Thus, the tactical picture presented on the evening of 24 September was radically different from that of the morning. What had begun as a column advancing northward over the low ground was now a line facing eastward along the ridges, except for Company G anchored on the shore on the extreme left, and Company F whose front curved up from the flat to tie in with Company E on Hill 100.
The Japanese finally pulled themselves together and at about 1700 mounted a strong counterattack against the left (northern) flank of the new line. Advance elements of Companies G and F were forced back some 200 yards. However, the enemy failed to break through at any point, and the situation was soon rectified.30 A second counterattack, discovered in process of organization at 1813, was dealt with effectively by artillery concentrations and never materialized. This abortive gesture signalized the final success of the day's operations.
The following day (25 September) saw some hard but inconclusive fighting on the part of RCT 321. To make all possible Army troops available to exploit the previous day's gains, 3/7 moved Company I from battalion reserve up on the left of Company L, extending the battalion's ridge-holding line an additional 250 yards northward. And the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, was brought up the West Road for the purpose of supporting the eastward drive of 3/321, then to drive southward when opportunity afforded.31
On top of Hill 100, Company E, 321st Infantry, held what was obviously a key position. This assured control of that vital artery, the 321st Infantry Trail, and also looked down on the East Road which here passed through a saddle bounded on the east by a slightly higher and more formidable eminance detached from the main ridge system and known as Hill B. Because this dominated the road and abutted the swamp-lined eastern shore, its capture was clearly necessary if the peninsula were to be cut in two at this point.
Company E, moving out in assault, reached the East Road by 1030 against moderate resistance by rifle and machine-gun fire. However, it was now apparent that the enemy held Hill B in force, with well prepared defenses, and the company halted until such time as the 3d Battalion should arrive in position to make a coordinated assault possible.
But the 3d Battalion, attacking farther to the south, was getting nowhere against a combination of outlandish terrain and powerful Japanese resistance.
Strong enemy fire was encountered from a series of pillboxes and emplacements built on promontories and protected by steep walls and sheer cliffs. In an attempt to outflank these defenses, a gap developed between Co. I and Co. L which was filled later in the afternoon by Co. G. Gains for the day were unappreciable.32
Commitment of RCT 321,
In contrast to the frustration encountered by the attempted break-through, developments to the northward were most encouraging. First thing in the morning, a strong combat patrol consisting of infantry, tanks and LVT flame-throwers was sent up the West Road to destroy the installations discovered by the reconnaissance of the previous day. This unit advanced 1,200 yards into what was technically enemy territory, wiping out four pillboxes and two supply dumps, but killing only 30 Japanese in the process. The weak nature of this resistance provided further substantiating evidence regarding the Japanese concentrations and intentions, and at 1530 advance elements of the 5th Marines began passing through the 321st's Garekoru positions in the initial step of the northward offensive, to be treated in detail in the next subchapter.
This new advance in force complicated a problem which had been difficult enough already. The West Road was now serving as the only and ever-lengthening supply and evacuation route for two regiments and part of another. Although this was the best thoroughfare found on Peleliu, it had been narrow to begin with and had been roughly handled by shell fire and a volume of traffic such as it had not been designed to accommodate. Again, the Army combat engineers of the 306th Battalion performed prodigies of widening, grading and surfacing, often obliged to resort to armored bulldozers on stretches still under fire from unsecured sections of the ridge. So the road sufficed, it had to.
Once off the highway and the 321st Infantry Trail, however, supply conditions were indescribable. Everything had to be manhandled from rock to rock, up and down the precipitous slopes: food and ammunition up, the wounded down, often to their acute misery. It was this situation nearly as much as the tenacious resistance of the Japanese which so thoroughly bogged down the offensive of the 3d Battalion Wildcats.
The tempo of the fighting mounted on 26 September to what was to prove a successful crescendo, but the day began as inauspiciously as had the previous one.
Some new troop dispositions were made preparatory to launching the attack. The 2d Battalion, 7th Marines, was directed to extend its line to take over the sector held by Company K on the right of the 3d Battalion, K to move around the battalion's left, relieving the Army unit tying in there for the assault. Company B, 7th Marines, took over the sector of L/321 for the same purpose, while the rest of 1/7 prepared to advance in immediate support of the offensive.
The plan of RCT 321 called for the 3d Battalion to attack on a narrower front, supported by fire from the 2d Battalion from its positions on and around Hill 100, still with the object of breaking through to the East Road in order to assault Hill B from the south and west. Jumping off at 0700, the advance elements gained a foothold on the first ridge, but progress was described as "slow and costly".33 The 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, was to follow the advance at 200 yards,34 prepared to exploit any breakthrough the Wildcats might achieve.
There was none. Company I, on the left, was stopped by rifle and automatic weapons fire. Company L, coming up on the right, was pinned down in turn by a concentration of mortar shells and eventually withdrew to allow its own mortars to bear. At 1244, after some hours of this fruitless struggle, a change of procedure was obviously in order.35
RCT 321 was now satisfied that there were no soft spots south of Hill 100, and plans were hurriedly revised to effect a breakthrough at this point. The first attempt had failed, so: "When it became apparent that the 3d Bn would be unable to reach
Hill B, the 2d Battalion was assigned the mission of seizing it."36
The change in plan was not effected quite that simply, however. To make 2/321 available for this new mission, the RCT's 1st Battalion, hitherto in reserve near the regimental command post, was brought forward to take over the extreme left flank in case the Japanese should take advantage of the action across the peninsula to stage a counterattack of their own in this zone. And to support the 2d Battalion's attack from the west and south, a strong combat patrol was sent out by a round-about route in order to come down on Hill B from the north.
This interesting unit, designated the Neal Task Force,37 consisted of seven medium tanks, six LVT's, one LVT flame-thrower, and 45 riflemen (from Company F). It moved northward on the West Road to Road Junction 15, where the disputed East Road, after angling across the low land above the central (Kamilianlul) ridge system, joined the main road a short distance below the radio station. This region had already been secured by the previously mentioned advance of the 5th Marines (dealt with in detail in next sub-chapter). The Neal Force reached the junction without incident, turned south on the East Road, and at 1500 had approached within 150 yards of its objective before the first feeble attempt was made to stop it: by a group of 15 Japanese, all of whom were killed.
Heavy artillery and mortar fires were massed on the objective preparatory to the final assault, and white phosphorus shells blanketed Hill B with smoke. The concerted attack jumped off at 1600. Resistance was stubborn on every front, but the advance was sustained and inexorable. At 1647 elements of Companies E and F reached the summit and set about the dirty job of making it tenable. As usual, the Japanese defenders fought to the death,38 but 20 Korean laborers were only too happy to surrender when given the opportunity.
By nightfall the positions on and around Hill B had been thoroughly consolidated. This achievement of the desired break-through greatly simplified the over-all tactical problem. The enemy pocket at the base of the peninsula was isolated, though its points of strongest resistance had yet to be defined. What lay in the region north of the break-through, the 5th Marines was then in the process of finding out. Orders were issued to RCT 321 to begin expanding its grip in both directions the following morning: one component pushing southward to compress the Umurbrogol Pocket, the other moving northward to cooperate with the 5th Marines. Study of the operations of these two units will be dealt with in detail in the second sub-chapter following.
Drive to the Northward
As has been noted briefly, the 5th Marines passed through the Garekoru lines of RCT 321 on the afternoon of D-plus 10 (25 September) and attacked toward the tip of the northwestern peninsula. Thus simply stated, this might appear a simple troop movement; actually, the prompt assembly and displacement of this regiment was a remarkable and noteworthy accomplishment.39
Isolation of Umurbrogal 26, 27 Sept.
DRIVE TO THE NORTH: 5th Marines move up West Road.
At the time the new plan was determined upon, the several elements of the 5th Marines were widely deployed across the region of eastern Peleliu which they had secured in performing their initial mission and organized against counterlandings: 1st Battalion in the Ngardololok RDF area, 3d Battalion (less Company L which was still tied-in with the 7th Marines east of the ridges) along PURPLE Beach, and 2d Battalion on the islands above the northeastern peninsula. The division order40 covering the movement was not issued until 1030, the regimental order at 1100, yet so rapidly and smoothly was the new deployment effected that the 1st Battalion was in position to launch its attack at 1300. The 3d Battalion followed closely, and even the 2d Battalion, obliged to wade several hundred yards of reef from the islands to Ngardololok, was tied-in with the rest of the regiment shortly after dark.
Resistance was stubborn where encountered, but it was discontinuous. Furthermore, the widening palm-grown flat now being traversed was admirably suited to the employment of tanks and LVT flame-throwers. Thus, the advance moved so swiftly that the forward elements had secured the northern Japanese radio station by dusk. The 2d Battalion, bringing up the rear, reached a point approximately 600 yards north of Garekoru. Colonel Harris wished neither to over-extend his lines nor to relinquish the afternoon's gains; therefore, he boldly broke off contact with the 321st and set up his own perimeter defense for the night, with both flanks resting on the beach.
The terrain in this region was comparatively low, forming a broad saddle that separated the central and northern ridge systems.41
The 3d Battalion, occupying the center of the regiment's present formation, pushed inland against minor resistance and set up its perimeter athwart the East Road42 which here angled across the saddle to join the main West Road at Road Junction 15, previously mentioned in connection with the 321st's operations of the following day. Thus, the 5th Marines' beachhead achieved considerable depth and tactical importance.
The night was quiet for all elements save the 1st Battalion. This unit's forward position lay only 300 yards from commanding high ground from which two enemy 70mm guns and numerous mortars poured in heavy harassing fire.43 It had also come within range of mortars and 37mm guns mounted in caves on off-lying Ngesebus Island which exacted further toll. Small-arms fire converged upon the position from three sides, under cover of which three strong counterattacks were launched. These were beaten off without loss of ground, and at 0200 one platoon of Company C staged a night counterattack of its own and destroyed two especially troublesome Japanese machine guns.
The attack was resumed by the center at 0600 the following morning, the 2d Battalion holding fast on the right. By 0830 the 3d Battalion had secured the high ground to its front, an elevation known as Hill 80, and reached the peninsula's eastern shore just beyond it, here indented by a deep swamp. Thus the northern tip of Peleliu was sealed off on the same day (D-plus 11--26 September) that the capture of Hill B by the 321st isolated the Umurbrogol Pocket.
The 1st Battalion, attacking at 0900, ran into a situation considerably tougher. To understand what happened, some description of this terrain is necessary.
Peleliu's northernmost hill system, Amiangal "Mountain," is roughly L-shaped. Begining at the shore just below Akarakoro Point, the island's northern tip, a series of narrow ridges follows the axis of the peninsula to the southwest for a distance of nearly 1,000 yards. Here it changes direction at nearly right angles and runs crosswise nearly the entire width of the peninsula in an uncharacteristic formation to which the 321st Infantry, on which the final mopping-up devolved, applied the apt descriptive name, "Hill Row." This consisted of a line of four high, steep-sided, semi-separated knobs, called for convenience Hills 1, 2, 3 and Radar Hill,44 the last named rising sheer and round-topped from the low flat close to the eastern shore. Highest of the four, wholly detached, and site of the enemy's radar installations, it constituted one of the most prominent features of the Peleliu profile as viewed from the sea.
Driving northward, Boyd's battalion very soon came under heavy fire from enemy positions on, and in, Hill 1: 75mm and 37mm fire, as well as mortars and automatic weapons. Although tanks and LVT flame
North Peleliu & Ngesebus
Northward Attack, 5th Marines
throwers were available, that stubborn, 140-foot, cave-pocked elevation refused to succumb to frontal assault, and forward movement came to a halt.
On the right (east) Company B enjoyed better success against Hill 2, securing this less formidable height by 1400. This provided a position on the flank of Hill 1. Before the day was over, the Marines had succeeded in knocking out one 75mm and two 37mm guns, but Company C, which had got part way onto Hill 1 before dusk, had to be withdrawn in order to set up tenable night defensive positions.
While this fighting was going on, the 2d Battalion had remained uncommitted on the southern flank of the perimeter throughout the morning and early afternoon. At 1600, with the advance otherwise stymied, it was ordered forward, passed through the left of the 1st Battalion, bypassed Hill 1 on the west, and continued northward. The going was not easy. There were strong emplacements on the low ground, and plunging fire lashed at the troops from the ridge line to their right, a formation that angled closer and closer to the shore as the advance progressed. And as though they did not have enough troubles already, they came under increasing fire from Ngesebus, on their left. Concentrations of artillery fire proved effective in reducing the volume of this, but the battalion was in far from a happy state.
The regimental front as it was defined that night presents an odd appearance on the situation overlay. Owing to its forward progress and the intervention of that pestiferous Hill 1, the 2d Battalion was out of contact with the 1st, and Major Gayle set up a little perimeter of his own with both flanks on the beach. The 1st Battalion lay partly athwart Hill Row and was tied-in with the 3d Battalion on the right, but had only a refused flank to the northward where its left looped around the summit of Hill 2. The situation appeared somewhat less than reassuring, and the 3d Battalion, posting Company I to hold the high ground captured early in the morning, was assembled in position to move to the support of either or both of the other battalions.
What was not fully appreciated at the outset was that these ridges and hills of northern Peleliu contained some of the most elaborate caves on the entire island. Not that there were not hints aplenty: as the 5th Marines Regimental Narrative puts it, in a tone of some frustration, ". . . tank guns, firing point-blank directly into caves and tunnels, did not even temporarily cause the enemy therein to cease fire." Repeatedly in daily entries in various unit reports certain caves are listed as having been reduced, only to have those identical caves reappear in subsequent days' entries as having to be reduced all over again. Indeed, one of these frequently "reduced" caves was not finally liquidated until the following February: by the Island Command, months after the assault troops had departed Peleliu. (See Appendix D.)
The truth, as subsequently discovered, was that what were taken to be individual caves more frequently than not were multiple entrances leading to tortuous passageways within a single enormous tunnel system where the occupants could find any number of safe refuges. For this zone had been designated originally for defense by Japanese naval contingents, which included the 214th Naval Construction Battalion, made up of miners and mining engineers who had given it the full treatment. Wherever practicable, caves were prepared not only with numerous mouths but on two or more staggered levels. Thus, Marines victoriously ensconced on a hard-won summit would often be irritated by the smell of cooking rice and fish wafted up to their nostrils from three or even four layers of Japanese resting comfortably underneath them and ready to sally forth in a counterattack when someone among them thought that might be a good idea. Here was a "defense in depth" in a more literal sense than that term is usually applied.
However, the hill system in this region lacked the lateral depth which was to make
TANK-DOZER SUPPORTING 1/5 attack on Hill Row.
the Umurbrogol Pocket, with its multiple mutually supporting positions, so appalling. Furthermore, some of the defenders here appeared to lack the fighting tenacity of their brethren to the southward, and they lacked entirely the firm direction of the stout Colonel Nakagawa. Thus, it took a single regiment only four days to seize the entire area, as contrasted with the weeks stretching into months which it would take five regiments working in relays to secure the Umurbrogol.
D-plus 12 (27 September) was a day of crisis for the 2d Battalion. This unit had advanced painfully along a narrowing open flat under sustained fire from Japanese caves in the face of a steep ridge on the right, to have its progress halted the previous evening at a large antitank ditch. This had been constructed to bar the approach to a defense installation of formidable proportions: the reinforced concrete foundation of the demolished phosphate plant, which the enemy had converted into a reasonably accurate facsimile of a blockhouse. With the fire from this work combined with plunging fire from hidden caves in the high ground, the position was obviously unassailable by infantry without armored support.
While a tank-dozer (i.e., a medium tank equipped with a bulldozer blade)45 labored
Positions of 5th Marines
Night of 26 Sept (D+11)
PRIVATE FIRST CLASS WESLEY PHELPS, posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, rolled on an enemy grenade in order that his companion's life might be spared.
to fill in the deep trap that prevented Marine armor from closing, Company E, the rearmost element, sent patrols probing into the high ground to the east. The crest of this proved to be defended in no great strength, and the entire ridge top in this sector was soon occupied, although Japanese out of reach in the precipitous slope remained troublesome for some time to come.
The armored dozer completed its work about 0830, and the tanks got across. Under cover of the fire of their 75's and the weapons of the supporting infantry, an LVT flame-thrower closed to effective firing range and worked the improvised blockhouse over with leisure and efficiency. More than 60 Japanese dead were counted in the ruins, and the advance rolled on to northward, both along the road and atop the ridge line which here closely abutted it.
Company F, in the lead, found progress anything but easy. From the outset all elements of the battalion had been harassed by heavy mortar and artillery fire, some coming from beyond the ridges on the right, some from Ngesebus46 across the water on the left. Now they found the low ground infested with bunkers and pillboxes, plus cave positions in the base of the hills, here pressing ever closer against the road and the shore, from which small arms and automatic weapons poured a galling fire. The tank-dozer could have rendered yeoman service in dealing with these, but that useful machine had been sent back to the 1st Battalion which needed its approaches cleared before being able to attack. So the 2d Battalion was obliged to spend the rest of the morning at the slow, dangerous work of destroying the enemy installations individually by hand.
Then, about 1200, all forward movement was rudely halted when the advance came up against what was subsequently discovered to be perhaps the largest and most elaborate cave on all of Peleliu, garrisoned at one time by more than 1,000 Japanese.47
This extraordinary example of the mining engineer's art occupied the entire nose of Peleliu's nothernmost ridge. Its seaward tip loomed directly above the road, here so cramped between the hill and the shore line as to be barely wide enough for the passage of a single tank, and dominated completely
by the cave mouth which faced in this direction. The first tank to attempt getting around the nose was promptly hit, and though it was not knocked out, indications were that a worse fate might await any others so rash as to attempt the passage until some remedial steps could be taken.
The problem of what steps to take was a poser. Under the existing situation, no heavy weapons were in position to deliver direct fire where it was needed most, and manifestly anything short of direct fire would be valueless. Infantry attempting to operate against the position from the low ground not only came under fire from the many cave mouths themselves, but were clear targets for those enemy weapons on Ngesebus and Kongauru which had been inflicting increasing casualties on the battalion for the past two days. Those elements which had advanced along the ridge crest, and taken some severe losses doing so, were able to get on top of the nose, directly above the cave system itself. But this served mainly to place them in the way of friendly supporting fires without giving them any advantageous means of getting at the Japanese holed in below them.
Yet it was tactically essential to the operation planned for the following day (28 September) that the low ground be secured and the cave (or caves) at least partially neutralized. Faced with this urgency, the regimental command of the 5th Marines worked out a method which has been cited since as an outstanding example of the ingenious and skillful employment of a combination of weapons and resources. Fifth Marines Unit Reports describes how it was done as follows:
Artillery laid a continuous barrage on Ngesebus. Naval gunfire was laid on Kongauru. Nine medium tanks pulled up to 158 X [along the shore below the phosphate plant] and fired smoke shells on the beach of Ngesebus. . . . Every fourth artillery shell was smoke on Ngesebus. 5 LVT(A)'s (75mm) then pushed out in the channel and reached a point 159 G [on the reef about 300 yards due north of the ridge nose]. From here they poured shells into the mouth of the cave. The tanks then moved up the road supported by G Co. and got by the cave. An LVT flame-thrower was used on the cave. The lines of the 2d Bn consolidated this gain and dug-in for the night.48
The 1st Battalion spent most of this day (27 September) securing Hill 1, which proved to be a maze of caves and tunnels. Owing to the difficult terrain of the approaches, the attack had to be delayed until the tank-dozer which was operating with the 2d Battalion should be released for service in this sector.
During this wait, a patrol from Company C was sent southeastward along a secondary road, or trail, which ran parallel to the base of Hill Row. This unit encountered no resistance but found a number of Japanese dead, evidently the result of the artillery concentrations which had been poured into the area in an effort to check the persistent mortar fire which had been harassing the advance farther to the west from the defilade of the hills. The road was discovered to be heavily mined, and early in the afternoon a squad of engineers went out to clear the way for further operations in this direction which were planned for the following day.
With the tank-dozer available at last, the assault on Hill 1 jumped off at 0930 with Companies B and C closing in from two directions. Progress was exasperatingly slow. Without the support of direct fire of heavy weapons, the advancing infantry was extremely vulnerable and could make little decisive impression on Japanese positions so strongly armed and well concealed. And clearing approaches for the tanks was a laborious process. It was accomplished,
however, and the men on foot moved in for the bloody business of reducing individual installations in turn. Four 75mm and a like number of 37mm guns were destroyed during this action in addition to an oversize quota of automatic weapons. At 1700, while Company C was consolidating night positions on top of the hill, engineer demolitions teams set about a systematic program of sealing every opening they could find which bore the most remote resemblance to a cave mouth.49
The 3d Battalion played no part in this day's fighting. Instead, the units still remaining on the line were relieved by elements of the 321st Infantry (see subchapter following), and the whole battalion was assembled near Road Junction 15 (West and East Roads) to await further orders. There: "Late in the afternoon word came that the battalion would land on Ngesebus Island at 0900 the following morning."50
The overlay as of nightfall of 27 September shows a somewhat healthier situation than had been the case the previous evening, but still something short of ideal. From the seemingly precarious left flank, anchored on Peleliu's northern shore beyond the ridge nose, the 2d Battalion's line followed the axis of the high ground in a southwesterly direction. Its right, however, had only remote visual contact with the left of the 1st Battalion atop Hill 2, owing to the intervention of a jumbled, steep-sided ravine which cut through between the ridge and the hill at this point.51 From athwart the center of Hill Row, the 1st Battalion's line followed favorable terrain contours to where Company A tied in on the right with the newly arrived 321st Infantry which, in turn, had its right anchored on the swamps that fringe the peninsula's eastern shore. Thus, the enemy on northern Peleliu were compressed within a pocket slightly more than 2,000 yards in length and consisting almost entirely of low, flat land save for the two still uncaptured elevations which comprised the southern half of Hill Row, and the slopes of the northern ridges whose crests were occupied by the Marines.
Ngesebus to Radar Hill
D-plus 13 (28 September) saw several notable developments which cleared the way for the final mopping up of northern Peleliu. Of these, the most spectacular was the assault and seizure of Ngesebus Island, 500 to 700 yards away across shallow reef. This attack was planned as a simple, straightforward shore-to-shore operation, utilizing all available supporting arms. Because it promised to provide a good show, high officers from the various elements, including the transports, command ships and fire support vessels, were invited to view it from a vantage point which provided safety and even a certain amount of comfort.52 They were not disappointed.
Because the executive officer of the 5th Marines was closely associated with the operation and an eyewitness to much of it, what took place may well be described in his own words.53
The Division Commander issued a verbal order to the Regimental Executive Officer at 1600 [on 27 September] at the Regimental CP [CO was away from CP on reconnaissance] to attack Ngesebus at 0900 the following morning with 3/5 in assault and 1/754 in reserve. A warning order was immediately issued to these battalions. Also, in direct support
NORTHERN RIDGES, showing blasted entrance to one of the huge artificial caves constructed by Japanese naval personnel.
of the operation was one battleship, one cruiser, two destroyers, division and corps artillery, one company of tanks,55 one company of LVT(A)'s and one company of LVT's. Representatives of all units were assembled at the 5th Marines CP, and the attack order was issued orally at 1700.
The general plan of the attack was as follows: One hour of naval gunfire, air and artillery preparation commencing at 0800; the last 200 yards advance of the assault wave to the beach to be covered by continuous strafing by Marine Corps fighter planes56 parallel to and directly on the landing beach; the landing force to be led by the Sherman tanks, flanked on either side by LVT(A)'s and followed by LVT's loaded with the troops of the assault wave; the entire battalion to be loaded in LVT's and the waves to land successively at two minute intervals.
The attack took place on schedule . . . except that the three leading Sherman tanks swamped57 and
the tank company commander was forced to reconnoiter a route across, which took some time. The LVT(A)'s led the attack and attempted to carry out the tank mission of furnishing supporting fires into the beach to cover the landing as well as their own mission of placing supporting fire on the flanks of the beach.
The landing was highly successful. Some 50 of the enemy were killed or captured in the pill boxes on the beach without having so much as a chance to fire a shot at our approaching waves. The fighter planes did a remarkable job of strafing the beach up to the time our leading wave was 30 yards from the water line. A Japanese officer captured in the beach positions stated that the strafing was the most terrifying experience he had been through and that they had been allowed no opportunity to defend the beach. . . .
The 3d Battalion had no casualties in the landing but lost a total of 28 men during the remainder of the operation. Perhaps the low casualty figure and the short period involved caused higher headquarters to belittle this operation. From my own personal survey of the battle ground the following day I felt 3/5 had done a remarkable job and that a less capably handled force would have taken from two to three days and, probably would have lost better than a hundred men.
In the paragraph above Colonel Walt reveals a difference in viewpoint existing between regimental and higher levels: between the men who were on the scene and those who formed their judgments at a distance or through hearsay. Reports of higher echelons58 abound in such terms as "light", "slight", and "meagre" in describing the opposition encountered on Ngesebus. This reflects the view obtaining at the division command post at the time and filtered upward from that point and which has thereby been perpetuated. Actually, 3/5 accounted for 46359 (23 prisoners) fighting Japanese on Ngesebus, nearly all of them in caves and strongly prepared positions: hardly "light" opposition for a single infantry battalion already badly depleted. The truth is that a skillful adaptation of tactics and weapons to terrain, plus unusually fine teamwork, caused a potentially difficult operation to be carried through so quickly and effectively as to appear easy.60
The scheme of maneuver called for landing Company K on the left, Company I on the right and Company L in reserve. The assault wave jumped off at 090561 and crossed the reef in six minutes. By 0930 all tanks, troop carriers and LVT(A)'s were ashore, and from that point on infantry and armor performed with a ruthless efficiency unequalled in any previous Pacific operation.
The only terrain with any claims to formidability lay in the zone of Company K: a cave-pocked ridge along the island's western shore which provided a small-scale replica of conditions in the high ground on Peleliu. As the advance swept northward, one platoon of Company L, supported by two tanks and three LVT(A)'s, wheeled to the east and secured the semi-connected island of Kongauru and the unnamed islet beyond it.
By 1700 all of Ngesebus had been overrun except for an area a few hundred yards in extent at the extreme northern end, though a few caves in the ridge remained to be demolished.
The 3d Battalion completed the seizure the following day (29 September--D-plus 14). In the process tanks knocked out a large naval gun and a 75mm artillery piece which had opened point-blank on the approaching infantry. Ngesebus was declared secure62 at 1500, and an hour later the 2d Battalion, 321st Infantry, in accordance with orders issued the previous day, commenced relief63 of the assault troops for the final mopping-up. That night 3/5 was safely bivouacked in the Ngardololok RDF area with an excellently performed job to its credit.
One aspect of the operation proved disappointing, however. The Japanese fighter airstrip, capture of which had been originally the main objective of this little foray, proved to be surfaced with sand so soft as to render it useless. Thus, the most substantial achievements were the elimination, once and for all, of that harassing fire into the rear of troops operating on northern Peleliu, and denying the Japanese further use of what could have been a valuable staging point for reinforcements moving down from the central Palaus.
Simultaneously with the Ngesebus landing, the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, continued its slow, stubborn operations against Hill Row. The primary objective was Hill 3, which could now be approached from two directions: north from captured Hill 2 and west from the parallel trail seized the previous day. Both approaches were naturally difficult, and Japanese, firmly entrenched in the honeycomb cave system, made them hazardous as well. Bazooka men and demolition teams crept forward under cover of infantry fire. A Sherman tank got into the area and made some valuable contributions, but it had to be maneuvered backward into a depression and thus canted at an angle in order to gain the necessary elevation to bring direct fire to bear on caves higher up the slope.
An attempt by the enemy to reinforce the position was broken up by mortar fire in the early afternoon, and the securing of the hill, at 1600, had the tactically invaluable effect of isolating its intrinsically more formidable but detached neighbor: Radar Hill, immediately to the south.
In the 2d Battalion area Company G, which had rounded the northern ridge nose with such difficulty and spent a perilous and uncomfortable night exposed to attack from practically every direction, now began reaping the reward for the previous day's tribulations. Attacking at 0630 with the support of three tanks, the forward elements quickly secured the whole northern tip of the peninsula and deployed for a drive southward against the flank of Hill Row, the opposite flank of which was under attack by the 1st Battalion.
The terrain on this side of the ridges was a widening flat and more or less open: coconut groves giving way to a strip of swamp along the eastern base of the high ground. The area was infested with the Japanese, many of them in prepared positions where they fought to the death. But, somewhat surprisingly, few of them fought with the skill and determination which the Marines had learned to expect from Japanese combat infantrymen of the 14th Division.64 While a few surrendered,65 the majority
simply hid, abjectly awaiting death with little effort either to defend themselves or to injure their attackers, a point which the Marines were nothing loath to appreciate. Company G swept on southward across the flat until reaching a point where Radar Hill could be brought under fire by infantry weapons, and here a perimeter defense was set up for the night.
While this advance was in progress, Company F, occupying the line of the ridgetop, and those elements of Company E not committed on Ngesebus, busied themselves at the slow, exasperating work of sealing up the innumerable cave openings in both faces of the ridge. In the afternoon a platoon of the latter company moved onto the flat to mop-up behind Company G. During the process, one detail flushed a group of 70-odd Japanese who attempted to make a break across the reef. Three LVT's carrying personnel of Company F easily overtook them, and those of the now helpless enemy who refused to surrender were adequately disposed of.66
The 1st Battalion spent 29 September working on Radar Hill with flame-throwers, bazookas and demolition charges. The capture of Hill 3 had isolated the strategic elevation, but so intricate and strongly manned was its cave system that reducing it proved an all-day job, plus. While the rest of the battalion was thus engaged, Company B sent out patrols through the wooded flat to the northward in an effort to make contact with Company G, known to be moving in this direction. When no contact had been achieved by late afternoon, the 1st Battalion withdraw to its previous position for the night.67
In the 2d Battalion area east of the ridges, Company G continued mopping-up operations, harassed now by fire from caves high up in the precipitous slopes above the phosphate plant, with which the Marines were unable to close because of the intervening swamp. Tanks posted in the coconut grove placed direct 75mm fire in the most troublesome cave mouth, without perceptible effect. Company F, working on the ridgetop against caves on both slopes, succeeded in sealing up four openings, only to have the Japanese inside blast them open again in a short time and resume their harassing operations.
The men of Company G encountered further tribulations when the enemy suddenly began firing into their rear from positions near the northern tip of the peninsula which had been thoroughly worked over the previous day. Once again a mopping-up platoon of Company E moved into the area, and with the same result: the positions were reduced and their occupants chased out on the reef, where armored amtracks made short work of them. No doubt this combination of divertisements was largely responsible for the failure of Company G to make contact with the 1st Battalion patrols, although the company reached its assigned objective line.
D-plus 15 (30 September) saw all of northern Peleliu secured, organized resistance68 declared at an end. Both the 1st and 2d Battalions had been alerted to expect relief that morning by elements of RCT 321, to which final mopping-up had been assigned, and bright and early they set about putting the area in order.
Patrols from the 1st Battalion scaled Radar Hill and operated on its summit without opposition, although it was known that live Japanese still occupied a large cave beneath them.69 Pushing northward through scrub jungle and coconuts, other patrols
RADAR HILL looms above dense mangrove swamp. Remainder of Hill Row at left.
soon made contact with elements of Company G which had been working toward them, mopping-up as they came. Only scattered sniper fire was encountered, and this had been silenced by the time, about 1000, when both units were ordered to withdraw to the vicinity of the radio station preparatory to their relief.
Second Battalion elements on the ridgetop were drawn back from their positions in order to get out of the line of fire of a 155mm gun which had been brought forward to bear directly on particularly troublesome cave openings above the phosphate plant which had been inflicting casualties along the West Road for the past two days with apparent impunity. By now it had become something more than a suspicion that the presence of so many openings on both flanks of this same ridge was not mere coincidence; that the survival of their occupants after repeated direct hits and the tender attentions of flame-throwers was no accident. Therefore, on the theory that this position comprised a single enormous cave rather than a collection of small individual ones, Company E placed a detail armed with machine and submachine guns safely in defilade from friendly fire to cover the eastern face of the ridge under attack.
Sure enough, no sooner did the big 155mm shells begin exploding inside the western cave mouth than Japanese began scurrying out through half a dozen openings on the east, where the Marines were waiting for them. After this had gone on for a while, sealing the entire ridge proved a comparatively simple matter, though how many survivors were sealed inside of it, and how permanently, could never be determined with any conclusiveness.
This novel and ingenious employment of a large artillery piece for direct fire is worthy of some elaboration, if for no other reason than that it represented the first of several similar cases of effective adaptation of weapons to missions which must have been far from their designers' minds. Weapon and crew were from the 8th 155mm Gun Battalion and were commanded by Major George V. Hanna, Jr. It was set up on the beach under heavy small arms and
155MM GUN IN POSITION to place direct fire into caves in northern ridges.
machine-gun fire that killed two and wounded three of the gunners before they could get it emplaced and the position sandbagged. The range was so short--less than 200 yards--that the crew had to take cover from the fragmentation of their own bursts.70 As one eyewitness has described the action:
Nips could be seen trying to crawl out through the rubble knocked down by the shell bursts. One round set off a munitions cache inside the cave system which blew out through the principal cave mouth in three successive blasts, the last with a large smoke ring. Ammunition was mixed, with WP, delay, superquick and AP used.71
Although the latest available intelligence indicated an estimated 500 Japanese in the northern ridges on 27 September,72 the 5th Marines and their supporting elements had eliminated a total of 1,17273 during the three succeeding days (28-30 September inclusive). Not without reason could the 1st and 2d Battalions believe that they were leaving northern Peleliu secure, as trucks and DUKW's and amtracks hauled the weary men to rejoin the previously relieved 3d Battalion for a "rest" in the Ngardololok defense area.
Further Operations of RCT 321
In order to deal with the securing of northern Peleliu, this narrative left RCT 321 posted athwart the ridge and firmly ensconced on Hill B, capture of which on the afternoon of 26 September (D-plus 11) had sealed off the enemy's Umurbrogol Pocket. Beginning the following morning, this combat team was assigned a dual mission: (1)
To compress the Pocket further by driving southward to a new phase line, O-X, laid arbitrarily across the entire width of the peninsula; (2) To sweep northward through the central ridge system (Kamilianlul Mountain on the maps) which had been by-passed by the 5th Marines on that regiment's swift advance to the end of the island.
The first phase was assigned to the 2d Battalion, to which Company K was operationally attached. Companies G and E remained on Hill 100 and Hill B respectively from which supporting fire could be placed on objectives to the south, and the remainder of the 3d Battalion held fast to the western rim of the ridge system to cope with any enemy attempts to reinforce their defensive zone in front of the 2d Battalion.
D-plus 12 was a day of sustained hard fighting for the units on the offensive in this area. Company K jumped off at 0700 and commenced its tortuous southward advance down the parallel lines of ridges: rugged, broken, up-ended terrain where the holed-up enemy had every advantage. Progress was slow, and the heavy casualties sustained included the company commander.
Company F, supported by the Neal Task Force, advanced along the East Road, plagued by heavy fire from the ridge and from caves cut into the face of the cliff wall that dominated the open low ground. The terrain here made possible the employment of tanks and flame-throwers, and these knocked out many enemy positions. Many others, however, proved wholly inaccessible. At 1200 the column was still 200 yards short of O-X, and further advance appeared inadvisable.
Because of the impossibility of digging in securely in the hard coral-limestone, a withdrawal for the night was ordered. Company F and the Neal group fell back to the protection of Hill B and formed defensive positions at its base. Company K withdrew to the westward and entered the perimeter sector occupied by Company I. The following day, because of the severe casualties which this unit had suffered, Company K was removed to the comparative safety of Hill B where it relieved Company E.
For the next day's attack (28 September) Colonel Dark threw together a composite battalion under command of CO, 3/321. Company I took over the central ridge sector, while Company E moved down from Hill B and resumed the advance along the East Road, supported by Company A, 710th Tank Battalion, with Company F in battalion reserve.
The fighting on D-plus 13 in general repeated the pattern of the previous day: hard, sustained and unspectacular. Company L contributed its bit by swinging southward from its position on the western ridge line and tying in with the right of Company I. This time the forward momentum carried successfully to the O-X line by nightfall. And there was no withdrawal: the composite battalion was still holding firm to its well consolidated position the following morning when it was relieved by the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines.
In the meanwhile, the 1st Battalion had been carrying out the northward sweep which comprised the second phase of the regiment's current mission. The battalion advanced at 0700 on 27 September with two companies abreast, one in reserve. Company C, on the left, moved athwart and along both flanks of the Kamilianlul Mountain ridges. Company A followed the East Road with Company B immediately behind it.
The high ground in this region was less formidable than either the Umurbrogol or that to the extreme north, and it soon became apparent that the Japanese had given priority to defense of those other sectors. The advance was unopposed.74 However, to describe any Peleliu terrain as "less formidable" is to use a purely comparative term. The ridges in the center and swampy ground on the right made progress slow and difficult. It was 1700 by the time Company A passed beyond the northern extremity of the ridge where it came under heavy fire from a pillbox at a point where the road
Securing the North
looped sharply to the west. Lateness of the hour dictated a halt to set up night defenses.
This occurred on D-plus 12 (27 September), the day that the 3d Battalion, 5th Marines, was withdrawn from that regiment's perimeter in preparation for the Ngesebus assault. As early as 1235 orders had been received for 1/321 to move elements as far as Road Junction 15 (East-West Roads) in order to fill the gap thus created. No sooner had Company A been halted by the fire of the pillbox at the road loop than Company B, hitherto in reserve, began its swift march around the left flank of Company C and forward to the designated spot, a movement accomplished successfully before nightfall.
At this point certain elements of confusion enter the picture as it emerges from the action reports of the two regiments. The pillbox in front of Company A lay some distance below where 3/5 had reached the eastern shore the previous morning, but long before Company B reached Road Junction 15 it entered territory over which Marine units had been operating for the past two days. Of this fact the officers of the 321st appear to have been unaware. Thus, henceforth until the end of operations in northern Peleliu, that regiment's reports contain frequent allusions to the "capture" of positions which the 5th Marines had already seized and moved beyond, perhaps without mopping-up thoroughly, as is often the case with troops in assault.
A case in point is that of the elevation known as Hill 80, located in the saddle between the northern and central ridge systems. Fifth Marines Unit Reports, entry for 26 September, has this to say: "At 0830 L Co secured hill in square 152 A, F & K." The following is quoted verbatim from 81st Division Operation Report for 28 September: "In the center of the line Co B captured the hill in TX 152 F, G and organized it for defense." As a glance at the target square map will show, the latter designation represents a segment of the identical hill the 5th Marines had reported as "secured" two days before.75 The operational overlay for the 5th Marines on 28 September shows the front line in that sector as lying along Hill Row, nearly 1,000 yards in advance of the "captured" position.
The obvious inference is that 1/321 was engaged in large scale mopping-up rather than actual assault, as its officers seem to have believed--and not without some reason. That they should have been wholly ignorant of Marine operations a thousand yards to their front might appear extraordinary by the standards of "The Book"--but not to anyone who had to cope with the problems presented by the terrain of Peleliu: not only the broken nature of the high ground to the north, but in this particular case a large, deep swamp imposed between the Marine and Army positions.76
While Company B was mopping-up Hill 80, Company A succeeded in liquidating that troublesome pillbox, and by 1600 the 1st Battalion, 321st, controlled the northern stretch of the East Road save for one small pocket which was eliminated the following day. Early the next morning (29 September) the two battalions which had been working against the Umurbrogol pocket were relieved of responsibility for central Peleliu and ordered to make the necessary dispositions for relieving all elements of the 5th Marines in the north, an operation for which RCT 321 had been alerted on the evening of the 27th.
"A NEW HIGH IN TANK-INFANTRY COORDINATION was achieved," as one authoritative witness stated.
The 2d Battalion, as previously noted, concentrated at Garekoru preparatory to relieving 3/5 on Ngesebus. Orders to effect this move were received at 1410 following word that the smaller island had been secured, and 2/321 departed at once, taking along a platoon of tanks to assist in the final mopping-up.
The 3d Battalion advanced northward over the same ground traversed by 1/321 two days previously, combing the area for any Japanese who might have been missed by its predecessors. A number of such were found and put out of the way.77 Proceeding with that systematic thoroughness characteristic of all 81st Division units on Peleliu, the battalion paused to blow in every cave the men were able to discover, as a precautionary measure against reoccupation by infiltrating Japanese. This slowed progress notably. The 3d Battalion had moved only about 200 yards beyond the 321st Infantry Trail by nightfall and was to continue engaged in this work for the next three days.
The 1st Battalion received orders on the morning of 29 September to effect the relief of the 1st and 2d Battalions, 5th Marines, the following day. These units, as previously related, had closed in on Hill Row from the west and north and seized the high ground by dint of some hard fighting. Radar Hill, deprived of its mutually supporting positions, had fallen comparatively easy prey to 1/5. All of its defense installations were reported knocked out with the exception of one large cave,78 and Marines had occupied its summit without encountering any further resistance.
By noon of the 30th (D-plus 15) 1/321 had completed reconnaissance of the ground it was to take over. However, the remaining
cave on Radar Hill was huge and well populated. No sooner had the unfortunate members of Company B79 begun moving into position than, as the 81st Division Operation Report (p. 39) puts it: "Japanese swarmed from Radar Hill to attack our troops ascending the slope. A major skirmish ensued in which tanks and mortar fire had to be employed to drive the Japanese back into their cave. The company was unable to take the hill before dark and organized a perimeter defense for the night on the low ground at its base."80
Here, then, was another example of the difficulty of thorough mopping-up in terrain of this nature. Nor was this the only one. Company A encountered a similar situation in the ridge just east of the West Road and secured the position that evening only after hard fighting. Company C, operating in the extreme north, killed 40 Japanese who had evidently infiltrated to reoccupy captured caves and emplacements which it had not appeared necessary to destroy the previous day, and disposed of another 40 under similar circumstances the following morning.
Company B assaulted Radar Hill again on 1 October, and the area of main enemy resistance was localized. At 1600 a rifle platoon and an engineer demolition squad attempted to storm this, but a Japanese counterattack again drove them from the hill.
The unexpected difficulties being encountered on northern Peleliu led to a call for reinforcements. Company G of the 2d Battalion, then completing the mop-up of Ngesebus, was brought over to the main island on the morning of 2 October to support the attack on Radar Hill. Company B assaulted again from the south and west at 1000. Using flame-throwers and heavy demolition charges, the attack was successful this time. All resistance had ceased, on the hill and throughout the entire zone, by 1700. Examination of the main cave area revealed approximately 100 dead Japanese therein.
With the completion of mopping-up on the northern peninsula, the 321st assumed what was to be mainly a passive role for the next two weeks: organizing defensive areas against possible landing attempts by Japanese from the central Palaus, and clearing up the debris left in the wake of battle. During this period the regiment was also called upon to undertake several secondary offensive operations, which will be dealt with elsewhere, before resuming a major part in the final conquest of Peleliu.
Other Developments and First Reliefs
On 24 September (D-plus 9) the 1st Marine Division Command Post displaced forward and set up in what was left of the former Japanese administration building, a short distance north of the airfield. The signs of crumbling enemy resistance everywhere except in the thoroughly isolated Umurbrogol Pocket were now unmistakable, and the U.S. flag was raised here with simple ceremonies at 0800 on D-plus 12. To most witnesses this event appeared to signalize the beginning of the end, as indeed it did. It was perhaps fortunate for such optimism as remained in the division that none could foresee the tortuous road which remained to be traveled before this end would be achieved.
Although portions of the Umurbrogol Pocket remained within mortar range of the airfield, and the enemy occupied lofty
observation posts81 affording a clear view of all southern Peleliu, they made no serious efforts to interfere by this means with operations there. Once he had determined on a last ditch defense, Colonel Nakagawa apparently saw no point in revealing his well concealed positions in what could be nothing more than a futile gesture and conserved his ammunition for more immediate targets. He did send out suicide squads of varying size heavily laden with demolition materials in attempts to infiltrate to the field and do as much damage as possible. But none of these managed to get through, so work on the strips progressed rapidly and satisfactorily.
As early as D-plus 3 a Navy TBF plane was able to make an emergency landing and take off successfully the following day. On D-plus 4 two artillery observation planes from VMO 3 landed ashore, and from 20 September on the entire squadron operated from the field. With the fighter strip serviceable for 3800 feet,82 ample dispersal areas available, and everything made ready for them by their ground crews, the first Marine fighter planes flew in to base on the field on 24 September: an advance echelon of four night fighters (F6F's) from VMF(N) 541, the remainder of the squadron arriving on 1 October. VMF 114, flying Corsairs (F4U's), followed intact on the 26th and supported the Ngesebus landing as previously narrated. This new strength made it possible to dispense with further naval air support as of 1800 that day. Arrival of VMF 122 (F4U's), also on 1 October, filled the complement of MAG 11 assigned to Peleliu.
MARINE CORSAIRS on Peleliu Airfield, equipped with belly tanks for a napalm strike against Japanese-held ridges.
With land-based air support well established, the danger of counter-invasion from the north was greatly reduced. Thus, it became possible to take steps toward evacuating the 1st Marines to the division base in the Russell Islands, and Movement Order No. 3-44 was issued on 28 September to effect this. As noted previously, this regiment had been occupying PURPLE Beach and the northeastern defensive zone after excessive casualties had necessitated its withdrawal from the lines. With completion of the northern operations, elements of the 5th Marines relieved the 1st in position, and the latter commenced loading on 29 September.
The weather hampered this work, as it now hampered all operations on the island. Rain had been falling more or less steadily for the past two days. At first this had been welcomed as a break in the oppressive tropical heat which had persisted since D-Day,83 but as the rains continued, borne in on winds of increasing velocity, serious problems began to arise. As events were to prove, this storm was actually the edge of a major typhoon which piled LST's on the reef, wrecked the pontoon causeway running seaward from ORANGE 3, and rendered the western beaches unusable for several days. Even on Beach PURPLE, on the lee side of the island, unloading operations were so hampered that it was necessary to put the troops ashore on two meals a day. Before the emergency was over, vital supplies had to be brought in by air84 owing to the continuance of high seas even after the wind had died down and the weather cleared.
Most of the 1st Marines were safely embarked by the evening of 30 September, but complications resulting from the weather delayed departure of the convoy until 2 October. With the regiment went various of the reinforcing elements which comprised the combat team, and a sizeable detachment from division headquarters.85 The constriction of the enemy-held area eliminated massed artillery fires as dangerous to friendly troops, so it was considered expedient to relieve the two pack howitzer battalions of the 11th Marines (1/11 and 2/11). The exhausted platoons of the 1st Tank Battalion were also shipped back at this time. Both the men and machines of this unit had seen much rough and strenuous service and the nature of the terrain in the remaining enemy pocket made it appear that tanks would be of little use henceforth. This proved to be an unfortunate misapprehension.86
Thus, the end of September saw all of Peleliu conquered save for a single pocket of rough, hilly terrain. This conquest had cost the reinforced division 843 killed, 3,845 wounded, and 356 missing: total casualties of 5,044.87 On the credit side of the ledger, an estimated total of 9,076 Japanese had been killed and 180, mostly Koreans and Okinawans rather than first line troops, taken prisoner.
1. CTF 32 OpnRpt, 57, 61. There were as many different versions of these incidents as there were echelons reporting. Because the action was essentially naval in nature, Adm Fort's version is accepted here.
2. Tada Record, 23Sept, 24Sept44.
3. It is quite possible, of course, that Nakagawa deliberately concealed his losses when reporting in order to encourage General Inoue to send him further reinforcements by this means. See Appendix F.
4. "General Geiger and I proceeded to the Division CP. . . . During the course of the discussion General Geiger stated that he thought that the 1st Marines should be relieved and that he was considering moving an Army RCT over to replace them. At this, General Rupertus became greatly alarmed and requested that no such action be taken, stating that he was sure he could secure the island in another day or two. . . . The upshot of it was that General Geiger directed the Division Commander to prepare plans for embarkation of the 1st Marines for evacuation and . . . further stated that he would immediately take steps to attach an RCT of the 81st Division to the 1st Marine Division." Ltr Col W. F. Coleman to CMC, undated, hereinafter cited as Coleman.
5. On many earlier maps the name of this island is spelled with the last two vowels transposed "Anguar." Spelling of Pacific native place names is necessarily phonetic, and not necessarily uniform. That used herein appears in all reports of the 81st Infantry Division which, having taken the place by force of arms, certainly earned the right to designate what it should be called. It has come to the writer's attention that what some of the doughboys called it was not always printable.
6. See Chapter II, this monograph. Except as otherwise cited, material used herein on this division derives from its own basic sources: the official 81st Infantry Division Operation Report, hereinafter cited as 81st OpnRpt (Phase I, Angaur; Phase II, Peleliu); and the unit history, The 81st Wildcat Division in World War II (Infantry Journal Press, 1948), hereinafter cited as 81st Unit Hist.
7. In an effort to adhere to the terminology most common to its basic sources, this monograph will use the designation RCT in connection with the reinforced infantry regiments of the 81st Division, as it appeared generally in the reports of that unit. Most Marine reports, on the other hand, clung to the old regimental designations, as did references to such Marine units in 81st Division reports.
8. The Japanese suffered total casualties: estimated 1,338 killed and 59 taken prisoner. 81st OpnRpt, I, 69.
9. 1st MarDiv SAR, II, Annex H. However, 81st Division did not call on this fire support, and the battalion reverted to 1st MarDiv control on D-plus 4. Harrison.
10. 81st Unit Hist, 78.
11. 81st OpnRpt, 33, 35.
12. "Pillbox" has come to be a loosely used term. It is applied to the GREEN Beach installations by 81st OpnRpt and Unit Hist, but photographs and detailed descriptions in the latter would appear to indicate that most of these works were what strict definition would call "bunkers": i.e., field fortifications contrived from the natural materials at hand (coconut logs, sand, coral, etc.), without benefit of such man-made reinforcing as steel and/or concrete.
13. Following the break of communications between Angaur and Peleliu, Col Nakagawa continued to report the heroic deeds of his compatriots on the former island long after the men of RCT 322 had been able to forego fighting in favor of baseball and the movies, and were speculating hopefully on the possibility of an imminent visit by the USO. By mid-November, however, he had the grace to concede that this was just "my guess." Tada Record, passim.
14. "The Corps Commander was disinclined to impose any particular line of action upon the [1st] Division Commander although more than once he had felt the urge to do so. Just what induced this reluctance on the part of General Rupertus was never understood by Corps." Wachtler.
15. "These were now battle tested veterans, sure of their abilities and anxious to demonstrate the prowess of combat infantrymen to the Marines." 81st Unit Hist, 138.
16. 81st OpnRpt, II, 13.
17. 81st OpnRpt, 11, 15, reports erroneously that 2/321 took over positions occupied by the "entire First Marine Regiment." It is true that this was known as the 1st Marines sector, but at this time it was held by only the remains of the battered 3d Battalion, the rest of the regiment having been relieved three days earlier. 1st MarDiv SAR, II, 7.
18. 7th Mar R-2 Journal, Sheet #80.
19. Hurst, 4, 5. 3/7 WD, 11, describes this incident as follows: "In order to speed up the advance the 321st Infantry later pulled its right flank off the ridge to the coastal road where the going was easier."
20. 7th Mar, R-2 Journal, Sheet #80. The order quoted originated with division operations officer (D-3) and was transmitted to the battalion, by regimental executive officer.
21. 81st OpnRpt, II, 17.
22. Ibid., 17.
23. The high ground in this area was not a well defined ridge system, although reports of all participating units so refer to it. Rather it resembles a natural coral formation pushed up from the ocean floor: a jagged jumble of unexpected heights and depressions extremely difficult to traverse, let alone assault.
25. "It was certainly not our mission to maintain the contact on the flat coastal road and turn the ridge over to the Japs. . . . I watched the young major commanding make several gallant efforts to get his men back on the crest before finally becoming convinced that if friendly troops were going to control the ridge that night it would have to be our Company L" Hurst.
26. 7th Mar R-2 Journal, Sheet #83. Also 3/7 WD, 11. No mention of this incident is made at division level in the reports of either 81st Div or 1st MarDiv.
27. 7th Mar R-2 Journal, Sheet #86. Same entry mentions impending attack by 321st.
28. 3/7 WD, 11, is authority for 400-yard front. There are many discrepancies in reports of situation evening of the 24th. 321st uses sketch map not easily oriented with Marine operations maps. This shows a continuous line along ridges, though other allusions indicate many elements still on road, and subsequent Marine overlays show no troops in positions indicated. Mar R-2 Journal, Sheet #87, carries entry dated 2025 that two Army platoons were on 3/7 left but that there was a gap of 100-150 yards between them and rest of their line. This writer has been unable to locate any 1st MarDiv overlays for this period.
29. 81st OpnRpt, II, 17.
30. Available sources leave some doubt as to the exact situation on the left during the night of the 24th. 81st OpnRpt is authority for the 200-yard withdrawal, and adds: "The ground was promptly retaken." A message from CO 321 to CG, logged at 1700, states: "We have been driven back 50 yards. We have consolidated our positions." 7th Mar R-2 Journal, Sheet #86. Positions of 321st reported the following morning show a sizeable retrogression on the left (Ibid, Sheet #88) as compared to those defined the previous afternoon (1st MarDiv D-3 Journal, entry logged at 1630, 24 Sep).
31. 1/7 HistRpt.
32. 81st OpnRpt, II, 21. As nearly as it is possible to orient this action on the later sketch map, this area would appear to be that including what were subsequently known as Wattie Ridge and Baldy Ridge, where the 5th Marines came upon the bodies of a missing Wildcat patrol. See Chap. VII, footnote p. 160.
33. Ibid., 23.
34. Because of the inability of 3/321 to advance that far, 1/7 was not committed in this action and put in its time reconnoitering and filling gaps in the line caused by the alternate advance and recession of elements of 3/321. 1/7 HistRpt. Gormley.
35. Dispatch CO 1/7, 7th Mar R-2 Journal, Sheet #98.
36. 81st OpnRpt, II, 23.
37. So named for the group's commanding officer: Captain (later Major) George C. Neal. 81st Unit History.
38. 81st OpnRpt, II, 25, states succinctly and without equivocation: "All Japanese defenders were killed." Yet when elements of 1/7 took over the position three days later, they were obliged to call in a special demolitions team to dispose of numerous lurking snipers who had deliberately allowed themselves to be overrun. 7th Mar R-2 Journal, Sheets #113, 115; 1/7 Hist Rep, entry dated 30 September. The Wildcats were to have similar experience in taking over positions from the Marines. See second sub-chapter following.
39. Col Nakagawa did not appear greatly impressed by these goings on. Of RCT 321's struggle for Hill B, he reported: "On Suifuzan (a term evidently designating all of the Umurbrogol north of the Horseshoe) a small battle took place." Of the 5th Marines' advance: "Two infantry companies (sic), tanks and alligators advanced to the northern area along the seaside road." Tada Record, 25Sept44.
40. Field Order No. 3a-44.
41. The high ground of Peleliu's northwestern peninsula broke down conveniently into three components, each labeled on the map by its native name. Southernmost and most formidable was Umurbrogol Mountain ("mountain" is a misnomer in each case). Adjoining this about midway along the peninsula was Kamilianlul Mountain, a continuation of the same formation, but lower, narrower, and less rugged. The broad saddle separated this from Amiangal Mountain, the northernmost formation.
42. Testimony to the swiftness and efficiency of the regiment's advance was furnished by a group of Japanese who strolled noisily down the road into the midst of a group of Marines without suspecting their presence. Crown.
43. There was serious concern over the feasibility of holding the exposed forward position under such a volume of fire. In an effort to reduce it, Marine artillery employed a somewhat unusual technique. "One battery fired on map or photo selected positions from which enemy fire could be originating. If reduced enemy fire resulted, continuous fire, at a slow, irregular rate, was employed on the target throughout the night. By repeating the process, and by utilizing the fire power of all field artillery battalions except 1/11, enemy fire was greatly reduced and the forward positions maintained." Ltr Maj D. R. Griffin to CMC, 13Mar50.
44. Nomenclature was not uniform at the time, and most contemporary reports identify these hills by the target squares in which they are located: #1--156 H & I; #2--156 N; #3--156 T; Radar Hill--156 Y.
45. Of three tank-dozers originally landed with the 1st Tank Bn, this was the only one remaining operative at this stage. Its work here was made extremely difficult by accurate and well controlled enemy fire, which knocked out its periscope once and pinned down the officer directing its labors from the outside. Brant.
46. Both aircraft and Marine artillery tried repeatedly to silence the fire from Ngesebus but without permanent success. After the island's capture, the weapons were found to be emplaced in caves in the low ridge west of the fighter strip. Walt.
47. This is the cave described, and its main level diagrammed, in Appendix D. Because the intricacy of its construction exceeded anything they could imagine, the Marines at first fell into the error of mistaking its multiple entrances for the mouths of individual caves and were repeatedly bewildered by the refusal of these to remain knocked out. After its true nature was recognized, many men on the scene believed it to be a disused phosphate mine, and it is so designated in some reports.
48. 5th Mar War Diary describes this incident in similar terms with only minor changes in wording, and Regimental Narrative presents the same essentials in summary form. The wording above would indicate that the impression still prevailed that the Marines were contending with one or more small caves with individual mouths instead of a single enormous one with nine entrances. According to Walt, three of these were discovered to be facing seaward, and all had to be temporarily neutralized by the LVT(A)'s to allow the tanks to pass.
49. 5th Mar WD.
50. 3/5 Record of Events.
51. 1/5 Bn-3 Journal states: "C Company on the left flank tied into the beach at 156 C." This information does not appear on the regimental situation overlay. The then CO of Co. C states that his flank was atop Hill 2 that night. Ltr Maj J. H. McLaughlin to CMC, 8Mar50, hereinafter cited as McLaughlin.
52. "After the third day (28 September) the Regimental CP was almost constantly filled with at least a general or an admiral." Ltr Maj D. A. Peppard to LtCol G. D. Gayle, 13Nov49, hereinafter cited as Peppard.
53. Walt, 7-10.
54. This battalion was assembled and stood by in reserve but was not employed. Subsequently the reserve function passed to Company E, 5th Marines, which committed one platoon on the island during the mopping-up phase. 3/5 Record of Events.
55. The 1st Tank Battalion had 19 Shermans operative at this time. Three of these continued with the 5th Marines elements still fighting on Peleliu, and three others drowned out during the reef crossing (see below). Thus, a total of 13 actually participated in the securing of Ngesebus.
56. From VMF 114, which had based on the Peleliu airfield only two days previously. Their presence was a source of great satisfaction to all hands not only because of the magnificent performance they turned in, but because this was the first instance in the war where air support for a Marine landing was furnished exclusively by Marine Corps planes. It was not the first instance of such planes participating in such an operation, however, as erroneously stated in 1st MarDiv SAR and widely quoted elsewhere.
57. This possibility had been foreseen and H-Hour set to coincide with the lowest ebb of the tide in order to minimize the danger. At this time the tanks could be only partially water-proofed, the fording kits used for the initial landing on D-Day having been damaged beyond further usefulness. Stuart.
58. 1st MarDiv SAR, II, 11. CTF 32 OpnRpt, 72. TF 36 OpnRpt, Enc A, PerRpt #8, 2.
59. Nor were these all of the Japanese on the island. While conducting final mopping up after relieving 3/5, the 2d Battalion, 321st Infantry, reported a "considerable number" still holding out on 30 September, and noted killing ten more on 2 October. 81st OpnRpt, II, 35, 37.
60. "Major Gustafson and the officers under his command used excellent tactics and made maximum use of supporting arms." Walt. "It should be emphasized that with the terrain most suitable for an infantry-tank attack, with both elements coordinating perfectly, the operation was made to appear easy. . . . The tanks should get a great deal of credit. On the other hand, the tank commanders later said that they had never experienced such coordination from infantry." Gustafson.
61. At this point a hitch in the plans occurred. The command ashore had planned the assault in the manner of land warfare, with H-Hour designating the time of crossing the line of departure. But naval and air elements, thinking in terms of an amphibious operation where H-Hour is time of landing, lifted supporting fires at the moment the LVT's were beginning the perilous reef crossing. No serious consequences ensued, however, as the aircraft, in plain view of the situation, quickly resumed their support in advance of the leading waves. TF 36 OpnRpt, Enc A, PerRpt #8, 2. Coleman.
62. As in the case of Angaur, losing contact with his troops in the north did not deter Col Nakagawa from reporting to Koror as "my guess" that heavy fighting continued there. The Marines and Wildcats organized Ngesebus as the closest equivalent to a rest area possible on Peleliu.
63. 1st MarDiv SAR, II, 13; 81st OpnRpt, II, 33; 3/5 RofE.
64. Subsequent intelligence indicates that most of the Japanese killed here were personnel from the naval construction battalions. However, in a contemporary report to Koror, Col Nakawaga estimated army strength in northern Peleliu at about one battalion, over and above the naval complement. Tada Record, 28Sept44.
65. The 5th Marines captured 45 POW's (23 on Ngesebus) on this day, as contrasted to a total of 8 taken by the regiment during the 13 days preceding. 5th Mar War Diary.
67. 1/5 Bn-3 Journal. 5th Mar War Diary states that the 1st Battalion seized Radar Hill on this day.
68. Another instance where the term "organized resistance" is apt to be deceptive. By the time they finished mopping-up this area, relieving elements of RCT 321 were convinced that they had been through a major battle. See 81st OpnRpt; also sub-chapter following.
69. LtCol R. W. Boyd, CO of 1/5, interviewed 2Mar50, described the cave mouth as protected by a large stone and log revetment. Unable to attack this frontally, the Marines scaled the hill and sealed the cave entrance from above by using shaped charges to create a sizeable landslide. The Japanese, however, dug their way out during the night.
71. MS. Corrections and Comments, Col E. L. Lyman, Mar50.
72. Prisoner of War Interrogation #15.
73. This figure includes casualties on Ngesebus. It breaks down to 1,070 killed (estimated) and 72 prisoners of war. 5th Mar War Diary.
74. 81st OpnRpt, II, 27. See footnote p. 132.
75. Company I, 5th Marines, had occupied this position, abutting the east shore swamp, for two days as right flank anchor of the regimental perimeter, prior to its withdrawal the previous evening preparatory to the Ngesebus operation. Quite possibly infiltrating Japanese moved back in during the brief period it was unoccupied.
76. The foregoing elaboration has been propounded in an effort to explain an apparent conflict in what must necessarily be considered the primary historical sources for the campaign. This should be accepted as inference and deduction on the part of the author, based on some personal knowledge of the terrain and problems involved, and partially substantiated by interviews with officers who took part.
77. 81st OpnRpt, II, 31. Here is another example of Japanese allowing themselves to be overrun in order to get in American rear, since the 1st Battalion had traversed this same ground two days earlier without encountering any of the enemy. Ibid, 27.
78. 1st MarDiv SAR, II, 13.
79. This force was a single platoon. It was en route to the position when it encountered Co C, 5th Mar, which had just left the hill. The CO of the latter unit was dubious of the ability of so small a force to hold the position should the Japanese be able to dig out of their blasted cave and volunteered to carry word to that effect to the platoon leader's battalion operations officer. By the time this could be done, however, the platoon had already run into trouble. McLaughlin.
80. "Before the Regimental CP (5th Marines) had moved out of the area, the 321st had been forced to evacuate Radar Hill and had brought up their M-10 tank destroyers which were working over that area. They were also verbally working over the Marines." Peppard.
81. This was believed at the time and subsequently proved to be true. As an indication of how narrowly distance was contracted in this area, during the first air strike against the pocket by land-based planes, fragments of a 1,000 pound bomb striking in the enemy-held ridges carried all the way back to the airfield from which the plane that dropped it had taken off.
82. With repairs and extension of the bomber strip completed on 5 October, the field was capable of accommodating any plane short of a B-29. As early as 23 Sep a PB4Y (Navy version of the B-24) was able to land on two dead motors, effect repairs and take off. CTF 32 OpnRpt, 8. For further detail regarding aviation activities on Peleliu, see Appendix E.
83. The holed-up Japanese, who had been running seriously short of drinking water, welcomed these torrential rains even more eagerly, if for a different reason.
84. Approximately 75 C-46 and C-47 aircraft were employed for this purpose during the height of the emergency. Benedict.
85. Including 1st Plat., 1st MP Co. "With it went any hope of successfully performing our assigned tasks of traffic control, security watches, guarding POW's and maintaining a straggler line." Ltr Maj F. H. Scantling to CMC, 11Mar50, hereinafter cited as Scantling. See discussion of souvenir hunters and death of Col Hankins, Chap. VII.
86. O. P. Smith PerNar. During their remaining operations on Peleliu, the Marines were dependent for tank support on the 710th Tank Battalion, attached to the 81st Division. These men and machines turned in an outstanding job of supporting the Marines and, especially later when they were working with their own troops, their contribution to the final subjugation of the Japanese on Peleliu would be difficult to overestimate.
87. 1st MarDiv SAR, II, 13. Like mid-operation casualty figures previously quoted, these were compiled amid the confusion of battle and without complete returns. Figures on men missing in action are especially misleading.
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