The Mysterious Mission of Murai

Was Major General Kenjiro Murai on Peleliu during the U.S. assault? If so, why and in what capacity?

The Marines had no reason to suspect his presence during their participation in the operation. Nor did the 81st Division until the last enemy resistance had virtually flickered out: with the capture of the Japanese prisoner who described the general's suicide, as related in Chapter VIII. Subsequently a body, decomposed beyond recognition, was identified by the prisoner as that of Murai from personal effects found on it. When the 81st was in occupation in Japan, intelligence officers sought out Lieutenant General Sadae Inoue, commander of the Palaus Sector Group, who certified Murai's presence in the capacity of "tactical adviser."1

Many aspects of Japanese military procedure served to mystify American officers during the course of the war, the curious chain of command implied above not being the least of them. As noted previously, captured orders and prisoner of war interrogations indicated that the de facto commander was Colonel Kunio Nakagawa, 2d Infantry, IJA. Does it make good sense, militarily speaking, for a major general to act in a mere advisory capacity to an officer two grades his junior, especially when the size of the Japanese force on Peleliu raised it far above the level of a regimental command?

An effort to throw more light on the subject, on the basis of a preliminary draft of this monograph, was made in March 1950, by a Marine officer stationed on Guam: Lieutenant Colonel Waite W. Worden, who had served as executive officer, 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, on Peleliu. At that time General Inoue was still confined in U.S. Naval Prison, Guam, awaiting result of an appeal from a death sentence for war crimes. Evidence brought out through extensive interviewing by Colonel Worden tends to confirm Murai's presence in detail.2

Following his talks with General Inoue, Colonel Worden made a personal visit to the Palaus (Peleliu, Koror and Babelthuap) where he interviewed a number of natives who had been there before and during the operation. Excerpts from his report are presented herewith for such intrinsic interest


as they may contain, both in the case of General Murai and as showing some of the bizarre aspects of the Japanese military-naval establishments.3

Although Inoue has been confined for about six years, his memory is indeed very clear and accurate. He has recalled events and dates exactly as they have been recorded in your monograph. As a result, I have a high regard for the accuracy of his memory and will quote him freely. . . .4

Regarding the Jap 2d Battalion, 15th Infantry, General Inoue states that he himself sent it to Peleliu on the fifth night after the landing. . . . His reason for sending this battalion was "for the sake of the garrison at Peleliu and to bolster the morale of the troops there." . . . Inoue thinks they got ashore without loss . . . but perhaps the Peleliu commander chose not to tell Inoue of his losses. . . .

Inoue's belief that we would attack Koror and Babelthuap (when we had finished with Peleliu) kept him from attempting large scale reinforcements. It also kept him from attempting to supply his Peleliu forces with more ammunition. Had Inoue believed otherwise we might have had a much more difficult time on Peleliu.

Major General Murai was on Peleliu, stated Inoue, "to see that Colonel Nakagawa didn't make any mistakes." Asked if he considered Nakagawa to be a capable officer, Inoue stated that he was one of the best in the entire Japanese Army. . . . He also considered Murai to be a very capable officer. I stated to Inoue that to put a major general over such a capable colonel, without giving the major general the over-all command indicated that he either (1) didn't have full confidence in the colonel or (2) that he didn't have complete confidence in the major general. This amused him, and with the self-satisfaction of a practical joker who has had the last laugh, he said that he had put Murai there for two reasons: (1) as insurance, because he considered Peleliu to be so important to the military defense of Japan, and (2) because the Peleliu Navy garrison was commanded by a flag officer, Vice Admiral Itou, and Murai was to give the Army sufficient rank to cope with that of the Navy. . . . The Jap Army and Navy on Peleliu were at bitter odds and treated each other with little respect and with no cooperation, in many instances. . . .

Nakawaga arrived on Peleliu in April 1944, states Inoue. This is confirmed by Peleliu natives. Peleliu natives also state that the Jap army worked furiously in the preparation of defenses. . . . Inoue stated that the Jap Navy had all the native labor tied up, and operated labor pools, from which it was practically impossible for the Army to get any labor. . . .

There were practically no caves developed for defensive installations. From April, therefore, until the Marine landing in September, the Jap soldiers and some civilians were driven hard to develop natural caves and to construct other emplacements, which they did by hand and by dynamite. Inoue stated that the Navy had some caves, but not very many . . . (and) the Navy refused to allow the Army to use the Navy caves, and the Navy tied up almost all the civilian labor. . . . (Inoue) sent his next senior officer, Major General Murai, to get the Navy off Nakagawa's back so he could do his job. Inoue stated that the Palaus had been a naval base for so long, and had been considered as Navy territory for so many years, that the sudden arrival of an Army division with a lieutenant general in command senior to all naval personnel was too much for the Navy to take lying down. . . . To the Navy it was an insult. . . .

It is apparent from the above that Inoue had only six months in which to prepare his defenses, and he stated that he fully believed that if he had had one year instead of six months, he could have completely repulsed us. . . . He further stated that he was really prepared for us in Koror and Babelthuap, and was positive he could have defeated us there. . . .

Inoue had telephone communication with Murai over a sub-oceanic cable. This cable has been seen by several of the Peleliu natives to whom I have talked. Inoue stated that they had no radio communication at that time. The telephone call sign used over this cable, both for Peleliu and Koror, was "SAKURA," the name of a city (Sakura, Ibaraki, Keng) in Japan. This name was used as we might use "Texas" or "Denver" as a switchboard designation. While the Peleliu operator, on 25 November, was calling "Sakura . . . Sakura . . . . Sakura . . . Sak . . . . . . . . ." his voice suddenly ceased and General Inoue on Koror heard no more from his Peleliu command. This interruption led Inoue to believe that the American Marines had blown up the Jap Peleliu command post, and also led him to believe that General Murai, Colonel Nakagawa, and his men (which he thought then numbered 150-200) had been wiped out by enemy action, and not by suicide. However, when I told


him about the report we received from a Jap prisoner . . . of the burning the regimental flag and the suicides, he then stated, "I am sure that was done."

Asked how Toyko had received the [final Peleliu] message, General Inoue said "I reported it to Tokyo myself by radio from Koror."

It is possible that this monograph has done a grave injustice to the memory of General Murai in attributing the skillful Japanese defense of Peleliu entirely to Colonel Nakagawa. But, accepting the heavy weight of evidence that Murai actually lived and died there, the part he played remains obscure. And the only men who could bear authorative witness at this late date died in the Umurbrogol.


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1. Ltr MajGen P. J. Mueller, USA, to BrigGen C. C. Jerome. 14Apr50.

2. Further confirmed by report received by CMC from Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, dated 15Apr50. This states that Japanese Army official records carry both Murai and Nakagawa as killed in action on Peleliu 31Dec44, evidently the date the fact of their deaths was accepted, and adds that each was raised to the grade of lieutenant general by special promotion order the same day.

3. Ltr LtCol W. W. Worden to CMC, 8Apr50, with enclosures. This document, now in records of Historical Division, USMC, also contains new evidence regarding the death of LtCol A. E. Ellis, at Koror in 1923, which is not considered pertinent to this monograph.

4. A Marine officer who was active in the arrest and interrogation of General Inoue has described him as an elderly man verging on senility whose real military brains belonged to his unusually capable chief of staff, Colonel Tokechi Tada. Oral statement by Maj J. A. Moriarty, 15Mar50.

Transcribed and formatted for HTML by Jerry Holden for the HyperWar Foundation