(LEFT) The Palau Islands chain which contained Peleliu. (RIGHT) The Peleliu Island group on the day of the assault.
The impetus for this Peleliu section came out out of a recent talk with an interesting older fellow who had recently met Joseph Mazzello (of HBO’s The Pacific fame) on 49th Street in NYC. Somehow this fellow and I (the old guy, not Mazzello) went into a conversation, discussing of all things: the best places in NYC, The Pacific, Broadway, Mazzello, Spielberg, some other stuff I can’t even remember anymore.
After we said our goodbyes, I got to thinking of Mazzello. Aside from two or three episodes, The Pacific was a God-awful disappointment. But I thought Mazzello did a tremendous job portraying his real-life character, Eugene B. Sledge, a mild-mannered professor of biology at Auburn University in later life, a veteran marine during the Second World War whose androcentric last name was perfectly suited to that of a combat soldier – except that Sledge frowned upon the jingoistic meatheads that seem to comprise a percentage of military forces everywhere. His book on the subject, a searing portrait of combat, becomes anti-war, like every great movie about war. The message, aptly recounted by Private Doll in another great war book, The Thin Red Line, is: “War don’t ennoble men, it turns ’em into dogs.” Sledge repeated as much in Studs Terkel’s Pulitzer-winning non-fiction book, The Good War. The Terkel foundation has offered Sledge’s complete interview on their website. They make for fascinating listening. Find them here:
I thought it would be really interesting to blend Sledge’s experiences and the narrative of another enlightened Marine, Robert Leckie, into a study of the Peleliu battle, but since that has been partly done in none other than the The Pacific, I have decided to put up some of the material that I had collected, especially some photos. For those still interested in learning more on this hell of a campaign, I urge you to visit: http://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/USMC/USMC-M-Peleliu/index.html which contains the original USMC monograph on Peleliu written by Major Frank O. Hough in 1950. The 205-page document has a great deal of information and some excellent maps and photographs.
Eugene Sledge after the war, in front his microscope. Like many hardened combat veterans he gave up his pre-war hobby of hunting, disgusted by the act of frivolous killing. His fervor instead turned to preservation. (Auburn University)
I created these two drawings to accompany a planned monograph, which I ultimately decided would be superfluous.
(LEFT) Japanese machine-gunner, with his Type 99 LMG slung over his shoulder. (RIGHT) US machine-gun team.
(click images for larger picture)
(LEFT) An aerial view of Peleliu taken some years after the battle. (USAF) (RIGHT) LCI (G) rocket-firing ships pound the beaches on D-Day. (USMC)
(LEFT) Despite the terrific American air and sea bombardment, when the smoke cleared, it was discovered that the Japanese artillery and mortar fire had knocked out dozens of American landing craft and DUKWs. (US Navy) (RIGHT) Even as a rocket-firing LCI (on the far left) pounds the shore, Marine Amtracs of the 3rd Armored Amphibian Tractor Battalion chug forward. The closest vehicle is an LVT-1, indicated by its 37mm main cannon, while the others, equipped with short 75 mm guns are LVT(A)-4s. (Associated Press)
(LEFT) Smoke rises from disabled US amphibious craft seen from above “White” and “Orange” beaches. The white line of water is the reef edge. (US Navy) (RIGHT) On D-Day, Marines take cover around a disabled 3rd Armored Amphibian Battalion LTV(A)-4 near “White beach 2.” (USMC)
(LEFT) Marines H.T. Backous (on left) and C.E. Schneider stand in front of Maj. Parker’s knocked-out command tank. Backous was the driver and Schneider was in the turret with Parker. (USMC)
(RIGHT) Col. Lewis B. “Chesty” Puller, the commander of the 1st Marine Regiment speaks with one his lieutenants. Before the war, Puller had served in the Caribbean, Haiti and Nicaragua. In 1930’s China, he had commanded a detachment of the famous Horse Marines at Shanghai in 1934, encountering his first Japanese here – who, suffice to say, did not afford a favorable impression. During the campaign on Guadalcanal, he won his 3rd Navy Cross and for his leadership on New Britain, was promoted to lead the 1st Marine in February 1944. (USMC)
(LEFT) This fantastic shot of the deck of an LST (No. 202) shows it to be crammed with jeeps, trucks and supplies of all sorts, including rolls of barbed wire, tanks full of drinking water, food and munitions. An LST had a standard displacement of 1,780 tons and a complement of 8-10 officers and 100-115 men. It was ships like these that made America’s liberation of the Pacific possible. (RIGHT) A flamethrower-armed LVT-4 on Peleliu pummels a Japanese dug-out. (Both photos, USMC)
(LEFT) Two marines take a smoke break. In the background is an LVT. The man on the right is armed with a Browning .30cal M1919 Light machine-gun. (USMC) (RIGHT) Marines pose in front of a captured Japanese flag on Peleliu. Trophies like this were well sought after and frequently found. (National Archives)
(Both Photos) Marine wounded found themselves first extracted from the battlefield by stretcher and then evacuated by plane (first photo, National Archives; second, USMC)
(LEFT) Combat on Peleliu was no mean event, considering the ferocity of the Japanese defense and the strange, deformed corral landscape that looked as though it belonged to another world. Predictably, nerves soon frayed as is displayed by the look on this Marine’s face. (My collection; also National Archives 520616) (RIGHT) The ethnicity of this Marine is curious. He has been described as an African-American, although he may have been Puerto-Rican. (National Archives)
(LEFT) An all-black unit of Marine Stevedores shelters in the sand dunes at Peleliu during a break in combat. Despite their employment in a combat zone, it is uncertain how much combat black Marines experienced in the Pacific, owing to the segregated policies of the US Armed Forces during World War II. In this photo, the fact that these men hug the earth while other white marines stand calmly upright in the background seems to indicate that this unit had little prior exposure to battlefield conditions. (RIGHT) Two Marines wait for instructions during an assault.
(LEFT) A disabled Japanese Type 95 tank of the divisional tank company of the 14th Division sits dwarfed alongside a LVT-1 near the airfield in September 1944. (RIGHT) A photograph taken just after the Japanese tank counterattack was smashed. The photo looks out towards the Southeast.
(LEFT) Col. “Bucky” Harris (at center), commander of the 5th Marine Regiment, confers with a gravely-concerned Lt-General Roy S. Geiger (on left) of the III Amphibious Corps, and the egg-bald Maj-General William H. Rupertus, the incompetent, panicky chief of the 1st Marine Division. (RIGHT) Harris’ 5th Regiment gathers on its beach together with Shermans from B Company. (Both photos, USMC)
(LEFT) “Chesty” Puller, photographed on Guadalcanal. Despite popular myth built around Puller that he was a great leader and a true soldier’s soldier (a misconception not fed in the least by The Pacific), in reality few of Puller’s men trusted or respected his leadership. Even men from other regiments on Peleliu could be heard saying: “Thank God, we’re not under Chesty’s command.” (US Government) (RIGHT) When an LVT(A)-4 nicknamed “Lucky lady,” found itself under siege from a lone Japanese heavy gun, it simply ran it down. Although “Lucky Lady” became stuck in the dug-out, the Japanese obviously came off worst. (USMC)
(LEFT) An Amtrac at rest. Note the improvised flamethrower (behind the blast shield) at the rear of the vehicle, adapted by Marines to tackle entrenched Japanese positions. (USMC)
Naval Amphibian Combat (RIGHT) Occasionally, Amtracs or “Amtanks” as these turreted versions of the LVTs were called, found themselves engaged in naval warfare. Here, the Amtanks have shot up and captured a Japanese landing craft. (USMC)
(LEFT) As the Marines battled north through Peleliu, they came upon one of their last objectives in the campaign: capturing Ngesebus island with its small fighter airfield, just across a narrow strip of coral waterway. Here, survivors of the 3rd Amphibian Battalion wait by the Peleliu shore for the attack order to come. (USMC)
(RIGHT) Marines at Horseshoe Valley deal with a massive 200-lb land mine which was fortuitously discovered before the LVT(A)-4 Flamethrower in the lower part of the photograph could make contact. In the upper background, US Army M4A2 Sherman tanks from the 710th Tank Battalion wait for the advance to resume. This photo was taken in the first or second week of October 1944. (USMC)
(LEFT) A stretcher team under Sgt. T.D. Barnett rushes a wounded man to a forward aid post. (USMC) (RIGHT) In this famous photograph, a Marine, despite the chronic water shortage on the island, gives up his canteen to a fellow wounded Marine. (National Park Service)
Marines under fire on the beach. (My collection/Corbis)
Marines examine their own dead, killed by the Japanese before they could even get off the beach. In all, US forces suffered 9,800 casualties on Peleliu, including 1,794 killed. In contrast, 10,695 out of 11,000 Japanese soldiers died and only some 200 were captured. (Associated Press/Joe Rosenthal)
Here, two DUKWs perform a new role — as the pontoon propellants for an “aircraft ferry.” Under a system developed by the US Office of Scientific Research and Development, two DUKWs were joined at the center, allowing an aircraft (in this case a P-38 Lightning) to be positioned on the center span. Obviously the system could only work on calm seas. (Military History Institute)
A piece of war art that achieved global fame was this 1944 painting by the famous artist, Tom Lea III (pictured on right). Originally captioned “Down from Bloody Nose Ridge, he’s finished, washed-up, gone,” it has since become known as the “The Two-Thousand-Yard Stare.” Born in El Paso in 1903, Lea was an “embedded” LIFE magazine reporter with the 1st Marine Division in 1944 and witnessed first-hand the carnage on Peleliu. He later wrote that “my work there consisted of trying to keep from getting killed and trying to memorize what I saw and felt.” Lea died on 29 January 2001 at the place of his birth, El Paso. (print image, US Army Center for Military History; Tom Lea photo by the Tom Lea Institute)
Although these two photos are not from Peleliu, I include them here because I think they represent the quintessential American experience in the Pacific theater of operations during the war.
(LEFT) An unknown Marine, the strain of fatigue and combat showing on his face, returns to a transport ship after the battle for Eniwetok. I have always wondered who this guy was and what happened to him. The National Archives tag offers no hint of a name or a unit. (National Archives NA 26-G-3394) (RIGHT) Another photo from the Eniwetok battleground: Three Marines, smudged and weary from two days of continuous fighting recuperate on a troop ship. PFC Faris M. “Bob” Tuohy, 19, holds the coffee cup. The other men are sadly unknown. (National Archives NA 26-G-3345)
(all photos © Agence France-Presse)
Cleared Ground Demining blows up about 1,000 lbs of explosives in Aimeliik State, Palau, from three batches of “Type 2” WWII-era depth charges pulled from the ocean. The team trained a team of 25 Palauans to help dispose of the dangerous items.
The rusting remains of destroyed Japanese war equipment on Peleliu. (RICHARD W. BROOKS/AFP/2014)