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Operation Stalemate II: The Battle for Peleliu

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Brutal fighting takes its toll on a young Marine. National Archives image, Gift of Suzon Monrose Evans, The National World War II Museum Inc., 2001.291.005

 The Battle for Peleliu

Today marks the 67th anniversary of the American invasion of Peleliu. Considered by many as one of the bloodiest battles of the Second World War, the high casualty rates and the questionability of the  necessity of taking the island make Peleliu one of the more controversial battles of the war.

The invasion’s purpose was to capture an island that would aid MacArthur’s imminent retaking of the Philippines. Peleliu, along with Angaur and Morotai, were to be captured with the intention of using their airstrips from which aerial support could reach the Philippines when the time came. The 1st Marine Division would take Peleliu, with the 81st Infantry Division fighting for Angaur.

Despite intelligence suggesting that heavy pre-invasion bombardment of the island would render the enemy weak and in small numbers, the three day naval and aerial onslaught left many if not most of the Japanese defense fortifications and weaponry intact. Having dug and built underground, honeycombed fortifications, the Japanese defenses were well-suited to sustaining such an attack.

After 10 weeks of  relentless fighting–Maj. Gen. William Rupertus predicted the island would be taken in 3 days– the Americans had taken out nearly all of the approximately 11,000 defenders at the cost of nearly 2,000 American lives lost, and thousands more wounded. Peleliu, once secured, proved of little value to the continued fighting in the Pacific Theater, including the Philippines.  Those left of the 1st Marine Division would get a substantial rest period, but would return to the horror of battle once again with the invasion of Okinawa at the start of April 1945.

 

Disembarking from LVT’s on the beach at Peleliu (Gift of Suzon Monrose Evans, The National World War II Museum Inc., 2001.291.001)

A view of the island mid-battle (Gift of Suzon Monrose  Evans, The National World War II Museum Inc., 2001.291.002)

 

The cost of victory (Gift of Neil Martinez, The National World War II Museum Inc., 2010.237.050)

 

This post by National World War II Museum Curator Meg Roussel.

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