Battle of Peleliu 1944
The latest "Images of War" book from our partners at Casemate is Jim Moran's Battle of Peleliu 1944. This is a nice quality paperback, 9.5 by 7.5 inches, with 224 pages, numerous black and white photos and several maps.
Peleliu is probably one of the lesser-known island battles of the Pacific war. Perhaps it gets overshadowed by the Marianas campaign that immediately preceded it, or the much larger Philippines campaign that followed and for which this was a prerequisite. In any case, I recall learning about it as a boy reading Russell Davis's Marine At War.
The strategic background to this campaign was interesting. The US followed a strategy of twin offensive efforts in the Pacific. In the central Pacific, the US Navy led the way with island-hopping battles headed towards Japan, while the US Army led the southwest Pacific effort through the New Guinea campaign, with the aim of liberating the Philippines prior to an invasion of Japan. Moran discusses these two axes of advance and describes the debate that was held in July 1944 at the highest level to determine the next steps for US action in the Pacific. US President Roosevelt was personally involved in these discussions, which led to a continuation of the twin advances, and which led to the invasion of the Philippines. MacArthur considered that the Palau islands needed to be taken prior to invading the Philippines, because otherwise Japanese aircraft based on Peleliu might be able to strike his invasion force. US Navy Admiral Halsey questioned this logic and indeed went on record as saying the operation was pointless; any Japanese strike from Peleliu would easily be dealt with by Navy aircraft. Halsey thought there was no reason to get into ground combat with the high casualties that would result.
The operation went ahead anyway, although it was scaled down from the original concept. A joint Navy-Marine Corps-Army organization conducted the campaign. The ground force consisted of III Amphibious Corps under USMC General Roy Geiger, with the 1st Marine Division and US Army 81th Infantry Division under its command. Planning was hasty since the overall concept kept changing, and units thus did not have time to conduct proper preparation.
The 1st Marine Division was to land on the southwestern shore of Peleliu, seize the airfield that was the main objective, and then secure the rest of the island. Peleliu was defended by a reinforced regiment of the Japanese Army, and 1st Marine Div commander Gen Rupertus expected a 2-3 day battle. In fact it took well over a month of fierce fighting that cost the Marines heavily, and eventually involved a full Regimental Combat Team (RCT) from the 81st Infantry Division as well.
Moran does a very competent job describing the rushed planning for the battle, and although he skips over the ship-loading problems that resulted from the rush, he does a great job describing the landings.
Photographic reproduction is generally excellent - some of the best, sharpest and clearest photos I have seen in this series. There is a nice selection of photos from the pre-landing, landing, and subsequent ground combat phase of the battle. There are great photos of LVTs and of Japanese Type 95 tanks. I had seen only a handful of the photos before.
The maps are quite good also. The author provides a general terrain map of Peleliu, the Japanese defensive ones, the scheme of maneuver for the 1st MarDiv, and then the actual course of the battle. The author does a good job showing how the terrain influenced planning and execution.
The text is detailed, often giving platoon-level accounts of the fighting, while also staying on track at the higher level. The descriptions of USMC units, commanders and individual troops are thorough and detailed. Accounts of US Army units are far less detailed. This is definitely an account of Marine actions on the island, not the full campaign.
The photo captions are less good than the text. They are often repetitious, e.g. we are told that Peleliu is in the Palau group a dozen or so times. But this is a minor flaw. In general, the writing is very competent. It is easy to follow and never dry.
The Japanese defensive plan for Peleliu provided for a defense-in-depth using very numerous deeply-dug-in positions. The coral composition of the island made it possible for them to construct very strong fortifications amongst very hilly terrain. Although no point on Peleliu is over 300 feet high (a point the author does not mention) the terrain is comprised of extremely hilly, constricted terrain in the central part of the island. The photos in the book show how this made the airfield untenable if the higher ground was not taken. Thus a much smaller Japanese unit was able to inflict heavy losses and a lot of delay on the US forces attacking them.
At the end of the day of course, the Marines and Army seized the island, but at a high price. All three Marine regimental commanders were reassigned after the battle; the 1st Marine Regiment, in particular, took extremely heavy losses. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that Halsey was right and the island need never have been attacked.
General map of Peleliu showing the key terrain features and proposed (not actual) landing areas.
Great photo of an LVT(A)-4 with 75mm howitzer, having overrun a Japanese dug-in gun. This photo was exceptionally sharp.
US Marine Peter Zacharko with a Japanese mortar.
LVT with flamethrower
Copy of propaganda leaflet
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, with its good writing, good maps, excellent photos and good flow. I would suggest readers also consult the US Army 'Green Book' on the Pacific campaign. The 40 or so pages it devotes to the campaign are an excellent supplement to Moran's book. This is not a criticism, just a suggestion. It is online.
Highly Recommended for all builders.
Thanks goes out to Casemate Publishing for this review sample.
Reviewed by Dan Egan
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