The delays in securing the Marianas had three immediate impacts upon the Peleliu operation in that it firstly, delayed the arrival of the new III Amphibious Corps commander, Major General Roy S Geiger until planning (undertaken by a temporary staff headed by Major General Julian Smith commanding Task Force 36, called X-Ray Provisional Amphibious Corps) was at quite an advanced stage and any major changes would be difficult to implement. Secondly, it caused major friction between the Army and the Marine Corps as Lieutenant General Holland ("Howlin' Mad") Smith had relieved Major General Ralph C Smith of his command of the 27th Infantry Division for 'defective performance'. This was to have serious repercussions all the way back to Washington DC and on the Peleliu operation, although the two formation commanders would actually work very well together. Thirdly, it continued to tie up troops, resources and shipping (particularly the III Amphibious Corps and 77th Infantry Division on Guam and the 27th Infantry Division on Saipan). Additionally, intelligence (including the capture of the 31st Army files and a Japanese Intelligence Officer on Saipan) revealed that Babelthuap had only marginal utility in regard to the potential expansion of the airfield facilities there and had a large Japanese garrison, while Peleliu already had an excellent operational airfield that once in American hands, could neutralise the northern one. So the planning was altered and the target date (for the first phase) changed to 15 September 1944, the same day as MacArthur's forces would take Morotai. The new plan would be known as Operation Stalemate II, the first phase of which would involve the III Amphibious Corps (still the 1st Marine and 81st Infantry Divisions) assaulting Peleliu and Angaur. The second phase would see XXIV Corps (now consisting of the 7th and 96th Infantry Divisions) attacking the atolls of Yap and Ulithi on October 8th, while the 77th Infantry Division would become the operation's floating reserve and the 5th Marine Division acting as a general reserve on Hawaii. The two phases would be supported by the US Navy's Western Pacific Task Force from the Third Fleet. The Covering Forces and Special Groups (Task Force 30) would remain directly under Halsey, the Third Amphibious Force (Task Force 31) was divided into the Western Attack Force (Task Force 32) bound for Peleliu and Angaur under Rear Admiral George H Fort and the Eastern Attack Force (Task Force 33) bound for Yap and Ulithi under Vice Admiral Theodore S Wilkinson. Task Force 32 was itself split into the Peleliu Attack Group (1st Marine Division) directly under Fort and the Angaur Attack Group (81st Infantry Division) under Rear Admiral H P Blandly.
Nimitz in turn, quickly sent a message to the Joint Chiefs of Staff who were, at that point, meeting in Quebec for the Octagon Conference with President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill. The Joint Chiefs, after consultation with General MacArthur and Admiral Nimitz, decided on the 14 September (the day before D-Day) that the landings on Leyte should be brought forward by two months, thus accepting the third point in Halsey's recommendations. Halsey therefore, cancelled the second phase of Stalemate II on 17 September, with the exception of the landing on Ulithi, which would be now be carried out by the 323rd Regimental Combat Team (RCT), 81st Infantry Division. The XXIV Corps was transferred to MacArthur's command and landed on Leyte on 20 October 1944, fulfilling MacArthur's promise to return to the Philippines as soon as possible.
The Peleliu and Morotai assaults would go ahead however. While this would have no serious consequences for the 31st Infantry Division assaulting Morotai, the consequences for the 1st Marine and 81st Infantry Divisions would be severe. It was argued that the invasion forces were already at sea and the assault was on the verge of taking place and therefore too late to call it off, the Palau Islands had excellent airfields from which to threaten any invasion force for the Philippines and had a large number of first rate troops that could be used to reinforce them once the invasion was underway. Halsey would always disagree with this decision, claiming these factors could have been neutralised by air and sea bombardment, and whatever their value, the cost in taking them was likely to be too high. The controversy continues to this day.
The 2nd Battalion would then land at H+1 (one hour after the start of the assault, H-Hour), pass between the other two battalions and participate in the advance northeast. The 7th Marines under Colonel Herman H Hanneken (less the 2nd Battalion kept as divisional reserve), codenamed 'Mustang', would land on the right flank on Beach Orange 3, drive to the eastern shoreline and then wheel right to mop up the remaining enemy forces in the southwest of the island. The 11th Marines, reinforced with III Amphibious Corps' 3rd Howitzer (155mm) and 8th Gun (155mm) Battalions, would start landing on H+1 (one hour after the start of the assault, H-Hour) on the Orange Beaches. The 1st (75mm), 2nd (75mm) and 3rd (105mm) Battalions would support the 1st, 5th and 7th Marines respectively, while the 4th Battalion (105mm) would provide general support, as would the 155mm battalions.
The 81st Infantry Division would assault Angaur with the 322nd RCT landing on Beach Red to the north and then push inland to the south and west. The 321st RCT would land on Beach Blue to the east and push west and south, tying in with the 322nd RCT. Upon completion, the 81st would revert to III Amphibious Corps reserve, garrisoning both Peleliu and Angaur after they were declared secure.
The 81st Infantry Division was made up of the 321st, 322nd and 323rd Regimental Combat Teams (RCTs) and was to assault both Angaur (321st and 322nd RCTs) and Ulithi (323rd RCT) but only when released by the 1st Marine Division commander. The 81st had been reactivated at Camp Rucker, Alabama in June 1942 after having previously served during World War One. It was raised from a small regular Army cadre from the 3rd Infantry Division, and filled out with newly commissioned reserve officers and conscripted troops. It received extensive desert training, participated in corps level exercises stressing the attack of fortified defensive positions, amphibious training in California, and was finally transferred to Hawaii where it undertook additional amphibious training. It was transported to Guadalcanal (by then a major US base) where it received jungle training, acclimatisation and training in rugged terrain. Angaur and Peleliu would be its first combat action.
Army infantry regiments had a 108-man headquarters with a platoon of three 37mm M3A1 anti-tank guns and a intelligence / reconnaissance platoon, a 118-man canon company with six 75mm M1A1 pack howitzers, a 165-man anti-tank company with nine 37mm anti-tank guns with a mine platoon, and a 115-man service company. It had three 871-man infantry battalions, each with a 155-man headquarters, three 193-man rifle companies and a 160-man heavy weapons company (D, H, M) with eight .30cal M1917A1 heavy machine guns in two platoons, and six 81mm M1 mortars in another. Each rifle company consisted of three 39-man platoons, each having three 12-man squads with a squad leader (M1 rifle), automatic rifleman (M1918A2 BAR), assistant automatic rifleman (M1 rifle), grenadier (M1 rifle, M7 grenade launcher) and seven riflemen (M1 rifles). The company had five 2.36in M1A1 bazookas and a weapons platoon with a section of two .30cal M1919A4 light machine guns and a section of three 60mm M2 mortars. Army divisional artillery was organised in a different way to that of the Marines, in that a Brigadier General was in command, had three 105mm M2A1 howitzer battalions (316th, 317th and 906th Field Artillery Battalions) and one 155mm M1A1 howitzer battalion (318th). Each battalion had a headquarters and headquarters battery, service battery and three howitzer batteries with four tubes apiece. The divisional tank battalion was the 710th, had four companies, three with seventeen M4A1 Sherman tanks (three platoons of five and two in the headquarters), and a fourth with 3in gun armed M10 tank destroyers. It also had six 75mm M8 self-propelled howitzers in the assault gun platoon attached to the headquarters.
The assault force for Operation Stalemate II therefore numbered approximately 47,561 (2,647 officers, 44,914 men), of which 26,417 (1,438 officers, 24,979 men) were Marines.
To bolster the defences, both the 35th Division and subsequently the 14th Division were ordered to the Palau Islands - however, the 35th Division was redirected to New Guinea. The 14th was already en route to New Guinea but was then redirected to Saipan and subsequently to the Palau Islands. This was under the command to Lt General Sadao Inoue and was a veteran formation from the Kwantung Army with a distinguished history dating back to the Sino-Japanese War of 1894 - 5 and the Russo-Japanese War of 1904 - 5. It consisted of a headquarters, the 2nd (a 'heavy' Type A regiment), 15th and 59th Infantry Regiments (both Type B 'light' regiments), as well as numerous combat support, and combat service support elements. Inoue took command of the Palau Sector, which included Yap - defended by the 49th Independent Mixed Brigade and 46th Base Force - and Ulithi. He deployed the 15th Infantry Regiment (-3rd Battalion) and 59th Infantry Regiment (-1st Battalion) on Babelthuap, along with the 53rd Independent Mixed Brigade (-346th Independent Infantry Battalion). The 2nd Infantry Regiment, 3rd Battalion / 15th Infantry Regiment, 346th Infantry Battalion, the 14th Division's Tank Unit and other miscellaneous units were deployed on Peleliu (under Colonel Kunio Nakagawa) and the 1st Btn / 59th IR (Reinforced) defended Angaur under Major Ushio Goto. There were also numerous combat support and combat service support units that were organised into combat units once the invasion began.
The senior Imperial Japanese Navy commander for the Palau Islands was Vice Admiral Yoshioka Ito (sometimes spelt Itou and called Kenzo Ito which has created confusion) commanding the 30th Base Force. It is doubtful he was on Peleliu at the time of the battle as he survived to surrender Imperial Japanese Navy forces in the Palau Islands to the Americans in April 1945. Many references state that the overall naval commander for Peleliu was Vice-Admiral Seiichi Itou, but Jim Moran and Gordon Rottman argue that Vice-Admiral Seiichi Ito (not Itou) was in fact the Vice Naval Chief of Staff and in Japan at the time. He was in command of the battleship Yamato's suicide mission to beach itself on Okinawa and went down with the ship when it was sunk. No source can be found naming the senior naval commander on Peleliu.
The defence of Peleliu would be conducted with new tactics - no longer would the Japanese try and hold the landing beach in strength, where they could be subjected to fierce aerial and naval bombardment but would lightly defend the beach, construct a defence in depth utilising the terrain to best advantage and counterattack on the first night while the Americans were still consolidating the beachhead. Additionally, there would be no mass suicidal banzai attacks, but carefully coordinated small-scale counterattacks - the Japanese planned to fight a war of attrition and bleed the Americans white.
The Japanese defenders numbered approximately 21,000 Army, 7,000 Navy and 10,000 labourers on the Palau Islands.
Starting on the 12 September, Underwater Demolition Teams (UDT) 6 and 7 had been clearing submerged obstacles and blasting pathways through the reef at Peleliu for the assault waves, while UDT 8 did the same on Angaur. This was often dangerous work and in many cases carried out under direct small arms fire from Japanese defenders on the beach. The Kossol Passage north of Babelthuap was cleared of mines at a cost of a minesweeper (USS Perry) with another minesweeper and a destroyer (USS Wadleigh) damaged.
Naval support ships began the pre-assault bombardment at 05.30, 15 September 1944, which moved inland at 07.50 to make way for carrier-based aircraft to bomb and strafe the beaches ahead of the lead assault wave. White phosphorous smoke shells were fired to screen the incoming Marines from the Japanese on the high ground to the north of the airfield. The initial assault waves would be landed entirely by amtrac, with subsequent waves transferring from LCVPs (Landing Craft, Vehicle and Personnel or 'Higgin's Boats' after their inventor, Andrew Higgins) at the reef's edge to amtracs returning from the beaches. This is basically a re-run of the plan for Operation Galvanic, the assault on Tarawa, and many a Marine must have thought about their comrades in the 2nd Marine Division who had had to wade ashore several hundred meters under intense fire from the Japanese. This time however, they would be preceded by LVT(A)1s, which mounted a 37mm gun, or LVT(A)4s, which mounted a 75mm gun and were specially armoured amtracs that could act as tanks and suppress beach defences. Additionally, there would be eighteen LCI(G)s (Landing Craft, Infantry (gun)), armed with 4.5in rockets and four LCI(M)s (Landing Craft, Infantry (mortar)) armed with three 4.2in mortars to give fire support to the assault troops. As the first waves crossed the line of departure, it became apparent that there were still plenty of defenders on Peleliu as artillery fire and mortar shells started to land in amongst the amtracs racing for the beach. A number received direct hits (some twenty-six were knocked out on D-Day) and the smoke and debris thrown up by both the American and Japanese bombardment obscured the beaches for a time from the following waves.
The 5th Marines landed on Beach Orange 1 (1/5) and 2 (3/5) and meeting only scattered resistance, advanced inland through coconut groves and reaching their first objective line by 09.30 and tying up with 2/1 on their left. There was some confusion on Orange 2 as elements of the 7th Marines landed there instead of their intended beach (Orange 3) and so the 3rd Battalion's K Company (K/3/5) was delayed in its advance and did not draw level with I/3/5 until 10.00. After 3/5 resumed the advance at 10.30, there was again some confusion between its companies as K/3/5 forged ahead of I/3/5 as it was in dense vegetation that provided concealment from Japanese shelling. L/3/5 was committed to close the gap but the line remained thin for much of D-Day. 2/5 had landed at 09.35 and drove east and they were deployed to relieve I/3/5 who were to pass around L/3/5 and tie in with K/3/5. Orders proved easier to give than to execute and it took sometime to accomplish this. To underscore 3/5's bad luck, a mortar barrage hit the battalion command post (CP) and Colonel Shofner and a number of his staff were wounded and had to be evacuated, forcing Lieutenant Colonel Lewis W Walt, the battalion's Executive Office, to take command.
The 7th Marines landed on Beach Orange 3, with two battalions (1/7 and 3/7) in column, and 2/7 being kept afloat as division reserve. 3/7 landed first but experienced difficulties with a high number of natural and man-made obstacles on the reef, which forced the amtrac divers to approach it in column, presenting a prime target to the Japanese gunners. The ferocious fire that came in forced a number of amtrac drivers to veer left and land on Orange 2. The confusion between 3/7 and 3/5 took time to rectify and when it finally moved off inland it discovered another large obstacle in the form of a huge anti-tank ditch, which the Marines quickly put to good use. By 10.45 3/7 had covered some 500 yards when it ran into a series of blockhouses and pillboxes in the old Japanese barracks area. It requested tank support, which when it arrived, became confused and ended up supporting 3/5 instead of 3/7 as they were adjacent to each other. This led to a gap opening up between the two regiments as 3/7 had stopped to consolidate its position whereas 3/5 continued to push ahead. 1/7 landed on Orange 3 at 10.30 and wheeled right as planned, only to encounter a dense swamp (not shown on any map), which had the only trail around it heavily defended. It wouldn't be until 15.20 that Colonel Gormley could report that the battalion had reached its objective line and it faced a determined Japanese counterattack that night, which was only defeated with the help of Black Marine shore party personnel who volunteered to become riflemen.
While there were a number of local counterattacks that night, none were of the old suicidal banzai variety. Instead they took a more coherent form of carefully planned attempts at infiltration and raiding. The only major counterattack of the day came in at 16.50 and consisted of a combined tank - infantry force that crossed the northern part of the runway. Initially, an infantry force started to move towards Marine lines under the cover of a significant increase in artillery fire and was soon followed by a group of tanks with infantry riding on them. For a moment, this looked like a serious coordinated attack but then for some reason the Japanese tank drivers accelerated towards the Marines, leaving the infantry in their wake. They cut across the front of 2/1 who subjected them to devastating flanking fire. Two of the tanks veered off and went through 2/1's lines and crashed into a swamp while the others went through the lines of 1/5 and were cut to pieces. The advancing infantry was subject to harassing fire and the attentions of a Navy dive-bomber. Only two tanks escaped (these were probably destroyed in a later counterattack) and the infantry disappeared after seeing their tank support decimated.
On the right, the 7th Marines continued their advance south and east. 3/7 continued their assault eastwards on a large Japanese reinforced concrete blockhouse with the aid of naval gunfire support and artillery, but had to finally reduce it by direct assault under cover of a smokescreen. 1/7 attacked south over flat scrubland that slowed progress. Most of the defences in this area were geared to a possible assault from the sea, but the Marines still faced a large number of casemates, bunkers, blockhouses, pillboxes, rifle pits and trenches, all mutually supporting with well-cleared fields of fire. It took most of the morning on D+1 for K/3/7 to reach the far shoreline. It must be noted that the temperatures on Peleliu were not comfortable at all, with it being over 100° F and the strains of protracted fighting and dehydration would soon be felt. The advance was halted at noon, with the rest of D+1 taken up with bringing forward and stockpiling fresh supplies and water. Unfortunately a number of the drums used to hold the water had previously been used to store aviation fuel and a large number of Marines were temporarily incapacitated.
D+2 saw the 7th Marines continue their assault to the south and southeast with 3/7 taking the Southeastern Promontory by 13.20 after some fierce fighting and the clearance by Engineers of a minefield that delayed the attack. 1/7 started their assault on the Southwestern Promontory (much larger than the southeastern one) at 08.35 and met stubborn resistance from the beginning and had to call in tanks and armoured LVT(A)s to help the advance. They managed to take the first line of the Japanese defences by mid-afternoon but only managed to clear half the promontory by nightfall. They resumed the attack at 10.00 on D+3 but progress was slow (even though additional armour and 75mm gun armed halftracks had been brought up) with many rear echelon elements being attacked by Japanese emerging from bypassed caves and fortifications. It wasn't until mid-afternoon that the Marines had reached the southern shore and the remaining Japanese decided to take their own lives and save the Marines the trouble. The southern part of Peleliu had been secured.
Meanwhile, the 5th Marines prepared to continue to advance east and then swing northeast to stay on the right flank of the 1st Marines. In a short space of time, 1/5 swept the whole of the northern part of the airfield with the only serious resistance coming from a collection of emplacements around the hangars. The area was secured by the end of D+1 after heavy fighting and an adjustment in the frontline. 2/5 (to the right of 1/5) was making slow progress over what was relatively open ground due to heavy resistance. To the east of the airfield, woodland gave way to a mangrove swamp that were all infested with Japanese fortifications and it took hours of hand-to-hand fighting for 2/5 to draw next to 1/5. With the advances of the 7th Marines on their right flank and the 2/5 on its left flank, 3/5 was almost pinched out of operations by the end of D+1 and halted to secure its positions on the shoreline. D+2 saw the 5th Marines start moving northeast where they came under flanking fire from Japanese positions in front of the 1st Marines. 1/5 reached its objectives by noon but when 3/5 relieved it and tried to continue the advance, it became pinned down. 2/5 however had greater success, being concealed by woodland, and with resistance being light quickly drew level with 3/5 on its left and the shoreline to its right. D+3 (18 September) saw the 5th Marines make slow but steady progress. The regimental boundary (on their left) was the road that ran past the Umurbrogol Mountain to the northeast. 2/5 hacked its way through dense jungle terrain to eventually come across an improved road that split, in one direction running east towards Ngardololok and in the other running northeast past the Kamilianlul Mountain and Hill 80 before it joined another road running along the other shoreline past Garekoro. As it ran east, this road ran very close to the swamp and in places could have been considered a causeway that would be perilous to advance up. A patrol was sent in advance of the main body that was covered by artillery and air strikes, one of which came in late and hit the Marines, resulting in thirty-four casualties. With this opening, Regimental HQ shifted 3/5 (minus L Company tied in with the 1st Marines) along the road to support 2/5, which faced the main Ngardololok installations, usually referred to as the 'RDF' as it contained a radio direction finder station. Both battalions advanced on the RDF and by the end of D+4 had reached the eastern and southern shores (Beach Purple). By the end of D+5 they had secured the entire eastern peninsula with 2/5 advancing all the way up to Ngabad Island and then moving across to Carlson Island by D+8.
On the left flank, things were far from going to plan. The 1st Marines under Puller had met fierce and coordinated resistance from the first moments they landed. On D+1, the divisional reserve 2/7 was ordered to support the 1st Marines. 2/1, which faced east, swung north to attack the built-up area that lay between the airfield and the mountains. 3/1 however, was not able to match this and therefore 1/1, the regimental reserve, was landed to give support. After hard fighting, the 1st Marines finally captured 'The Ridge' and relieved Company K, which had been reduced to 78 men from 235. On D+2, the 1st Marines came into contact with the Umurbrogol Mountains and described it thus - "a contorted mass of coral, strewn with rubble crags, ridges and gulches." By this time the 1st Marines had suffered over 1,000 casualties, but all three battalions now lined up with 3/1 on the left, 1/1 in the centre and 2/1 on the right with 2/7 in reserve. 2/1 was the first to advance and engage the defences. They attacked and took the first of many ridges (this one called Hill 200) but immediately came under fire from the next one (Hill 210). 1/1 made good progress until they came up against a reinforced concrete blockhouse that had been reported as destroyed by Admiral Oldendorf. The Marines only took it after calling in 14in naval gunfire directly onto the fortification. 3/1 advanced along the comparatively flat coastal plain, but halted when it started to loose contact with 1/1. Casualties quickly rose but Puller was being urged on by Rupertus to 'maintain momentum' and so just about everyone who could hold a rifle was put into the line as infantry, including engineers, pioneers and HQ personnel. 2/7 moved into the line to replace 1/1. The pattern for D+2 was to be repeated again and again. On D+3 the Marines took Hill 210, but the Japanese counterattacked Hill 200 forcing them to withdraw. The situation looked desperate and so B/1/1 who had just entered reserve, was ordered to re-enter the line and help 2/1 take another ridge (Hill 205). This they accomplished, but when they tried to advance, they were halted by a collection of emplacements and fortifications that came to be known as the 'Five Sisters'. 3/1 advanced along the coastal plain once again, halting to maintain contact with 2/7. After a night of concerted counterattacks, the remnants of the 1st Marines and 2/7 resumed their attacks on what was now obvious to everyone - the main Japanese line of defence - and while making progress suffered heavy casualties. By the end of D+4, the 1st Marines were no longer capable of effective action, having suffered some 1,749 casualties - only six fewer than what the 1st Marine Division had suffered in its entirety on Guadalcanal. Having visited the 1st Marines, Roy Geiger (Commander, III Amphibious Corps) ordered Rupertus to replace the 1st Marines with the 321st RCT, 81st Infantry Division (on Angaur) and send the 1st Marines back to Pavuvu.
D+9 saw the 321st RCT, having arrived from Angaur (Angaur being declared secure at 10.34, 20 September, although the 322nd RCT would be fighting there for another month in 'mopping up' operations), drive north past the Umurbrogol Mountains, the plan being for the 321st RCT to push past them, with the 5th Marines moving through them and securing northern Peleliu while the 7th Marines took over the 1st Marine's positions. However, the Japanese still held positions all along the edge of the road and would bring down fire on anything that tried to move along it. The terrain also made it impossible for any tanks or armoured vehicles to move in support of infantry, except along the road. D+9 also saw Marine Air Group 11 start to arrive that would take over the air support for the operation from the Navy.
As the 321st RCT advanced (having taken over from 3/1 that had been tied to 3/7 to their right) they outpaced the 3/7 by keeping to the road, 3/7 having to take the ridges themselves. The 321st RCT continued to advance and by D+10, the 5th Marines were able to pass through them and move onto the ruined village of Garekoru. There, 1/5 occupied the destroyed radio station to the north of the village and 3/5 took the high ground on their right flank after a hard but short fight from Navy construction personnel.
D+11 saw an assault begin on 'Hill Row' made up of Radar Hill, and Hills 1, 2 and 3, in actuality the southern arm of the Amiangal Ridge. Here, 1/5 and 2/5 started the attack, but as it progressed, 2/5 shifted west and continued north while 1/5 and 3/5 continued to attack eastwards, 3/5 taking Hill 80 and reaching the shoreline by the end of the day. Fighting continued on D+11 and D+12 but by the end of D+12 (27 September), 2/5 had secured the northern shore (Akarakoro Point) and the phosphate plant, although it would take another several weeks to finally eliminate all resistance on the Point, by blasting shut the cave entrances. Even then, a few weeks later, the Marines were astonished to see Japanese Navy survivors dig their way out! 2/5 then turned around and attacked south in support of 1/5, still assaulting Hill Row. After two more days of fierce fighting, they had reached the tops of Hill Row, with only the Umurbrogol Pocket left. Meanwhile, 3/5 assaulted Ngesebus Island on D+13 to seal off Peleliu from further reinforcement from Babelthuap. They were supported by the battleship USS Mississippi, the cruisers USS Columbus and USS Denver, land-based artillery and Marine Corsairs from VMF-114. 1/7 was in reserve. The landing (at 09.30) was met with little resistance. Ngesebus is mainly flat and covered with scrubland but has some coral ridges to the west. This was where the Japanese had there main defence line, but it wasn't as well constructed as those on Peleliu, and with the support of tanks, 3/5 had cleared both Ngesebus and Kongauru Island by the end of D+14 and turned them over to 1/321, going into divisional reserve.
1/7 and 3/7 relieved 321st RCT on D+14 and on D+15 renewed the assault southwards, managing to take part of 'Boyd Ridge' and Hill 100 (also sometimes called Pope's Ridge or Walt Ridge). 3/5 (back from Ngesebus) reinforced the 7th Marines on D+18 and so the regiment planned a four-battalion attack. 1/7 (along the East Road towards the unnamed ridge) and 3/7 (towards Baldy Hill) would attack from the north. 2/7 would attack towards Hill 300 from the south and 3/5 would make a diversionary attack towards Five Sisters and Horseshoe Canyon from the west. After bitter fighting and heavy casualties, the assault managed to secure its objectives with the exception of the Five Sisters, where 3/5 had managed to scale four out of the five heights but had to retreat as its position was untenable. It was on D+18 that the Marines suffered their highest-ranking casualty - Colonel Joseph F Hankins, who had come down the West Road to clear a traffic jam near a dangerous part of the road called 'Dead Man's Curve', and was killed by a sniper.
The 7th Marines had been in the Umurbrogol for two weeks and were looking severely battered as a result. D+19 saw their final attack get underway to mop up the draw between Walt (also known as Hill 100) and Boyd Ridges, which were assigned to I/3/7 and F/2/7. Company L under Captain James V Shanley was tasked to seize three semi-isolated hills east of Baldy. The company achieved this with no casualties and so continued to advance onto Ridge 120. Just as the lead platoon reached to northern tip of the ridge, Japanese opened up with automatic fire from emplacements on Baldy and the lower slopes of Boyd Ridge. As the Marines retreated they walked into an ambush - a hail of fire from positions on the captured knobs and the lower slopes of Ridge 120. It was all over by 18.20 - only five Marines out of the forty-eight in the platoon made it back unhurt. The 7th Marines were no longer an effective fighting force having suffered 46 percent casualties (1,486 out of 3,217). They were pulled out of the line and replaced by the 5th Marines, 1/5 taking over from 2/7 and 2/5 taking over from 3/7, while 3/5 withdrew to a bivouac area to prepare for up-and-coming operations.
Bulldozers were brought up to clear routes into the many canyons to allow flamethrower-equipped LVTs and tanks to support the advance and artillery was positioned on the West Road to fire at point-blank range at the west facing cliffs. These tactics continued, slowly reducing the pocket, for the next six days. Hill 140 was captured in a well-orchestrated attack from 2/5 that allowed a 75mm pack howitzer to be brought up, sandbagged in place, and fire on many of the larger caves that had been firing to such devastating effect on the attacking Marines. D+27 saw 3/5 relieve 2/5 and continue the attack from the southeast, gradually reducing the Pocket to an area 800 yards long by 500 yards wide.
Rupertus had been resisting suggestions by Major General Geiger to relieve the 5th and 7th Marines with the 321st RCT but Rupertus desperately wanted the Umurbrogol Mountain to fall to the Marines and limit the Army's role to mopping up only. Events however, overtook him with first, the arrival of the 323rd RCT from Ulithi and secondly the replacement of Admiral Wilkinson by Admiral Fort who promptly sent a communiqué to the effect that Peleliu had been secured and that the 1st Marine Division would be withdrawn to Pavuvu, the assault phase of Operation Stalemate II complete. Over the course of D+31 / 32 the 321st RCT relieved the 5th Marines while the 323rd RCT relieved the 7th Marines. A number of Marine units (including the 1st Amphibian Tractor, 3rd Armoured Amphibian Tractor and 1st Medical Battalions) stayed on to support the 81st Infantry Division in a battle that lasted another six weeks. Japanese defences were now concentrated in individual positions around Baldy, Hill 140, Five Brothers, Five Sisters and the China Wall. The Army continued to pound the Japanese, and reduce each position carefully with intense preparatory work. The 321st RCT continued the attack and took the Five Brothers and entered the Horseshoe on 23 November. 323rd RCT (under Colonel Arthur Watson) took Hill 30 and Five Sisters and after assuming the main responsibility for finishing the attack, started their assault on the China Wall, only yards from Nakagawa's command post in what was to be the last Japanese position on the island to fall. Engineers constructed a ramp to allow tanks and flamethrowing LVTs to fire directly onto the last Japanese defences now only a couple of hundred yards square. On D+70, Colonel Nakagawa sent one last message to Koror advising them that he had burned the 2nd Infantry Regiment's colours and split his remaining 56 men into 17 groups with orders to attack the enemy wherever they found them. That night, 25 Japanese were killed attempting to infiltrate American lines and the following morning, a prisoner confirmed that Colonel Nakagawa and Major General Murai had both committed ritual suicide in their command post. On the morning of D+73 (27 November), elements from the north and the south met face-to-face near what was Nakagawa's final command post. Colonel Watson reported to Major General Mueller that the operation was over, although mopping up would continue for some time to come.
One mystery surrounding Peleliu was the role played by Major General Kenjiro Murai. Captured orders and interrogation of POWs indicated that Colonel Nakagawa was in command and that Murai was there as an advisor as he was considered an expert in fortifications. This was an unusual situation to say the least given the disparity in rank, strict Japanese military code and the fact that Peleliu was a large command for a colonel. In March 1950, Lt Colonel Worden, USMC, interrogated General Inoue, who survived the war, while he was in a US Navy prison. Inoue's statement, plus captured material from the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed that Murai was definitely on Peleliu during the fighting and that both he and Nakagawa received special promotions on 31 December 1944, the day that the Japanese High Command accepted their deaths. There was however problems between the Army and the Navy and it is possible that Inoue sent Murai there to bolster Nakagawa's authority as the Army were finding it difficult to obtain any sort of real cooperation from the Navy. However, a Navy vice-admiral still outranks an Army Major General, although not by nearly as much as a colonel.
For months afterwards, US garrison troops were flushing out survivors and sealing up caves. The huge tunnel complex in the Umurbrogol was still occupied and after attempts were made to persuade the Japanese to surrender, the caves were sealed shut, only to have five bedraggled survivors dig their way out in February 1945. For a while after the end of the Second World War, rumours persisted about surviving Japanese soldiers still hiding out in the mountains and swamps of Peleliu. Eventually some 120 Marines were sent in to look for them, as they might be preparing to attack Navy dependent housing. After several attempts to persuade them to give themselves up failed, a former Japanese Admiral was brought to Peleliu to talk them into surrendering and that they could do so with honour. On 22 April 1947, a lieutenant with twenty-six men from the 2nd Infantry Regiment and eight from the 45th Guard Force sailors emerged - their battle for Peleliu finally at an end. This was the last official surrender of World War Two, although the last reported Japanese soldier actually surrendered in 1955!
Navy Seabees started constructing a 7,000-foot runway on Angaur even before the fighting had finished, from which Marine aircraft wings (eventually VMF-114, VMF-121, VMF-122, VMTB-134, VMF(N)-541 and VMR-952 would be based there) started flying to support the troops still battling for the island. It was eventually used by 494th Heavy Bombardment Group flying B-24 Liberators to support American forces fighting in the Philippines as well as two US Navy sea search units, one of which found the survivors of the USS Indianapolis (CA-35) that delivered parts for the atomic bomb to Tinian and was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine (I-58) as it headed for Leyte. The ship went down in twelve minutes and no report of its sinking or a distress call was received. Out of a crew of 1,196, 316 were still alive by the fourth day when they were spotted by a search plane operating out of Peleliu.
The second was in the provision of adequate medical care. The 1st Marine Division relied on organic support with each infantry battalion having a 44-man aid station (two officers, forty-two enlisted) that were in fact Navy personnel. Medical corpsmen were attached to the platoons an also operated small aid stations for the rifle companies. The infantry regiments also had aid stations with twenty-four personnel (five officers and nineteen enlisted) in them and a 102-man medical company attached to the division, which provided small clearing stations to support each battalion aid station. This provision was stretched given the casualty rate suffered by the division in the battle.
The third relates to the use of metal drums for both fuel and drinking water. An unfortunate incident occurred where a number of drums that were carrying water had not been cleaned properly after they had been used to store aviation fuel, which resulted in a number of needless casualties from sickness.
The fourth relates to the inadequate pre-invasion bombardment. Documents recovered on Saipan indicated the true numbers of Japanese defenders on the islands, previously thought to be far less than the 10,000+ men actually deployed there. The planners added a third day of naval bombardment to the schedule, which showed they took heed of the intelligence from the Marianas but they failed to assimilate the lessons from previous operations about the consequences of an inadequate pre-invasion bombardment, shown as recently as the battle for Saipan. Worse was to come when the admiral in charge of the fire support ships informed the landing force that he had run out of targets and reduced his expenditure of shells for the time remaining. The reception received by the Marines as they landed on the invasion beaches on D-Day testified to the poor performance of the Navy in destroying the Japanese defences and it also failed to remove much of the jungle that covered many areas behind the beach. It is therefore vital to make sure that there is an adequate process in place to facilitate the dissemination of important information, intelligence and lessons learned to all concerned.
Fifthly, there is the difficulty of gathering intelligence in a high-threat amphibious scenario. The reconnaissance assets employed at the time failed to pick out many of the camouflaged emplacements, bunkers, blockhouses and caves that littered the island and provided little clue as to the nightmarish terrain that was hidden under the thick jungle canopy. While such assets have advanced massively since the end of the Second World War, it would be interesting to see if our modern technology and reconnaissance techniques would have any greater success against such an opponent that is willing to extract the most out of deception, camouflage and the use of local terrain to maximum advantage. Experience in the recent Kosovo conflict suggests that it would be wise not to become over-reliant on such advanced technology. There is also the possibility that the actual use of reconnaissance assets may warn one side that the other has an interest in a particular target.
Whether or not the islands should have been taken is a matter that is still hotly contested by veterans and historians alike. Whatever the arguments, it must be remembered that:
It remains a mystery to many as to why this battle has not taken its rightful place among the Corps' most famous engagements. Perhaps it was looked upon as a sideshow in comparison to MacArthur's much-heralded return to the Philippines, or the Allied campaign in France and the Low Countries (D-Day for Peleliu being two days before the start of Operation Market Garden), or perhaps it was the fact that few correspondents went ashore on Peleliu (due to Major General Rupertus' prediction that it would be over in four to five days) or perhaps it was the Marine Corps itself who preferred the battle to be downplayed after they had come in for criticism from both the Army and the Press over the high casualties at Tarawa, Kwajalein and Saipan. Whatever the reason, Peleliu should now be a battle that, in the words of Major Henry J Donigan, is "studied, honored and remembered". Perhaps the last words should go to Eugene Sledge. The Americans soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines who fought there he says, "suffered so much for our country. None came out unscathed. Many gave their lives, their health, and some their sanity. All who survived will long remember the horror that they would rather forget. But they suffered and they did their duty so a sheltered homeland can enjoy the peace."