Jim Moran, Battle of Peleliu 1944 (Frontline Books, 2022)
In this bigger than usual Images of War series book, Jim Moran takes us on a survey of a battle that was supposed to last three days but took ninety to complete. The invasion of Peleliu took place in September 1944 and would cost the Americans 9,500 casualties against a well-fortified Japanese force of 14,000 that fought almost to the last man. The operation had no strategic value: it was a waste of lives and resources and an exercise in vanity and hubris.
Moran begins with the respective operational plans for the US and Japanese forces. The US thought it would be an easy win with landings behind a barrage, but the IJA had been digging in since April, and they had learned the art of hit-and-run over expensive banzai charges. They intended to bleed the Americans dry, withdrawing into the mountainous interior while fighting for every yard. Moran surveys the commanders and forces, including the invaluable Navajo code-talkers, then we are into the action. The landing set the tone for what followed with the Marines coming under sustained fire and counter-attacks despite the aerial and naval bombardment. The Japanese even conducted a tank attack across the island’s airfield; although the Marines repelled the tanks, they were now fully on notice. The major problems set in when the Marines moved into the Umurbrogol mountains with their 500 caves and tunnels. The 1st US Marines that had spearheaded the assault were decimated. Moran detours for the 81st Infantry Division’s assault on nearby Angaur and Ulithi, which went more according to plan. Back on Peleliu, the Marines struggled to isolate the island and prevent Japanese reinforcements. Even when they did, the mountains still had to be cleared, ridge by ridge and cave by cave while the Marines could not dig in for defence on the hard coral ground. Finally, on D+70, the remaining organised Japanese force of 56 men launched their last attack with most of them cut down. The battle was all over, yet some Japanese remained on the island until 1947 and the last surviving member of the Japanese forces did not give himself up until 1954! Moran concludes with some fascinating Tom Lea paintings of the combat, an annotated list of Medal of Honor winners, and the text of ‘surrender’ leaflets, which proved as futile as just about everything else on this island.
Moran provides quite a detailed text for one of these books, but his narrative flows well enough while complementing the many monochrome photographs that are the book’s selling point. Those pictures also tell the story. Many of them cover the landings and could come from just about any of the Marine invasions during the War, but others depict the hostile terrain and the claustrophobia of fighting in the relatively confined spaces that look distinctively Peleliu in nature. Newcomers to the Pacific War will gain insight from this book, but there is enough in it for anyone interested in the theatre.