Most Americans have heard of the Battles of Iwo Jima and Guadalcanal, but Peleliu is referred to as “the forgotten battle.” This post is the first part of a book review of “To The Far Side Of Hell, The Battle for Peleliu, 1944.” It is my hope that by writing this review, I can do my part to remember this “forgotten battle” and the men who fought in it, one of whom was my father.
The Battle for Peleliu was fought primarily by the 1st Division of the Marine Corps, often called “The Old Breed”, along with the 81st Division of the Army. My Dad was in the Army, on a ship stationed off of the coast of Peleliu. It was several days after the Marines had invaded Peleliu, and the guys on my Dad’s ship were aware of how tough the battle was going. My Dad was off on a work detail one day, and when he arrived back, his buddies informed him that he was going the next day to Peleliu with them. While my Dad had been gone, 40 volunteers were requested to go to Peleliu. His friends enthusiastically signed up, and signed him up too. My Dad had just turned 20. This group came to be known as “The 40 Fools.” Whenever my Dad would tell the story of being voluntold to go to Peleliu, his face would light up, he would smile from ear to ear, and throw his head back and just laugh and laugh and laugh, as though being told to go to Peleliu was the greatest thing that had ever happened to him.
According to the book, “Peleliu was one of the bloodiest battles of the whole Pacific campaign-the bloodiest, according to many 1st Division veterans who had earlier served at Guadalcanal and Cape Gloucester, and who after Peleliu were to endure the hell of Okinawa.” The National Museum of the Marine Corps calls Peleliu “the bitterest battle of the war for the Marines.” So why do few Americans know about Peleliu?
One reason may be that it is widely believed that The Battle of Peleliu was never necessary to begin with. It remains unclear why Admiral Nimitz ordered the invasion of Peleliu. Admiral Nimitz and General MacArthur had conflicting visions of how to operate in the Pacific. MacArthur wanted to liberate the Philippines. Nimitz wanted to only invade a few strategic islands and then mount on attack on mainland Japan. According to Wikipedia, both men wanted to take over Peleliu. Their reasons for wanting to do this are a mystery for the ages.
According to the book, “To this day, Nimitz’s reasons for invading Peleliu remain a mystery. Admiral Halsey, commander of the 3rd Fleet, was reporting very light Japanese presence in the area.” Admiral Halsey believed that an invasion of Peleliu was unnecessary. At the time of the invasion, the U.S. could roam the Philippine Sea “virtually at will.” Peleliu did have an airfield that had been built by the Japanese, but it was mostly destroyed by the time America attacked.
I have read “To The Far Side of Hell” once, and am writing this review as I read a second time. It is a difficult book to get through, because every sentence is chock full of information. It is impossible to retain all of it, and sometimes difficult to discern when I ought to take notes, but I am finding it easier the second time through. The impression I get is that when it came to Peleliu, if something could go wrong, it did. Everything about that battle just went wrong, starting with the initial planning of it, starting with the fact that it wasn’t necessary to invade Peleliu to begin with. Those in charge believed that the island could be taken in 2-4 days. It ended up taking over 2 months. According to the book, “The fighting on Peleliu would take on a dimension of savagery which had seldom been seen before, but which was to be the curtain raiser for Iwo Jima and Okinawa.”