Unsung Heroes: The 81st Infantry Division “Wildcats” at Angaur and Peleliu

Operation Stalemate II has gone down in history as one of the bloodiest and most controversial American actions in the Pacific during World War II. The fighting on Peleliu is enshrined in Marine Corps history as one of its most difficult and savage battles. Today Peleliu rightly holds a place alongside Iwo Jima and Tarawa in Corps lore. The taking of “Bloody Peleliu” is inexorably associated with the 1st Marine Division. Contemporary film productions, such as the HBO miniseries The Pacific, as well as History Channel programs and others have highlighted the efforts and losses of the Marines on Peleliu. The campaign, while joint service in nature, was planned and commanded primarily by U.S. Navy and Marine Corps. Consequently, the first widely read narratives on the subject were those produced by Navy and Marine Corps commanders, whose works were naturally tainted by their own bias, perspective, and experiences. These factors have cemented the role of the Corps in the campaign in the minds of many lay historians. While the Marine Corps has received well deserved acclaim for its performance in the Palau Islands operations, the equally significant contributions of the U.S. Army in the same campaign have on the contrary been relegated to almost anecdotal status. Without the often ignored yet significant contributions of Army units, specifically the 81st Infantry Division, success in Operation Stalemate II would have been impossible.

WWII Era 81st Infantry “Wildcat” Division Shoulder Patch

Operation Stalemate

The plan for the Palau operation, initially codenamed Operation Stalemate, called for four Army divisions and one Marine division to assault and take the larger islands containing important airfields in the chain located 550 miles east of the Philippines, as well as Ulithi Atoll and the Island of Yap. Eventually a modified plan, Stalemate II, was produced in which Admiral Nimitz opted to avoid costly fighting on Babelthuap Island – the largest and most heavily defended island in the Palau chain. Instead, they would take the smaller islands of Angaur and Peleliu. The threat of enemy attacks on invasion forces from Babelthuap would be neutralized by naval and air assets.[1] Operation Stalemate II called for the III Phib Corps, composed of the 1st Marine Division and the Army’s reinforced 81st Infantry Division, to take the islands of Angaur and Peleliu on September 15-16, 1944, while the army’s XXIV Corps would seize Yap and the Ulithi Atoll twenty-five days later.[2]

As part of the III Phib Corps the 81st Infantry Division and other Army units would fall under the command of Marine Major General Roy S. Geiger. General Geiger’s plan called for the 1st Marine Division to land first at Peleliu, the primary objective of the operation. Once the Marines had established a toehold, the bulk of the 81st Infantry Division would be released from a reserve role to take its objective – the island of Angaur.[3] Major General Paul Mueller’s 81st Division soldiers and other attached Army troops would only be used on Peleliu for mopping up actions after the island was declared secure. The Army would only reinforce the Marines on Peleliu prior to this if Army troops were requested by 1st Marine Division commander Major General Rupertus, and if so deployed would fall under his command.[4]  From the beginning stages of the operation interservice mistrust and rivalry was palpable. The openly contemptuous General Rupertus wanted nothing to do with the untested 81st Division troops, while battle seasoned Marines questioned the fighting capability and esprit de corps of Army soldiers.[5] Interservice mistrust reared its ugly head throughout the campaign.

 General Rupertus believed that his 1st Marine Division would secure Peleliu in three days. After a strong defense at the waterline, he reckoned that the Japanese would launch a series of counterattacks including mass banzai charges or frontal assaults which would easily be defeated.[6] This belief stemmed from the fact that the Japanese defenders of Guadalcanal and Tarawa had used similar tactics, resulting in mass slaughter of the enemy. Unbeknownst to Generals Rupertus, Mueller, and Geiger the enemy had revised their defensive strategy; according to the Japanese “Palau Sector Training for Victory” directive, banzai charges and other such injudicious counterattacks were strictly forbidden.[7] No longer would Japanese soldiers sell their lives so cheaply – they would kill as many Americans as possible before giving their lives for the Emperor.

The Japanese commanders, Colonel Nakagawa at Peleliu and Major Goto at Angaur, both clearly understood the intention of the new orders and resolved to fight to the death while exacting the maximum price in blood from the Americans for every foot of ground. For months leading up to the attacks they transformed the coral ground and phosphorus mines of both islands into a honeycomb of formidable defensive strongholds, known as fukkaku or “diagonal angle.” Multiple overlapping fields of fire linked by miles of horizontal, vertical, and lateral tunnels the openings to which were all cleverly camouflaged.[8] Firing apertures were often invisible until one was literally standing right on top of them. Army Corporal Edward Luzinas, a Sherman tank gunner in the 710th Tank Battalion, described firing 75-millimeter high explosive rounds from his main gun at a barely visible ten inch slit in the side of a hill from the nearly point-blank distance of fifty yards on Peleliu.[9] Machine gun fire from the aperture had caused numerous casualties before Luzinas knocked it out with a direct hit. Soldiers and Marines quickly learned that the Japanese would use their tunnel network to reoccupy bypassed firing positions and cave openings, wreaking havoc in areas that were thought to be secure making it necessary to seal each one as they were taken. The caves and tunnels of the fukkaku network, combined with new Japanese defensive tactics, converted the small islands of Angaur and Peleliu into death traps the likes of which the Allied soldier had yet to experience in the Pacific war.

Peleiu Battle Map by Cartographer Gene Thorp

81st “Wildcat” Division

General Mueller’s 81st Infantry Division “Wildcats” had been training together as a unit since October 1942. At its core, the division was composed of three regimental combat teams (RCTs): the 321st, 322nd, and 323rd along with attached supporting units. The rigorous training regimen was typical of all Army combat units during World War II and included divisional maneuvers in Alabama and Tennessee, corps sized maneuvers at the Army’s California-Arizona Maneuver Area in the Mojave Desert, and amphibious training conducted under USMC Major General Holland “Howlin’ Mad” Smith on the California coast.[10] The division conducted its final training and preparations for the Palau Islands assault at the Army’s Jungle Training Center on Oahu, Hawaii. In preparation for the operation the division’s three RCTs were reinforced to over the normal allotted strength in manpower and a variety of Army subunits added to the division. Attached units included various support elements such as mobile field hospitals as well as three engineering battalions (the 52nd, 154th, and 155th), the 483rd Anti-Aircraft (AAA) Battalion, the 710th Tank Battalion, and the 766th Amphibious Tank Battalion, all of which played a critical role in the success of the campaign.[11] 81st Division troops embarked for the final time and steamed out of Pearl Harbor on August 12, 1944, on what for many would be a one way trip. None imagined the hell that awaited them on Angaur and Peleliu.

Operation Stalemate II kicked off with a three-day naval bombardment from ships at sea and from the air on the invasion islands. Visible targets such as buildings around the airfield at Peleliu were destroyed, however due to the dense jungle coverage and inaccurate maps there was no way to determine the location nor the effects of the artillery or aerial bombardment on the enemy.[12] The Japanese, as part of their revised defensive plan, did not fire back at ships or aircraft during the pre-invasion bombardment in order not to reveal their positions.[13] Rather, the plan required defenders to wait until the landing craft approached to open fire, then counterattack the beachhead when it was the weakest. After which, they would remain in their fukkaku fighting positions and ambush the Americans as they advanced into their killing fields.[14]

U.S. Navy bombardment of Anguar – U.S. Navy Photo, 1944

On the morning of September 15, the men of the 81st Division stood by and watched the big naval guns fire onto Peleliu while fighter pilots strafed the beach ahead of the landing craft. By that afternoon the Marines had carved out a 3,000 yard long, 500 yard deep beachhead and fought off three Japanese counterattacks, including one supported by twenty light tanks. Based on the situation 1st Marine Division commander General Rupertus deduced that, despite taking heavy casualties, everything was proceeding as planned. By noon the following day III Phib Corps Commander, General Geiger, was also convinced and released the 81st from its duty as floating reserve and authorized General Mueller to proceed with the landings at Angaur seven miles southwest of Peleliu.

The 81st Division’s 321st and 322nd RCTs landed the following morning, Sunday, September 17, on Angaur starting at 0830 hours. On the same day Admiral Halsey unexpectedly split up the Army division and sent the 323rd RCT to take Ulithi Atoll 300 miles to the east. The Army’s XXIV Corps had been diverted from that task to General MacArthur’s command and would instead participate in the Philippine Campaign.[15] This left the Marines on Peleliu without a floating reserve. Tarawa veteran and Commanding General, 3rd Fleet Expeditionary Troops, Marine Major General Julian Smith was onsite and sensed that all was not well as supposed on Peleliu. He expressed his reservations about leaving the Marines without a floating reserve before the island was secure to his boss Admiral Halsey, however his warning was ignored.[16]

81st Division soldiers land on Anguar, September 17, 1944 – U.S. Army Photo


The three mile long, pork chop shaped island of Angaur is a small limestone and coral rock that juts up out of the Pacific at the southern end of the Palau chain. Prior to World War II the Germans, and later the Japanese, mined phosphate on the island. At the time of the landings a narrow-gauge railroad with several spurs crisscrossed the island. At 200 feet in elevation, Romauldo Hill is the highest point on the island. From its heights one can observe almost all points of the island in each direction. The southern and western portions of the island are relatively flat, however the approaches to the hill are covered in jagged jungle covered hills and cliffs like those on Peleliu. In the center of these hills is a roughly triangular shaped depression known as the “Angaur Bowl.” Created by strip mining for phosphate, the “Bowl” measures 400 yards across in which is located a shallow lake 200 yards in diameter. The sides of the “Bowl” rise almost vertically from seventy-five to 100 feet in height and are also covered with dense jungle foliage. A narrow-gauge railroad spur led into the “bowl” through a deep cut with banks of fifty to seventy feet in height on either side. Of the few beaches on the island, invasion planners determined that two – one on the north side of the island and one on the northeast side would be used for the invasion. These were subsequently code named Angaur Red and Blue beaches. It was determined through signals intelligence and documents captured at Saipan that the tiny island was garrisoned by a reinforced battalion of the Imperial Japanese Army’s 59th Infantry Regiment, 14th Infantry Division under the command of Major Ushio Goto. The defenders numbered from 1,400 to 1,600 disciplined, well-trained combat veterans of the Manchurian campaigns.[17]

General Mueller’s plan to take the island called for landing two RCTs; the 322nd RCT on Red Beach at the north side of the island and the 321st RCT on Blue Beach half a mile to the southeast. The two RCTs would link up and then proceed inland with the 322nd RCT occupying the northern half of the island the 321st RCT the southern portion. The objective for the first day was to reach the 0-1 line, 275 to 500 yards inland, and dig in before nightfall when it was expected that the Japanese would launch a counterattack. The beaches at on the southern half of the island, code named Green Beaches One, Two, and Three were longer and better suited for an amphibious landing, however General Mueller anticipated that as such they would be more heavily defended and opted to land on the smaller Red and Blue beaches in the north. This decision proved to be providential, as Major Goto anticipating a landing in at the more favorable Green Beach sites had indeed constructed an elaborate system of defenses and placed more of his forces at those locations than he did at other landing sites. Compensating for the fact that Goto did not have enough troops to effectively defend all the beaches on Angaur, he kept the bulk of his men under cover in caves and bunkers located in the center of the island and Romauldo Hill complex where he could readily move them to meet an American attack wherever it came.[18]

Assault on Anguar Map, U.S. Army

Dense jungle lay behind the narrow beaches selected for the landings. When the 321st and 322nd RCT “Wildcats” landed on Red and Blue beaches on the morning of September 17, they found that the massive pre-invasion bombardment had created a mass of dense jungle debris with no clear paths forward. Troops also discovered anti-tank ditches behind the beaches. Upon landing, Infantry companies advanced off each beachhead under light machine gun and sniper fire. However supporting tanks that landed in the initial wave would not be able to move off the beaches until the engineers arrived with their armored bulldozers to clear a path forward through the debris and tank traps. As company sized foot patrols picked their way further inland through the smashed jungle they encountered scattered enemy resistance from pillboxes, bunkers, and cleverly camouflaged snipers. At each opportunity the Japanese allowed 81st soldiers to advance well into their fields of fire before opening fire. The result was an intermingling of friendly troops with the enemy which ruled out heavy artillery support; the infantry had to improvise and fight with weapons they carried. Under these circumstances enemy strong points along rail lines, employing primarily machine gun fire and mortars, slowed the advance of each regiment. As men and vehicles began to pile up on Red and Blue Beaches, Japanese hidden in bunkers carved into the corral bluffs at each end of the beaches opened fire with machine guns and mortars. They waited to shoot until they had a target rich field of fire. The situation was particularly bad at Red Beach with heavier enemy and artillery and mortar fire directed at it from Romauldo Hill. The Navy fired smoke rounds to screen the beaches from enemy observation, however the well camouflaged enemy artillery already had the beach zeroed in and incoming fire was sporadic throughout the rest of the day. Thirty minutes after the first wave hit the beach, engineers in armored bulldozers began opening exits through the debris. The slow initial advance began to pick up some speed as companies with armored support followed railroad spurs or paths bulldozed by engineers.

Anguar beachhead – U.S. Navy Photo 1944

Unbeknownst to General Mueller, Major Goto and most of his men were hunkered down in the fukkaku network on and around Romauldo Hill, or in bunkers along the beaches on the southern half of the island where he had anticipated that the landings would take place.[19] By nightfall of September 17 the 322nd RCT had advanced several hundred yards to the edge of the Romauldo Hill complex while the 321st, which met stiffer resistance, had carved out a narrow beachhead of only 400-500 yards. The planned linkup between the two RCTs by nightfall had not been realized. Contrary to expectations during the first night on the island mass banzai charges failed to materialize. Instead, small groups of stealthy Japanese soldiers attempted to infiltrate 81st Division lines and fierce hand to hand fighting broke out in some areas. In these engagements the primary weapons were hand grenades, bayonets, and pistols. The Japanese tactic of infiltrating the American lines at night to harass soldiers and keep them from sleeping was effective and widely used on both Peleliu and Angaur. 

The anticipated Japanese counterattack came at 0500 hours on the morning of September 18 when a company of 200 Japanese soldiers attacked the extreme left flank of the 321st RCT in the wake of an intense mortar barrage that also hit the 1st Battalion, 321st RCT Command Post (CP) wounding the battalion commander and several members of his staff.[20] The assault struck near the shoreline with the obvious intention of rolling up Blue Beach. In the ensuing pandemonium, Japanese soldiers supported by light machine guns and mortars charged out of the jungle screaming and shouting at the Americans in English. Eventually the Japanese attack was beaten off by artillery and carrier-based aircraft just as the sun rose. Throughout the rest of the day both the 321st and 322nd RCTs pressed the attack inland taking fiercely defended Japanese strong points located principally along the rail lines one by one. Each attack on such a position drew fire enemy mortar and artillery fire. By nightfall September 18, the 81st Division controlled most of the northern half of the island except for Romauldo Hill and the surrounding rugged terrain. General Mueller believed that the remainder of the Japanese force was located on the southern half of the island and planned for a strong push southward on the morning of September 19 by both RCTs. Mueller was also coming under pressure from his superior, General Geiger, to secure Angaur as soon as possible. After four days of heavy Marine casualties, General Geiger believed that the 81st would soon be needed on Peleliu; the 1st Marine Regiment had been decimated with two of its three battalions approaching combat ineffectiveness.[21]

Some viewers may find some scenes or audio in this archival material to be unsettling or distressing. US Marines, U.S. Army Tanks, and Naval aircraft in heavy combat operations on Peleliu and Ngesebus Island WWII with sound. This film gives the viewer a unique look into the bitter fighting by U.S. Marines on Peleliu during WWII. The second part of the film shows the amphibious assault on Ngesebus Island. Narrated.

At 0730 hours on September 19 the 321st and 322nd RCTs, supported by armor and engineer units, advanced southward with the 321st moving along the east side of the island and the 322nd down through the central area, skirting the rough terrain around Romauldo Hill. The 321st met heavy resistance when they ran into Japanese bunkers overlooking the Green Beaches which had to be methodically cleared one by one. Meanwhile, the 322nd worked southward around the Romauldo Hill area and into the small village of Saipan Town, leaving two battalions spread out along their right flank along the edge of the hills. The farther south the RCTs moved the lighter the resistance encountered. It became evident that the Japanese had abandoned those positions and moved onto the high ground during the night. The only unoccupied territory remaining on the island was Romauldo Hill, the surrounding peaks, and “Bowl” area. At 1034 hours on September 20 General Mueller declared Angaur “secure.”[22] This announcement proved to be premature as the greater part of the Japanese defenders were still holed up in the hills waiting for the Americans and still posed a significant threat.

(Original Caption) Angaur Island- Men of the 81st Infantry Division fight the grim Battle of Bloody Gulch. A tank is blown into fragments by a Jap mine. Finding a frontal assault impossible, the Yanks move into the hills to infiltrate the enemy defenses. With demolition charges, grenades and flame-throwers, they blast and burn the last of the Japs out of the Bloody Gulch – U.S. Army Photo, 1944 (Getty Images)

The General planned a heavy push with the 322nd RCT on the morning of September 21 that would wipe out the remaining Japanese defenders now cornered on Romauldo Hill and in the Angaur “Bowl” area in the northwest corner of the island. Two 322nd battalions were to advance abreast into the Japanese stronghold; 1st Battalion would advance along the beaches on the west and through the railroad cut into the “bowl,” while 2nd Battalion was to move down through the hills from the north. Throughout the night both land and ship-based artillery pounded suspected Japanese positions around the “Bowl” and on the hill.[23] At dawn carrier-based aircraft plastered the same areas with napalm, 500-pound bombs, and rockets. However, what was supposed to be a “mopping up” action turned into a month-long ordeal that bled the 322nd Regiment white. All approaches into the hills and “bowl” were mined and zeroed in for mortar fire. To further complicate matters, the terrain precluded the use of armor and any infantry movement in the open brought a hail of mortar and machine gun fire from unseen fighting positions in the hills and caves in the walls of the “Bowl.” Soldiers discovered that after they breached a hill and started up another, Japanese opened fire on their rear from well-hidden positions in the hill that they had just descended. Soldiers soon christened the railroad cut into the Angaur “bowl” “Bloody Gulch;” several tanks and other armored vehicles were destroyed in it. After several days of fighting all companies were reduced to a strength of less than two platoons and some weapons companies were dissolved and incorporated into rifle companies.[24] Moving supplies and evacuating wounded by hand over steep cliffs was labor intensive. Cooks, clerks, and other rear echelon personnel were put to work carrying supplies and wounded.[25] The terrain and fighting was such that troops operated in small groups, squad sized or smaller, with weapons that they could carry to neutralize the enemy cave by cave.[26] One 322nd RCT company commander, Captain Jerry Keaveny, recalled that “Every few yards involved a new problem that had to be met and there was no standard procedure that would work in every case.”[27] Engineers played a key role in taking both the Angaur “Bowl” and Romauldo Hill complex by blasting and bulldozing narrow roads along the upper edges of the “bowl” and through the hills on the north side of the Japanese stronghold.[28] The “Bulldozer Road” facilitated resupply and allowed tanks to operate along the upper rim of the “Bowl” in support of the infantry. The battle for Angaur ended officially on October 22, thirty-two days after “mopping up” actions began.[29]

“Bloody Gulch” on Anguar – U.S. Army Photo, 1944


The situation on Peleliu meanwhile was critical. The Japanese had heavily contested the Marine landings on the southern half of Peleliu near the airfield which resulted in more casualties that expected. After two days of fighting, the airfields were secure and the Marines turned north toward the Umurbrogol Mountains, where Colonel Nakagawa had established his fukkaku defensive positions.[30] After only three days of fighting on Peleliu the 1st Marine Regiment began using rear area personnel as replacements for smashed up infantry companies. Realizing that the Japanese had changed their tactics, Colonel Harold Harris, 5th Marine Regiment commander, conducted an aerial observation of the battlefield and was appalled by what he saw: ridges, crevices, valleys, and vertical cliffs not marked on any maps – and he knew they were full of Japanese soldiers.[31] Harris became convinced that a frontal breakthrough from the south was impossible and tried to convince General Rupertus to alter his plan and attack northward up the narrow strip 400 to 500 yards wide running along the west side of the mountain range, encircle the Japanese from the north and attack southward using siege tactics.[32] Rupertus refused and insisted that the Marines would press forward from the south using inaccurate maps and bloody frontal assaults up the jagged coral hills. Despite mounting casualties General Rupertus and 1st Marine Regiment Commander “Chesty” Puller kept pushing their men forward using tactics that eventually crippled the division. After a few days battering themselves repeatedly against the slopes that had become known as “Bloody Nose Ridge,” Marines became bitter at their superior’s perceived indifference.[33] By September 21, the 1st Marine Regiment had sustained fifty-two percent casualties.[34] Overall, the 1st Marine Division was at forty percent of its original combat strength. General Geiger visited both Rupertus and Colonel Puller on September 21 and found them both equally detached from reality. Puller repeatedly denied that the 1st Marines had been stopped while Rupertus clung to the unrealistic belief that the Marines could finish the job alone and argued vehemently against bringing Army troops into the fight.[35] It took a direct order from General Gieger for Rupertus to immediately pull the 1st Marine Regiment out of the line and replace it with an 81st Division RCT.[36]

A rare image showing African-American Marines mixing with their white counterparts, on the Peleliu front line in September 1944. Marine units on Peleliu were mauled so badly that volunteers from service troops were moved up front, resulting in temporarily integrated frontline combat units. This rare photo was first published in a Journal of Conflict Archaeology article titled After the Typhoon: Multicultural Archaeologies of World War II on Peleliu, Palau, Micronesia – USMC Photo, 1944

At 1625 hours on September 21, the same day that the 322nd RCT’s “mopping up” action began on Angaur, General Mueller received an urgent message from General Geiger reading “Can you spare me one RCT complete for movement to Peleliu immediately.”[37] With the 323rd RCT on its way to Ulithi the only other option was the 321st in reserve on Angaur. After resupply the 321st RCT embarked immediately for Peleliu where it landed on September 22 and relieved elements of the 1st Marine Division on the west side of the island.[38] General Rupertus now decided to put Colonel Harris’s plan into effect and have the 321st RCT and 7th Marine Regiment push up the western side of the island and encircle the Japanese from the north. Between September 23 and September 29, the 321st RCT advanced rapidly up the west coast of Peleliu occupying the northern end and high ground in the middle of the island in brutal fighting along a path that became known as the “321st Trail.”[39] Many of the 321st companies that participated in this fighting were reduced to fifty percent strength in a matter of days. Company L, 3rd Battalion lost all its rifle platoon leaders in its first six days on Peleliu.[40]

Some viewers may find some scenes or audio in this archival material to be unsettling or distressing. U.S. 81st Infantry Division troops of Regimental Combat Team 321 (321st Infantry Regiment) advancing cautiously in the Palau Islands during World War II. They are supported by armor of the 710th Tank Battalion,including personnel carriers and M4 Sherman tanks. Views from an M4 tank firing at Japanese positions in hills across a valley. Smoke rising from shell strikes. Location: Palau Islands. Date: September 25, 1945.

With the Japanese now encircled General Rupertus was still anxious that the Marines finish the job and transferred the 321st RCT to the smaller Negesbus Island just north of Peleliu where it was supposed to mop up after the 5th Marine Regiment.[41] The reduction of the remaining Japanese trapped in the Umurbrogol Pocket would be a Marine affair. The 5th Marines would press the attack from the north in place of the 321st RCT while the 7th Marines pushed up from the south. The 5th and 7th Marine Regiments continued the bloody assaults on the pocket until October. General Geiger repeatedly urged General Rupertus to relieve the 7th Marines whose casualty count was up to forty-six percent.[42] General Rupertus delayed the 321st RCT’s reentry into the battle on Peleliu again, dispatching it to Garakayo, another small island in the chain, while brutally driving the Marines forward in hopes that the Japanese in the pocket would collapse before Army troops got into the fight.[43] On October 5 General Rupertus removed the 7th Marines leaving the 5th Marine Regiment alone to reduce the pocket.[44] Six days later, with 5th Marine casualties at forty-three percent, General Geiger again implored General Rupertus to replace them with the 321st RCT. Rupertus flatly refused reiterating his belief that the Marines would take the pocket in a few more days.[45] General Geiger could not bring himself to overrule Rupertus. If Geiger would not do what needed to be done, Admiral Nimitz would. He had been monitoring the situation and realized that the 1st Marine Division had ceased to function as an elite assault unit and that it needed to be rebuilt and refit for the upcoming invasion of Okinawa. On October 12 Nimitz ordered an end to the attack by the Marines and the transfer of authority to the 81st Infantry Division. This action was not without controversy as General Geiger, in a face-saving act for the Marine Corps, declared an end to the assault phase of the operation on October 12 – when in fact it was still very much underway. Consequently, dispatches regarding the fighting on Peleliu virtually ceased when the Army took over the assault and were reported as “mopping up” action.[46]

On October 14 the 321st RCT along with the 1st Battalion, 323rd RCT, which had been rushed back to Peleliu from Ulithi, began an offensive to destroy the large enemy force still entrenched in the pocket.[47] The 81st Division “Wildcats” put some of the lessons learned on Angaur into practice on Peleliu with engineers and bulldozers playing an important role in opening roads along ridges and into valleys. Whereas Marines had felt pressed to advance quickly, the soldiers moved methodically hardening each position taken along the ridges with sandbags because the coral ground was too hard to dig into. Army engineers quickly relayed sandbags up the mountains with a mechanical conveyor system which they also used to haul supplies and ammunition.[48] They also constructed a system to pump fuel oil long distances from trucks through a pipeline to the front where they sprayed it by the hundreds of gallons into Japanese caves and ignited it.[49] Soldiers resourcefully improvised unconventional methods of fighting as the situation dictated. Cpl. Edward Luzinas of the 710th Tank Battalion explained that he used his tank to push forward a long stretch of Bangalore Torpedo into the pocket and then detonated it by firing on to blast a lane through an enemy minefield.[50] Elements of the AAA Battalion attached to the 81st Division positioned its spotlights around the pocket and illuminated it during hours of darkness, restricting the movement of the Japanese who had up until then been able to move about at night. After forty-five days of heavy fighting soldiers cleared the last cave at the north end of the Umurbrogol Pocket on November 27.[51]

Infantry and Sherman tanks of the 710th Tank Battalion advance into Umurbrogol Pocket “Horseshoe” on Peleliu, U.S. Army Photo, 1944

During more than three months of continuous fighting the 81st Division suffered 5,649 casualties including 546 killed, while the 1st Marine division lost 1,252 killed and 5,274 wounded during the Palau fighting.[52] The 1st Marine Division took many more casualties, especially killed, than the 81st Division in large part due to the tactics it used and General Rupertus’s incomprehensible sense of urgency to take the island without assistance from the Army. After fighting on the island for twenty-eight days, the 1st Marine Division was a shell of its former self. The evidence is plain that without the contributions of the Army’s 81st Infantry Division success in Operation Stalemate II would have been impossible and that Peleliu would not have been secured.

End Notes

[1] Bobby C. Blair, Victory at Peleliu: The 81st Infantry Division’s Pacific Campaign (University of Oklahoma Press. Kindle Edition, 2011), 11.

[2] Ibid. 11-12.

[3] Ibid. 20.

[4] Ibid. 20.

[5] Ibid. 21.

[6] Ibid. 119.

[7] Ibid. 119-120.

[8] Ibid. 20.

[9] Edward C. Luzinas, Memoirs of a Tank Gunner 1943-1945 War with Japan: Boys, Men, Cowards, 1989, TS, Amsterdam, New York.

[10] Blair, 6.

[11] Operation Report 81st Infantry Division: Operation on Peleliu Island 23 Sept. – 27 Nov. 1944 (Fort Leavenworth, KS: United States Army, 1945), 11.

[12] Blair, 22.

[13] Ibid. 19.

[14] Ibid. 19-20.

[15] Ibid. 24.

[16] Ibid. 32.

[17] Ibid. 18.

[18] Ibid. 36.

[19] Ibid. 42.

[20] Ibid. 49.

[21] Ibid. 57.

[22] Operation Report 81st Infantry Division,5.

[23] Blair. 68.

[24] Captain Jerry V. Keaveny, Operations of Company A, 322nd Infantry (81st Infantry Division) in
the Clean-Up Phase of the Capture of the Island of Angaur 11-22 October 1944: Personal Experience of a Company Commander
, report, Advanced Infantry Officers’ Course, U.S. Army Infantry School (Fort Benning, GA: U.S. Army Infantry School, 1950), 7.

[25] Ibid. 11.

[26] Ibid. 16-17.

[27] Ibid. 16.

[28] Blair. 99.

[29]  Operation Report 81st Infantry Division,6.

[30] Blair. 119.

[31] Ibid. 120.

[32] Ibid. 120-121.

[33] Eugene B. Sledge, With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa (Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition, 2007), 95.

[34] Blair. 121.

[35] Ibid. 123-124.

[36] Ibid. 124.

[37] Ibid. 73.

[38] Operation Report 81st Infantry Division,7.

[39] Ibid. 6.

[40] Captain Pierce B. Irby, Jr., The Operations of Company ‘L’, 321st Infantry Regiment (81st Infantry Division) in the Capture of the Island of Peleliu, 23-29 September 1944: Personal Experience of a Company Commander, report, Advanced Infantry Officers’ Course, U.S. Army Infantry School (Fort Benning, GA: U, 1950), 26.

[41]Operation Report 81st Infantry Division, 6-7.

[42] Blair. 158.

[43] Ibid. 159-160.

[44] Ibid. 158.

[45] Ibid. 164.

[46] Ibid. 160-161.

[47] Operation Report 81st Infantry Division,7.

[48] Blair. 254.

[49] Ibid. 224.

[50] Luzinas. 160-161.

[51]  Operation Report 81st Infantry Division,6.

[52] Blair. 256.