United States Army General Douglas MacArthur planned to prevent attacks in his rear area during the reconquest of the Philippines by taking the Morotais and the Palaus. The most heavily defended island in the Palaus was Peleliu. He felt that he need to hold Peleliu before he could move on the Philippines. Vice Admiral William Halsey argued against the operation, arguing that the Philippines were lightly defended. The Palaus, especially, were not required to take the Philippines, enough distance away to be isolated and left to die on the vine.
But MacArthur would not be dissuaded. On September 15, 1944, the first waves from the United States 1st Marine Division landed to little opposition. When the first wave was already ashore, the mortars and machine guns sank twenty-four Higgins boats onshore or in the second wave within minutes. MacArthur’s planners had failed to make adequate reconnaissance of the island. The only maps were from 1923, and they neglected to show the dense jungle or the caves on the island.
The battle for Peleliu was largely unnoticed by the American public, even though it was one of the deadliest battles. The landing in the Philippines and events in Europe eclipsed it. The 1st Marines suffered so many casualties, the Army’s 81st Infantry Division was added to the forces on Peleliu. Both units would suffer over 50% casualties, totaling over 6,800 deaths. The Japanese lost over 12,000 men.
The battle raged on until November 27, 1944. MacArthur had violated the “island-hopping” strategy he had helped to develop. It had cost the Americans very much, and the men of the 1st Marine Division did not forget the wonton sacrifice. There were no Japanese left alive on the island to remember Peleliu at all.