Our first stop on our exploration of the island of Peleliu was bloody nose ridge. Along the road was a small sign about a few Japanese men who held out well after the war.
On 21 April 1947, a small band of Japanese holdouts was discovered on Peleliu. They formally surrendered only after considerable effort to convince them the war was over. Lieutenant Yamaguchi, who had maintained military discipline in the group for the intervening years, led 26 soldiers to a position in front of 80 battle-dressed Marines where he turned over his sword.
You can read more about the account here. (Config: Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 28-70mm f/2.8)
Their cave is 50m that way.
The fighting in Peleliu was inhuman. It was not a strategic battle with cleaver maneuvers and tightly managed strategies. With 22,000 combatants surrounded by hundreds of ships and planes on a 2 mile by 6 mile island, it was a meat grinder – a battle of brute force. While the US Army wanted to execute a conservative strategy to beat the Japanese after extensive bombing/artillery, inching their sandbags forward; the controversial leader of the US Marines Colonel Chesty Puller had one strategy, drive ahead at all costs. That cost was divisions going in with 280 men and walking out with 70 left days later. Many say that Marine Corps. casualties did not need to be so high.
It was fought hand to hand and due to the Japanese Imperial Army’s mentality of too the death for the Emperor, it lead to some of the highest casualty rates in American history and almost no Japanese prisoners. I read With The Old Breed before flying over, and while I found the writing of the book rather simplistic, he describes the rawness of Peleliu very clearly:
to those who entered the meat grinder itself, the war was a nether world of horror [in which] time had no meaning; life had no meaning. The fierce struggle for survival in the abyss of Peleliu eroded the veneer of civilization and made savages of us all. We existed in an environment totally incomprehensible to men behind the lines — service troops and civilians.
In addition to rotting corpses and organic waste, the litter of smashed and worn out equipment of every type became more abundant as the battle dragged on and the size of the Umurbrogol Pocket shrank slowly. The ridges and ravines were littered with the flotsam of fierce combat. Debris of battle was everywhere and became more noticeable as the weeks dragged on.
That debris is everywhere. In fact, it is still quite dangerous in the jungle as they are still clearing it out.
Along the trail, you see remnants of the war scattered everywhere (including the occasional human bone).
Old mortar rounds were everywhere.
As were caves. The Japanese adopted a new strategy at Peleliu after their many previous failures and learning that the banzai charge was not a successful strategy. They adopted a defense in depth strategy with extensive tunnels. This meant that they would hide until the American shelling let up and then pop up and surprise the US troops. This approach created the most vicious of battles, with the Americans having to root the soldiers out one by one using some of the most terrible of weapons (such as the flame thrower). According to one source, the US military expended 1,500 rounds of ammunition for every Japanese death (All but 280 of the 12,000 Japanese soldiers were killed).
A cave filled with anti-aircraft cartridges.
A plaque and memorial to Elmer Lowe, Sgt USMC who died on this ridge. Over 2,000 marines were killed or wounded in this tight battle with the Japanese (8,500 Americans were killed or wounded in Peleliu – a battle that was supposed to be over in 3 days).
Another quote from The Old Breed that seem particularly apt at a place like this:
War is such self-defeating, organized madness the way it destroys a nations best. I wondered also about the hopes and aspirations of a dead
The infamous water barrels of the Peleliu battle. Soldiers had been assigned to steam clean 55 gallon oil drums, which the military would repurpose for drinking water. The problem is that the job was not well done or inspected. The fresh water that arrived for the troops was full of rust and oil. In the 120F heat, many tried to drink it anyway and became violently ill.
Shells and guns lay strewn along the walk.
From The Old Breed:
None of us would ever be the same after what we had endured. To some degree that is true, of course, of all human experience. But something in me died at Peleliu. Perhaps it was a childish innocence that accepted as faith the claim that man is basically good. Possibly I lost faith that politicians in high places who do not have to endure wars savagery will ever stop blundering and sending others to endure it.