JAPANESE HQ, PELELIU

My last Peleliu post.

One of the most interesting buildings on Peleliu is the old Japanese HQ. Bombed, shelled and generally beaten into pieces, the jungle has come back with a vengeance to grow through the .5m-1m thick concrete floors that are doing everything they can to stay together.  Config: Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 28-70mm f/2.8.

These first shots give you a sense of the place. It is a big building.

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The jungle is taking it over, slowly but surely.

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1,000 paper cranes near a very large artillery or bomb hole.

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These doors go to a room that I could not get to (stairs were removed).

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I wonder what this building means to Capt. Lusczynski?

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It never ceases to amaze me how plants can find a crack and grow.

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Off to the side was a metal structure that served as a mess hall for the Japanese, a mechanics shed for the Americans.

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A fascinating view into World War II.

1,000 MAN CAVE, PELELIU

I would say the most disturbing site on Peleliu is this cave – which you could call an execution cave. Inside the series of tunnels a thousand Japanese soldiers camped, refusing to come out. As the story goes, whenever the Americans tried to get a surrender the Japanese would respond by throwing out grenades or firing shots.

The Americans were forced to block up the exits, leaving only two open. In one exit they fired explosives and flame throwers, attempting to push the remaining soldiers out the last exit. The fact that they would not give up despite certain defeat remains unfathomable.

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Old sake bottles were everywhere along the floor of the caves.

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Everywhere you stepped there were remnants of the days long past; rubber insoles, small parts of weapons, bowls and the remains of an IV stand at the medical station.

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The blast marks on the entrance of the cave from the flame throwers.

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A lonely shrine.

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Musty, filled with large spiders and very dark. A rather disturbing place.

MEMORIAL TO LEADERSHIP FAILURE

This memorial is located at the cave where Colonel Kunio Nakagawa, leader of the Japanese troops on Peleliu Island, committed suicide during World War II. He led his men to certain death. 12,000 Japanese troops fought a battle with no hope of winning, dying instead of surrendering honorably.

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To me it was a memorial to the differences in cultures, because I do not understand his leadership or see suicide as honorable. Under his leadership they mutilated Americans that they captured in direct contradiction to the Geneva Convention and justified all actions, regardless of how inhumane they were, as acceptable due to divine right.

The memorial seemed an affront to peace, sensibility, and to the terrible fate of those poor, common Japanese soldiers who were given no options but death.

LOOKING DOWN THE BARREL OF A 200MM GUN, PELELIU

Or specifically, the barrel of a Japanese 200mm cannon on Peleliu. The World War II cannon was dug into the rocks and virtually unreachable with sniper holes guarding the entrance. The problem? As it was so deeply dug into the rocks it had a very limited field of view and effectiveness.

The Americans snuck up the side to take it out.

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The artillery and mortar caves of the Japanese were well thought out. Many had steel doors on them, which would close during US naval or artillery bombardment – popping open the moment the shelling stopped. This was a big gun.

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It was very well dug in. Too well in fact.

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The sniper holes are under the moss.

AROUND PELELIU

A few random shots from our travels around the island.

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This bridge was bombed by the Americans during WWII. The remnants reminded me of a Tori gate. I am sure there is some form of irony there.

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An old concrete machine gun bunker.

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The old Japanese communications building. You are not allowed in, as the back collapsed during a hurricane in 2012.

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The memorial to the US 81st Infantry. It was a cemetery but years ago Congress went around the world and brought their war dead back to the US.

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The old runway that was so precious to McArthur. If you watch The Pacific (HBO) they show how this area was an open field with all vegetation bombed and burned to the ground. Nature has reclaimed the airfield.

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A plaque on a memorial from the Japanese people.

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I would agree and let us all hope and pray for those around the world who are suffering through war today.

PELELIU’s TANKS

Scattered around the island are remnants of the fierce World War II battle. The US LTV(A)-1, LTV(A)-4s, rusting under the hot Pacific sun. A few of my favorite shots (Config: Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 28-70mm f/2.8)

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Believe it or not, some of the wheels on the tanks still turn.

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The spot where the enemy shells went in.

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It was surprising how much smaller the Japanese tanks were. This Type 95 Ha-Go Light Tank was half the height of the American tanks. I do not know how a full grown man would fit into it – must have been tight. It was sitting on the old airfield.

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Nature is slowly trying to reclaim the vehicles.

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Spot the faded star.

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The Japanese tanks had little effect on the battle and were destroyed almost immediately during a poorly executed counter attack:

The 5th Marines made the most progress on the first day, due to their distance from the heavy gun emplacements guarding the left and right flanks. They pushed toward the airfield, but were met with Nakagawa’s first counterattack. His armored tank company raced across the airfield to push the Marines back, but was soon engaged by tanks, howitzers, naval guns and dive bombers. Nakagawa’s tanks and escorting infantrymen were quickly destroyed.

They had very small guns.

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Fascinating to see.

PELELIU, BLOODY NOSE RIDGE

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)

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Their cave is 50m that way.

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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.

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Along the trail, you see remnants of the war scattered everywhere (including the occasional human bone).

Old mortar rounds were everywhere.

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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.

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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

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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.

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Shells and guns lay strewn along the walk.

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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.

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