Sometimes, the best plans can have the most disastrous results, and when you find out that it was all unnecessary…it can be almost too much to bear. World War II was a difficult war. It had so many fronts and so many nations were involved. One division might invade an area with the plan of becoming a support unit for another division, who was going to be attacking another area. Such was the case on September 14, 1944, when the United States 1st Marine Division landed on the island of Peleliu, one of the Palau Islands in the Pacific, as part of a larger operation to provide support for General Douglas MacArthur, who was preparing to invade the Philippines. The Palaus Islands are a part of the Caroline Islands. It had been ordered that they be taken from Germany and given to Japan as one of the terms of the Treaty of Versailles at the close of World War I. Now, it was thought that they were needed to help with this latest invasion.
There were those who felt that this invasion was not necessary, and was in fact, dangerous. The operation was called Operation Stalemate. The problem was that the United States military was unfamiliar with the islands. That made them sitting ducks. Admiral William Halsey argued against Operation Stalemate, which included the Army invasion of Morotai in the Dutch East Indies. He believed that MacArthur would meet minimal resistance in the Philippines, making this operation unnecessary, especially given the risks involved. Going into a jungle without knowing where the enemy might be hiding is dangerous. The term, “know thine enemy” comes to mind. The Japanese were sneaky, and that would prove to be a big problem.
The Japanese defenders of the island were buried quite deep in the jungle, and the target intelligence given the Americans was faulty. When the division landed, the Marines met little immediate resistance, which I’m sure gave them a sense of confidence that would very soon be destroyed. The lack of resistance was a ploy. Shortly after the Marines landed, Japanese machine guns opened fire, knocking out more than two dozen landing craft. Japanese tanks and troops followed, as the startled 1st and 5th Marine regiments fought for their lives. Jungle caves produced even more Japanese soldiers. Within one week of the invasion, the Marines lost 4,000 men. By the time it was all over, that number would surpass 9,000. The Japanese lost more than 13,000 men. Flamethrowers and bombs finally subdued the island for the Americans, but in the end, it was pointless. MacArthur invaded the Philippines without need of Army or Marine protection from either Peleliu or Morotai.