Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Pacific: Peleliu

Episode 5 of the HBO Series The Pacific illustrated well the horrific toll the 1st Marine Division paid when they hit the beaches of Peleliu. Unlike many other island invasions, the Japanese fiercely defended at the beach rather than further into the jungle. The same day (September 15, 1944) the Marines hit Peleliu, they also hit the larger, but lesser known and far more thinly defended island, Morotai, the final stage of the New Guinea campaign.

A naval support task force, led by the USS Nashville as command ship with General MacArthur on board, and consisting of 3 light cruisers, 2 heavy (Australian) cruisers, 8 American destroyers and 2 Australian cruisers arrived off Morotai completely undetected by the Japanese. Nashville pounded an enemy airfield and installations at Kaoe Bay on nearby Halmahara Island for nearly an hour with her 6 inch guns as a diversion to the landings on Morotai.

The assault and eventual capture of Morotai coincided with the capture of Peleliu and, in the minds of many, extraordinarily high price and questionable strategic value of that island. Morotai became a highly useful airbase in terms of launching light and medium bombers and fighters against Leyte in the Philippines, the door to the return of American forces and the liberation of that long suffering island nation. The ever growing forces of the American Central and Southwest Pacific campaigns were now joined.

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