Palau – day 7

We finished our Palau trip by visiting the island of Peleliu, where one of the main battles of World War II took place. This small island in southern Palau is covered with historical sites and artifacts from the battle, including thousands of unexploded projectiles!

Finally, we have arrived to the last day of our adventure through the wonderful islands of Palau. To finish such incredible trip in the best way, we decided to take a tour to the island of Peleliu. Peleliu is located south of Palau main islands, beyond the Rock Islands. As we told you in our 10 interesting facts about Palau, the Battle of Peleliu, one of the bloodiest battles of World War II, took place on this island. In it, US marines and soldiers fought against Japanese Imperial forces for the control of the island, which had been part of the Japanese Empire since 1914. The battle began when the US 1st Marine Division landed on the island on September 15, 1944, and lasted until November 27, 1944.

The battle resulted in heavy casualties, in part due to the extreme resistance of the Japanese, who fought on behalf of the Emperor without surrendering under any circumstances. Due to this, the operation was later called into question, since the strategic value of the island was probably not high enough to justify the large number of casualties. On the other hand, it is true that the initial estimates for the duration and costs of taking over Peleliu (codenamed Operation Stalemate II) were much lower than they what they actually ended up being.

In fact, 1st Marine Division General William H. Rupertus expected to be able to secure the island in just 4 days. However, it soon became clear that the campaign would be much more difficult than expected, even requiring a request for help from the 81st Infantry Division of the Army, which was stationed on the nearby Island of Angaur (in which another battle took place, although of smaller scale). Almost all of the more than 10,000 Japanese Imperial soldiers who defended the island were killed in combat, and only a few dozen were taken prisoners. Regarding the American forces, more than 2,000 marines and soldiers died, and almost 8,500 were wounded. In proportion to the number of participants, the Battle of Peleliu had a higher casualty rate than all other battles fought in the Pacific theater during World War II.

Nowadays, a large number of artifacts and remains of vehicles and buildings from the battle in Peleliu can be found throughout the island. This makes it a destination of great historical interest, especially for those interested in World War II. Even several of the war veterans who fought in this battle, whose 75th anniversary took place in 2019, have visited it.

The island is located about one hour by boat from Koror. There are several companies that organize day tours from Koror, although due to its price and its complete itinerary we chose, once again, IMPAC. The price is $135 per person (and, luckily, in this case it includes the cost of the tourist permit for the state of Peleliu). To this you have to add a small supplement to have an English-speaking guide, unless you are fluent in Japanese, as the tour is by default in Japanese. The extra price of the guide is $35, which is split among all passengers who have requested it. In addition, the minimum number of people to do the tour is 3. If your group is smaller and no one else books the tour for the same day, it is necessary to pay the price for 3 people to carry it out. Most companies have similar policies for their Peleliu tours, with an even higher minimum number of participants.

As the previous time, the IMPAC team picked us up from our hotel at around 8.30 to take us to the docks. Once there, we got on the boat and started our journey to Peleliu. We took the opportunity to enjoy the Rock Islands as much as possible, since this would be almost the last time we would pass through them.

Like the rest of the days, we were lucky to have an excellent sunny weather! We disembarked at the northern end of Peleliu, where the settlement of Klouklubed is located, the largest on the entire island. There we met our guide, a native of Palau. He told us that he had been a military man in the American Air Force (citizens of the countries associated with the United States through the Compact of Free Association, such as Palau, can enlist in the different branches of the US military), and had been on duty for some days at the Air Force base of Torrejón de Ardoz, in Madrid (Spain).

Arriving at Peleliu

After a short tour of Klouklubed and a stop at Peleliu visitors center (which has a small souvenir shop), we headed to our first destination on the tour: Peleliu World War II Museum. The museum is located at an old Japanese bunker, which was used to store fuel. The bunker was heavily defended by the Japanese, until it was hit by two large-caliber artillery shells launched from the USS Mississippi battleship. After its conquest, it was used by the Americans for the rest of the battle as a support station. Currently, it houses a large number of military artifacts recovered from Peleliu and photographs related to the battle.

In the museum we could read about the interesting case of US Marine Edward Sturgeon and Japanese Lieutenant Ei Yamaguchi. Lieutenant Yamaguchi refused to surrender for several years after the Battle of Peleliu ended, and instead remained hidden with a small group of his soldiers. A group of marines was sent to Peleliu to find him, among whom was Sturgeon (who had also been taken prisoner and made a slave for several years during World War II by the Japanese). Fifty years later, the two met during a visit to Peleliu. In this way, they walked together across the same battlefield where they had been enemies decades ago.

Next, we went to the ruins of what once was the Japanese Headquarters during the battle of Peleliu. It was heavily bombed by the Americans, although the general structure of the building is relatively well preserved. As you can see in the photographs, the tropical vegetation has expanded widely throughout the ruins. It is impressive to walk through these abandoned buildings, which were once the site of an intense battle.

Japanese Headquarters

Our next stop was the remains of a Japanese type 95 Ha-Gō tank, used by the Japanese Imperial Army and Navy from 1935 and during World War II. It was a light tank that by the time of Second World War had already become obsolete in comparison with the tanks of the Allied Forces, mainly due to its poor armor (which could be pierced even by infantry weapons in some areas). From there we continued towards the airstrip of Peleliu, built by the Japanese, and which is still used nowadays for local flights that connect Peleliu with other islands, such as Angaur and Babeldaob.

We eventually arrived to the beach known as Bloody Beach, also called Scarlet Beach, where part of the 1st Marines Division landed during the initial assault to Peleliu. As you can see in the photos, the beach is on the shore of a shallow coral lagoon. The beach was given this nickname by the Americans due to the large number of marines who died during landing, when the great Japanese resistance and the natural environment itself made the advance of the American troops extremely difficult. Along the way we stopped to visit the memorial to the American 81st Infantry Division, who were sent as reinforcements to the Battle of Peleliu after having fought in the battle for Angaur.

We continued our itinerary towards the Peace Memorial Park, located at the southern end of Peleliu. The memorial was built by the Japanese government in 1985 in memory of all of those who died in Palau during World War II. The monument was visited in 2015 by the emperors emeritus of Japan, Akihito and Michiko, who performed a wreath there. From the park you can clearly see the island of Angaur to the south.

Peleliu Peace Memorial Park

From there we went to the nearby Kambek dock (Camp Beck), artificially built by the Americans, where we took a lunch break. In this area there is a monument to the fallen Marines and American soldiers of the Battle of Peleliu, inaugurated in 2019 on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of this battle. There is also a residence building that was built so that the Japanese emperors could rest during their visit to Peleliu in 2015. After a brief visit to Orange Beach (another landing point of the 1st Marines Division), we resumed the tour.

Our guide then took us to the remains of two American tanks. As you can see, the tanks used by the Americans in the battle were considerably heavier than the light and rather unprotected Japanese tanks. Along with them we could find even some of the projectiles used by the tanks. These are amphibious tanks, easily distinguishable by their frontal part, which could move through the sea before landing on the beach.

After this we visited a cave where one of the Japanese anti-ship artillery weapons was located. At the entrance to the path that leads to the artillery cannon we found the remains of another American tank. Like the two amphibious tanks that we had seen before, it was in a very good state of preservation, especially considering the environmental conditions of the island of Peleliu (high salinity due to the sea water, heavy tropical rains, etc.). We were even able to witness how several of its gears still rotate perfectly, with axis that had stood the test of time perfectly and showed almost no rust! It proves the high quality with which these tanks were built, which gave the Americans an advantage over the Japanese forces.

The Japanese artillery was hidden in a small cave in the middle of the jungle, which made it difficult to detect its position. It was also in good condition, probably due in part to its more protected location.

Japanese artillery

After finishing the visit to the old Japanese artillery, we went to the beginning of a trail through the jungle that leads to a viewpoint from where the entire island of Peleliu can be seen. The path, like the rest of the paths through Peleliu, is delimited on both sides by markers that have a white side and a red side. These markers are used to indicate safe paths, and it is very important to remain within the space between the white sides of the markers at all times. The terrain on the red side has not been examined in detail, so there are still plenty of unexploded ordnance. Even nowadays, large quantities of these artifacts are still found all over Peleliu, and therefore it can be very dangerous to venture off the marked trails.

Jungle trail towards the viewpoint

In the viewpoint there is a monument in memory of the American 323rd Infantry Regiment of the 81st Infantry Division, built with fossilized coral. From the viewpoint you can clearly see the thick tropical vegetation that covers Peleliu. After the battle, all vegetation was almost completely destroyed, making it possible to see the island of Angaur from the center of Peleliu. However, nowadays it has fully recovered.

A rock face of Umurbrogol Mountain can also be seen from the viewpoint. This area was nicknamed Bloody Nose Ridge (Bloody Nose Ridge) by the Marines due to the extreme Japanese resistance that they encountered there. The features of the terrain, with numerous small caves surrounded by very thick tropical vegetation, made it a very difficult zone to conquer.

Monument to the 323rd Infantry Regiment

During the descent, we took a detour that led us to the cave where Colonel of the Imperial Japanese Army Kunio Nakagawa (leader of the Japanese forces in Peleliu) resisted until losing the battle on November 24, when he committed suicide through the traditional ritual of the defeated samurai, the harakiri. Today, there is a small shrine at his place of death.

After finishing the jungle trail, we visited two nearby monuments: the monument in honor of the 1st Marine Division, and the Japanese Shinto shrine of Peleliu. The latter was built in 1982 by the Seiryusha organization in honor of the Japanese who fell in combat during the Battle of Peleliu. 

Before heading back to the northern port of Peleliu, we took a detour to reach the wreck site of a Japanese plane crashed in the middle of the jungle, a Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighter. This model was the combat aircraft most widely produced by Japan during the war, and although it was one of the best fighter aircrafts in the world when it was introduced in 1940, it became obsolete during the final years of the war (being then adapted to be operated by the kamikaze). Although the vegetation begins to engulf the plane, its parts can still be clearly distinguished.

Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighter

Finally, we returned to the proximity of the port north of Klouklubed. There, we made the last visit of our tour to the Thousand Man Cave. It is a labyrinth of tunnels dug by the Japanese as a defense system. Around 1000 Japanese soldiers reluctant to surrender took refuge in them. The American forces faced great trouble to neutralize their resistance, and eventually had to resort to the use of explosives and flamethrowers. Even nowadays, there are still many belongings of the Japanese left within the cave system, such as sake bottles or canteens. If you visit the caves, be careful as there are quite a few poisonous spiders inside!

Thousand Man Cave

After leaving the caves, we began our return journey to Koror by boat, feeling somewhat sad since this would be, this time definitely, our last tour around the Rock Islands.

Once in Koror, we returned to the Neco Marine offices to say goodbye to our guides Iked Etpison and Sheldon Wang, as well as the rest of their team, who had treated us excellently and helped us in all possible ways during our stay in Palau. Of course, before leaving we enjoyed one last time the delicious salmon poke at Drop Off! In addition, we were told that, on that Friday, the night market of Palau was taking place. This market, known as the International Night Market, takes place on the first and third Friday of each month, and a multitude of Palauan and international food stalls are set up there. There are also souvenir shops and performances by island singers in Palauan language. We decided to visit it and took the opportunity to enjoy some refreshing coconut water.

After visiting the market, we headed towards International Airport Roman Tmetuchl. There we returned our rental car, and boarded our flight back to Manila. We thus concluded our great adventure through these wonderful Micronesian islands. Without any doubt, we will return to Palau!


Visited places:
  • Visitors center at Klouklubed
  • Peleliu World War II Museum
  • Japanese Headquarters
  • Japanese 95 Ha-Go tank
  • Peleliu airstripe
  • Memorial to the 81st Infantry Division
  • Bloody Beach
  • Peace Memorial Park
  • Kambek dock
  • Monument to the fallen American marines and soldiers
  • Orange Beach
  • Amphibious American tanks
  • Japanese artillery
  • Peleliu viewpoint with the monument to the 323rd Infantry Regiment
  • Sanctuary of Colonel Kunio Nakagawa
  • Shinto shrine of Peleliu
  • Memorial to the 1st Marines Division
  • Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighter
  • Thousand Man Cave

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