When World War II enthusiasts hear the word Peleliu, they think of the pointless battle in the Pacific that was a meat grinder for the 1st Marine Division. Dick Camp details the battle for Peleliu from the perspective of the 1st Division’s 1st Marine Regiment – the Marines known as “The Old Breed” – in Last Man Standing: The 1st Marine Regiment on Peleliu, September 15-21, 1944.
Here is a description of the book from the publisher (Zenith Press):
One of the bloodiest battles in Marine Corps history, Operation Stalemate, as Peleliu was called, was overshadowed by the Normandy landings. It was also, in time, judged by most historians to have been unnecessary; though it had been conceived to protect MacArthur’s flank in the Philippines, the U.S. fleet’s carrier raids had eliminated Japanese airpower, rendering Peleliu irrelevant. Nevertheless, the horrifying number of casualties sustained there (71% in one battalion) foreshadowed for the rest of the war: rather than fight to the death on the beach, the Japanese would now defend in depth and bleed the Americans white.
The book provides a good description of the 1st Marine Regiment’s actions on Peleliu. The book is mainly narrative with many excerpts from Marines who fought in the battle. For example, Camp describes the initial landings and how the Japanese guns knocked out many of the landing craft. He sprinkles in amongst this text the first-hand accounts of how the men got off the landing craft as quickly as possible because many the landing craft were blown to pieces with bodies and equipment thrown high into the air. Camp gives a good balance of the narrative and the first-hand accounts.
I think the true strength of the book is in the analysis of the Marine leadership during the battle. Camp is particularly critical of the 1st Marine Division’s commander General William Rupertus and Marine legend Colonel Lewis “Chesty” Puller. Camp is critical of Rupertus for putting the pride of the Marine Corps before the lives of his men – Rupertus refused to allow an Army division to come and relieve part of his division even though the Marine units were decimated. In addition, Camp is critical of Puller of being out of touch with the battle – he continuously ordered his units to attack across open ground with horrendous consequences. His battalions were reduced to the size of reinforced companies. Camp quotes several of Puller’s contemporaries that Puller was a fine battalion commander, but was not a suitable regimental commander – he did not have a “grasp of the use of naval gunfire, artillery, and supporting arms in general.”
Although the book has plenty of photographs (100 black and white), many of the photographs are too dark to see the detail in them. I don’t know if this was just the case with paperbacks or if it was for the hardback as well, but it was a little bit of an annoyance. The maps and diagrams were very helpful. I particularly like the diagram of the various types of caves the Japanese defenders built. The diagram helps you to visualize why these caves were so difficult to destroy.