The steady progress of the US forces across the Pacific towards Japan continued. One more island needed to be taken to protect the flank of attacks on the Philippines. The Palau islands would also provide another airfield in the region.
The 11,000 Japanese troops on Peleliu had been busy. Japanese military strategists now favoured developing a defence in depth as they realised they would now be on the defensive. A network of concealed bunkers had been built across the island. Overlooking the beaches a series of bunkers protected with steel shutters hid 20mm guns.
The three day preliminary bombardment by US Navy ships offshore and aircraft hit the 6 square mile island with 519 rounds of 16 inch (410 mm) shells, 1,845 rounds of 14 inch (360 mm) shells, and 1,793 500 lb (230 kg) bombs. The US Navy believed they had run out of targets. On 15th September the 1st Marine Division went in for what was expected to be a four day operation.
Russell Davis was a Marine in the third wave of Amtrac assault tractors, he describes the run into the beach :
We went quickly into line, backing and plunging a bit in the surf like race horses in the starting gate. The control oﬂicers in the picket boats sighted along the line and then waved us ahead. We took off into the wake of the second Wave, but it was hard to see them when they were in the troughs of the swells.
Everyone was up and yelling but Buck and the squad leader. They crouched low; both of them were young but their faces looked old with determination and fear. When We hit the beach they would have the job to do, and we would do whatever they told us to do.
It was almost a glorious feeling, roaring in toward he beach with fear gone for the moment. We were in motion with thousands of tons of armed might at our backs; and it seemed that nothing could stop us. We were an old and tried outﬁt, led by men like Buck and the squad leader, who would know what to do when the time came to do it. As we rolled in on Peleliu, and before we were hit, the excitement took us and we were not afraid of anything. Some men began to chant: “Drive! Drivel!Drive!”
I saw the amphibious tractor in front of us go up in a shellburst. For a moment I didn’t realize what I had seen. Somebody said: “Hey, I think they hit him,” in a complaining tone, as though it were against the rules to do that.
The amtrac ﬂamed, spread gas on the water, and wallowed in a puddle of ﬁre. Men spilled from it. The driver of our tractor screamed so loud we heard him above everything. He had seen the hit and he was very frightened.
Wingy also screamed, begging for an order to open ﬁre with the machine gun. The squad leader bellowed at him: “You crazy kid, there’s nothing in front of you but our own guys. If you ﬁre one burst I’ll chop you down.”
The ﬁrst shell came in and hit in our wake. It sprayed water all over the men in the rear and slewed the back of the amtrac around. The driver fought it straight and we went on. But now we were all trying to cram ourselves back down inside the steel sides. And there was less space, for some reason. Quiet fear shrinks men; wild fear expands them.
Small-arms ﬁre racketed along our side. A man’s shoulder showed a putt and then a dark stain, and he clasped it with his other hand and swore brieﬂy. Buck said: “Machine guns. How can they reach us out here?”
Buck and the squad leader had jumped up when the return ﬁre began. They were the best kind of old men, who never left an inch of themselves exposed when there was nothing to be done. But when there was trouble they were up.
The squad leader stumbled over heads and fell toward Wingy. “What’s going on, kid? Are they reaching us?” Wingy turned his thin face, and it was all big eyes. The rest of his features had retreated. “They’re hitting them all,” he said. Again he complained, as though it were against the rules. “What will we do?”
“Fire at that near point,” the squad leader ordered. “Keep high.” Wingy fumbled with the belt and slide, trying to full-load. But he didn’t ﬁre. He stood up straight and then fell over among the men. And he seemed to vanish. I don’t remember seeing Wingy again, but he must have still been in the amtrac. People and things dropped suddenly out of sight in action. Or at least the memory of them did. The squad leader and Buck began to feed and ﬁre the machine gun.
Fire chopped and roiled the sea around us, and water sloshed in over the gunwales and steamed on the hot metal. Some men were crouched down but others pressed their faces in against the steel sides. We were bumping on something underneath. Buck and the squad leader ﬁred on. The radioman started a gobbling call into his set, even though he couldn’t have been getting through to anyone.
The tracks bumped on, hitting high places in the sand underneath the water. The tracks would hit, grind, spin, and then kick into free water throwing high geysers as the whole amtrac shot forward.
“I can’t get any farther in,” the driver yelled. “Get out of here, before we get hung up.”
“Get in,” Buck yelled. “Get on in farther, or I’ll blow you into the water.”