"The Navy had no sense of the wicked ruggedness of the terrain: razor-sharp cliffs and coral canyons that stood at 90 degree angles."
After months on Pavuvu, the First Division left for its next combat assignment: a heavily defended coral atoll called Peleliu, 2,100 miles to the north. There the division was assigned to take an enemy airfield McArthur insisted he needed to cover the flank of his advance toward the Philippine island of Leyte.
As the Marines approached Peleliu, however, Adm. William "Bull" Halsey sent a top-secret message to Nimitz. "While conducting softening-up carrier raids on the Philippines and nearby islands, Halsey had downed 500 Japanese planes and met unexpectedly light resistance," says Miller. "He believed Peleliu should be bypassed. It posed no threat to McArthur." But with D-Day looming, and assurances from the Marine commander in charge of the operation that the battle for Peleliu would be "tough but short," Nimitz refused to call back the amphibious force.
"It was," says Miller, "a tragically unnecessary operation, and one of the worst strategic and intelligence blunders of the Pacific war. The Navy had no sense of the wicked ruggedness of the terrain: razor-sharp cliffs and coral canyons that stood at 90 degree angles." Reconnaissance missions had been flown over the island, but thick vegetation covered all but a few of the coral ridges. Most of the Japanese defenders were hidden in natural and man-made caves in these coral hills. "Halsey had said he didn't want 'another Tarawa,' but that's exactly what he got."
So, when the Marines landed on the beaches of Peleliu, they kicked a hornet's nest of concealed enemy positions. Fire rained down from the coral ridges at the center of the island, known as the Umurbrogol, and the "tough but fast" battle the men of the First Marine Division expected became one of the most savagely fought campaigns of World War II, a close-quarter slaughter.