on May 19, 2005
Peleliu was a bitch. About the only good think you can say regarding Peleliu is that it tought some valuable lessons to the Marines. These were to be well used in subsequent campaigns.
The intelligence about Peleliu was bad, the overall stragegy was arguable, the whole thing was screwed up. Originally it was thought that it was necessary to protect MacArthur's flank as he took the Philippines. Subsequently there was thought that this wasn't necessary, but Nimitz believed that Peleliu would be a easy campaign and useful as an airbase. He was wrong.
The battle for Peleliu was supposed to last for only about 72 hours as the few hundred or maybe a couple of thousand Japanese were defeated. Instead 10,500 Japanese fought very, very well for thirty days of continuous fight-to-the-last-man combat. It was one of the few islands where the Marines faced Japanese tanks.
This book follows (mostly) K Company, Third Battalion, Fifth Regiment - K/3/5. K Company was in the forefront of the invasion with 235 men. At the end of the battle 85 answered roll call. This is their story, a story of an incredible brotherhood.
Great Reading About a Tragic Battle.
on May 30, 2005
Brotherhood of Heroes by Bill Sloan is the story of the First Marine Division's battle to defeat the Japanese on the island of Peleliu. Fighting under conditions that can only be described as horrific, the Marines fought from the minute they hit the beaches, and kept on fighting until they were pulled off the line some thirty days later. During this time the division lost 6,526 men, 1,252 killed in action, and 5,274 wounded in action. This "equated to more than two casualties for each of the island's 3,200 acres." Although the early fighting was done on the beaches, the majority of the battles took place in the very mountainous region of Peleliu where the Japanese had built a series of interconnecting tunnels. The fighting was intense and very costly for both sides. However, as a result of the courage of these heroes the Marines were able to carry the day. I have read a number of books on different battles occurring in both the ETO, and the PTO and in my opinion Peleliu ranks among the worse. With the book and Given Up For Dead, Bill Sloan has established himself as one of the premier WWII historians. This is a must read for all.
on June 13, 2005
When veterans of World War II, like those who fought in the ferocious, island-hopping campaigns in the Pacific, returned home at war's end, their families and friends were given a piece of advice: Don't ask about their experiences. As a result, many family members went for years with only bits of information about what their sons, brothers or fathers did from 1941 to 1945 in the service of their country. Much of that changed in the 1990s when America observed the 50th anniversary of the war that was the 20th century's pivotal event. With that observance also came the realization that the men and women who served during that time were nearing the end of their lives. Important stories of heroism and bravery were in danger of being lost. Bill Sloan, first with Given Up for Dead, the inspiring story of the defense of Wake Island early in the Pacific war, and now with Brotherhood of Heroes, is helping to preserve the heritage of courage and bravery of those who fought in World War II. Brotherhood of Heroes tells of the invasion by the First Marine Division of a hellhole of an island called Peleliu, east of the Philippines. Specifically, it zeros in on the men of K Company, Third Battalion, Fifth Marine Regiment and their accomplishments despite the efforts of a determined enemy. Battles like Peleliu were fought by armies, divisions, battalions and companies. But in reality they were fought by men who were scared, angry, and tired but who were indeed members of a brotherhood of heroes. The book was criticized in an earlier customer review because it reflects only on American courage and determination. There's an obvious reason for that. Only about 30 of the approximately 11,000 Japanese defenders who fought with suicidal bravery on Peleliu survived the battle. Locating and then interviewing any of those 30 men who were still living some 60 years later would have been an impossible task.
on March 31, 2006
In late 1944 the Marines invaded a small island within an archipelago that had been "owned" by Japan since the end of World War 1, the Japanese having been ceded the territory by the Germans as part of the WWI Armistice (possession, in this case, being 100% of ownership). The island was fortified by the Japanese as part of one of several concentric fortification rings rippling out from the home islands.
The strategic picture by 1944 involved a Japan being pressed steadily back in every theater of operation in which they operated, and particularly in the vastness of the Pacific. The Americans, and MacArthur particularly, were eager to re-take the Phillipines and a number of islands, including Pelileu, were deemed to stand in the way. The American policy of leaving certain Japanese island to whither on the vine was in place at this point, but for a number of reasons - none of which seem appropriate in retrospect - the decision was made to invade Pelilieu, and the task was given the to the First Marine Division. Known as the "Old Breed," the base cadre of the First Marine Division were a significant portion the long term professional soldiers that made up the United States' pre WWII military.
In writing this history, Sloan had the benefit of being able to speak to actual participants in the battle, and he very ably maintains a balance of first hand accounts with the progression at a high tactical level of the campaign. Individual and individual's battles are drawn sharply and without any real bombast. He is able to convey some of the most graphic aspects of men fighting men with expertise, and time and again the challenges faced by the Marines were astonishing, more so given that he is like as not to include their various failures and deaths as well as the successes.
The focus here is really on the squad level, with the broader scope providing context for their efforts. Would have been nice to get some perspective on the other side here, but given that only a couple of dozen Japanese were captured, that was more or less impossible. On a side note, here again is a battle in the Pacific that astonishes the reader for the proportion of casualties (and by that I mean death) that the Japanese absorbed in these battles. Less than one percent of the defenders survived, at all. While the Marines tactics were necessarily brutal ("curing" a cave meant shelling it directly with tanks and/or artillery, constant automatic weapon fire into the apertures, and air assault where feasible, followed by flamethrowers, followed by satchel charges to close the entrance), the absolute unwillingness of the average Japanese soldier to surrender remains astounding to this day.
While in retrospect, this was an unnecessary battle on its face, in fact the lessons learned here served the US well at future larger battles - Iwo Jima, Okinawa, etc.. The author make this point strongly, if coming off somewhat as an apologist on the point, but he fails to alsopoint out to that this campaign bore out the future Japanese strategy of not defending the beaches where American firepower could decimate them with little to no risk.
An outstanding compilation of first hand accounts pulled into a cogent narrative by an able authoer. Excellent.
on August 1, 2005
By the early fall of 1944, the Americans were steadily beating the Japanese back toward the Home Islands. Due to their advance, the United States Navy was looking for a forward base which could also serve as a fleet anchorage. The Palaus island group was selected for that purpose, with the island of Peleliu being the main objective. For the next thirty days, the Marines that landed on the tiny coral island faced some of the most brutal fighting of the entire war.
Due mostly to faulty intelligence, the Marines thought that they would be facing many fewer Japanese than they actually encountered. An operation which was supposed to take, in the words of Marine General William H. Rupertus, no more than a few days, turned into a month-long struggle for survival, as nearly 11,000 Japanese troops were dug in in a series of caves, tunnels, and pillboxes. The American landing force consisted of only 9,000 men.
For one month, the Americans slugged it out with the Japanese defenders. Many of the island's natural features took on a life of their own. Places such as "The Pocket", "The Great Wall of China", and "The Five Sisters" soon took on images of death and destruction that the Marines would just as soon forget. Typical of the Japanese and their Bushido code, they literally fought to the last man, and only about three dozen surrendered to the Americans.
Many of the surviving Marines have openly questioned the necessity of the Palaus campaign. Peleliu and its neighboring islands had little or no effect on the upcoming Philippines campaign, and Admiral Nimitz had been criticized for not following Admiral Halsey's advice to totally bypass the Palaus. The veterans also blame their superiors, General Rupertus and Colonel "Chesty" Puller for some of their losses during the battle. Puller has been characterized as "a butcher who callously disregarded the lives of his men", while Rupertus was accused of pushing his men too hard. Admiral Jesse Olendorf's ineffective pre-invasion bombardment also led to the carnage when the Marines went ashore. Was Peleliu worth it? Many of the survivors think not.
I thought this was a very good book. Author David Sloan, who also wrote the excellent "Given Up for Dead" about the heroic defenders of Wake Island, concentrates his study on Company K, 3rd Batallion, 5th Marine Regiment. This group began the campaign with approximately 275 men, but by the time the battle was over, their numbers had dropped to well under 100. Names such as Sgt. Fred Miller, Lt. Ed Jones, Seymour Levy, "Red" Womack, and PFC Arthur Jackson became synonimous with American bravery while facing the fanatical Japanese. From blasting pillboxes to providing aid to a fallen comrade, this company fought on the front lines longer than any other unit on Peleliu.
I highly recommend this book. Although it seems to drag a little at some points (my reason for giving it 4 stars instead of 5), it is still packed with action as Sloan does a teriffic job of describing the battle from both American and Japanese points of view. Read this book and see how one small group of Marines helped to capture a vital island in the Pacific.
on November 3, 2006
Out of the many authors who write about WWII, Bill Sloan is one of my favorites. "Brotherhood of Heroes" is yet another book by Mr. Sloan that I just couldn't put down, thanks in part to another book I had read previously: "With the Old Breed at Peleliu and Okinawa" by Eugene Sledge. "With the Old Breed" is probably one of the best WWII memoirs ever written, from either theater, and it was that book that led me to seek out more material on the battle for Peleliu, a God-forsaken piece of rock in the middle of the Pacific ocean that was the site of what many of the Marines considered to be the worst battle of the entire war. Yet this battle has been largely ignored by history, in part because it was of dubious importance to the overall strategy in the Pacific (Gen. MacArthur insisted the attack on Peleliu was necessary to support his invasion of the Philippines, a claim that was proved to be untrue in hindsight). "Brotherhood of Heroes" brings this battle back to the forefront in the pantheon of battles from the Pacific theater of WWII. The sights, smells, sounds, and emotions experienced by the Marines on Peleliu are all brought vividly to life in this book; while people like myself who have never experienced warfare cannot pretend to truly understand what those brave men went through, this book does an excellent job of giving us an idea of what that hell on earth was like. This was the first time that the Marines experienced a "defense in depth" when fighting the Japanese; the Japanese made them fight for every inch of ground through overlapping defensive positions that would exact a ghastly toll on the men involved. If not for the lessons learned on Peleliu, the battles for Iwo Jima and Okinawa would have been much more costly to the Americans; while Peleliu took a terribly bloody toll on the Marines who fought there, it ultimately saved more lives down the road through the lessons learned. While we today look back and marvel at the sacrifices made by the young men of the Greatest Generation for their country, those Marines will tell you that they fought not only for their country, but, more importantly, they fought for their brothers in the Corps who were doing the same thing for them. Those men would rather have died than let their buddies down, men who they considered to be closer than blood relatives yet who were complete strangers just two or three years prior; these are the bonds forged by war, something that this book highlights in spectacular fashion.
Author does an excellent job of moving from the tactical level of the company,platoon, squad and even team to the divisional operational level (to be a pain and nitpick with other reviews the two-division sized op on Peleliu is operational warfare, the strategic level in the Pacific is mentioned only in passing). It is such a good book that I actually had to put the book down and take a break. The description of the deadly, never ending days of battle is almost too intense. I came away with a good integrated feel for the battle. That's a tribute to the author's skill and military knowledge. Also the fact that the battle was fought by one Marine division backed up by one Army division on a small island means the reader feels in control of the subject matter. There are not many maps but the one's used are good. As with any military book they need to be referred to often. America is lucky to always have men such as the Marines described in the book when we need them.
on August 13, 2005
I bought this book for my stepdad, who is 89 and loves books about WWII. He was one of the men of his time who was not allowed to enlist because his Stateside job was required for the war effort. My mother hates it when I get him a book as good as this one, as he is NO use around the house until he finishes it - and that was indeed the case with this book.
He read every chance he got, and was completely engrossed in it; he said it was very readable and well organized, following the main characters through their experiences both in and 'around' the war. Dishes didn't get done, projects didn't get finished - even dinner didn't get cooked, until he'd read every page of it.
He said to definitely give it 5 stars, as it was a great account of a situation he had followed on the news back here at the time.
on July 24, 2005
This is an excellent account of the battle. The only correction I would like to make, is there were no Jap Infantry, attacking with the tanks, except those riding on the tanks. I was 50 yards out in front of our lines, and they were on the road that runs along side of the ridge, and I had them in sight all the way accross the airport, and I saw no Jap infantry until after they had over run my position. Then I could see Japs riding on the tanks holding onto ropes tied around the turrets. From my position they were no longer protected by the turret, and they were easy targets. There were 56 marines in my platoon when we landed, and only 6 left when we were removed from the lines. after 6 days in combat.
on November 21, 2005
Being the son of a veteran of Peleliu,( my father was a forward observer with the 11th Marines assigned to K Company, Third Battalion, First Marines, and was one of the survivors from the Point.), I am always looking for new material on Peleliu. Like many other veterans, my father spoke very little of his experiences. Though Mr. Sloan's book read well, you can get the same information from reading George Hunt's book, Coral Comes High, or Russell Davis' book Marine at War, or Eugene Sledges book, With the Old breed. Especially Sledges book, I was somewhat disappointed.