on February 28, 2009
I served with 1st Bn 1st Marines in Vietnam in 1969-70. Chesty Puller has always been a mythical figure to me and other Marines I've served with and know. This account of the Battle of Peleliu does not paint a flattering picture of the way Puller commanded his regiment. Unfortunately we are not given much new information about the battle that we haven't already received from Sledge, Hallas and others. All we really get is that Puller had a disconnect between what was going on in his head and what was really happening. No reason for this. He had excellent battalion commanders one of whom went on to receive the MOH in Korea (Ray Davis) but apparently dismissed their concerns.
Let's not forget Rupertus whose obstinate refusal in the face of mounting casualties to call in reserves was almost criminal.
All in all, a good book that deserves a place next to Sledge's "With the Old Breed" (most of whom were killed on Peleliu) and James Hallas' "Devil's Anvil" on your bookshelf.
on June 1, 2013
Let me give you another side of the story that you've probably never heard before.
In September 1944, my father, Charles N. Manhoff, was a regimental scout in H&S Company, 1st Marines, 1st MarDiv. He landed on the third wave in Peleliu where he spent the morning attached to the 2nd Battalion. In the afternoon, he made his way to the regimental CP where he spent the remainder of the battle. Since there was no role for scouts during the battle (the Japanese were never more than 300 yards away and shooting at you all day long), Puller sent most of the scouts to line units. My father, however, was assigned to be Puller's runner for the battle and spent most of his time outside the CP "tent" (actually just a poncho on sticks) standing guard. As a result, he had a view of the battle decisions that not even the battalion commanders, Honsowetz and Davis, had.
According to my dad, nobody, and I mean nobody, thought charging Bloody Nose Ridge was more stupid than Puller himself. My dad heard Puller raging on the field phones to Division day after day. He on more than one occasion walked up to, and past, the line of insubordination in trying to get his Marines out of these pointless charges. He asked for reinforcements for the devastated regiment. Division said no. He asked to pull out and try an amphibious flanking maneuver just as he had done on Guadalcanal. Division said no. Dad was there when the III MAC commander, General Geiger, bypassed Division and spoke with Puller directly. He was there when Geiger countermanded Division and ordered the 81st Division to relieve the regiment.
Honsowetz and Davis never saw this, according to Dad. After each rejection, Puller would hang up the phone and pass the order to commence the next day's attack without comment to his battalions. I'm sure to the poor grunts and their commanders it seemed as if Puller was out of his mind but they never saw the fight that was going between Puller and Division. Why? Because Puller was a Marine and complaints only go up, they don't go down. Puller took full responsibility, and received the unfair criticism, for the insanity going on at Division.
The devastation at Bloody Nose Ridge can be, and should be, laid solely on one man's shoulders: the major general commanding the division. As for Puller, my dad said he would go with him "wherever he wanted to go."
If you want to read the "fly on the tent wall" story some more, read through my Dad's memoir. They are posted (for free) at the Witness To War foundation under the title, "Magne's War." They are eye-opening.
on May 14, 2009
"THE LAST MAN STANDING" is in my opinion one of the two best books ever published about one of WWII most horrendous battles. (The other a historical fiction account of this battle is briefly discussed below). The author articulates precisely the planning (or lack there of) and the fighting that ragged for nearly a month on the small Island of Peleliu in the Western Pacific.
Unfortunately for those who took part in this battle, both Naval and Marine Corps commanders at the highest levels exhibited a dearth of command competency. Their pre-invasion planning efforts and the equipping and training of the troops were minimal; followed by flawed command decisions during the battle which needlessly endangered the lives of subordinates. An American force of nearly 10,000 Marines were sent ashore against an estimated 20,000 professionally trained enemy combatants. The Japanese force was properly equipped and entrenched in a vast network of underground bunkers nearly impenetrable to naval gunfire or the bombing efforts of the U.S. Military.
Thus when members of the U.S. Marine Corps' First Division landed on the shore of this small island they found themselves in the middle of a killing field where hundreds of young men died before they ever reached the beach. Once ashore, the level of Marine casualties became near catastrophic; still the commanding officer who was eventually relieved of command, refused to allow the Army to assist his beleaguered troops.
One battalion commander mimicking the commanding general's misguided endeavors, after losing half his force, rejected the advice of his own staff and refused to accept assistance from other units. He ordered his men to carry out repeated attacks upon a Japanese strong point, all of which failed. The battalion experienced over seventy percent casualties before being withdrawn.
An historical fiction account of this famous battle from the viewpoint of a Marine Corps company commander can be found in the book "THE CLASS OF TWENTY-EIGHT." The protagonist in this story led his three hundred man infantry unit in the initial assault onto this island fortress. The company was nearly decimated in the carnage that followed.
To his credit Admiral William "Bull" Halsey tried in vain to persuade Admiral Chester Nimitz, General Douglas MacArthur and the War Department to isolate and blockade this group of islands to avoid another Tarawa debacle. Regrettably his advice was ignored; the decision to proceed with this attack was not one of General MacArthur or Admiral Nimitz's finest hours.
on February 20, 2009
You will not find a military historian anywhere who has done a better job than Col. Camp has of combining a stirring, exciting and brutal story with a treasure trove of photos. In fact, the number of combat photos in this book can only be described as the motherlode. Rather than distract from the story or act as filler, these photos enhance greatly the reader's enjoyment of the book. I highly recommend it.
While the Marine Corps have existed for well over 200 years, this unique combat arm defined its glorious legacy over a four year period, 1942-1945. Between the miserable jungle-affair of Guadalcanal and iconic, glorified sacrifice at Iwo Jima falls the particularly brutal battle for the coral-encrusted island of Peleliu. In LAST MAN STANDING, Dick Camp recounts how this bitter (and unnecessary) operation almost wiped out the First Marine Regiment.
With the lessons of Tarawa still not learned; the decision to take Peleliu and its airfield from the grip of a sizeable, capable and dug-in Japanese Army was a risk in-and-of itself. Securing the island was designated as a means of shoring up the eastern flank of MacArthur's operation to liberate the Philippines and serve as a jumping board for any future invasion of Japan ... the overall strategic value of Peleliu was arguably negligible for the Americans. The Japanese, on the other hand, considered the island to be defensively strategic, expected an American invasion and masterfully prepared a defensive strategy designed to grind and bleed the attackers. If an American victory was inevitable, it was assured to be a pyrrhic victory.
Camp does a great job in thoroughly prepping readers for the eventual clash of arms by providing an educational background of all aspects associated with the battle. Starting with the controversial and political decision to take Peleliu, we are given ample information as to how both the Americans and Japanese prepared for the oncoming battle. The book is riddled throughout with sidebars that enhance the reader's knowledge about a specific issue, weapon or individual ... I found this to be quite helpful (most of the time). We are also introduced to the regimental commanders that were responsible for achieving success. These leaders, most notably "Chesty" Puller, are not deified by Camp, but presented as capable, yet flawed men. The buildup to the actual battle comprises almost two-thirds of the book, which somewhat bothered me, until I finished the book and realized the value those two-thirds gave the rest of the book. That remaining one-third fittingly represents the First Marine Regiment's bloody clash with the determined Japanese defenders ... it is fast, furious and full of combat. Readers will quickly realize that the stubborn Japanese defense became problematic for the Marines and an errantly assumed quick American victory was suddenly turning into a war of attrition, at the expense of many lives. There are numerous first-hand battle accounts, as well as a detailing of Marine heroics under dire circumstances (I lost count of the Navy Crosses being awarded). From the fear or night-time attacks to the inability to find effective cover on the jagged coral ground surface ... Marines found themselves fighting an unexpected battle in hellish conditions against a well-trained, fanatical opponent. Camp brings to light the bull-headed incompetence of Marine Maj. General Rupertus (who was certain the operation would be a three-day rout and refused relief from an Army Division) and Puller (who appeared to have no qualm in unnecessarily sacrificing his men). The book reads at a fast pace, but the detailing of the battle slows things down quite a bit as I found myself re-reading accounts to get a more vivid image of events. The abundance of pictures throughout the book crystallizes the misery illustrated by the text ... very effective. I would have appreciated maps accompanying each chapter to illustrate the progress/position of the regiment.
I feel LAST MAN STANDING offers a unique perspective of a battle that is arguably as brutal as Iwo Jima, but lesser known. The casualties incurred by the Marines were horrendous (by American standards, but nothing compared to the toll on the Japanese). Camp sticks his neck out a little by portraying a recipient of five Navy Crosses (Puller) as less-than-heroic, but gets support from Medal of Honor recipient Everett Pope, who slams Puller for wasting so many Marine lives on Peleliu. In addition to LAST MAN STANDING, I would suggest reading E. Sledges "With the Old Breed" and viewing HBO's "The Pacific" to get a vivid and complete picture of how horrible this particular battle was.
on January 19, 2010
Let me start off by saying that I hold the USMC in high esteem. In spite of having the priviledge of having been in the US Army and coming from an "Army" family. I also think that "Chesty" Puller was one of the finest Battalion Commanders that the United States ever produced.
Now comes the buts. After reading this fine book about the Battle for Peleiu. I was just appalled at the waste of one of the finest Infantry Units that served this Republic ever period.They rate in my book right up there with the "Big Red One", 82nd & 101st Airborne, The Rangers and the SF Crowd in their own way. I also think that the Upper Echleons of Command utterly failed in their duty to the troops that served there.
Here is why I think so. In that the choice of Rupertus as Division Commander was to be kindly strange.(I am sure that internal Marine Corp Politics were involved) That & both he and Colonel Puller needed to be relieved because of both physical and mental problems. I think "Chesty" was basically bone tired and suffering from his wounds from the Guadalcanal Campaign. That and his other campaigns in the Solomon Islands were grounds for some serious R&R for him. (I also think that he briefly started to believe the legend that the Corp had created about him) This failure of his superiors was to cause him to not be at his best for this really tough fight.
As to the General Rupertus, I really think that commanding a Marine Division in Combat was beyond him. I think that Shoup would of done a better job. Plus the man was not up to the job physically due to torn ligaments. (I myself have had that same physical problem and the Army put me on quarters so fast it made my head spin.) I also think that Greiger should of kept a closer watch on the casuality rate. I also think that Rupertus refusal to use the Army Division that had been kept in Reserve was an example of inter service rivialry at its worst. I think that he did not want the Army to claim any credit for this fight.
I also think that the Navy let the 1st Marine Division down by what was probadly some piss poor naval bombardment of the island before the landing itself & during the battle. Also the allowing of poisoned drinking water to be sent the Marines is frankly beyond belief. (I do not want to hear the crap about S**T happens during wartime! There are some things that need to be done and done right everytime!!!!) Some one needed to swing on that one!
As to the fight itself, as is expected the Marines lived up to their usual excellent standard. The sad thing that so many good men fought for an objective that really had no real impact on the winning of the war against the Empire of Japan. Nimitz should of listened to Halsey and bypassed the place but hindsight is always 20/20.
on January 24, 2012
Taking Peleliu was supposed to be a 3-4 day walk-on-the-beach, according to the 1st MarReg CO MajGen William Rupertus, but Fleet Marine Force Pacific deputy MajGen Julian Smith wasn't so sure. When arguing with the Navy for a longer than two-day bombardment of the island, he told the assembled Navy officers "when the Marines meet the enemy at bayonet point, the only armor he will have is his khaki shirt."
Taking Peleliu was worse than Smith could ever imagine, as "Last Man Standing" so accurately relates. Author and Vietnam combat veteran Col Dick Camp (USMC, ret) superbly draws on the Marine Corps Historical Division's extensive archives in order to recreate the battle in all its horrific detail.
Camp's ability to recreate a battle comes to the forefront when discussing the September 1944 fight for Peleliu. While many books call attention to the Navy's reluctance to provide a suitable bombardment along with their supplying water in gasoline-tainted drums as reasons for the high casualties, Camp digs deeper and discusses Adm William "Bull" Halsey's belief that invading Peleliu was unnecessary - and would cause needless casualties.
Most books written by Marines about Marine battles tend to portray only the positive. Camp is different; writing from his vantage point as both a Marine and a historian, "Last Man Standing" addresses both the low and high points of the Peleliu fight, notably "Rupe the Dupe" and legendary Marine Lewis "Chesty" Puller.
Likely unknown to most but the ardent historian is that Rupertus was so convinced that Peleliu would be an easy victory that he argued with MajGen Smith about the need for a reserve battalion being assigned to his landing force - and this despite his and his chief of staff being absent from the planning process. Camp calls Rupertus "a controversial leader who did little to inspire confidence in his abilities as a commander," and proceeds to back up his assertions. Using a multiple of quotations ranging from one of Rupertus's battalion commander's on Guadalcanal "just sat on his duff in a bunker and let others do the dirty work" to MajGen Ray Davis (a battalion commander on Peleliu) comment "what an ass," Camp also documents Rupertus reluctance to use his assistant battalion commanders on shore to provide him battlefield intelligence despite Rupertus hiding a broken ankle from Smith that kept him from going ashore and seeing how badly his Marines were being mauled.
Even after he landed on D+1`, Rupertus did not change his mind about Peleliu being taken quickly. 1st Marines under the command of Col Lewis "Chesty" Puller had already suffered 1,000+ casualties, yet Rupertus was already pushing Puller to move faster. Days later in the midst of the Marine Corps heaviest casualties of the war, Rupertus repeatedly refused to call up reinforcements until directly ordered by 111 Amphibious Corps commanding officer, MajGen Roy Geiger.
Camp also dispassionately discusses Marine Corps legend, the beloved Chesty Puller, who repeatedly ordered his men to take Bloody Nose Ridge. Whether in response to Rupertus's constant orders to capture the ridge or a hinted-at combat fatigue, Camp documents the company commanders increasing anger at Puller's refusal to accept the reality of the situation on the ground: Capt Everett Pope, who was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions on Peleliu, is quoted as saying "It was a suicide mission. The trouble is that it was our suicide, not Puller's...Puller had a poor grasp of the islands' terrain. Send enough men to their slaughter, Puller's strategy went, and a few are bound to make it."
By D+6 the situation was so desperate that Gen Geiger appeared at Puller's command post and was so appalled at Puller's belief that he `was doing alright with what he had" that Geiger departed post-haste to confront Rupertus...who argued that 1st Marines did not need any fresh troops. Geiger overruled him; ordering the Marines withdrawn and replaced by a fresh Army unit. It was too late, however, for the 1,672 Marine casualties of Pullers 1st Marines, who suffered more casualties than any regiment in Marine Corps history.
It's Camp's visceral writing style that puts the reader in the trenches with the Marines; his generous use of quotations and photographs provide a rifleman's eye-view of the fighting. It's Camp's ability to research, write, and understand a battle as both a Marine and a historian that makes "Last Man Standing" one of the best books on the battle of Peleliu.
on January 4, 2014
One of the best books I have ever read. I knew how horrendous this battle was but had no idea until reading the book just how horrendous it was. I have been on the U.S.S. Peleliu and the ship carries this name with great pride and deservedly so.
on July 6, 2013
The battle for Peleliu island in the Pacific Ocean during World War II was a brutal battle whose necessity many still question to this day. For the Marines involved in the initial invasion, it was even worse than that: it was a meat-grinder. Last Man Standing by Dick Camp is the tale of the 1st Marine Regiment's horrific five days on the island, from the invasion itself to its eventual disintegration as a unit as casualties mounted. It is a riveting account, relatively short (there are lots of photographs), and quite grim.
This book does not cover the entire battle. It took the American military at least two months to secure the island; even then, pockets held out (such as one Japanese lieutenant and 26 other men who remained hiding there until 1947, when a Japanese admiral convinced them that the war was over). What was supposed to be a three-day battle turned into a grind that cost thousands of casualties.
Last Man Standing focuses strictly on the 1st Marine Regiment and those deadly five days being pulled from the battle for the simple fact that it almost didn't exist anymore. Camp covers the planning for the operation and discusses briefly how unnecessary the battle may have been. The island was never used for any kind of jumping-off point for operations in the Philippines or any other action, and it's doubtful that the airfield on the island could have hindered the American fleet much.
But the Americans decided to attack the island anyway, and the 1st Marines formed the spearhead of that invasion. After the planning, Camp moves battalion by battalion as the regiment assaults the beaches with Japanese fire raining down on them mercilessly. The reader can almost feel the intensity and fear these men went through as their comrades were wounded or killed all around them.
Camp highlights the courage of these men thrown constantly into the heat of battle, ordered to make frontal assault after frontal assault even as the Japanese, positioned in the hardened and prepared cave systems, continued to blast them. Camp often cites the descriptions about the actions of individual Marines from their Navy Cross or Medal of Honor citations, adding even more immediacy to his descriptions.
The author makes use of a lot of historical sources, including Marine historical records and other survivors'' accounts of the battle. He personally interviewed two Marines as well, both of whom ably led men despite disagreeing with the orders they were given. He doesn't bother with footnotes or endnotes, instead occasionally citing the work in question in his narrative and listing them all in the bibliography.
Through this engrossing account of the battle, the reader really starts to feel it as platoons and companies are wittled away to almost nothing. Compounding the grimness of the story are many of the photographs included in Last Man Standing. Mostly taken from military archival sources, and many of the photos are quite graphic. There are no depictions of blood and guts, but many feature images of burned-out corpses in Japanese positions, or dead Marines who were unable to be recovered at the time as the battle slogged forward.
Other photographs bring the battle to life, though, giving the reader a clearer picture of what transpired. Some reflect on what life was like for a Marine during these five days, including one that shows a Marine keeping watch out of the shellhole he and his buddy are hiding in, while his buddy quickly eats something to keep himself going.
Last Man Standing is a fascinating book about a seemingly pointless battle, a showcase of Marine courage, camaraderie among men who are going through Hell together, and the honor with which they perform their duties.
It's a must-read for those qualities alone
Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book © Dave Roy, 2013
on October 4, 2013
Every American school kid should be read parts of this book, so that they know of the courage, bravery, and devotion to duty of the American Marines, The savagery of the fighting between the fanatical Japanese and the Marines surpassed anything in the European battles with the exception of the fighting between the Germans and the Russians.I remember as a young man, living in Melbourne in 1941, meeting young American Marines on leave from the battles of Gluadacanal, and being impressed with those fine young "Yanks". Americans should be very proud of their Marine Corps soldiers, and the thousands who died for their country.