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Place of the Loyal Samurai

On the beaches and in the caves of a small Micronesian island, archaeologists have identified evocative evidence of one of WWII’s most brutal battles

By DANIEL WEISS

Monday, June 10, 2019

Peleliu WWII Orange Beach InvasionPeleliu WWII Orange Beach Present DayOn the morning of September 15, 1944, some 18,000 U.S. marines from the First Division invaded the tiny Western Pacific island of Peleliu, at the south end of the Palau archipelago. Nearly three years after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the Americans and their allies were on the offensive, pushing their way across the Pacific. This campaign involved millions of U.S. military personnel, and unfolded over thousands of miles of ocean. Many of the key battles were fought over Pacific islands such as Guadalcanal and Guam, both of which the Americans captured after fierce fighting. They then established bases on these islands as they advanced closer and closer to Japan. By fall 1944, the Americans were eager to begin a long-planned invasion of the Japanese-occupied Philippines. They saw Peleliu, which lies 500 miles east of the Philippines and had excellent harbors and a Japanese-constructed airfield, as a valuable launching pad.

 

Peleliu WWII MapShaped like a lobster claw, Peleliu measures at most five miles long by two miles wide. Because the island is so small, Marine Corps Major General William Rupertus predicted it would be subdued in a few days, despite the 11,000 Japanese troops and at least 3,000 Korean and Okinawan forced laborers ready to defend it. In fact, the battle, code-named Operation Stalemate II, ended up dragging on for more than two months. The marines were reinforced, and later relieved, by 11,000 soldiers from the U.S. Army’s 81st Infantry Division. Over the course of the battle, the Americans unleashed an astounding barrage of munitions. Navy ships anchored offshore fired almost 6,000 tons of shells. Navy and marine aircraft dropped at least 800 tons of bombs. In their month on the island, the marines expended almost 16 million rounds of ammunition, including 116,000 hand grenades. The toll on the Americans was great—at least 1,600 died on Peleliu. For the Japanese, the toll was catastrophic. Fewer than 100 soldiers survived. And, in the end, it was all for nothing. The invasion of the Philippines started on October 20, even as the battle for Peleliu raged on.

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 Peleliu Battlefield
Peleliu's Battle

Digging Deeper into Pompeii’s Past

New research is uncovering the ancient city’s dynamic story from its origins to the eruption that buried it

By BENJAMIN LEONARD and JARRETT A. LOBELL

Monday, June 10, 2019

Pompeii Intro Regio V HouseThe emperor Nero is thought to have visited the southern Italian city of Pompeii in A.D. 64, perhaps spending a few nights in the enormous villa his wife, Poppaea, owned in the nearby town of Oplontis. Nero would have seen a city struggling to recover from a devastating earthquake two years earlier. “Pompeii was a city in crisis and flux,” says archaeologist Stephen Kay of the British School at Rome. The Pompeians labored to fix damaged roads, repaint walls whose frescoes had been ruined, rebuild their homes, revitalize the city’s infrastructure, repair its cemeteries, and construct what they were confident would be a new, earthquake-proof temple to their patron goddess, Venus.

 

Pompeii Intro MapThe Pompeians may not have known it, but the A.D. 62 earthquake had been a warning that the volcano looming over their city was waking up after 700 years of dormancy. In A.D. 79, Mount Vesuvius erupted in one of the largest and deadliest volcanic events in history. A dense, high-speed rush of solidified lava called lapilli, volcanic ash, and super-heated gases rushed down Vesuvius’ slopes and buried Pompeii and much of the rest of the region southeast of the mountain in as much as 20 feet of volcanic debris.

 

There is a tendency to think that Pompeii had always been just as it was in A.D. 79. However, by the first century A.D., it had already undergone as much as 1,000 years of change. “It’s difficult to say who the original Pompeians were,” says archaeologist Marcello Mogetta of the University of Missouri. “But if you dig below the A.D. 79 levels—which is a real challenge because you can’t destroy mosaic floors and knock down frescoed walls—you start to see that Pompeii is a site with a very long history.”

 

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