|If I go away to the sea,
My body will be immersed in the sea.
If I go away to the mountain,
My bones shall nuture the grass
But dying for the Emperor offers no regrets
Last Man Standing – The Desperate Battle of Private Oishi
When the 1st Marine Division landed on Peleliu in the Palau Island group they battled for the rocky prominence the Marines called “The Point.” It was a pivotal engagement and resulted in the most casualties during D-Day on Peleliu. The savage fighting has been recounted in many US narratives. It was assumed all Japanese defenders had been wiped out, either at “The Point” or in further fighting on the island. to my knowledge, this is the only account in English from a known survivor of the Japanese positions on “Ishimatsu” – “Rocky Pine” in Japanese – or “The Point” in English.
The following is a compilation of translations I have made from Japanese to English. I have relied heavily upon two major sources: the Peleliu chapter of Sato Kazumasa’s(‘佐藤和正)“Gyokusai no Shima” 玉砕の島 and, Funasaka Hitoshi’s “Periryu Island Gyokusaisenペリリュー島玉砕戦, 舩坂 弘 . All dialogue is translation from Japanese. Initial detail and general narrative and explanations of Japanese strategies and tactics based upon my readings of numerous Japanese sources.
All introductory paragraphs are my own writing. All translations errors and omissions completely my own.
In November 1944 General Douglas MacArthur had hammered his way up through New Guinea and was in the process of seizing Morotai Island in the Dutch East Indies just south of the Philippines. The stage was set for invasion of the main islands and MacArthur’s promised liberation of the Philippines. One niggle in the scheme was the presence of the main Japanese base in the Palau Islands, a massive spread of coral-topped islands about 500 miles due east of the Philippines. The Palaus held a total force of around 40,000 Naval and Army units spread across the island group. Major airfields had been constructed on Peleliu and the main island of Babelthuap. MacArthur wanted the invasion of the Palau group to coincide with US Army landings on Morotai, the Northern Island in the Japanese controlled Moluccas islands in the former Dutch East Indies.
Whether landing on Peleliu was absolutely necessary to achieve military objectives in the Philippines was a matter of contention. Debate consumed much of the best mind power of many strategists before the landing. In the postwar period the debate gained renewed vitality with the release of the HBO Mini Series “The Pacific” in 2010. While some disagree there is general consensus the Peleliu slaughter bench was unnecessary. How much hindsight plays into this decision will never be known. The island had been bombed over the course of several months before the landing. Japanese air elements were effectively eliminated and Admiral Halsey’s combat Task Forces for months previous to the invasion had traversed the regional seas relatively unmolested. Japanese naval forces had been gutted by serious losses over the course of the war. The island group was not functionally capable of supporting a battle group while under attack and cut off from homeland support.
MacArthur still worried about this fortress island and its ability to thwart his expected landing on Leyte Island in the Philippines. He pushed and plans were made to capture Peleliu and Anguar islands with elements of the 1st Marine Division and the Army’s 81st Division. Peleliu and Anguar are the westernmost islands, the former with the largest airfield on the islands and the latter with the potential for an even larger field to be constructed by US forces after landing.
The intensity of the fight, the immolation of virtually the entire garrison or 10,000 Japanese soldiers at the cost of 2,500 US servicemen over a three month battle envisioned to last just three days was brutal, nasty beyond belief, and in the total sense of the word, unrelenting.
All in an Island 13 square kilometres in size.
Most accounts of the battle tell of the island garrison totally exterminated. Despite the best efforts of the US and the fearless mentality of the Japanese about 450 soldiers of the original garrison survived the battle, most by hiding in complex natural cave systems until surrendering at the end of the war. Several hundred others Okinawan and Korean labourers captured during the battle. The actual number of Japanese regular army or navy was around 10,000 with about another 3,000 Okinawan and Korean labourers (both were regarded as Japanese nationals so do not show up in US records). The original islander inhabitants, about 1000, and another 100 Japanese colonists had been removed from the island prior to the battle to get them out of harms way. It was clear to the Japanese at least, that Peleliu with its airstrip would be a prime place for landing in the Palaus.
Peleliu’s area comprised an island only about 8 kilometres long by 3 kilometres wide. In the centre was the Umbrugohl Island “Mtn Range.” To name this rise of limestone and coral a mountain range is a misnomer. No point in the range, about 2 kilometres long, rises over 100 metres above sea level. What it lacks in height it makes up for in sheer geographical relief. Sharp rises are immediately followed by drops of several tens of metres, pocket valleys, cliffs, sinkholes, natural coral pockets and caves. Coral worn away to form sharp edges along most of the exposed ridges. Some of these natural features made excellent defensive positions with little modification, others could be easily hewn, shaped and connected with other positions. All were exploited, reinforced, enlarged and stocked providing the Japanese garrison with very strong positions. Unlike fortifications on volcanic islands such as Iwo Jima, those of Peleliu were sturdy solid and unshifting. Cement and steel rebar was added to coral rocks to fold up and block natural openings and cave entrances to provide firing positions and access trails largely shielded from direct fire. Large oil drums were filled with coral and strung in multiple lines high and in-depth across cave entrances or along small valley bottoms to provide spaces where Japanese troops could traverse between positions in relative safety from small arms fire. Any invading force would have to pick-axe, blow or burn every Japanese soldier out of their emplacements before any forward movement.
Much has been made about Peleliu being the first island battle where a Japanese commander made a conscious decision to defend the interior of the island rather than confront the Americans directly on the beaches. This is in fact a myth — the Japanese command had made provision for both beach and interior defence. Strong points were established along the beach perimeter on all of the potential landing areas. The Japanese had tag coded all the beach defensive positions with tree and shrub names found in Japan. Within American military lore the fight for small rocky prominence on the northern edge of the main landing beach was called the “The Point” by the Marines. To the Japanese this position was known in Japanese as “Rock Pine” or “Ishimatsu “( also a rather common last name in Japanese).
This position defenses were strong, extensive and accounted for more US Marine casualties than any other on D-Day or any other day of the battle. To quote Marine Captain Hunt, the man whose unit actually seized The Point on D-Day:
“The Point, rising thirty feet above the water’s edge, was of solid, jagged coral, a rocky mass of sharp pinnacles, deep crevasses, tremendous boulders. Pillboxes, reinforced with steel and concrete, had been dug or blasted in the base of the perpendicular drop to the beach. Others, with coral and concrete piled six feet on top were constructed above, and spider holes were blasted around them for protecting infantry.”
US Naval Shelling directed on this position had no discernable effect and the Japanese accounts are legion as to how ineffective shelling actually was.
“Rocky Pine” according to Japanese sources comprised a 150 man combat group centred around a rapid firing 47 mm anti-tank gun  （一式機動四十七粍速射砲）and a heavy machine gun. The remaining troops held small arms and light machine guns.
The Point extended slightly out at the north end of the landing beach (Beach White) allowing the Japanese to sweep the beach and inland movements of the landing force with enfilade fire. This meant the position could fire down the entire length of the beach. Bullets instead of cutting through a single line of troops has one chance to hit a person. When arrayed in an enfilade firing position fire is crossing the entire length of the landing beaches. A bullet not hitting some immediately can still travel down the beach with multiple opportunities for causing harm. This enfilade position across the entire White beach made The Point the major source of American casualties on D-Day and certainly a surprise for the
Americans who had not recorded it in on their maps.
Private Oishi, 2nd Company / 2nd Regiment, of the Japanese 14th Division was stationed on Ishimatsu positon awaiting the American Forces. A 6:00 a.m. a report from Colonel Nakagawa overall commander of the Peleliu forces was send to all units. Nakagawa stated that this was the expected day of the landing and identified the following forces: “about 50 transports immediately due west of the island about 13 kilometres out to sea – it looks like they have finally come…” At first it was not possible for the defenders at Ishimatsu at about 10 metres elevation, to identify any ships on the water but the entire island went into the prearranged plan for defence of the island.
The anti-tank trench immediately traversing the beach in front of Oishi-san’s position had been largely destroyed in the preliminary bombardment and would not represent much of a deterrent should a US tank make an attack on the point. The lookout called out from the top of the bunker. “Enemy Landing Craft. Expected number … 300.” They are approaching the reef in front of positions of the “Kuromatsu Strongpoint!”  The lookout called out. Oishi grasped his gun tightly and looked on at what appeared a surreal spectacle. He could see American landing craft in profile side-view as they made their way to landing points on White Beach. As they hit the reef out from the shore they began the dangerous process of transferring soldiers from landing craft to amphibious tractors to get over the reef.
Several touched off mines and beach obstacles and blew up in a shower of fragments. Some other craft faltered and herded together offering a good targets for the Japanese gunners. At the reef about 1000 metres from shore the Japanese opened fire from beach and interior positions and poured their fire on the approaching Landing craft. The Americans replied with another massive pre-arranged shelling of the beach defences and interior positions with smoke shells and high explosives to blind observers in the mountains with marginal effect as most guns had been pre-registered.
Eventually the shelling stopped and Oishi popped his head up and froze. No more than 30 metres away from him were American soldiers running up the beach. “Fire, Fire, let then have it with all you’ve got” cries rang out around him. Oishi fired as if in a dream without aiming. There was no time to aim, just point his rifle and pull the trigger. One after he let off rounds from his rifle into the Americans. “Take it easy, think…. Take your time. Don’t rush” he told himself again and again as he realised he needed to calm down. Try as he might he could not seem to keep control of his hands as they seemed to move over and over again. Pulling the bolt back and pulling the trigger.
From behind him the artillery piece began to bark and as the gunners went about their task. It was a sweet sound. He breathed a sigh of relief as shells passed hitting enemy targets.
In these initial beach battles the Japanese destroyed 60 Landing craft, three Shermans and 28 amphibious tractors inflicting perhaps as many as 1000 casualties, but still the Marines kept coming on to the beaches. 
In the shelling communication lines were cut. A German shepherd was released by Oishi’s men to pass a message to command but was quickly hit by a shell, its carcass thrown up in the tree to add to the human carnage. A second message dog was released and this eventually got through to the command bunker inside Tenzan Mtn. In five or six minutes a line of pre-registered guns began firing from hidden positions behind the Japanese defenders. The Anti-tank ditch crumbled in a mass of sand and smoke annihilating the Marines who been unlucky enough to be in these advanced positions. They eventually pulled out of this exposed portion of the trench and were chased by rifle fire realising ineffectiveness of a direct assault and withdrawing their wounded.
However by this time the firing from the interior mountains was clear to the allied observers and a curtain of fairly accurate shells and destruction descended into the supporting fire pits near cave entrances behind the Ishimatsu position.
By now the entire western beach was boiling and engaged in a furious fire-fight. Close combat and hand-to-hand fighting ensured in some cases. Oishi and his mates pushed each other on to defend no matter the cost — “Stand your ground! Don’t let the bastards pass! Kill all the buggers!” Oishi and his comrades yelled encouragement to each other. The entire line generated a blind white rage as hands worked bolts on their rifles and threw grenades. Sometimes the Americans grabbed them and threw them back. Onwards came the Americans until both groups merged and entwined in a mangled twisting line of combat and rage.
The antitank trench began to fill up with dead and wounded but new American support troops arrived. “I’ll gain us some time” and a Corporal with a Nidan Kendo swordsmanship rank jumped out of his position and down upon the Americans in the trench with his military sword.
“Come back. You can’t do it alone” a trail of voices followed him down into the ditch. Nimbly crawling forward he promptly decapitated a marine directly in front of him, “Got you, you son of a bitch” he called out. Suddenly an explosion rent the air and the corporal bent backwards. A grenade the dead Marine had been about to throw blew up. In a small depression a Marine made sluggish movements. With a gaping neck wound he threw himself with all his might against the Japanese line leading with his bayonet. He collapsed into a pile of dead and wounded his neck spewing like a geyser. He was a black soldier. 
At this time it became impossible to distinguish individual combat, just one seething mass of the humanity engaged in killing one another. Private Oishi could think of nothing more than killing the enemy around him.
The positions south of “Ishimatsu” strong point were gradually overrun after landing tanks managed to take a large chunk of the northern airfield and completely destroy the Peleliu Japanese tank force. Marine numbers and strength were increasing and the “Ishimatsu” position began taking fire from the rear right flank. Fire from Japanese gun positions around Oyama and Tenzan bathed the area in shell fire but received almost immediate counter battery fire from US warships. At the end of the morning Oishi and his comrades held their ground and faced a new terror as US tanks cautiously advanced in across the sand and undergrowth in front of the position. A young lieutenant strapped some explosive to his body, ran over the parapet.
“Let me take care of those” he shouted.
Oishi felt the blood drain from him as a pitiable scream rose from the surviving soldiers and followed the Lieutenant as he left the trench…“Taicho, for God’s sake, come back!” But he was already long gone approaching the lead tank before disappearing in the confusion. “Our entire front would have easily crumbled if tanks had moved up at this time, but they did not move.”
The battle had degenerated into a fray around a small rise of sand dividing the Japanese from the American positions. Soldiers from both sides crouched on either side of the anti-tank ditch, barely a few yards away, bobbing up and shooting and throwing grenades as the wounded filled the depressions on both sides. Despite the vast disparity in numbers the Marines force could not dislodge the Japanese from their positions.
Oishi describes the conditions. “The wounded filled our trenches and were left more or less where they had fallen. Eventually the order came for the Japanese to fall back to positions in the interior of the island. In order to avoid a perceived terror of capture and torture by American soldiers the majority of the wounded put their barrel muzzles in their mouths and pulled the trigger with their feet, putting them out of their misery. There was no one who tried to stop them. No one helped those who could deal with their own demise. As was the tradition of the Japanese soldier they dealt with it by themselves. Those who lacked the capability through serious wounds to kill themselves asked their friends for help…”Please… please… help me… I would rather be killed by a friend than the enemy…” they entreated with outstretched arms.
With a sigh and heavy hearts their final wish was granted. Most were accommodated in a smaller trench and bundles of grenades thrown in. A massive blast of sand and body parts showered the party. The survivors looked away and withdrew with tears in their eyes as they awaited the next American attack.”
The Japanese turned from the Ishimatsu position – “The Point” – and withdrew slightly further into the island to another line of defence called the “Tomiyama” position. The intensity of this fight in the first hours was a small piece of the action extending all along the beach. It was the beginning of almost three months of intense, personal combat. The Americans could be killed, but could hope for eventual release from the line of battle, a wound or relief. For the Japanese their range of possibilities was limited to death.
A Song from the Beaches – A Song for Home
When the time came to withdraw Oishi-san turned his attention to his friend Yasuda, a private of the same regiment who entered the army in the same year. Yasuda had been wounded in the stomach rather gravely during the fighting. The vigour of his voice betrayed the gravity of his wound. “Hey Oishi, give me a hand here… let’s get the hell out of here. This wound I’ve got should heal rather quickly.” Who would know, if one dies, one dies, that how it is.. but if the wound can heal it means you can continue fighting.”
Anyhow Oishi-san could not abandon private Yasuda.
“Leave it to me. We’ll get out of here.”
He looked at his friend and then leaned down to lend a hand getting up. As his arm extended under Yasuda-san’s shoulder the uniform fell apart and a gaping wound revealed itself and with trailing white entrails. Oishi took his own waistband (seninbari) and strung it around Yasuda’s waist. It was a pitiful site as Oishi-san lowered his friend to the ground. All around them others were making their way to the Tomiyama Position inland designated as a second line of defence.
Oishi bundled him together and crawled with him as best he could to a trench further away from the fighting. There was considerable distance to cover to get to Tomiyama. A connecting positon on the right, Tenzan were under attack by the Americans. Infantry and tanks were moving actively to cutting off the retreat directly behind the Ishimatsu position. It would be unlikely they could make it together through this gap to new lines and some retreating soldiers noticing this were returning. The only way out was to make way directly north of the position towards position called “Momi” pass around the American flank and then head West into the Japanese lines.
Oishi and his friend were however unaware of the Americans directly behind them and tried to make their way directly to Tomiyama strongpoint. Oishi pulling his friend only made it only a few metres when he noticed an American soldier. Hurriedly they took cover. The initial adrenalin rush had passed and Yasuda-san was now turning pale and biting his teeth in pain and starting to a breath in a low growl… “he is quite weak now… if we continue on this snail’s pace neither of us will make it back… “ Oishi thought for a moment of abandoning his friend and making his way to safety, but he just could not do it. He continued to make his way ever so slowly through the American lines dragging his friend a few centimetres at a time. Always torn between leaving and staying, ultimately unable to turn his back on his friend.
Sunset found them at the foot of the mountains. Without directions they had got lost but eventually arrived at the Tenzan Position. Afforded a little more protection he tried to find familiar caves, but the ground had changed so much as a result of the shelling it was unrecognisable. Now out of the line of direct fire he placed Yasuda-san on his shoulders and carried him to a cave originally used by an Engineering unit, now full of wounded.
“Well we’ve made it Yasuda-san. Now drink this!” He held out a canteen one-third full of water… on Peleliu water was much more important than food. There were no natural water courses or sources. All water had to be collected from rain water. Many soldiers had lost their weapons and ammunition, but nothing could get them to relinquish their water bottles. Oishi was also parched and his tongue stuck to the inside of his mouth, but he held firmly and did not drink, offering his water to Yasuda. By this time Yasuda-san appeared to lose consciousness. Oishi cradled him, propped him up and attempted to get a trickle of water into his mouth.
A very dry and faint voice came bubbling up from somewhere inside Yasuda-san’s and passed through his lips. It was the voice, but that almost of another person…
“… I’m sorry, but it looks…it looks like I’m scuppered mate…”
“What on earth are you talking about…you”ll be fine! C’mom buck up!”
But Yasuda-san’s face began to take on the colour of death. His entrails were now, despite the bindings of Oishi, dangling on the floor of the cave. The cave floor and clothing was also covered and engorged with a large amount of his blood.
As he tried to articulate a few words Oishi bent over to listen…
“Just one favour my friend… just… just… one favour… Can you kill me? Please kill me.”
It was clearly plain from the state of Yasuda-san no medical care would be of assistance to him. He nodded to one of the engineers who passed him a rifle. He did not know from what voice in that mass of seriously wounded men it came from, but just at that moment a strange but familiar song began to rise. Soon others took it up and the cave was filled with a low dirge-like chorus of soldier singing a song they had heard and sung since their time in the service. It was a song for going home, a song of death…. “Umi Yukaba” Yasuda-san began to join in, his voice suddenly growing in strength and vigour. Others joined him. Tears were soon streaming down everyone’s face. Yasuda-san continued to sing, all the time gasping for breath, his strength clearly coming to an end. Suddenly his voice grew narrow and weak, and his singing stopped.
That night those survivors of the Ishimatsu Position 2nd Regiment were merged with those of the Momi Position and ordered to prepare to attack and take back the Ayame position on the Western Shore at the southern end of the airfield. This attack was foiled when American flares revealed the jumping off point for the attack and was broken up in subsequent American shelling. The survivors of the regiment crept away in the darkness. There were no more than 50 men from the original regimental strength remained alive after 18 hours of fighting.
After the first day, the combat more or less became one of holding natural caves on the hilly interior of the island and guerrilla-like raiding tactics. Oishi-san sortied out almost every night against the Americans then returned to the cave during the daytime. On top of Tenzan a furious battle would rage during the day with the Americans capturing it with the benefit of overwhelming firepower. At night the Japanese would roll out their caves and take it back. Over time the strength of Japanese forces dissipated as fresh replacements were unavailable.
Counter landings were however part of the considered response to retake the island from the Americans. On the main island of Koror 35 kilometres to the north there were over 40,000 Japanese troops… if these could get through then defenders like Oishi-san had some slim chance.
THE JAPANESE CONSIDER COUNTER-LANDINGS
Japanese central command on the main Palau island of Babelthaup, concerned about the situation on Peleliu and the options open for the Japanese to counter American moves was considering options. Forces in the Palaus were considerable but negated by the overwhelming American air and naval presence specifically tasked with isolating Peleliu (and Anguar) At the same time 15th Regiment Command of the 14th Division under Fukui Yoshisuke on Palau with the full support of divisional command began a push for Japanese counter-landings to push the Americans off the island. “With full support of the Army a counter landing offers us a good possibility of eliminating the Americans, moreover with another day of fighting with the Americans like today there is no way that other elements would be able to live with themselves in shameless comfort on Palau if they did not attempt a counter landing. Therefore we enjoin you with all speed to send out reinforcements to Peleliu.”
Upon making their way from Manchuria to the South Pacific the 15th Regiment had been designated as a marine landing force and had trained extensively in landing and support operations under Major Fukui. Fukui was of the opinion that committing a major peace of the regiment would make a distinct difference in the battle on Peleliu. Divisional staff officer Tada Tochiku was against the plan. His main reasons were logical and reflected a natural awareness of the weakness of the Japanese capability for offense, specifically lack of sufficient landing craft to transport the necessary troops and the fact that American forces held complete control of the air and sea lanes around not only Peleliu but also the entire Palau island group. Throwing in more troops would weaken the main force on Palau Island should the Americans continue their advance on the main island.
Trying to achieve a counter landing in order to support Peleliu and protect Palau would in the end achieve neither.
 Umi Yuukaba – “Across the Seas.” I have more freely translated this to hopefully make it less stilted and more evocative of its true meaning.
 Not his real name. As of 2008 he was still living with the perceived shame of being a survivor of this battle and wanted to protect his real family name he believed was associate with having been taken prisoner.
 George P. Hunt, (formerly Captain USMC) Coral Comes High, Harper, 1946, p.58 Hunts was responsible for directly assaulting and taking the Point. This account was written relatively recently after the war, and still is referred to as the definitive account of the fighting around The Point.
 Sources differ on the actual calibre of gun comprising Shiromatsu’s main armament. Sato Kazumasa in his Gyokusai no Shima, identifies the gun as a 75mm Model 09 Field Gun, Harry Gailey in Peleliu 1944 identifies it as a 45 mm Gun (p.74), and Osprey’s Peleliu: A Forgetten Corner of Hell, states that the gun is a 25 mm Automatic Cannon, p.50. Hunt (op cited) identifies the gun as a 47 mm Field Gun. Funasaka Hiroshi, who actually fought and was captured a few short miles away during the battle of Anguar, states in his Periryuu: Gyokusai no Shima, that there were only 37 and 47 mm guns. That would rule out the other calibres and make Hunt’s account accurate. Such being the case I would defer to Hunt and Funasaka, both of whom fought in the Palaus in WWII.
 A pseudonym, the author recounting this story does not identify the actual soldier’s name to keep his identity secret.
 Kuromatsu was White Beach to the left and south of the Ishimatsu (Point) position. It was known to American planners as White 1 and White 2 Beaches.
 This was done because the Americans were still lacking in enough amphibious tractors to equip all units from ship to shore.
 These numbers are very close to those given by American sources though no source is cited. Eugene Sledge, who landed on the beach the first day concurs on the numbers of equipment hit or burning in his book, “With the Old Breed at Peleliu and Okinawa“
 Perhaps a dark complexioned Marine. Although there were black Marines in the Ammunition and Depot units involved in Peleliu, the “Montford Point Marines,” their presence on the beach with the first waves and in specific action at the Point is not recounted in any source I have been able to verify. Moreover there were only wounded casualties recounted for the Montford Marine units on D-Day.
 Taicho = Unit Commander. It is general/ informal term for any unit commander from a squad to a company. Perhaps the term “skipper” would be a useful English analogue.
 富山陣地, a position where the smaller hills of the Umubrogol Mtns begin about 800 metres inland from the Ishmatsu position.
 千人針 Sen’ninbari a traditional Japanese cummerbund style wrap said to entail a stitch from everyone of a soldier’s immediate family, friends and village members. Each person would make a stich and as the belt was formed its wearer would enjoy good luck. Literally, “Thousand-Person needle stitch.”
 The distinctive Japanese water bottle is known as a “Suitou” 水筒
 海行かば – this is a very famous Japanese military song whose words grace the beginning of this piece of writing. It is primarily associated with the Imperial Japanese Navy. It is usually sung in a slow melodic style. It, but could be seen as a sort of Japanese version of the Britain’s “It’s a long Way to Tipperary” combined with the profound thought-provoking stanza’s of a Wilfred Owen poem. It has no American counterpart. It is not like Battle Hymn of the Republic. In the Japanese aesthetic it would be very emotional indeed to hear this song even under normal circumstances, more so given the extreme suffering the Japanese were under.
 Gyokusai No Shima, by Sato Kazumasa, Kojin-sha Press, Tokyo 2008, p.187