Ghosts of Peleliu

Battlefield Peleliu, Palau.
American amphibious tank shows its wounds.

Our Palau adventure would not be complete without a visit  to Peleliu. This limestone encrusted island south of the main “big island” was a major focal point of America and her allies battle for control of the Pacific during WWII. Surrounded by pristine reefs and littered with WWII equipment, weapons and unexploded ordnance, this was unmissable.

Dolphins, drop offs, and coral encrusted reefs

The journey to Peleliu was a little longer than daily trips to other dive sites, partly because on the way we stopped to observe a pod of a few hundred spinner dolphins. Dolphins are always a crowd pleaser and that day was no exception. After around 20-30 mins watching them we continued our route to the first dive. Gearing up, buddy checking, securing the boat to our bouy line. Then with a final sarcastic word to our captain Dustin, we back rolled into the crystal clear blue water to begin our descent.

Palau exceptional diving
This cuttlefish greeted Heini as she descended the reef.

As with many of Palau’s dive sites, the abundance of coral is breathtaking, accompanied by so many varied aquatic life we dropped down in our group of 4. Immediately spotting two huge feathertailed rays swimming around 20 meters away I picked up my pace to join them. Heini on the other hand failed to join as she had spotted a huge cuttlefish who had photo and video properties that couldn’t be missed.

Although we were prepared for harsh and strong currents off Peleliu, we were in the end pushed with a very mild drift along the reef. I should add that normally some sites are described as a washing machine with up, down, and side currents. These tend to bring a lot of the bigger players to the dive sites, but for those who are not so comfortable with currents its always good to keep within a meter of your buddy and follow your guides instructions.

Peleliu Battlefield.
View from Peleliu ridge of surrounding reef, beach, and jungle.

Again, diving was not to prove disappointing, Heini had the footage she wanted (octopus, ray, cuttlefish, a stunning “curabitur viro decorum”) and we ascended to the waiting boat for some lunch served with sarcasm from our captain Dustin!

Peleliu, two sides to every coin

The island of Peleliu was the site of one of the toughest battles fought during the Pacific campaign of WWII. American 1st Marine Division fought an entrenched Japanese force, and an invasion to capture an airfield that was thought to have only taken 3 days took far longer than expected. As a history buff as well as a diver I was looking forward to this part of the trip, and it sure is a must when visiting Palau. After the life and beauty of the reef, we were awarded a glance of the history on land.

Palau's many Japanese bunkers
Heavy bunker, Malakal, protecting the channel entrance.

Of course the powers that be never miss a trick to impose another diving permit fee of $30, but on Peleliu they also charge a land fee of $15 for 10 days. Be that as it may, it’s still worth the trip.

After reading mixed reviews about the land guides, some being very knowledgable and taking care that questions are answered and requests were catered for, and others who had no clue other than pointing out a rusting hulk of a tank, I was hopeful.Heini and I got into the state of the art mini bus, which probably dated back to the war! Joined by 8 others from the dive trip. It immediately started to rain as we were guided down to the beach where the marines came ashore. Stepping out along the way to view a disintegrating Japanese Zero fighter that the jungle was slowly taking back, and jumping out as the rain slowed at the sight of a turretless Japanese tank. The rain stopped and the sun humidity of the jungle enveloped us, we inspected the hulk in which four had perished, and anyone with white skin ran for cover of shade to avoid sunburn.

Peleliu's Jungle secrets, Palau.
Whats left of a Japanese zero fighter plane.

This island is a blistering hot place to walk around, fighting and running about here must have been hell for the Marines and Japanese alike. Progressing to bombed out buildings, lots of battle debris littering the island (which the guide informed me was safe to pick up and touch!! Prompting me to say “please don’t pick that up” as he picked a mortar shell tail out of the dirt).

During a walk around the former Japanese power plant our guide was proud to show off memorabilia from the war, picking up a old style Coca Cola bottle he grinned “This bottle is over 50 years old, look how strong it is” and with that he hit another piece of debris with the bottle, causing the oldest Coca Cola bottle I have ever seen to shatter! He shrugged it off and threw the broken glass to one side, I started to wonder about the guide reviews I’d read before…

Peleliu war debris, a poignant reminder.
The turret to this Japanese lies in the jungle close by. A tiny hot metal box for the 4 that perished here

The highlight of the tour, bloody nose ridge, was nearly bypassed causing us to again prompt the guide to take us, as many wanted to see it. A huge Japanese monument to their war dead, and a slightly smaller American one mark the start of the ridges where the Japanese were entrenched in a labyrinth of tunnels and caves. It’s a hot walk up and around the ridges and I was glad for the water we brought with us (the tour did not provide water).

Within minutes of walking around the ridges I could see many cave entrances, closely passing by two I asked the guide if you could enter or if they were blocked, “not blocked, yes you can go in there” he said without stopping his fast pace. I climbed up about 4 meters of unsteady rock to find both entrances blocked a long long time ago, again thinking our guide was late for his lunch or another tour, I rushed to catchup.

Inspecting a water bottle left by the caves inhabitant.
Japanese cave entrance, bloody nose ridge, littered with soldiers equipment and effects. This is where the most intensive fighting took place.

We did at the request of others on the tour eventually stop at an entrance to a larger cave and trecked inside using lights of peoples phones and ducking the birds that lived in the caves (torches were not provided), inside was relics of the Japanese soldiers who fought and died in this dark place, a very humbling place indeed.

Once out of the cave we had a fast trott to the mini bus where we found one member of our tour who had been left behind when he took a picture of the monument! Once on the bus I felt I had to prompt the guide again that we wanted to take a picture of the monument (I overheard some friends on the tour that they wanted a picture too, as we had only slowly driven past them before), we took our pictures and headed to the museum.

Japanese engineers failed to see the big picture when they housed this naval gun in the caves.
The virgin gun, thankfully this gun was not fired during the battle as the blast would have destroyed the cave that housed it.

Very interesting museum is a building from the time, still with the shell holes in the walls from the US navy guns, this told both sides of the conflict and didn’t assume who was right or wrong. A lot of information, relics, and history. But again surprising little time to spend there.

Navel bombardment damage, Peleliu. Palau
The bomb that destroyed the building left a huge reminder for all to see.

All in all an interesting, if not rushed, tour of some Pelelui’s battlefield sights. I would have liked to spend a few days there, around the north of Pelelui as well,  but time was short so we will save it for our next trip. After the trip we drove by the gift shop at Dolphin Resort, and to pay for the tour (around US$55, which for a private tour I would find acceptable, but for a group of 10 I expected a little more competent guide).

FYI please never touch unexploded ordnance on the island, there is a reason why there is an Australian engineer team collecting and disposing of left over ordinance as I write.



5 Comments Add yours

  1. Tubbyman says:

    Looks like a great trip!


  2. Al. says:

    It was, we’re hoping to get back there soon enough. Fingers crossed. More to come food, diving, and of course beer reviews


  3. Steve says:

    Well written Mr Thursby, left me wanting more and more of your escapes. Keep up the adventure.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Al says:

    Always a pleasure Steve, a healthy dose of sarcastic travel goes a long way


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