Mass Japanese War Grave Uncovered on a Pacific island

Japanese soldiers from World War Two were buried in a mass war grave on the small Pacific Island of Peleliu at the end of the fighting. The location of the graves of Japanese troops in the Pacific has remained elusive, but now documents recovered from US military records show a mass grave does exist on the island.

Peleliu Island was the scene of violent fighting during World War Two between US and Japanese troops. The Japanese had occupied the island and established it as a secure base for military arms and as support for their war campaign. However, it was a strategic location and at the end of 1944 the US invaded the island in a battle that lasted three months.  The Japanese attempted to fight off 40,000 US troops descending onto the island — more than four times the number of Japanese soldiers. It is thought that around 500 Japanese soldiers survived.

Peleliu is now an island state governed by Palau, off the east coast of the Philippines. It is only 10 kilometers by 3 kilometers in size, yet it is estimated that more than 10,000 Japanese soldiers lost their lives on the island; around a quarter of those have still not been found. Approximately 1,500 US troops also lost their lives, The Japan News reports.

Japanese researchers who are seeking to find and recover war graves found documents relating to the mass grave, which was marked as ‘Japanese Cemetery’ by the US Army. The documents are located at the US Navy Seabee Museum in California and include photographs, maps and written materials.  The map, drawn-up in 1945, shows a Japanese Cemetery located in the center of the island, and a military report states that logs had been placed over the grave site so that the ground would not be disturbed.

The Yomiuri Shimbun, the Japanese authority charged with recovering the country’s war dead, hopes that the documents may improve the chances of locating the mass grave, and for the remains of the soldiers to be recovered. Many family members of the deceased have alluded to the war grave site, but the documents are now providing the first concrete proof of the grave site and its location.

The Japanese government is hoping to gain cooperation and agreement from the government of Palau to find the cemetery. The Japanese Emperor and Empress are paying an official visit to the island in April to commemorate the war dead and participate in a memorial service.

The recovery of war dead at other sites on the island is still ongoing; remains have been found in remote caves, where it is believed the Japanese were hiding from their enemy.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE