Recovering the bodies of WWII Soldiers killed on Peleliu Island

Japan is looking to launch an excavation campaign to recover the bodies of thousands of soldiers buried in caves on Peleliu Island in Palau. This island saw one of the fiercest battles in the World War II Pacific theatre.

Japan had deployed more then 20,000 troops on Peleliu Island, to defend it against a potential US invasion. When the United States decided to launch an attack on the island, it attracted a fair bit of criticism from war analysts and politicians. The main reason for the criticism was the location of the island; it had no strategic value for the United States. Besides, it was heavily guarded by the Japanese, with strong, fortress-like defences.

The United States decided to go ahead with the invasion, expecting to capture the island in two or three days. The Japanese soldiers fought really hard to defend the island. But it became harder and harder for them with every passing day, since they were running out of food and ammunition. The American assault was fierce, with naval bombardment reinforced by air strikes.

The Japanese soldiers managed to stretch the battle from a couple of days to more than a month. From that point onwards, the Japanese relied on their complex and well-hidden cave systems. They had actually launched a guerrilla war. The American soldiers were ambushed and many of them killed due to this change in strategy.

In the beginning, the American soldiers were unable to understand how the Japanese soldiers were pulling off ambushes with such a successful result. On the other side, the Japanese were running low on food and ammunition and desperately needed reinforcements. A number of reinforcements were sent but none of them reached the island, because they were destroyed by American naval destroyers, the Fox News reports.

The Japanese had built a complex cave system prior to the invasion, which came in quite handy when the US invaded the island. When the US army found out about the caves, they decided to come up with a solid plan to stop this once and for all.

The plan they came up with was very ambitious and controversial. It was to bomb the caves and leave the Japanese inside. Perfect execution was the key, so it was ensured that the plan had no loopholes. Once the Americans started bombing the caves, the Japanese were caught off-guard, and thousands of them were killed inside their caves. Soon after that, the US took complete control of the island.

Now a visit by the current Japanese Emperor, Akihito, to Palau will help the two countries to take part in the excavation of the buried Japanese soldiers from the World War II. A few bodies have recently already been found, but experts suggest there are definitely more bodies in the caves.

Ian Harvey

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