Seventy-five years ago, the Pacific war reached a new level of horror ashore and of magnitude at sea and in the skies.
On 15 September 1944, the 1st Marine Division landed on Peleliu. In “Eight Days in Hell,” Colonel Richard D. Camp, USMC (Ret.), describes the determined, sanguinary struggle of the 1st Battalion, 1st Marines, against tenacious Japanese defenders dug into Peleliu’s rugged “Bloody Nose Ridge.” The unit suffered a shocking 71 percent casualty rate before going into reserve. Meanwhile, the grueling battle would drag on until 27 November.
Four weeks after the Peleliu landings, General Douglas MacArthur and his troops waded ashore on the Philippines’ Leyte Island, setting the stage for World War II’s largest naval battle. Our coverage of the sprawling Battle of Leyte Gulf begins with Richard Frank’s revelatory article, “The World Wonders.” Those famous words—“padding” at the end of a message during the battle from Admiral Chester Nimitz—were interpreted by Admiral William “Bull” Halsey as insulting. When he read them, the Third Fleet commander lost his composure, tears rolled down his cheeks, and he threw his hat to the deck.
Last September, at the National Museum of the Pacific War’s annual symposium, Frank excitedly told me he had learned the name of the person who wrote the padding and offered to write an article about the discovery. Chris McDougal, an archivist at the museum’s Nimitz Education and Research Center, played a key role in fingering the communications officer. Frank’s article furthers our knowledge of a controversial and mysterious Leyte Gulf episode.
More than 1,500 aircraft flying from 30 U.S. carriers played an instrumental role in the battle. Aviation historian Barrett Tillman profiles the four combat aircraft types naval aviators flew and assesses their performance in “The Navy’s Aerial Arsenal at Leyte Gulf.” Tillman likewise is the author of Naval History’s first “Online Exclusive” article, “The Gambier Bay's Final Hours,” about the escort carrier Gambier Bay’s heroic fight for survival at Leyte Gulf’s 25 October 1944 Battle off Samar.
We’re also bringing you more naval history through the Proceedings Podcast, which is mixing historical content with its regular fare of current naval developments. To view the podcast’s menu, go to www.usni.org, click on the Proceedings link at the top of the page, then click on the podcast link. One of the Episode 90 guests is Torpedo Squadron 11 veteran Verg Bloomquist.
On 17 July, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral John Richardson presented awards to the winners of the 2019 CNO Naval History Essay Contest. This issue includes Navy Commander Joel Holwitt’s first-prize essay in the professional historian category: “Confidence in His Team,” about Captain Slade Cutter, his mentors, and his crew in the World War II submarine Seahorse. Navy Lieutenant Commander Jeff Vandenengel earned first prize in the rising historian category. Other winning essays will be featured in future issues of Naval History and Proceedings.
Finally, on a sad note, longtime Naval History contributor, Naval Institute Press author, and U.S. Naval Academy history professor Jack Sweetman passed away on 20 July at age 79. “In addition to the pleasure of knowing Jack for many years as a friend, I was impressed by his vast knowledge of Navy and Marine Corps history,” said former Naval History editor-in-chief Paul Stillwell. “He had a gift for imparting that knowledge to a generation of Naval Academy midshipmen.”
Richard G. Latture