Palau Islands

Relief map of Palau Islands

The Palaus are located at west end of the Caroline Islands, some 470 miles (540 km) east of the Philippines and 600 miles (970 km) north of the western end of New Guinea. There were a total of about 100 significant islands in the group with a combined land area of 185 square miles (479 km2). There were another 100 or so small islets and exposed reefs. The larger islands are mountainous and all are jungle-clad, with mangrove swamps in some coastal areas. There is a large barrier reef off the west end of the islands that comes close ashore at Peleliu, and the eastern coasts have fringing reefs.

The islands were discovered by Europeans in 1543 and went successively through Spanish and German hands before coming under Japanese control following the First World War. By 1941, there were about 16,000 Japanese civilians here, most of whom had emigrated during the 1920s and 1930s.  There were also about 6250 Melanesians, whose lot had improved sufficiently under the Japanese that they were fairly loyal to the Emperor. Over half lived on Babelthuap and most of the rest on Angaur. The Japanese population was concentrated on Koror (134.479E 7.341N), which was the civilian administrative center for the Mandates, and on the islands to the south.

In about 1918, a nonviolent nativist cult, the modekengei, made its appearance. This movement was focused on the revitalization of Palauan culture (and, by implication, the resistance of Japanese efforts at cultural assimilation), but it posed no threat to Japanese control until the final few months of the Pacific War. Nor did the movement ever spread to any of the other mandated island groups.

There are several large islands in the group, of which the largest is Babelthuap. There was a large phosphate deposit on Angaur (producing about 110,000 tons per year during the war) and bauxite deposits throughout the group (producing about 94,000 tons per year). The Japanese had built an airfield at Peleliu and improved the anchorage at Kossol Roads by the time war broke out. The anchorage served as the mustering point for 4 Surprise Attack Force. The Japanese also had completed a seaplane and submarine base at Arakabesan.

The initial garrison of some 5000 naval troops was reinforced by 14 Division (Inoue) in May 1944. The Japanese eventually completed additional airstrips on Ngesebus and Babelthuap and a second seaplane base at Koror.

Operation HAILSTONE. During the HAILSTONE raids of 17-18 February 1944, the main Japanese fleet was forced out of Truk and retreated to Palau. Because of the proximity of the islands to Hollandia, New Guinea, Pacific Fleet launched a second series of raids on 30 March-1 April 1944 to cover MacArthur's invasion of Hollandia. Three carrier groups sortied from Majuro on 22 March 1943, along with two support groups, and sailed on a roundabout course south of Truk. However, the Americans failed to avoid detection, being sighted by a Japanese reconnaissance aircraft on 25 March.  Spruance responded by hastening the attack timetable, ordering his destroyers to refuel from the support group on 28 March and racing in to attack Kossol Roads two days earlier than planned. This was not enough: Forewarned, the Japanese fleet was again able to make good its escape. The Americans did sink a number of merchant ships, and Musashi was torpedoed and lightly damaged by Tunny. The operation was marked by the first use of aerial mines by carrier aircraft, 78 of which were laid by a specially trained squadron of Avengers and succeeded in trapping over thirty merchant ships in the anchorage.

Subsidiary strikes were directed at Yap and Woleai during this raid.

Operation STALEMATE II. The islands of Peleliu and Angaur and the anchorage at Kossol Roads were invaded by the Allies in September 1944 at great cost in life. The remainder of the Palaus were bypassed.

Climate Information:

Temperatures: Jan 80, Apr 81, Jul 81, Oct 81

Rainfall: Jan 23/11.7, Apr 21/10.4, Jul 26/15.2, Oct 22/13.1 == 135.6" per annum


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