Book Review: Landing in Hell: The Pyrrhic Victory of the First Marine Division on Peleliu, 1944


by Peter Margaritis

Philadelphia: Casemate, 2018. Pp. xiv, 236. Illus., maps, diagr., tables, notes., biblio., index. $32.95. ISBN: 1612006450

Margaritis, author of several works on the Second World War, follows up his Twenty-Two on Peleliu: Memoirs of an Old Breed Marine, written in collaboration with a Peleliu veteran, with an analytical account of the desperate weeks-long fight for that small Pacific Island. Arguably the most costly American amphibious operation of the war, a fight that was though would take no more than a few days which dragged on for more than two months (Sep. 15-Nov. 27 Nov., 1944), at very heavy cost, nearly 2,400 American dead.

Margaritis devotes two relatively short chapters to the strategic decision to attack the island, in the Palau chain, and the planning for the operation. He follows these with a long chapter – about a third of the text – on how the battle unfolded.

In this chapter Margaritis gives us a very long critical analysis of the why of these events. He covers a remarkable range of subjects, such as shortages of large caliber naval munitions, poor reconnaissance, inadequate intelligence, limited tactical radio range, and even the pressures generated by the rapidly accelerating Allied success against Japan. Nor does he neglect the other side of the hill. Margaritis examines how the Japanese revised their defensive tactics based on the experience of earlier fighting, changing from suicidal banzai counter-attacks to tenacious resistance in well sited and carefully constructed fortifications.

Margaritis closes with a chapter on the aftermath of the battle, which, along with the later experience of Iwo Jima and Okinawa, played an important role in the planning for the possible invasion of Japan, and the decision to use the atomic bomb..

While there have been a number of good books about Peleliu, Margaritis’s analysis makes Landing in Hell an essential read for anyone interested in the campaign or amphibious warfare.


Note: Landing in Hell is also available in several e-editions.

StrategyPage reviews are shared with The New York Military Affairs Symposium


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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