P-MAN II - 2             

IV. Brief Historical Background of Air War over Palau

During 1944-45, US forces (Navy, Army Air Corps and Marines) made repeated air raids over the Palau Islands (approximately 500 miles north of the equator and 600 miles south and east of the Philippines). The first series of attacks occurred in the spring of 1944 in the form of aircraft carrier task force strikes (Operation DESECRATE ONE) to prevent the Japanese Army and Navy in Palau from providing flanking air support against MacArthur's invasion of Hollandia/northern New Guinea. During the summer of 1944, the second series occurred in the form of both carrier task force strikes (Operation SNAPSHOT, in which former President George Bush participated) and Army Air Corps B-24 raids (13th AAF and 5th AAF). The purpose of these raids was twofold: a) to prevent Japanese aircraft from flanking MacArthur's invasions of northern New Guinea and the Philippines and b) to soften up Peleliu (an island with a large Japanese air field in southern Palau), scheduled for invasion by 1st Marine Division on September 15, 1944 (Operation STALEMATE).

Although the rest of Palau was bypassed after the Peleliu invasion as the war proceeded toward the homeland of Japan, the requirement for ongoing US air coverage over Palau was essential to prevent further aggression from the remaining 20,000 Japanese troops stationed throughout the northern Palau islands. As a result, a third series of air actions occurred during and after the invasion of Peleliu, by both the US Marines Corsair fighters (VMF 114, 122, 121 from the captured Peleliu airfield) and the Army Air Corps B-24 bombers (7th AAF from a new airfield on nearby Angaur built to support the Philippines invasion). Each provided independent air support/suppression against Japanese ground forces throughout Palau until the war ended. In the face of the war moving elsewhere, the daily air battles fought over Palau were unaccountably fierce, on the part of both sides, turning into a struggle of attrition with both sides sustaining lethal casualties up to the last day of the war.

Palau, because of its strategic location (between the Mariana Islands and the Philippines) and because of its deep-water harbors, was the regional headquarters for the occupying Japanese military. Accordingly, it was heavily defended, both in numbers of troops (~35,000), airfields (3) and antiaircraft sites (many). In the face of some of the heaviest Japanese antiaircraft fire anywhere in the entire Pacific war and with the large number of US air strikes, it was inevitable that American planes would be shot down and they were. Because the Palaus have a barrier reef around the islands, many of the planes fell onto the islands or into waters approachable by conventional scuba diving techniques; however, a substantial portion of these planes and their crews, were never found, in spite of an intense efforts by US Army Graves Registration Units after the war ended.

Even though the invasion of Peleliu turned out to be the third bloodiest battle fought in the Pacific, the several naval, ground and air campaigns involving Palau are generally treated as a historical footnote of little interest, compared to more well-recognized Pacific battles such as Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima and Okinowa. But the numbers of Americans (with their planes) that were lost in the Palau area are not insignificant. At least two books have been published, describing the Japanese ships sunk by US Navy air actions in the Palaus. However, beyond the attempts by Graves Registration Units to locate remains of American military after end the of the war, no one has systematically looked for these missing aircraft, which were written off, with their crews, one year and one day after they were lost.

In 1993, following participation in a successful expedition in northern Palau to find the Japanese trawler sunk by Navy aviator Ensign George Bush in July 1944, I (Scannon) began investigating that air war after being shown a 65 foot wing of a then unknown aircraft, which at that time had been sitting, with identity unknown, in shallow waters just south of Koror in Palau for almost fifty years.

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