Peleliu Island in Palau is a tropical paradise with limited development and having a population of only around 500 people. However, it offers outstanding diving, kayaking, and a closer look at the horrors of WWII and one of the biggest battles in the Pacific.
A tour of Peleliu Island is one of the must do's when you visit Palau
While Peleliu island is very lush and offers many outstanding views but there is more that meets the eye. A walk into the jungle will reveal rusted remains of gun emplacements and burnt out shells of vehicles.
Peleliu has no large resorts, limited restaurants, no motorized water sports and it does not offer much in the way of a beach. The big draw to the island (besides scuba diving) centers around a WWII battle where over 13,000 were killed and over 8,500 wounded during Operation Stalemate 2.
Operation Stalemate 2 was supposed to be a quick invasion and victory for American Marines. However, that did not happen. After days of naval bombardments, the Marines expected little or no resistance as they landed on one of the island's largest beaches.
Looking back, this landing placed the Marines in the center of a deadly and accurate crossfire set up by Japanese soldiers. Hundreds of young man never made it off or to the beach.
When you visit Peleliu Island, you will find a small museum that showcases the history of the battle and many items used during the war. When you have time you should also join one of the land tours, that will take you to 1,000 man cave, a series of caves and bunkers that the Japanese soldiers hid in waiting for the naval bombardments to begin.
You will also find many military fortifications that are now being taken over by the jungle. You should also visit Bloody Nose Ridge, where some of the worst battles of the war in the Pacific took place.
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Operation Stalemate 2
Operation Stalemate 2 was the code name for the attack on the island of Peleliu. Even at the time, US military experts were divided if the taking of the island was necessary. As a result, plans were modified, and a smaller attack was executed. The results of the battle shocked U.S. military strategists and sent them scrambling to develop new war plans.
The Americans followed the strategy that had worked well for them in the push through the South Pacific. They started with ten days of aircraft attacks dropping massive bombs followed by two days of Naval shelling. The third day of the bombing was canceled as it appeared there were no enemy targets left.
On the morning of the September 15th, 1944 Marines headed to the beaches of Peleliu Island knowing that 11,000 Japanese had been stationed here. The Marines also expected a relatively flat landscape, and they believed that most of the Japanese soldiers would have had died in the almost two weeks of constant barrages and aircraft attacks.
What they found was a rugged island with a limestone ridge and steep cliffs in places. That limestone hills and other places on the island had once been mines which the Japanese forces had now converted to bunkers and supply centers, even a hospital. Almost the entire 11,000 Japanese troops were protected from the bombing and were unharmed.
The Japanese had also changed tactics; they did not try suicide style attacks on the beaches to keep the invaders out. They waited off the beaches and attacked from fortified positions. What was expected to be a two-day operation lasted until 27 November 1944. Of the 11,000 Japanese troops, less than 200 survived.
What to expect when diving around Peleliu Island in Palau?
Most of the dive centers in Palau include a trip to Peleliu offering a half day land tour along with a two tank dive. Peleliu is further from the mainland than most of the dive sites, and sometimes the trip to the Island can be rougher than others, so it is not visited as often as other locations. The extra time is well worth it, though, especially for the more experienced and adventurous diver.
On average the reef in front of the island can be found at 20 to 30 feet (7 to 10 meters). It has a steep wall that drops to 100 to 120 feet (33 to 40 meters) where it forms a plateau. The edge of the plateau drops more than a thousand feet. Against this wall is a strong converging current where the South Pacific meets the Philippine Sea. It brings strong currents, large pelagics, and nutrients that feed the coral and marine life of the wall and reef top.
These conditions bring together one of the largest concentrations of different pelagic species in the world as well as having one of the highest biomass in the world. Visibility is often greater than 100 feet.
Dive sites that can be found around Peleliu Island are:
- Peleliu Wall
- Peleliu Corner
- Peleliu Cut
- Peleliu Expressway
- Peleliu Coral Garden
- Orange Wall
- White Beach
- Yellow Wall
The first four of the above dive sites are the ones mostly dived by the local dive operators. These sites can be found at different points along the reef wall, and an experienced drift diver in the right conditions could visit two of the sites in one high-speed drift dive. Each site provides a different experience. The other sites listed are additional sites that liveaboards will often use when they do additional dives in the area.
Explore Peleliu Island Above and Below the Water
This combination of above and below the waters of Peleliu is an adventure that needs to be experienced. Read a little history about the battle before you visit to understand fully the impact of what your seeing and top it off with what may be your best drift dive ever.
Would you like to scuba dive Dive Palau and Peleliu or have you been already? Let us know in the comments below
Article written by Rutger Thole who is an avid scuba diver and loves to travel, dive and write about scuba diving. Based in Amsterdam, he runs bookyourdive.com and at least twice a year he plans a dive trip of the beaten track.