the gist

THE goods

Life During Wartime: 2

Taking Angaur Island

Start slideshow at right. No one has heard of Angaur Island, though it sits across a shallow strait just three miles from a very famous island: Peleliu. Both islands form the southern portion of the Palau Islands, which are the southernmost of the Mariana chain. Taking Peleliu on 16 September 1944 was a bloody mess for the 1st Marines; taking Angaur the same day by the 81st Infantry went much smoother, though scores of Japanese soldiers held out in the collapsed volcano at the northwest corner of the porkchop-shaped island for several days before they were all killed.


Angaur Island was a rich source of mineral phosphate, which the Japanese needed for phosphorus munitions. In addition to depriving them this resource, we needed the flat, long island as a heavy bomber base only 400 miles east of the Philippines. And we would have it.



Building the Airfield

Start slideshow at right.  No sooner had the infantry secured the beachhead than the Engineers began unloading their transits and, accompanied by riflemen, began surveying for the 7000' runway the 494th Bomb Group would need to launch its heavy bombers, the legendary B-24 Liberator, the first of which would arrive momentarily.


A half mile away from the runway being graded with crushed coral, Japanese soldiers were held up in the "Bowl," a collapsed volcano. The almost impassable coral ridges, choked with jungle, meant weeding each and every fighter out. Sometimes they would sneak out and snipe at the engineering crews on dozers and graders. But in less than two weeks the airfield was complete and "Hay Maker," a B-24J from the 867th Squadron was the first bomber to land on Angaur. 


Japanese forces in the Palaus, Marianas, Carolines, and the Philippines would soon feel the 494th's powerful presence.



The Ramp

Start slideshow at right. Life on Angaur revolved around the airstrip. Made of crushed coral and pointing north/south, it eventually housed thirty B-24s from each 494th squadron, 120 planes in all. In addition, the 30th Bomb Group made its home on the island. Ten airmen to each plane, three times that number in ground crews and operations support personnel, and Angaur at its busiest in the spring of 1945 crowded  over 5000 men (though not a single non-native woman) on its tiny three-square mile area. 


Angaur was flat, choked with jungle and vines, humid, and filled with biting bugs and giant crabs. The coral was razor-sharp and cut through Army-issue boots easily. The heat on the ramp for the maintenance crews as often well over 100 degrees F. 


There was, of course, no air conditioning, and very little electricity. It took a few weeks for the men to move from pup tents to wooden-walled pyramid tents and get more than a swallow of fresh water a day. The 81st Infantry moved on. So did the engineers, who would work miracles literally under fire on another island. Hold out fighters continued to pester the airmen until every last one of them was killed.