Aleutian Islands Campaign

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Aleutian Islands Campaign
Part of the American Theater and Pacific Theater of World War II
Hauling supplies on Attu.jpg
American troops hauling supplies on Attu in May 1943 through Jarmin pass. Their vehicles could not move across the island's rugged terrain.
DateJune 3, 1942 – August 15, 1943
(1 year, 2 months, 1 week and 5 days)
52°5′51.34″N173°30′4.32″W / 52.0975944°N 173.5012000°W / 52.0975944; -173.5012000 Coordinates: 52°5′51.34″N173°30′4.32″W / 52.0975944°N 173.5012000°W / 52.0975944; -173.5012000
Result Allied victory
Flag of the United States (1912-1959).svg  United States
Canadian Red Ensign (1921-1957).svg  Canada
Merchant flag of Japan (1870).svg  Japan
Commanders and leaders
Flag of the United States (1912-1959).svg Thomas Kinkaid
Flag of the United States (1912-1959).svg Francis Rockwell
Flag of the United States (1912-1959).svg Albert Brown
Flag of the United States (1912-1959).svg Archibald Arnold
Flag of the United States (1912-1959).svg Simon Buckner, Jr.
Canadian Red Ensign (1921-1957).svg George Pearkes
Canadian Red Ensign (1921-1957).svg Harry Foster
Naval ensign of the Empire of Japan.svg Boshiro Hosogaya
Naval ensign of the Empire of Japan.svg Kakuji Kakuta
Naval ensign of the Empire of Japan.svg Monzo Akiyama
War flag of the Imperial Japanese Army (1868-1945).svg Yasuyo Yamasaki  
144,000 [1] 8,500 [1]
Casualties and losses
1,481 killed
225 aircraft destroyed [1]
640 missing
3,416 wounded
8 captured
US Navy vessels heavily damaged [2]
USS Salt Lake City (CA-25)
USS Abner Read (DD-526)
US Navy vessels lost
USS Worden (DD-352)
USS S-27 (SS-132)
USS Grunion (SS-216)
4,350 killed
28 captured
7 warships sunk
9 cargo transport ships sunk [1]
2 civilians killed, 46 captured
A map of the Bering Sea region. Aleutian Islands map.png
A map of the Bering Sea region.

The Aleutian Islands Campaign was a military campaign conducted by the United States and Japan in the Aleutian Islands, part of the Territory of Alaska, in the American theater and the Pacific theater of World War II starting on 3 June 1942. [3] In the only two invasions of the United States during the war, a small Japanese force occupied the islands of Attu and Kiska, where the remoteness of the islands and the challenges of weather and terrain delayed a larger U.S.-Canadian force sent to eject them for nearly a year. The islands' strategic value was their ability to control Pacific transportation routes, which is why U.S. General Billy Mitchell stated to the U.S. Congress in 1935, "I believe that in the future, whoever holds Alaska will hold the world. I think it is the most important strategic place in the world." [4] The Japanese reasoned that control of the Aleutians would prevent a possible U.S. attack across the Northern Pacific. Similarly, the U.S. feared that the islands would be used as bases from which to carry out a full-scale aerial attack on U.S. West Coast cities like Anchorage, Seattle, Portland, or Los Angeles.

United States Federal republic in North America

The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States or America, is a country comprising 50 states, a federal district, five major self-governing territories, and various possessions. At 3.8 million square miles, the United States is the world's third or fourth largest country by total area and is slightly smaller than the entire continent of Europe's 3.9 million square miles. With a population of over 327 million people, the U.S. is the third most populous country. The capital is Washington, D.C., and the largest city by population is New York City. Forty-eight states and the capital's federal district are contiguous in North America between Canada and Mexico. The State of Alaska is in the northwest corner of North America, bordered by Canada to the east and across the Bering Strait from Russia to the west. The State of Hawaii is an archipelago in the mid-Pacific Ocean. The U.S. territories are scattered about the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, stretching across nine official time zones. The extremely diverse geography, climate, and wildlife of the United States make it one of the world's 17 megadiverse countries.

Japan Country in East Asia

Japan is an island country in East Asia. Located in the Pacific Ocean, it lies off the eastern coast of the Asian continent and stretches from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to the East China Sea and the Philippine Sea in the south.

Aleutian Islands chain of islands in the Northern Pacific

The Aleutian Islands, also called the Aleut Islands or Aleutic Islands and known before 1867 as the Catherine Archipelago, are a chain of 14 large volcanic islands and 55 smaller ones belonging to both the U.S. state of Alaska and the Russian federal subject of Kamchatka Krai. They form part of the Aleutian Arc in the Northern Pacific Ocean, occupying an area of 6,821 sq mi (17,666 km2) and extending about 1,200 mi (1,900 km) westward from the Alaska Peninsula toward the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia, and mark a dividing line between the Bering Sea to the north and the Pacific Ocean to the south. Crossing longitude 180°, at which point east and west longitude end, the archipelago contains both the westernmost part of the United States by longitude and the easternmost by longitude. The westernmost U.S. island in real terms, however, is Attu Island, west of which runs the International Date Line. While nearly all the archipelago is part of Alaska and is usually considered as being in the "Alaskan Bush", at the extreme western end, the small, geologically related Commander Islands belong to Russia.


A battle to reclaim Attu was launched on May 11, 1943, and completed following a final Japanese banzai charge on May 29. On August 15, 1943, an invasion force landed on Kiska in the wake of a sustained three-week barrage, only to discover that the Japanese had withdrawn from the island on July 29.

Banzai charge term used by the Allied forces to refer to Japanese human wave attacks

A banzai charge is the term used by the Allied forces to refer to Japanese human wave attacks and swarming mounted by infantry units. This term came from the Japanese cry "Tennōheika Banzai", shortened to banzai, specifically referring to a tactic used by Japanese soldiers during the Pacific War.

The campaign is known as the "Forgotten Battle", due to its being overshadowed by the simultaneous Guadalcanal Campaign. [5] [6] Military historians believe it was a diversionary or feint attack during the Battle of Midway, meant to draw out the U.S. Pacific Fleet from Midway Atoll, as it was launched simultaneously under the same commander, Isoroku Yamamoto. However, historians Jonathan Parshall and Anthony Tully have argued against this interpretation, stating that the Japanese invaded the Aleutians to protect their northern flank, and did not intend it as a diversion. [7]

Guadalcanal Campaign U.S. military campaign in World War II

The Guadalcanal Campaign, also known as the Battle of Guadalcanal and codenamed Operation Watchtower by American forces, was a military campaign fought between 7 August 1942 and 9 February 1943 on and around the island of Guadalcanal in the Pacific theater of World War II. It was the first major offensive by Allied forces against the Empire of Japan.

Battle of Midway World War II naval battle in the Pacific Theater

The Battle of Midway was a decisive naval battle in the Pacific Theater of World War II that took place between 4 and 7 June 1942, only six months after Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor and one month after the Battle of the Coral Sea. The United States Navy under Admirals Chester Nimitz, Frank Jack Fletcher, and Raymond A. Spruance defeated an attacking fleet of the Imperial Japanese Navy under Admirals Isoroku Yamamoto, Chūichi Nagumo, and Nobutake Kondō near Midway Atoll, inflicting devastating damage on the Japanese fleet that proved irreparable. Military historian John Keegan called it "the most stunning and decisive blow in the history of naval warfare".

United States Pacific Fleet Pacific Ocean theater-level component command of the United States Navy

The United States Pacific Fleet (USPACFLT) is a Pacific Ocean theater-level component command of the United States Navy that provides naval forces to the United States Indo-Pacific Command. Fleet headquarters is at Pearl Harbor Naval Station, Hawaii, with large secondary facilities at North Island, San Diego Bay on the Mainland.

Japanese attack

Japanese troops raise the Imperial battle flag on Kiska Island in the Aleutians on June 6, 1942. JapaneseKiska.jpg
Japanese troops raise the Imperial battle flag on Kiska Island in the Aleutians on June 6, 1942.

Before Japan entered World War II, its Navy had gathered extensive information about the Aleutians, but it had no up-to-date information regarding military developments on the islands. Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto provided the Japanese Northern Area Fleet, commanded by Vice-Admiral Boshiro Hosogaya, with a force of two non-fleet aircraft carriers, five cruisers, twelve destroyers, six submarines, and four troop transports, along with supporting auxiliary ships. With that force, Hosogaya was first to launch an air attack against Dutch Harbor, then follow with an amphibious attack upon the island of Adak, 480 miles (770 km) to the west. Hosogaya was instructed to destroy whatever American forces and facilities were found on Adak—the Japanese did not know the island was undefended. Hosogaya's troops were to return to their ships and become a reserve for two additional landings: the first on Kiska, 240 miles (390 km) west of Adak, the other on the Aleutians' westernmost island, Attu, 180 miles (290 km) west from Kiska.

World War II 1939–1945 global war

World War II, also known as the Second World War, was a global war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. The vast majority of the world's countries—including all the great powers—eventually formed two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis. A state of total war emerged, directly involving more than 100 million people from over 30 countries. The major participants threw their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities behind the war effort, blurring the distinction between civilian and military resources. World War II was the deadliest conflict in human history, marked by 50 to 85 million fatalities, most of whom were civilians in the Soviet Union and China. It included massacres, the genocide of the Holocaust, strategic bombing, premeditated death from starvation and disease, and the only use of nuclear weapons in war.

Imperial Japanese Navy Naval branch of the Empire of Japan

The Imperial Japanese Navy was the navy of the Empire of Japan from 1868 until 1945, when it was dissolved following Japan's surrender in World War II. The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) was formed after the dissolution of the IJN.

Isoroku Yamamoto Japanese Marshal Admiral

Isoroku Yamamoto was a Japanese Fleet Admiral of the Imperial Japanese Navy and the commander-in-chief of the Combined Fleet during World War II until his death.

Because United States Naval Intelligence had broken the Japanese naval codes, Admiral Chester Nimitz had learned by May 21 of Yamamoto's plans, including the Aleutian diversion, the strength of both Yamamoto's and Hosogaya's fleets, and that Hosogaya would open the fight on June 1 or shortly thereafter.

The vulnerability of Japanese naval codes and ciphers was crucial to the conduct of World War II, and had an important influence on foreign relations between Japan and the west in the years leading up to the war as well. Every Japanese code was eventually broken, and the intelligence gathered made possible such operations as the victorious American ambush of the Japanese Navy at Midway (JN-25b) and the shooting down of Isoroku Yamamoto in Operation Vengeance.

As of June 1, 1942, United States military strength in Alaska stood at 45,000 men, with about 13,000 at Cold Bay (Fort Randall) on the tip of the Alaskan Peninsula and at two Aleutian bases: the naval facility at Dutch Harbor on Unalaska Island, 200 miles (320 km) west of Cold Bay, and the recently built Fort Glenn Army Airfield 70 miles (110 km) west of the naval station on Umnak Island. Army strength, less air force personnel, at those three bases totaled no more than 2,300, composed mainly of infantry, field and antiaircraft artillery troops, and a large construction engineer contingent, which was used in the construction of bases. The Army Air Force's Eleventh Air Force consisted of 10 B-17 Flying Fortress heavy bombers and 34 B-18 Bolo medium bombers at Elmendorf Airfield, and 95 P-40 Warhawk fighters divided between Fort Randall AAF at Cold Bay and Fort Glenn AAF on Umnak. The naval commander was Rear Admiral Robert A. Theobald, commanding Task Force 8 afloat, who as Commander North Pacific Force (ComNorPac) reported to Admiral Nimitz in Hawaii. Task Force 8 consisted of five cruisers, thirteen destroyers, three tankers, six submarines, as well as naval aviation elements of Fleet Air Wing Four. [8]

Alaska State of the United States of America

Alaska is a U.S. state in the northwest extremity of the United States West Coast, just across the Bering Strait from Asia. The Canadian province of British Columbia and territory of Yukon border the state to the east and southeast. Its most extreme western part is Attu Island, and it has a maritime border with Russia to the west across the Bering Strait. To the north are the Chukchi and Beaufort seas—southern parts of the Arctic Ocean. The Pacific Ocean lies to the south and southwest. It is the largest U.S. state by area and the seventh largest subnational division in the world. In addition, it is the 3rd least populous and the most sparsely populated of the 50 United States; nevertheless, it is by far the most populous territory located mostly north of the 60th parallel in North America: its population—estimated at 738,432 by the United States Census Bureau in 2015— is more than quadruple the combined populations of Northern Canada and Greenland. Approximately half of Alaska's residents live within the Anchorage metropolitan area. Alaska's economy is dominated by the fishing, natural gas, and oil industries, resources which it has in abundance. Military bases and tourism are also a significant part of the economy.

Cold Bay Airport airport

Cold Bay Airport is a state owned, public use airport located in Cold Bay, a city in the Aleutians East Borough of the U.S. state of Alaska. First built as a United States Army Air Forces airfield during World War II, it is one of the main airports serving the Alaska Peninsula. Scheduled passenger service is available and air taxi operators fly in and out of the airport daily. Formerly, the airport operated as Thornbrough Air Force Base.

Dutch Harbor Harbor in the United States

Dutch Harbor is a harbor on Amaknak Island in Unalaska, Alaska. It was the location of the Battle of Dutch Harbor in June 1942, and was the first site to be subjected to enemy aerial bombardment during World War II. It was also one of the few sites, besides the attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, in incorporated U.S. territory to be bombed by the Japanese during the war.

When the first signs of a possible Japanese attack on the Aleutians were known, the Eleventh Air Force was ordered to send out reconnaissance aircraft to locate the Japanese fleet reported heading toward Dutch Harbor and attack it with bombers, concentrating on sinking Hosogaya's two aircraft carriers. Once the enemy planes were removed, Naval Task Force 8 would engage the enemy fleet and destroy it. On the afternoon of 2 June, a naval patrol plane spotted the approaching Japanese fleet, reporting its location as 800 miles (1,300 km) southwest of Dutch Harbor. Eleventh Air Force was placed on full alert. Shortly thereafter bad weather set in, and no further sightings of the fleet were made that day.

Prior to the attack on Dutch Harbor, the Army's 4th Infantry Regiment, under command of Percy E. LeStourgeon, were established at Fort Richardson. Col. LeStourgeon had previously designed a layout of base facilities—such as isolation of weapons and munitions depots—so as to protect against enemy attack.

Attack on Dutch Harbor

The Navy radio station at Dutch Harbor burning after the Japanese Attack, 4 June 1942 Dutch Harbor Attack - June 1942.jpg
The Navy radio station at Dutch Harbor burning after the Japanese Attack, 4 June 1942

According to Japanese intelligence, the nearest field for land-based American aircraft was at Fort Morrow AAF on Kodiak, more than 600 miles (970 km) away, and Dutch Harbor was a sitting duck for the strong Japanese fleet, carrying out a coordinated operation with a fleet that was to capture Midway Island.

Making use of weather cover, the Japanese made a two-day aerial bombing of the continental United States for the first time in history on Dutch Harbor in the city of Unalaska, Alaska on June 3, 1942. The striking force was composed of Nakajima B5N2 "Kate" torpedo bombers from the carriers Junyō and Ryūjō. However, only half of the striking force reached their objective. [9] The rest either became lost in the fog and darkness and crashed into the sea or returned to their carriers. Seventeen Japanese planes found the naval base, the first arriving at 05:45. As the Japanese pilots looked for targets to engage, they came under intense anti-aircraft fire and soon found themselves confronted by Eleventh Air Force fighters sent from Fort Glenn Army Air Field on Umnak. Startled by the American response, the Japanese quickly released their bombs, made a cursory strafing run, and left to return to their carriers. As a result, they did little damage to the base.

On June 4, the Japanese returned to Dutch Harbor. This time, the Japanese pilots were better organized and prepared. When the attack ended that afternoon Dutch Harbor oil storage tanks were burning, the hospital partly demolished, and a beached barracks ship damaged. Although American pilots eventually located the Japanese carriers, attempts to sink the ships failed due to bad weather setting in that caused the U.S. pilots to completely lose contact with the Japanese fleet. However, the foul weather caused the Japanese to cancel plans to invade Adak with 1,200 men. [10]

Invasion of Kiska and Attu

Main articles: Japanese occupation of Kiska and Japanese occupation of Attu

The Japanese invasions and occupations of Kiska on June 6 and Attu on June 7 shocked the American public, as American soil was under foreign hands the first time since the War of 1812. The invading forces initially met little resistance from the local Unangax, also known as Aleuts. Though the U.S. Navy had offered to evacuate Attu in May 1942, [11] the Attuan Unangax chief declined. Little changed for the Unangax under Japanese occupation until September 1942 when Japan's Aleutian strategy shifted. It was at this point that the Unangax were taken to Hokkaido, Japan and placed in an internment camp.

The invasion of Attu and imprisonment of the local Unangax became the justification for the United States' own policy of forcible evacuation of the Unangax in the Aleutian Islands. Unangan civilians were placed in internment camps in the Alaska Panhandle.

Allied response

US military propaganda poster from 1942/43 for Thirteenth Naval District, United States Navy, showing a rat with stereotypical attire representing Japan, approaching a mousetrap labeled "Army - Navy - Civilian", on a background map of the Alaska Territory, referred to as future "Death-Trap For The Jap". Alaska Death Trap.jpg
US military propaganda poster from 1942/43 for Thirteenth Naval District, United States Navy, showing a rat with stereotypical attire representing Japan, approaching a mousetrap labeled "Army – Navy – Civilian", on a background map of the Alaska Territory, referred to as future "Death-Trap For The Jap".

Many Americans feared that the Japanese would use the islands as bases to strike within range along the rest of the United States West Coast. Although the U.S. West Coast was subject to attack several times in the past six months (including unrestricted submarine warfare in coastal waters and the bombardment of Ellwood in Santa Barbara, California), the Aleutians Islands Campaign of June 1942 was the first major operation by a foreign enemy in the American Theater of the war. Lieutenant Paul Bishop of the 28th Bombardment Group once recalled that:

General Simon B. Buckner Jr. [of the Alaska Defense Command] said to us that the Japanese would have the opportunity to set up airbases in the Aleutians, making coastal cities like Anchorage, Seattle, and San Francisco vulnerable within range to attack by their bombers. The fear of that scenario was real at the time because the Japanese were nearly invincible and ruthless in Asia and the Pacific. We knew that they bombed China relentlessly and by surprise on Pearl Harbor, so we had to make sure it wouldn't happen here in the continental U.S. similar to what the Germans did over London and Coventry. [12]

Lt. Bob Brocklehurst of the 18th Fighter Squadron also said that:

[T]he impression we were given — and this was voiced oral stuff — was that we had nothing to stop the Japanese. [Our commanding officers] figured that the Japanese, if they wanted to, could have come up the Aleutians, taken Anchorage, and come down past down Vancouver to Seattle, Washington. [13]

In August 1942, the USAAF established an air base on Adak Island and began bombing Japanese positions on Kiska. U.S. Navy submarines and surface ships also began patrolling the area. Kiska Harbor was the main base for Japanese ships in the campaign and several were sunk there, some by warships but mostly in air raids. On 5 July, the submarine Growler, under command of Lieutenant Commander Howard Gilmore, attacked three Japanese destroyers off Kiska. He sank one and heavily damaged the others, killing or wounding 200 Japanese sailors. Ten days later, Grunion was attacked by three Japanese submarine chasers in Kiska Harbor, with two of the patrol craft sunk and one other damaged. On 12 May 1943, the Japanese submarine I-31 was sunk in a surface action with the destroyer Edwards 5  mi (4.3  nmi ; 8.0  km ) northeast of Chichagof Harbor.

Fishhook Ridge, Attu

A company attached to the 4th Infantry, with Inuit guides embedded, rescued the soldiers of the 77th Division (additional reference needed) that were trapped on Attu by Japanese forces. These soldiers were trained in severe-cold conditions, and incorporated Inuit methods adapted from local guides. The 4th Inf. Reg. soldiers dispatched through Dutch Harbor to Attu Island. After landing, with help from their embedded Inuit guides, their relatively small force climbed and secured advantageous positions along Fishhook Ridge overlooking the area where American troops were trapped by Japanese forces. After the 4th demonstrated their tactical advantage, the remaining Japanese forces were reported to commit mass suicide, with some Japanese soldiers rushing medical tents, where they detonated grenades among the wounded U.S. soldiers. This unit of the 4th Infantry received a Presidential Unit Citation (memoirs of COL. P.E. LeStourgeon).

Komandorski Islands

The heavy cruiser Salt Lake City under fire off the Komandorski Islands. USS Salt Lake City (CA-25) in action during the Battle of the Komandorski Islands on 26 March 1943 (80-G-73827).jpg
The heavy cruiser Salt Lake City under fire off the Komandorski Islands.

A cruiser and destroyer force under Rear Admiral Charles "Soc" McMorris was assigned to eliminate the Japanese supply convoys. They met the Japanese fleet in the naval Battle of the Komandorski Islands in March 1943. One American cruiser and two destroyers were damaged, with seven U.S. sailors killed. Two Japanese cruisers were damaged, with 14 men killed and 26 wounded. Japan thereafter abandoned all attempts to resupply the Aleutian garrisons by surface vessels, and only submarines would be used.

Attu Island

On 11 May 1943, American forces commenced an operation to recapture Attu. The invasion force included scouts recruited from Alaska, nicknamed Castner's Cutthroats. A shortage of landing craft, unsuitable beaches, and equipment that failed to operate in the appalling weather made it difficult for the Americans to exert force against the Japanese.

American troops endure snow and ice during the Battle of Attu in May 1943. US troops at the Battle of Attu.jpg
American troops endure snow and ice during the Battle of Attu in May 1943.

Adding to problems for the U.S. forces, soldiers suffered from frostbite because essential cold-weather supplies could not be landed, nor could soldiers be relocated to where needed because vehicles would not operate on the tundra. The Japanese defensive strategy to the American attacks included Colonel Yasuyo Yamasaki not to have his forces defend against the Americans landings. The Japanese instead dug into high ground far from the shore; this resulted in fierce combat, with a total of 3,929 U.S. casualties; 549 men were killed, 1,148 were wounded, with another 1,200 men suffering severe injuries from the cold weather. In addition, 614 Americans died from disease, and 318 from miscellaneous causes, mainly Japanese booby traps or friendly fire.

On May 29, 1943, without warning the remainder of Japanese forces attacked near Massacre Bay. This was recorded as one of the largest banzai charges of the Pacific campaign. Led again by Colonel Yamasaki, the attack penetrated so deep into U.S. lines that Japanese soldiers encountered rear-echelon units of the Americans. After furious, brutal, often hand-to-hand combat, the Japanese force was virtually exterminated. Only 28 Japanese soldiers were taken prisoner, none of them officers. American burial teams counted 2,351 Japanese dead, but it was thought that hundreds more Japanese bodies had been buried by bombardment during the battle.

Kiska Island

Part of the huge U.S. fleet at anchor, ready to move against Kiska. Adak Harbor in the Aleutians, with part of huge U.S. fleet at anchor, ready to move against Kiska. - NARA - 520977.jpg
Part of the huge U.S. fleet at anchor, ready to move against Kiska.

On 15 August 1943, an invasion force of 34,426 Canadian and American troops landed on Kiska. Castner's Cutthroats were part of the force, but the invasion consisted mainly of units from the U.S. 7th Infantry Division. The force also included about 5,300 Canadians, mostly from the 13th Canadian Infantry Brigade of the 6th Canadian Infantry Division, and the 1st Special Service Force, later known as the "Devil's Brigade," a 2,000-strong Canadian-American commando unit formed in 1942 in Montana and trained in winter warfare techniques. The Brigade included three regiments: the 1st was to go ashore in the first wave at Kiska Harbor, the 2nd was to be held in reserve to parachute where needed, and the 3rd was to land on the north side of Kiska on the second day of the assault. [14] [15] The 87th Regiment of the 10th Mountain Division, the only major U.S. force specifically trained for mountain warfare, was also part of the operation. The only casualties were from friendly fire when a Canadian soldier mistakenly shot at American forces, starting sporadic friendly-fire shooting from both sides in the dense fog, as well as a plaguing of mines, timed bombs and accidents, where most American troops lost their lives during the course of the operation. [16]

Royal Canadian Air Force No. 111 and No. 14 Squadrons saw active service in the Aleutian skies and scored at least one aerial kill on a Japanese aircraft. Additionally, three Canadian armed merchant cruisers and two corvettes served in the Aleutian campaign but did not encounter enemy forces.

The invaders landed to find the island abandoned; the Japanese forces had left two weeks earlier. Under the cover of fog, the Japanese had successfully removed their troops on 28 July. Despite US military command having access to Japanese ciphers and having decoded all the Japanese naval messages, the Army Air Forces chose to bomb abandoned positions for almost three weeks. The day before the withdrawal, the U.S. Navy fought an inconclusive and possibly meaningless Battle of the Pips 80 mi (70 nmi; 130 km) to the west.

Although the Japanese troops had gone, Allied casualties on Kiska numbered 313. They were the result of friendly fire, booby traps, disease, mines, timed bombs set by the Japanese, vehicle accidents or frostbite. Like Attu, Kiska offered an extremely hostile environment.


The loyal courage, vigorous energy and determined fortitude of our armed forces in Alaska—on land, in the air and on the water—have turned back the tide of Japanese invasion, ejected the enemy from our shores and made a fortress of our last frontier. But this is only the beginning. We have opened the road to Tokyo; the shortest, most direct and most devastating to our enemies. May we soon travel that road to victory.

Lieutenant General Simon Bolivar Buckner Jr., a few months after the Aleutian Islands Campaign [17]

Although plans were drawn up for attacking northern Japan, they were not executed. Over 1,500 sorties were flown against the Kuriles before the end of the war, including the Japanese base of Paramushir, diverting 500 Japanese planes and 41,000 ground troops.

The battle also marked the first time Canadian conscripts were sent to a combat zone in World War II. The government had pledged not to send draftees "overseas", which it defined as being outside North America. The Aleutians were considered to be North American soil, thus enabling the Canadian government to deploy conscripts without breaking its pledge. There were cases of desertion before the brigade sailed for the Aleutians. In late 1944, the government changed its policy on draftees and sent 16,000 conscripts to Europe to take part in the fighting. [18]

The battle also marked the first combat deployment of the 1st Special Service Force, though they also did not see any action.

Captured Japanese Zero. It was captured intact by U.S. forces in July 1942 on Akutan Island, after the Dutch Harbor Attack and became the first flyable Zero acquired by the United States during the Second World War. It was repaired and made its first test flight in the U.S. on 20 September 1942 Captured Japanese Zero - Dutch Harbor Alaska - June 1942.jpg
Captured Japanese Zero. It was captured intact by U.S. forces in July 1942 on Akutan Island, after the Dutch Harbor Attack and became the first flyable Zero acquired by the United States during the Second World War. It was repaired and made its first test flight in the U.S. on 20 September 1942

In the summer of 1942, the Americans recovered the Akutan Zero, an almost intact Mitsubishi A6M2 Zero fighter. This enabled the Americans to test-fly the Zero and contributed to improved fighter tactics later in the war.

Killed in action

During the campaign, two cemeteries were established on Attu to bury those killed in action: Little Falls Cemetery, located at the foot of Gilbert Ridge, and Holtz Bay Cemetery, which held the graves of Northern Landing Forces. After the war, the frozen tundra began to take back the cemeteries, so in 1946 all American remains were relocated as directed by the soldier's family or to Fort Richardson near Anchorage, Alaska. On May 30, 1946, a Memorial Day address was given by Captain Adair with a 21-gun salute and the sounding of Taps . The Decoration of Graves was performed by Chaplains Meaney and Insko. [19]


The 2006 documentary film Red White Black & Blue features two veterans of the Attu Island campaign, Bill Jones and Andy Petrus. It is directed by Tom Putnam and debuted at the 2006 Locarno International Film Festival in Locarno, Switzerland, on August 4, 2006.

Dashiell Hammett spent most of World War II as an Army sergeant in the Aleutian Islands, where he edited an Army newspaper. He came out of the war suffering from emphysema. As a corporal in 1943, he co-authored The Battle of the Aleutians with Cpl. Robert Colodny under the direction of Infantry Intelligence Officer Major Henry W. Hall.


Many of the United States locations involved in the campaign, either directly or indirectly, have been listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and several have been designated National Historic Landmarks. The battlefield on Attu and the Japanese occupation site on Kiska are both National Historic Landmarks and are included in the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument. Surviving elements of the military bases at Adak, Umnak, and Dutch Harbor are National Historic Landmarks. The shipwrecked SS Northwestern, badly damaged during the attack on Dutch Harbor, is listed on the National Register, as is a crash-landed B-24D Liberator on Atka Island.

See also

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Organization of Japanese Alaskan Strike Group (Aleutians)

Operation Cottage

Operation Cottage was a tactical maneuver which completed the Aleutian Islands campaign. On August 15, 1943, Allied military forces landed on Kiska Island, which had been occupied by Japanese forces since June 1942.

Battle of Dutch Harbor battle

The Battle of Dutch Harbor took place on June 3–4, 1942, when the Imperial Japanese Navy launched two aircraft carrier raids on the Dutch Harbor Naval Operating Base and U.S. Army Fort Mears at Dutch Harbor on Amaknak Island, during the Aleutian Islands Campaign of World War II. The bombing marked the first aerial attack by an enemy on the continental United States, and was the second time in history that the continental U.S. was bombed by someone working for a foreign power, the first being the bombing of Naco, Arizona by Patrick Murphy despite being an accident.

Battle of Attu battle

The Battle of Attu, which took place on 11–30 May 1943, was a battle fought between forces of the United States, aided by Canadian reconnaissance and fighter-bomber support, and Japan on Attu Island off the coast of the Territory of Alaska as part of the Aleutian Islands Campaign during the American Theater and the Pacific Theater. It was the only land battle of World War II fought on the continental United States.

Japanese occupation of Kiska

The Japanese occupation of Kiska took place between 6 June 1942 and 28 July 1943 during the Aleutian Islands Campaign of the American Theater and the Pacific Theater of World War II. The Japanese occupied Kiska and nearby Attu Island in order to protect the northern flank of the Japanese Empire. Along with the Attu landing the next day, it was the first time that the continental United States was occupied by a foreign power since the War of 1812, and was one of the only two invasions of the United States during World War II.

Japanese Occupation Site, Kiska Island

The Japanese Occupation Site on Kiska island in the Rat Islands group of the Aleutian Islands of Alaska is where the Imperial Japanese Navy attacked and occupied the island in World War II, as one of the only two invasions of the United States during the war. The Japanese built defenses and other infrastructure on the island before abandoning it in 1943 after losing the Battle of Attu. American and Canadian forces reoccupied the abandoned island, and departed the island in 1946. Now a part of the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge, the central portion of the island, where these military activities were concentrated, was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1985.

Amchitka Air Force Base

Amchitka Air Force Base is an abandoned Air Force Base located on Amchitka, in the Rat Islands group of the Aleutian Islands in southwest Alaska.

Japanese occupation of Attu

The Japanese occupation of Attu was the result of an invasion of the Aleutian Islands in Alaska during World War II. Imperial Japanese Army troops landed on 7 June 1942 the day after the invasion of Kiska. Along with the Kiska landing, it was the first time that the continental United States was invaded and occupied by a foreign power since the War of 1812, and was the second of the only two invasions of the United States during World War II. The occupation ended with the Allied victory in the Battle of Attu on 30 May 1943.

Military history of the Aleutian Islands

The military history of the Aleutian Islands began almost immediately following the purchase of Alaska from the Russian Empire by the United States in 1867. Prior to the early 20th century, the Aleutian Islands were essentially ignored by the United States Armed Forces, although the islands played a small role in the Bering Sea Arbitration when a number of British and American vessels were stationed at Unalaska to enforce the arbitrators' decision. By the early 20th century, a number of war strategies examined the possibility of conflict breaking out between the Empire of Japan and the United States. While the Aleutian Islands were seen as a potential staging point for invasions by either side, this possibility was dismissed owing to the islands' dismal climate. In 1922, the Washington Naval Treaty was signed, after which the United States Navy began to take an interest in the islands. However, nothing of significance was to materialize until World War II.

Naval Air Facility Adak United States Navy airport

Naval Air Facility Adak, was a United States Navy airport located west of Adak, on Adak Island in the U.S. state of Alaska. After its closure in 1997, it was reopened as Adak Airport. The facility was designated a National Historic Landmark for its role in World War II, although most of its elements from that period have been demolished or lie in ruins.

Shiro Kawase Japanese admiral

Shiro Kawase was a vice admiral in the Imperial Japanese Navy during World War II. He was a torpedo expert and his extensive experience as a commander of destroyers and destroyer formations made him more knowledgeable about the escort of convoys than most Japanese commanders of his time. He is best known for his command of the 5th Fleet during the latter stages of the Aleutians campaign in the spring and summer of 1943.

Landing at Amchitka

The Landing at Amchitka was the amphibious landing operation and occupation of Amchitka island by American forces during the Aleutian Islands Campaign.

VP-3 was a Patrol Squadron of the U.S. Navy. The squadron was established as Patrol Squadron 16-F (VP-16F) on 2 January 1937, redesignated Patrol Squadron 16 (VP-16) on 1 October 1937, redesignated Patrol Squadron 41 (VP-41) on 1 July 1939, redesignated Bombing Squadron 136 (VB-136) on 1 March 1943, redesignated Patrol Bombing Squadron 136 (VPB-136) on 1 October 1944, redesignated Patrol Squadron 136 (VP-136) on 15 May 1946, redesignated Medium Patrol Squadron (landplane) 3 (VP-ML-3) on 15 November 1946, redesignated Patrol Squadron 3 (VP-3) on 1 September 1948, and was disestablished on 1 November 1955. It was the second squadron to be designated VP-3, the first VP-3 was redesignated VP-32 on 1 July 1939.



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Further reading