Battle of Attu

Last updated

Battle of Attu
Part of the American Theater and the Pacific Theater of World War II
Mortar-attu-1943.jpg
U.S. soldiers fire mortar shells over a ridge onto a Japanese position on 4 June 1943.
Date11–30 May 1943
Location
Attu, Aleutian Islands, Alaska, United States
Result Allied victory
Belligerents
Flag of the United States (1912-1959).svg  United States
Air support:
Canadian Red Ensign (1921-1957).svg  Canada [1]
Merchant flag of Japan (1870).svg  Japan
Commanders and leaders
Flag of the United States (1912-1959).svg John L. DeWitt
Flag of the United States (1912-1959).svg Thomas C. Kinkaid
Flag of the United States (1912-1959).svg Albert E. Brown
Flag of the United States (1912-1959).svg Eugene M. Landrum
Flag of the United States (1912-1959).svg Archibald V. Arnold
War flag of the Imperial Japanese Army (1868-1945).svg Yasuyo Yamasaki  
Strength
American:
15,000
Canadian:
1 reconnaissance aircraft squadron
2 fighter-bomber squadrons [1]
2,900
Casualties and losses
549 killed
1,148 wounded
1,814 cold injuries and disease [2]
2,872 killed or committed suicide
28 captured [2]

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 American soil.

Contents

The more than two-week battle ended when most of the Japanese defenders were killed in brutal hand-to-hand combat after a final banzai charge broke through American lines.

Background

The strategic position of the islands of Attu and Kiska off Alaska's coast meant their location could control the sea lanes across the Northern Pacific Ocean. Japanese planners believed control of the Aleutians would therefore prevent any possible U.S. attacks from Alaska. This assessment had already been inferred by U.S. General Billy Mitchell who told 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."

On 7 June 1942, six months after the United States entered World War II, the 301st Independent Infantry Battalion from the Japanese Northern Army landed unopposed on Attu. The landings occurred one day after the invasion of nearby Kiska. The U.S. military now feared both islands could be turned into strategic Japanese airbases from which aerial attacks could be launched against mainland Alaska and the rest of the U.S. West Coast.

In Walt Disney′s 1943 film, Victory Through Air Power, the use of the Aleutian Islands for American long-range bombers to bomb Japan was postulated. [3]

Recapture

Map showing the recapture of Attu in 1943 Capture of Attu 1943.jpg
Map showing the recapture of Attu in 1943

On 11 May 1943, units from 17th Infantry, of Maj. Gen. Albert E. Brown's 7th U.S. Infantry Division made amphibious landings on Attu ("Operation Landcrab" [4] ) to retake the island from Japanese Imperial Army forces led by Colonel Yasuyo Yamasaki. Despite heavy naval bombardments of Japanese positions, the American troops encountered strong entrenched defenses that made combat conditions tough. Arctic weather and exposure-related injuries also caused numerous casualties among U.S. forces. After two weeks of relentless fighting, however, American units managed to push the Japanese defenders back to a pocket around Chichagof Harbor.

On 21–22 May 1943, a powerful Japanese fleet assembled in Tokyo Bay in preparation for a sortie to repel the American attempt to recapture Attu. The fleet included the carriers Zuikaku, Shōkaku, Jun'yō, Hiyō, the battleships Musashi, Kongō, Haruna, and the cruisers Mogami, Kumano, Suzuya, Tone, Chikuma, Agano, Ōyodo, and eleven destroyers. The Americans, however, recaptured Attu before the fleet could depart. [5]

On 29 May 1943, without hope of rescue, Yamasaki led his remaining troops in the only banzai charge ever made on American soil. The surprise attack broke through the American front line positions. Shocked American rear-echelon troops were soon fighting in hand-to-hand combat with Japanese soldiers. The battle continued until almost all of the Japanese were killed. The charge effectively ended the battle for the island, although U.S. Navy reports indicate that small groups of Japanese continued to fight until early July 1943. In 19 days of battle, 549 soldiers of the 7th Division were killed and more than 1,200 injured. The Japanese lost over 2,351 men, including Yamasaki; only 28 prisoners were taken. [2]

Aftermath

Attu was the last action of the Aleutian Islands Campaign and the only instance where ground warfare occurred on American soil during World War II. The Japanese Northern Army secretly evacuated its remaining garrison from nearby Kiska, ending the Japanese occupation in the Aleutian Islands on 28 July 1943.

The loss of Attu and the evacuation of Kiska came shortly after the death of Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, who was killed by American aircraft in Operation Vengeance. These defeats compounded the demoralizing effect of losing Yamamoto on the Japanese High Command. [6] Despite the losses, Japanese propaganda attempted to present the Aleutian Island campaign as an inspirational epic. [6]

See also

Related Research Articles

Attu Island United States historic place

Attu is an island in the Near Islands. It is the westernmost point of the U.S. state of Alaska. The island became uninhabited in 2010.

Kiska island

Kiska is an island in the Rat Islands group of the Aleutian Islands of Alaska. It is about 22 miles (35 km) long and varies in width from 1.5 to 6 miles. It is part of Aleutian Islands Wilderness and as such, special permissions are required to visit it. The island has no permanent population.

USS <i>Abner Read</i> (DD-526) Fletcher class-destroyer

USS Abner Read (DD-526) was a Fletcher-class destroyer in the service of the United States Navy, named after Lieutenant Commander Abner Read, who fought in the American Civil War. The ship fought in World War II, seeing action in the Aleutian Islands Campaign, where she survived a mine explosion that blew off her stern in 1943. After repairs, she returned to service and operated in support of Allied forces in the New Guinea campaign and the Battle of Leyte. She was sunk off Leyte in 1944.

Aleutian Islands campaign WWII battle in Alaska, USA

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. 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." 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.

USS <i>S-18</i> (SS-123) 1920 S-class submarine of the United States Navy

USS S-18 (SS-123) was a first-group S-class submarine of the United States Navy. Her keel was laid down on 15 August 1918 by the Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corporation's Fore River Shipyard in Quincy, Massachusetts. She was launched on 29 April 1920 sponsored by Miss Virginia Bell Johnson, and commissioned on 3 April 1924 with Lieutenant Elliot M. Senn in command.

Eleventh Air Force Numbered air force of the United States Air Force responsible for the Alaskan region

The Eleventh Air Force (11 AF) is a Numbered Air Force of the United States Air Force Pacific Air Forces (PACAF). It is headquartered at Joint Base Elmendorf–Richardson, Alaska.

Yasuyo Yamasaki Japanese army colonel

Colonel Yasuyo Yamasaki (Japanese: 山崎保代, was a Japanese Army officer who commanded the Japanese forces on Attu during the Battle of Attu in World War II.

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.

Castners Cutthroats

Castner's Cutthroats was the unofficial name for the 1st Alaskan Combat Intelligence Platoon (Provisional), also known as Alaskan Scouts. Castner's Cutthroats fought during World War II and were instrumental in defeating the Japanese during the Aleutian Islands Campaign. The unit was composed of just sixty-five men selected to perform reconnaissance missions in the Aleutian Islands during the war.

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.

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 United States historic place

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.

Aleutian Islands Chain of islands in the northern Pacific Ocean

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 islands. Most of the Aleutian Islands belong to the U.S. state of Alaska, but some belong to 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.

Alexai Point Army Airfield

Alexai Point Army Airfield is an abandoned World War II airfield with two runways laid across Alexai Point on Attu Island, Alaska. The remains of the Seabee built airbase are located about 4 miles east of the closed Casco Cove Coast Guard Station, directly across Massacre Bay.

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 historic place

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.

References

  1. 1 2 "The Battle for Kiska", Canadian Heroes, canadianheroes.org, 13 May 2002, Originally Published in Esprit de Corp Magazine, Volume 9 Issue 4 and Volume 9 Issue 5
  2. 1 2 3 US National Park Service
  3. YouTube. youtube.com.
  4. "Battle of Attu". The History Channel.
  5. "Zuikaku Tabular Record of Movement (TROM)". Imperial Japanese Navy Page. Jonathan Parshall. Retrieved 10 September 2014.
  6. 1 2 John Toland, The Rising Sun: The Decline and Fall of the Japanese Empire 1936-1945 New York:Random House (1970) p. 444

Further reading

Coordinates: 52°52′44.67″N173°9′24.80″E / 52.8790750°N 173.1568889°E / 52.8790750; 173.1568889