Alaska during the war, 1943

Alaska during the war, 1943

Liberation of Attu

The plan to capture Attu Island called for a quick and coordinated operation. The main emphasis is to covertly approach Japanese positions and quickly capture strategically important points. Coordination between different parts of the military was a key element to the success of the operation. Air support also played an important role.

The Americans knew little about the island. The only available map of Attu was a coastal and geodetic survey map showing the area approximately 1 km from the coastline. Very little was known about the harbors. Oblique aerial photographs filled in a few gaps, but there was no complete picture.

Map of the Aleutian Islands as of 1 August 1942, prepared for a report by the US Navy's Office of Naval Intelligence
Map of the Aleutian Islands as of August 1, 1942, prepared for a report by the US Navy's Office of Naval Intelligence

The number of Japanese was increased to 2400. The core of combat units included about one and a half infantry battalions and three anti-aircraft batteries. In addition to the medical and other service units, there were several engineering units. Colonel Yamazaki commanded all forces. The main part of the garrison was concentrated in the vicinity of Holtz Bay. One of the anti-aircraft batteries, consisting of four guns, controlled the Western branch of Holtz Bay; another was placed at the head of the eastern branch of the bay; and the third was part of the defenses of Chichagof harbor. Along the ridges flanking the Massacre Valley and overlooking Saran Bay, the Japanese built machine gun and mortar positions. Additional details continued to emerge, causing the original estimate of Japan's strength to gradually increase.

Once it became clear that the Japanese garrison had exceeded the initial estimate of 500 men, the Americans increased the strength of the assault force and amphibious reserve to 11 men. Admiral Kincaid commanded the entire operation. Under his command were a shore-based air group, naval escort, cover, supply and maintenance groups, a floating army reserve and a force consisting of the 000th Infantry and Engineer Regiment, which, after the capture of Attu, was to occupy Shemiya Island and build an airfield there.

The operation was delayed by a day due to weather - the strike force left Cold Bay on May 4 and turned west in piercing rain towards Attu. D-Day is scheduled for May 8th. The weather got even worse. Admiral Rockwell withdrew his battleships to the west due to rumors of strong Japanese forces approaching from that direction. Because the weather continued to be bad and reconnaissance planes reported heavy surf on the landing beaches, Admiral Kincaid again postponed the landing day. At the height of the fog on the evening of 10 May, the forces split into two groups. General Brown accompanied the party to Massacre Bay. Admiral Rockwell remained off the northern coast.

Southern landing on Attu, May 1943.
Southern landing on Attu, May 1943

The Army concentrated about two dozen of its most effective bombers on Amchitka to bomb the island before the invasion, and in the ten days leading up to the landings, Army planes dropped 95 tons of bombs on Attu. But bad weather forced the landing to be postponed for four days.

The assault began according to plan. The 7th Reconnaissance Company climbed ashore from submarines in the pre-dawn darkness on a small beach. The reconnaissance detachment aboard the destroyer Kane was supposed to follow the reconnaissance company ashore, but a shroud of fog again fell over the entire eastern tip of the island, and Kane became disorientated. As a result, the reconnaissance detachment landed only around noon. By that time the company had advanced far up the steep valley.

Aboard the Tseylin at Massacre Bay, the Americans waited for the fog to clear enough to allow the main landing. It began only eight hours after the reconnaissance landing. There were no Japanese, the American military entered without resistance. The fog hid them from the enemy. Japan was preparing to attack, but was sure that the target would be Pussy. By nine in the evening 3500 people had come ashore. On the one hand, the Americans came across only four Japanese, killed two, and two escaped. The reconnaissance went unhindered to the highest point of the island without meeting anyone. It was dangerous to go further, because the Americans ran out of cards at this point. What next - they simply did not know.

The Southern landing, advancing into the Valley of the Massacre, came under enemy fire in the evening, when it was stopped by rifle and machine-gun fire coming from Gilbert Ridge. The battalion stood still for about half an hour, but then moved on, despite rifle fire. He was joined by mortars and light artillery. And the battalion dug in for the night along the eastern slope of the ridge, covering about 3 km in a day.

Some detachments waited for the morning, others defended the flanks, others guarded the rear, and others created outposts. Interestingly, after landing on Alexai Point, the platoon of the 7th reconnaissance detachment lost contact with the main forces. And this continued for two days. The platoon lived its own life, moved forward, but never found the Japanese. As well as our own.

Another platoon from the 17th Infantry moved east along the coast and climbed the steep pass leading over Gilbert Ridge to Saran Beach. The soldiers intended to capture this pass to establish an outpost from which they could fire on Saran Beach and Lake Nicholas. The platoon climbed all night, and on the morning after the landing day it found itself on the mountainside on Saran Beach. The Japanese discovered him there. For two days the Americans fought off enemy patrols. They managed to reunite with the main forces.

The next morning the company advanced northeast toward Holtz Bay. However, there was no progress. Everywhere she turned she found herself in a dead end, and finally General Brown ordered her to return.

A protracted battle was expected ahead. The southern landing seemed to be close to its immediate objective - the passes leading from the mouth of the Carnage Valley to Holtz Bay and Saran Bay. The northern one was also not far from its intended positions. But everything was not quite as it seemed. The Americans realized that a long and difficult battle lay ahead. One was completely lost, having mixed up the ridges, and came under fire from both flanks.

By mid-May 14, it seemed that the assault had reached a dead end. In a report to Admiral Rockwell, General Brown described the first days of the operation:

“Reconnaissance and experience from four days of fighting show that the Japanese are using machine guns and snipers hidden in holes and trenches on the hills. These positions are difficult to detect and almost impossible to fire from artillery. They lead to losses. Groups of infantry dug in high on the sides of the pass, as well as in all dominant areas of the terrain in the passes. It is impossible to approach the positions on the sides of the pass from above due to the steep slopes covered with snow. Progress will be slow and will require even more soldiers than I have."

The command allocated a couple of battalions, but this did not save the situation. There were also problems fleet. Japanese submarines terrorized American ships. The torpedo narrowly missed the Pennsylvania, and the two battleships ran out of 14-inch heavy ammunition, so they withdrew north to await orders. Continued requests for reinforcements, a dispatch requesting large quantities of engineering and road-building equipment, and the absence of any positive signs of a quick break ashore convinced Admiral Kincaid that General Brown was mired in a quagmire. Generals DeWitt and Buckner, with whom Kincaid consulted, agreed that Brown should be replaced. General Landrum took command of the operation during the day, just as the fighting for Holtz Bay was entering its final stages.

The release of General Brown coincided with the advance of the northern troops. Intense naval gunfire and aerial bombardment forced the Japanese to retreat. Two days later, two battalions from the north fought their way through and found themselves behind Japanese lines. And the very next day, May 17, the southern and northern detachments united.

The joining of forces marked a turning point in the campaign. Although almost two weeks of heavy fighting remained, the uncertainty and disappointment of the first few days on Attu was not repeated. The end came on the night of May 29, when most of the surviving Japanese, numbering between 700 and 1000, rushed frantically toward the American lines in desperation. And they dealt with them without difficulty. On May 30, the Americans cleared the island, and the Japanese informed the command of its complete loss.

549 Americans died on Attu, 1148 were wounded, and about 2100 were incapacitated due to illness and non-combat related injuries. They became victims of climate and bad weather, bad clothing. The main disease is trench foot. The Japanese lost all their forces - approximately 2350 killed and 29 prisoners. The cost of American victory is high. In terms of the number of Japanese killed, the capture of Attu was second only to Iwo Jima: there the ratio of American to Japanese losses was approximately 71 to 100.

Liberation of Kiska

Before the liberation of Attu was completed, preparations began for further action against the Japanese in the Aleutian Islands. The Americans were preparing to liberate Kiska. Based on revised estimates of the number of Japanese on Kiska, the assault force was double the size originally planned. By the end of July, some 34 soldiers had gathered for final training in preparation for the assault on Kiska. Among them were about 000 Canadians. The number of Japanese on Kiska was estimated at 5500 to 9000. General DeWitt scheduled the landing for August 10th.

US ships are at anchor, ready to move against Kiska, August 1943.
US ships are anchored, ready to move against Kiska, August 1943.

Unlike Attu, Kiska was heavily bombed before the operation. Some 424 tons of bombs were dropped in July. On August 2, the Navy, consisting of two battleships, two heavy cruisers, three light cruisers and nine destroyers, carried out a bombardment, supported by seventeen bombers and eight fighters. On that day, more than 200 tons of shells fell on Kiska. Two days later, on August 4, another 152 tons were dropped. Then bad weather came. On August 10, 335 tons of bombs were dropped on Kiska.

Americans drop bombs on Kiska, August 10, 1943.
Americans drop bombs on Kiska, August 10, 1943.

Surprisingly, most of the pilots did not notice any signs of activity on the island; some reported encountering light anti-aircraft fire. Several submarines were previously destroyed.

Early on the morning of August 15, General Corlett's troops feinted towards the southern shore of Kiska, and then landed on the northern and western sides of the island. Not a single shot was fired as the troops disembarked and moved into the fog-shrouded interior. Throughout the first night and the next day, and for several days afterward, American and Canadian patrols explored the interior of the island, occasionally hearing the sound of gunfire, but without encountering a single Japanese. Kiska was an uninhabited island. Several times there was friendly fire when the sides mistook each other for opponents. Result - 21 soldiers killed, 121 wounded. The Navy lost 70 killed or missing and 47 wounded when the destroyer struck a mine on August 18.

The entire Japanese garrison escaped unnoticed. Japan evacuated all its soldiers on July 28—three weeks before the Allied landings! The original plan of the Japanese General Staff was to withdraw the garrison gradually by submarines, but this plan was abandoned due to the damage to most of the submarines. Then they decided to evacuate all forces simultaneously on cruisers and destroyers. The Americans also made the wrong conclusion because the pilots constantly reported weak anti-aircraft positions, which in fact did not exist at all. The Americans dropped more than 1000 tons of bombs on Kiska. To an island where there was not a single Japanese!

The return of Attu was the climax, but Pussy disappointed the US command.

American soldiers inspect Japanese miniature submarines abandoned on Kiska
American soldiers inspect Japanese miniature submarines abandoned on Kiska

In liberating the Aleutian Islands from the Japanese, the goal was to partially eliminate the potential military threat. As for using the western Aleutian Islands as a springboard to Japan, the idea was still alive. General DeWitt had occasionally called for an attack along this route, but commitments to other theaters and the Soviet Union's desire to remain neutral killed the idea in its infancy.

After August 1943, whatever plans were discussed or developed to attack the Kuril Islands or Japan itself, garrison numbers in Alaska were reduced and facilities began to be dismantled. By the end of 1943, the army's strength had been reduced to 113 men, and by the end of 000 to 1944. The process of troop withdrawal continued. Any danger to Alaska has long since disappeared.
Dear reader, to leave comments on the publication, you must sign in.
  1. G17
    15 May 2024 05: 32
    Judging by the readability, it is a machine translation of an English-language article. It was possible to sit for 10 minutes to translate it normally.
    1. +2
      15 May 2024 07: 53
      What for? Although there is complete lack of respect for the forum members on the part of the author.

      R.s. In 2013, there was an article on this topic at VO. Worth a read. If you compare - heaven and earth!!!
      1. 0
        16 May 2024 14: 14
        She's like this the whole series.
        Why bother: “People eat and don’t give a damn.”

        The saddest thing is that many simply will not notice the complete wretchedness of the text (((((((((((((((
  2. 0
    15 May 2024 17: 48
    A new reconnaissance method of “bombing the hell out of everything” was tested on Kiska. And it was considered disappointing.