Battle of Attu May-June 1943
Private Snafu in the Aleutians
Report from the Aleutians
UNITED NEWSREEL: "U.S. Completes Occupation of Attu Island"
the following is an excerpt taken from http://www.hlswilliw...tu-homepage.htm (the best site I have found about Attu)
The Invasion of Attu
The battle of Attu was essentially an infantry battle. The climate greatly limited the use of air power as the island was shrouded in fog and experienced high winds almost every day. The terrain...steep jagged crags, knifelike ridges covered with snow, boggy tundra...made the use of mechanized equipment and of all motorized vehicles impractical. The American GI, thus reduced to moving only on foot, had to blast his way to victory with only the weapons he could carry with him. The American troops, some trained and equipped for fighting in desert climates, some totally inexperienced in combat, had found a most formidable enemy in the Japanese who were fully equipped, thoroughly acclimated, and fanatically determined to hold their strong, well chosen, defensive positions.
The allied Attu attack force was originally scheduled to leave Cold Bay on May 3rd, but bad weather postponed sailing until the 4th of May, 1943. D-day was re-designated to be 8 May, 1943, then, again as a result of bad weather, D-day was postponed to 9 May, 1943, then to Tuesday, 11 May, 1943.
There were numerous "firsts" experienced by the U.S. Forces in the Aleutians. The American 7th Division had embarked on the first Allied sea-borne invasion of enemy-held territory. The 7th had trained in the Mojave Desert expecting eventually to fight the Germans in North Africa. Soon after the defeat of the German Army in North Africa, the 7th began to practice amphibious landings on San Clemente Island. With their training completed and plans in place, the 7th eventually shipped out of San Francisco, destination unknown. As the ships later set a northerly bearing, heading for the Aleutians once out to sea, the GIs were finally informed of their real destination. Cold weather uniforms were then issued to the men, including leather boots that would prove useless in the wet snow and mud soon to be encountered on Attu.
The arrival of American forces off Attu was uneventful. A dense fog obscured the Island and surrounding area. The 7th Scout Co. had safely landed at Beach Scarlet, located on the northern shore of Attu, from their submarine transport. The Northern Force landing took place at 1450 hrs on Beach Red. The Southern Force landings at Massacre Bay proved difficult to the extreme. Some landing craft snagged on outcroppings of rock, sank, and dragged their crews to the bottom. A few landing craft collided with each other in the fog.
The northern force followed the island's coast-line, accompanied by a small flanking scout battalion to their right. The southern force finally pushed upwards from Massacre Bay through what was named Massacre Valley. The first wave of Americans found snow running all the way down the beach. The first artillery pieces promptly sank into the tundra after being fired. Air support from the nearby CVE Nassau was eliminated by 90% cloud cover over the island. Those fighters that were able to find their way to the island more often than not strafed friendly units. A flight of F4F Wildcats attempted an attack against the Japanese defenders. As they flew through what was to become known as Jarmin Pass, a williwaw blew two of the planes against the mountain. A thick ground fog persisted to a considerable altitude that, while preventing the American invaders from seeing the Japanese defenders, provided protection for the Japanese (invisible in their white clothing) who could clearly see American troop movements below them.
The beaches quickly jammed up with supplies and bogged-down vehicles. The 7th soon realized they wouldn't be able to get their artillery or tracked vehicles across the muskeg. It was apparent the battle would have to be fought by the foot soldiers themselves. Troops in the front lines began to suffer greatly from the effects of the bitter cold. Hundreds of GIs would eventually have their feet amputated as a result of frostbite and trench foot (roughly a quarter of all casualties would be traced to frostbite). American troops, lost in the fog, walked into enemy cross-fires and would be pinned down for hours with no reasonable shelter from the cold.
The American's continued to slug it out for eight days of nearly perpetual combat as the Japanese forged a bloody withdrawal. Finally, on the 18th of May, 1943, with the added help of the "Fighting Fourth," the American northern and southern forces linked up as per the original plan objective.
Badly outnumbered and sensing possible defeat, the Japanese now killed their own wounded by injecting them with morphine. To make sure the job was completed, they then threw hand grenades into their own medical tent.
On the 28th of May, 1943, Colonel Yasuyo Yamasaki, commander of the Japanese forces on Attu, formed a plan that could possibly turn the tide of battle in favor of the Japanese. In the middle of the night he would lead his remaining force of 800 men (of an initial 2600) through a weak point in the American lines, capture an American Howitzer emplacement, then use it to pin down the Americans long enough to evacuate his surviving forces (click HERE to view more of this story in detail).
On the 29th of May, 1943 at 3:15a.m., Yamasaki's remaining troops took advantage of the lingering fog and managed to break through the American lines. Ten minutes later, with the artillery battery located on Engineer Hill in sight, the Japanese commander ordered a Banzai attack. They killed several American patients in their field hospital and exploded a propane stove in the mess. The sleeping Americans quickly rallied their forces and threw the Japanese back into the fog after intense close combat. The failure to carry out their plan effectively destroyed the Japanese morale. Five hundred of the remaining Japanese committed mass suicide (gyokusai) with grenades held close to their stomachs, chests, and foreheads. Yamasaki attempted a final but fruitless charge later in the day with what remained of his force. During this charge he lost his own life to a .30-caliber bullet. The battle for Attu was over.
The casualties incurred during the invasion of Attu were appalling. The Americans suffered 3829 casualties, roughly 25% of the invading force, second only in proportion to Iwo Jima. Of these, 549 were killed; 1148 injured; 1200 with severe cold injuries; 614 with disease; and a remaining 318 to miscellaneous causes. On the Japanese side, 2351 men were counted by American burial parties, and hundreds more were presumed already buried. Total prisoners taken: 28 (none of whom were officers). The Japanese fought to virtually the last man.
By May 30th, 1943, unknown to the allied forces at the time, all organized Japanese Army resistance ended in the Aleutians.
On August 15th, 1943 the allied invasion of Kiska finally began. There was no opposition to the invasion of Kiska by the US and Canadian forces as there were no Japanese troops left on the island. The Japanese had been secretly removed from Kiska by I-class submarines and surface vessels prior to the allied attack. Allied casualties during the invasion nevertheless numbered close to 200, all from friendly fire, booby traps set out by the Japanese to inflict damage on the invading allied forces, or disease. There were seventeen Americans and four Canadians killed from either friendly fire or booby traps, fifty more were wounded as a result of friendly fire or booby traps, and an additional 130 men came down with trench foot.
The Japanese were finally ejected from the Aleutians only after 15 months of arduous operations hampered by shortages afloat, ashore, and in the air...not to mention the almost insuperable obstacles of weather and terrain.
Please feel free to post any Attu related items you may have in your collection.