Aleutian Islands Campaign

Aleutian Islands Campaign

Infobox Military Conflict
conflict=Aleutian Islands Campaign

caption=American troops hauling supplies on Attu in May 1943. Their vehicles could not move across the island's rugged terrain.
partof=World War II, Pacific War
date=June 3 1942 – August 15 1943
place=Aleutian Islands, off Alaska
result=Allied victory
combatant1=Allied forces including:
flagicon|United States|1912 United States,
combatant2=flagicon|Japan|alt Empire of Japan
commander1=United States Navy:
flagicon|United States|1912 Thomas C. Kinkaid flagicon|United States|1912 Francis W. Rockwell

United States Army:
flagicon|United States|1912 Albert E. Brown
flagicon|United States|1912 Simon Bolivar Buckner, Jr.
commander2=Imperial Japanese Navy: flagicon|Japan|naval Boshiro Hosogaya

Imperial Japanese Army: flagicon|Japan|alt Yasuyo Yamasaki
strength1=144,000Cloe, "Aleutian Warriors", p. 321.]
casualties1=1,481 killed,
225 aircraft destroyed [Cloe, "Aleutian Warriors", p. 321–322.]
{640 killed/Missing;
3416 Wounded/Disease}.
US Navy losses:
1 warship "USS Abner Read (DD-526)" damaged. 22 lost. See [ [ HyperWar: The U.S. Army Campaigns of World War II: : Aleutian Islands ] ] ;
USS S-27 (SS-132) lost June 1942 {no lives lost}
USS Grunion (SS-216)" lost 30 July 1942 {70 dead}<
casualties2=4,350 killed,
7 warships sunk,
9 cargo transport ships sunk [Cloe, "Aleutian Warriors", p. 322–323.]

The Aleutian Islands campaign was a struggle over the Aleutian Islands, part of Alaska, in the Pacific campaign of World War II. A small Japanese force occupied the islands of Attu and Kiska, but the remoteness of the islands and the difficulties of weather and terrain meant that it took nearly a year for a large U.S. force to eject them. The islands' strategic value is their ability to control Pacific Great Circle routes. Current air flights between Los Angeles and Tokyo pass the Aleutians. This control of the Pacific transportation routes is why General Billy Mitchell stated to 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 launch aerial assaults against the West Coast.

The battle is known as the "Forgotten Battle," due to being overshadowed by the simultaneous Guadalcanal campaign. In the past most western military historians believed it was a diversionary or feint attack during the Battle of Midway meant to draw out the US Pacific Fleet from Pearl Harbor, and was in fact launched simultaneously under the same overall commander, Isoroku Yamamoto. However, historians Jonathan Parshall and Anthony Tully have made an argument against this interpretation, stating that the Japanese invaded the Aleutians to protect the northern flank of their empire and did not intend it as a diversion. [cite book |last=Parshall |first=Jonathan |authorlink= |coauthors=Anthony Tully |title=Shattered Sword: The Untold Story of the Battle of Midway |year=2005 |publisher=Potomac Books |location= |isbn=978-1574889246 ]

Japanese attack

On June 3 1942, Japanese bombers attacked Dutch Harbor on Unalaska Island using Kate (Nakajima B5N) bombers from the carriers "Junyō" and "Ryūjō". In bad weather, only half the planes found the target, and little damage was done.

The Japanese invasions of Kiska on June 6, 1942, and Attu on June 7 initially met little resistance from the local Aleuts. Much of the native population of the islands had been forcibly evacuated before the invasion and interned in camps in the Alaska Panhandle.

Allied response

In August 1942, the United States established an air base on Adak Island and began bombing Japanese positions on Kiska.

Battle of the Komandorski Islands

A US Navy cruiser/destroyer force under Rear Admiral Charles "Soc" McMorris was assigned to interdict the Japanese supply convoys. After the significant naval battle known as the "Battle of the Komandorski Islands," the Japanese abandoned attempts to resupply the Aleutian garrisons using surface vessels. From then on, only submarines were used for Japanese resupply runs.

Attu island

On May 11, 1943, the operation to recapture Attu began. Included with the invasion force was a group of native Alaskan scouts known as Castner's Cutthroats. A shortage of landing craft, unsuitable beaches, and equipment that failed to operate in the appalling weather made it very difficult to bring any force to bear against the Japanese. Many soldiers suffered from frostbite because essential supplies could not be landed, or having been landed, could not be moved to where they were needed because vehicles would not work on the tundra. The Japanese defenders under Colonel Yasuyo Yamasaki did not contest the landings, but rather dug in on high ground away from the shore. This caused bloody fighting: there were 3,929 U.S. casualties: 579 were killed, 1,148 were injured, 1,200 had severe cold injuries, 614 succumbed to disease, and 318 died of miscellaneous causes, largely Japanese booby traps and friendly fire. On May 29, the last of the Japanese forces suddenly attacked near Massacre Bay in one of the largest banzai charges of the Pacific campaign. The charge, led by Colonel Yamasaki, penetrated U.S. lines far enough to encounter shocked rear-echelon units of the American force. After furious, brutal, close-quarter, and often hand-to-hand combat, the Japanese force was killed almost to the last man: only 28 prisoners were taken, none of them an officer. U.S. burial teams counted 2,351 Japanese dead, but it was presumed that hundreds more had been buried by bombardments over the course of the battle.

Kiska island

On August 7, 1943, an invasion force of 34,426 Allied troops landed on Kiska. Castner's Cutthroats were part of the force, but the invasion force was made up of units primarily from the United States 7th Infantry Division. The invasion force also included about 5,300 Canadians. The Canadians primarily came from the 13th Canadian Infantry Brigade of the 6th Canadian Infantry Division. The Canadian forces also included the Canadian component of the First Special Service Force, also known as the "Devil's Brigade".

The invasion force landed only to find the island abandoned. Under the cover of fog, the Japanese had successfully removed their troops on July 28 without the Allies noticing. The Army Air Force had been bombing abandoned positions for more than a week. On the day before the withdrawal, vessels of the United States Navy fought the inconclusive and possibly meaningless Battle of the Pips 80 miles to the west.

While the Japanese were gone before the invasion of Kiska was launched, Allied casualties during the operation nevertheless numbered 313. All of these casualties were the result of friendly fire, booby traps set out by the Japanese, disease, or frostbite. As was the case with Attu, Kiska offered an extremely hostile environment.


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 Paramushiro, 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 the Second World War. While the government had pledged not to send draftees overseas, the fact that the Aleutians were North American soil enabled the government to deploy them. 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. [cite book | last = Stacey | first = C. P. | coauthors = Canada. Dept. of National Defence. General Staff. | title = The Canadian Army, 1939-1945; an official historical summary | location = Ottawa | publisher = E. Cloutier, King's Printer | year = 1948 | isbn = | oclc = 2144853 ]

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


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.

Charlton Heston was stationed here for the Army Air Force as a B-25 radio operator/gunner.

See also

* Attacks on North America during World War II
* Castner's Cutthroats
* Organization of the Imperial Japanese Navy Alaskan Strike Group
* "Report from the Aleutians", a 1943 film about the battle, directed by John Huston
* Battle of the pips
* Paul Nobuo Tatsuguchi




*cite book | last = Cloe | first = John Haile | authorlink = | coauthors = | year = 1990 | chapter = | title = The Aleutian Warriors: A History of the 11th Air Force and Fleet Air Wing 4 | publisher = Pictorial Histories Publishing Co. and Anchorage Chapter &ndash; Air Force Association | location = Missoula, Montana | isbn = 0929521358 | oclc = 25370916
*cite book | last = Dickrell | first = Jeff | authorlink = | coauthors = | year = 2001 | chapter = | title = Center of the Storm: The Bombing of Dutch Harbor and the Experience of Patrol Wing Four in the Aleutians, Summer 1942 | publisher = Pictorial Histories Publishing Co., Inc. | location = Missoula, Montana | isbn = 1575100924 | oclc = 50242148
*cite book | last = Feinberg | first = Leonard | authorlink = | coauthors = | year = 1992 | chapter = | title = Where the Williwaw Blows: The Aleutian Islands-World War II | publisher = Pilgrims' Process | location = | isbn = 097106098-3 | oclc = 57146667
*cite book | last = Garfield | first = Brian | authorlink = Brian Garfield | coauthors = | year = 1995 | origyear = 1969 | chapter = | title = The Thousand-Mile War: World War II in Alaska and the Aleutians | publisher = University of Alaska Press | location = Fairbanks | isbn = 0912006838 | oclc = 33358488
*cite book | last = Goldstein | first = Donald M. | authorlink = | coauthors = Katherine V. Dillon | year = 1992 | chapter = | title = The Williwaw War: The Arkansas National Guard in the Aleutians in World War | publisher = University of Arkansas Press | location = Fayettville | isbn = 1557282420 | oclc = 24912734
*cite book | last = Hays | first = Otis | authorlink = | coauthors = | year = 2004 | chapter = | title = Alaska's Hidden Wars: Secret Campaigns on the North Pacific Rim | publisher = University of Alaska Press | location = | isbn = 188996364X | oclc =
*cite book | last = Morison | first = Samuel Eliot | authorlink = Samuel Eliot Morison | coauthors = | origyear = 1951 | year = 2001 | chapter = | title = Aleutians, Gilberts and Marshalls, June 1942-April 1944, "vol. 7 of" History of United States Naval Operations in World War II | publisher = University of Illinois Press | location = Champaign | isbn = 0316583057 | oclc = 7288530
*cite book | last = Parshall | first = Jonathan | authorlink = | coauthors = Tully, Anthony | year = 2005 | title = Shattered Sword: The Untold Story of the Battle of Midway | publisher = Potomac Books | location = Dulles, Virginia | id = ISBN 1574889230 | oclc = 60373935
*cite book | last = Perras | first = Galen Roger | authorlink = | coauthors = | year = 2003 | chapter = | title = Stepping Stones to Nowhere, The Aleutian Islands, Alaska, and American Military Strategy, 1867 - 1945 | publisher = University of British Columbia Press | location = Vancouver | isbn = 1591148367 | oclc = 53015264
*cite book | last = Urwin | first = Gregory J. W. | authorlink = | coauthors = | year = 2000 | chapter = | title = The Capture of Attu: A World War II Battle as Told by the Men Who Fought There | publisher = Bison Books | location = | isbn = 080329557X | oclc =
*cite book | last = Wetterhahn | first = Ralph | authorlink = | coauthors = | year = 2004 | chapter = | title = The Last Flight of Bomber 31: Harrowing Tales of American and Japanese Pilots Who Fought World War II's Arctic Air Campaign | publisher = Da Capo Press | location = | isbn = 0786713607 | oclc =
*Zaloga, Steven J (2007). "Japanese Tanks 1939-45". Osprey; ISBN 978-1-84603-091-8.

External links

* [ Logistics Problems on Attu] by Robert E. Burks.
* [ Aleutian Islands Chronology]
* [ Aleutian Islands War]
* [ Aleutian Islands The U.S. Army Campaigns of World War II]
* [ Red White Black & Blue - feature documentary about The Battle of Attu in the Aleutians during World War II]
**PBS Independent Lens presentation of [ Red White Black & Blue] - The Making Of and other resources
* [ Soldiers of the 184th Infantry, 7th ID in the Pacific, 1943-1945]
* [ World War II Campaign Brochure for Aleutian Islands, U.S. Army Center of Military History.]
* [ "”Attu: North American Battleground of World War II”", a National Park Service Teaching with Historic Places (TwHP) lesson plan]

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