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Battle of the Aleutian Islands
The Battle of the Aleutian Islands 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 American force to eject them. The islands had no strategic value for either side: the invasion was launched by the Japanese as an unsuccessful diversion from the battle of Midway. America feared that the islands would be used as bases from which to launch aerial assaults against the West Coast, and it became a matter of national pride to expel the first invaders to set foot on American soil since the War of 1812. But Japan lacked both a long-range bomber and the resources to establish and operate an airbase in the Aleutians.
The battle, overshadowed by the simultaneous battle of Guadalcanal, is known as the "Forgotten Battle."
The Japanese attack
The Japanese invasions of Kiska on June 6, 1942 and Attu on June 7 initially met little resistance. Much of the native population of the islands — the Aleuts — had been forcibly evacuated before the invasion and interned in camps in the Alaska Panhandle where many died of disease and starvation. The 42 inhabitants who remained were taken to a prison camp near Otaru, Hokkaido; there, sixteen died.
The Allied response
In August 1942 , the United States established an air base on Adak Island and began bombing Japanese positions on Kiska. A naval force under Rear Admiral Charles McMorris was tasked with interdicting Japanese supply convoys. After the Battle of the Komandorski Islands, the Japanese abandoned their attempts to resupply their Aleutian garrisons by surface forces. From then on only submarines were used for resupply runs.
The operation to recapture Attu began on May 11, 1943. A shortage of landing craft, unsuitable beaches, and equipment that failed to operate in the appalling weather caused great difficulties in projecting any force 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 did not contest the landings but dug in on high ground away from the shore. There were 3,929 American casualties; 549 were killed, 1148 were injured, 1200 had severe cold injuries, 614 succumbed to disease, and 318 died of miscellaneous causes, largely Japanese booby traps and friendly fire. All in all, roughly 25% of the American forces were killed. On May 29, the last of the Japanese forces committed suicide rather than be captured. American burial teams counted 2,351 Japanese dead, but it was presumed that hundreds more had been buried over the course of the battle.
On August 7, 1943, an invasion force of 34,426 Allied troops, including 5,300 Canadians, landed on Kiska to find the island completely abandoned. The Japanese had successfully removed their troops on July 28 without the Americans noticing. The Army Air Force had been bombing abandoned positions for more than a week.
Allied casualties during the invasion nevertheless numbered 313, all from friendly fire, booby traps set out by the Japanese to inflict damage on the invading allied forces, disease, or frostbite.
As of 2004, the Battle of the Aleutian Islands was the last military engagement between sovereign nations to be fought on American soil.
- The Aleutian Campaign
- Logistics Problems on Attu by Robert E. Burks.
- Aleutian Islands Chronology
- Aleutian Islands War
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