A World War II land battle on North American soil? When thinking about World War II, most people think of war in Europe and the South Pacific. But with the Battle of Attu and Kiska, islands off the coast of Alaska, battles were fought on North American soil. In June 1942, Japan had seized these two islands off the coast of Alaska that the United States had bought from Russia along with Alaska. Japan had seized these islands in an attempt to occupy part of the United States military in the northern Pacific while engaging occupation of Midway. Another possible reason is that the occupation of Attu and Kiska would not allow the United States to attack Japan from this direction. Either way the Japanese occupied these two islands for the better part of a year before the United States landed on the island of Attu to gain back the islands on May 11, 1943.
The United States did not give the Japanese garrisons on the
islands of Attu and Kiska much attention in 1942. This was due primarily because its attention
was focused on recovering from the Pearl Harbor attack, building up the naval powers
in the south Pacific, and calling up and transporting an army to Europe. This all changed on March 26, 1943 when the
United States was able to open sea lanes to the islands of Attu and Kiska with
the victory in the Battle of Komandorski Islands. The United States was now able to mount an
offensive to retake the islands of Attu and Kiska.
11, 1943 an army infantry numbering 11,000 landed on the north and south end of
Attu. The Japanese commander Colonel
Yasuyo Yamasaki had moved his outnumbered force to the high ground on the
island. The American force anticipated
only taking a few days to reoccupy the island and at first encountered little
resistance. The American force had not
anticipated the rugged terrain and harsh climate of the island having a
negative impact on their advancement.
The American force was not prepared for the climate and terrain of the
island, the force was ill-equipped and under dressed for the cold, fog, and
wind. Exposure to the drenching rains and freezing cold inflicted more
casualties than enemy fire as hundreds of U.S. troops suffered frostbite,
trench foot and gangrene.
weeks, with the aid of naval and air bombardment, the army had finally taken
the high ground and forced Colonel Yasuyo Yamasaki and his men to forgo a final
attempt to retake the position. The
remaining Japanese soldiers, most of whom adhered to the traditional Bushido
code (or “way of the warrior”) forbidding surrender as the ultimate dishonor, began
to face the inevitable. Before dawn on May 29, 1943, in one of the largest
banzai charges (an all-out, often desperate attack) of the Pacific War, Colonel
yasuyo Yamasaki and his men launched a frontal attack on the American force. Brutal
hand-to-hand combat followed until Yamasaki and his men were finally routed by
overwhelming firepower. Most of the Japanese who were not killed committed
suicide, in many cases by detonating hand grenades near their stomachs.
Afterward, 2,000 Japanese died out of the approximately 2,500 Japanese troops
on Attu when the Americans landed, fewer than 30 survived to be taken prisoner.
Some 1,000 U.S. troops died in the retaking of Attu.
August of 1943 American forces retook the island of Kiska with far less
resistance. The Japanese knowing that
the island of Kiska would also be retaken by American force had fled the island
weeks before the American forces were to arrive. The Japanese commanders had fled the island
under the cover of fog without the American force even knowing they had
left. The American force retook the
island of Kiska without any combat involved.