The Battle of Attu, which took place on 11–30 May 1943, was a battle fought between forces of the United States, aided by Canadian reconnaissance and fighter-bomber support, and Japan on Attu Island off the coast of the Territory of Alaska as part of the Aleutian Islands Campaign during the American Theater and the Pacific Theater. It was the only land battle of World War II fought on American soil.
The strategic position of the islands of Attu and Kiska off Alaska's coast meant their location could control the sea lanes across the Northern Pacific Ocean. Japanese planners believed control of the Aleutians would therefore prevent any possible U.S. attacks from Alaska. This assessment had already been inferred by U.S. General Billy Mitchell who told the U.S. 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."
On 7 June 1942, six months after the United States entered World War II, the 301st Independent Infantry Battalion from the Japanese Northern Army landed unopposed on Attu. The landings occurred one day after the invasion of nearby Kiska. The U.S. military now feared both islands could be turned into strategic Japanese airbases from which aerial attacks could be launched against mainland Alaska and the rest of the U.S. West Coast.
On 11 May 1943, units from 17th Infantry, of Maj. Gen. Albert E. Brown's 7th U.S. Infantry Division made amphibious landings on Attu ("Operation Landcrab") to retake the island from Japanese Imperial Army forces led by Colonel Yasuyo Yamasaki. Despite heavy naval bombardments of Japanese positions, the American troops encountered strong entrenched defenses that made combat conditions tough. Arctic weather and exposure-related injuries also caused numerous casualties among U.S. forces. After two weeks of relentless fighting, however, American units managed to push the Japanese defenders back to a pocket around Chichagof Harbor.
On 21–22 May 1943, a powerful Japanese fleet assembled in Tokyo Bay in preparation for a sortie to repel the American attempt to recapture Attu. The fleet included the carriers Zuikaku, Shōkaku, Jun'yō, Hiyō, the battleships Musashi, Kongō, Haruna, and the cruisers Mogami, Kumano, Suzuya, Tone, Chikuma, Agano, Ōyodo, and eleven destroyers. The Americans, however, recaptured Attu before the fleet could depart.
On 29 May 1943, without hope of rescue, Yamasaki led his remaining troops in the only banzai charge ever made on American soil. The surprise attack broke through the American front line positions. Shocked American rear-echelon troops were soon fighting in hand-to-hand combat with Japanese soldiers. The battle continued until almost all of the Japanese were killed. The charge effectively ended the battle for the island, although U.S. Navy reports indicate that small groups of Japanese continued to fight until early July 1943. In 19 days of battle, 549 soldiers of the 7th Division were killed and more than 1,200 injured. The Japanese lost over 2,351 men, including Yamasaki; only 28 prisoners were taken.
Attu was the last action of the Aleutian Islands Campaign and the only instance where ground warfare occurred on American soil during World War II. The Japanese Northern Army secretly evacuated its remaining garrison from nearby Kiska, ending the Japanese occupation in the Aleutian Islands on 28 July 1943.
The loss of Attu and the evacuation of Kiska came shortly after the death of Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, who was killed by American aircraft in Operation Vengeance. These defeats compounded the demoralizing effect of losing Yamamoto on the Japanese High Command. Despite the losses, Japanese propaganda attempted to present the Aleutian Island campaign as an inspirational epic.
- Paul Nobuo Tatsuguchi, a Japanese Seventh Day Adventist who served as military surgeon on Attu and died during the fighting
- Joe P. Martinez, a posthumous Medal of Honor recipient for actions during the Battle of Attu
- Castner's Cutthroats, a specially-selected 65-man unit which performed reconnaissance missions in the Aleutian Islands during the Pacific War
- Aleutian Islands World War II National Monument
- "The Battle for Kiska", Canadian Heroes, canadianheroes.org, 13 May 2002,
Originally Published in Esprit de Corp Magazine, Volume 9 Issue 4 and Volume 9 Issue 5
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- Logistics Problems on Attu by Robert E. Burks.
- Aleutian Islands Chronology
- Aleutian Islands War
- Red White Black & Blue – feature documentary about The Battle of Attu in the Aleutians during World War II
- Soldiers of the 184th Infantry, 7th ID in the Pacific, 1943–1945
- US Army Infantry Combat pamphlet- Part Two: Attu
- Oral history interview with Robert Jeanfaivre, navy veteran who took part in the Battle of Attu from the Veterans History Project at Central Connecticut State University
- Diary of Japanese doctor killed on Attu