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"Castner's Cutthroats". 1st Alaskan Combat Intelligence Platoon (Provisional),

Discussion in 'Land Warfare in the Pacific' started by JCFalkenbergIII, Sep 30, 2008.

  1. JCFalkenbergIII

    JCFalkenbergIII Expert

    Jan 23, 2008
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    I had just seen a couple programs and a recent article on this unit. Very interesting story and one most haven't heard about.

    Castner's Cutthroats

    From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    Castner's Cutthroats was the unofficial name for the 1st Alaskan Combat Intelligence Platoon (Provisional), also known as Alaskan Scouts. Castner's Cutthroats fought during World War II and were instrumental in defeating the Japanese during the Battle of the Aleutian Islands.


    The brainchild of Colonel Lawrence V. Castner, an Army intelligence officer serving in General Simon Bolivar Buckner's Alaskan Defense Command, the band was organized in order to create a unit that was fully functional with only minimal outfitting. [1] Castner chose men skilled at flourishing in the tough conditions of the Alaskan wilderness including the native Aleuts and Eskimos, sourdough prospectors, hunters, trappers and fishermen. Their background in survival and hunting made them ideal scouts. Hard and dangerous men, they often had names in keeping with their unit's nickname, such as Bad Whiskey Red, Aleut Pete and Waterbucket Ben.[1] Appreciating their unique talents, Col. Castner did not enforce standard military procedures on his unit, who gave themselves the name "Cutthroats" in honor of their irregular status. They were given a great deal of freedom in order to get the job done.
    The commanding officer chosen to lead Castner's Cutthroats was Captain Robert H. Thompson, a Montana State University football star from Moccasin, Montana. Thompson was hugely popular with his men and developed a deep love of Alaska. After leaving the Castner's Cutthroats, he stayed in Alaska as a guide, hunter and bush pilot until his accidental death in 1955.
    He was joined in early 1942 by Lt. Earl C. Acuff, a University of Idaho graduate and rival football player. Acuff had been stationed on a remote Aleutian island to spy on Japanese planes. After several months went by without hearing from him, the army charged Castner's Cutthroats with recovery of his body. When they found him alive and well, he was quickly transferred to the Alaskan Scouts.
    "I was living like a king. I was diving for king crab and eating fresh seafood and fowl -- wild ptarmigan, ducks and geese -- for dinner. They told me not to break radio sound unless I saw a Japanese plane, so I didn't. When the Alaskan Scouts came to 'rescue' me, they started thinking that maybe they'd like to stay with me." - Lt Acuff[2]

    Castner's Cutthroats played an integral role in the defense of Alaska during World War II. After the bombing of Dutch Harbor and Japanese invasion of the western Aleutian islands, they headed reconnaissance missions, particularly on the Japanese-occupied islands of Attu, Agattu, and Kiska. They also helped pre-plan landing zones for amphibious assaults on the Japanese-held islands. During the American counterattack, Castner's Cutthroats main mission was to serve as guides and messengers for the army regulars. However, when battle preparations were being made to invade Attu, Agattu and Kiska, they warned the U. S. Army that wheeled vehicles would not function on the permafrost and the men would need to be outfitted with warm gear and plenty of food, a warning that was largely ignored. Consequently, many men owe their lives to Castner's Cutthroats for protecting them from the weather and providing them with food.

    Adak Island Landing Strip

    One of the major success of Castner's Cutthroats was the building of an airfield on Adak Island. The army had lost several planes, not to the Japanese, but to Alaskan weather. In order to shorten the distance between the Japanese and American air bases, an airfield on Adak Island was proposed and Castner's Cutthroats were sent in to scout for a suitable location. Due to the mountainous terrain of the area, no acceptable site was available. Instead, Castner's Cutthroats dammed a lagoon and drained it to use the sandy bottom floor as a temporary landing strip. Engineers later came in and improved the area.


    Standard issue for Castner's Cutthroats was a Trapper Nelson pack, hunting knife, .22 caliber target pistol and a sniper rifle, instead of the standard issue Springfield rifle, or M1 Garand. However, when it came to firearms, personal preferences was the deciding factor. Al Brattain, a crack shot, preferred the M1 Garand because its reduced recoil didn't spoil his aim. Trapper Nelson packs held all their supplies for their long mountainous treks. They lived off the land, which allowed them to stay light, unlike most military units of the time. To move from island to island, the men used canoes, from which they fished for salmon. The salmon was dried and stored for the winter, furthering the unit's ability to stay out in the field.


    In Kuluk Bay, Alaska, the Cutthroats staged a reconnaissance mission. At the spot on the beach where they first came ashore, a plaque has been erected which reads:
    "On August 28, 1942, the U.S. Naval submarines, USS Triton and USS Tuna, surfaced 4 miles due east of this beach and disembarked a 37-man U.S. Army intelligence-gathering unit lead by Colonel Lawrence V. Castner. The unit was known as "The Alaska Scout," or more affectionately as "Castner's Cutthroats." Their mission was to gather information about the Japanese troop strength on Adak and to report their findings to the landing force already on its way from Dutch Harbor. No enemy troops were found, and on August 30, a 17-ship landing force with 4,500 men and tons of heavy equipment arrived. Their mission: to build an airstrip and troop staging area in preparation for the retaking of the enemy-occupied Aleutian Islands of Attu and Kiska. "[3]

    Castner's Cutthroats - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  2. JCFalkenbergIII

    JCFalkenbergIII Expert

    Jan 23, 2008
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    November 12, 2005
    Remembering the Alaska Scouts

    By John B. Dwyer

    The word 'forgotten' applied to certain wars or veterans has become almost a clich頩n recent years. The Korean war and those who fought it come to mind in this regard.
    Veteran's Day yesterday was a time to remember those who fall into this category, distant in time, place and memory; to recall to mind their service and sacrifice.
    The Alaskan scouts of WW2 certainly fit the definition of 'forgotten' veterans. They were organized through the initiative of General Simon Bolivar Buckner's Alaskan Defense Command's intelligence officer, Colonel Lawrence V. Castner (West Point 1932). This relatively small unit was comprised of Aleuts, Eskimos, sourdough prospectors, miners, hunters, trappers and fishermen. They had nicknames such as 'Bad Whiskey Red,' Quicksilver,' 'Aleut Pete' and 'Waterbucket Ben.' From 1941 through 1943 under their official designation of 1st Combat Intelligence Platoon (Provisional) these rugged outdoorsmen conducted reconnaissance and intelligence gathering missions and spearheaded amphibious assaults during the campaign in the Aleutian Islands.
    The commanding officer of these tough customers was a tough guy himself. Big, lantern—jawed Captain Robert H. Thompson hailed from Moccasin, Montana and was a track and football star at Montana State University. A strong bond of mutual trust and respect developed between Thompson and his men; between Thompson and Alaska. He was destined to live there as a guide, hunter and bush pilot until his accidental death in 1955. He was joined in early 1942 by LT Earl C. Acuff, a University of Idaho graduate who had faced Thompson across the line of scrimmage in their gridiron days. In charge of training, Acuff emphasized exercises that strengthened the legs of these men, who would have to carry everything they needed in Trapper Nelson packs for long—range patrols. In some cases, Scouts walked over 90 miles in three days over corrugated tundra.
    Scout officers and enlisted men shared instructional duties and training was tailored to missions: camoflage, survival skills, security, small unit tactics and marksmanship. Scouts learned how to handle rubber boats so they could operate from PT boats, PBYs, destroyers and submarines When it came to weapons, personal preferences ruled, whether hunting rifles, pistols or knives. Al Brattain, a crack shot, preferred the M1 Garand because its reduced recoil didn't spoil his aim. On a normal mission, Scouts usually operated in 5—8 man teams.
    The vital strategic value of the Aleutians was not realized fully by the U.S. until the 1930s. In 1935, even as Japanese ships were observed surveying the islands, military visionary Gen. Billy Mitchell was telling a House committee that 'he who holds Alaska holds the world. It is the jumping off place to smash Japan.' That country had its own plans for the Aleutians, and in June 1942 waves of Japanese bombers attacked Dutch Harbor on the island of Unalaska. It was a feint. 800 miles away to the southwest, Japanese troops landed on Kiska and Attu. Admiral Hosogaya's orders from Tokyo: 'Hold the western Aleutians at all cost.'
    In their first missions, Scouts reconnoitered several islands, then traveled north to the Pribilofs to provide Gen. Buckner with early warning of enemy movements. When plans were finalized for recapturing the Aleutians, Scouts led the way — back to Attu and Kiska, on to Adak and Amchitka, to Semichi and Agattu, then on up to the far Pribilofs.
    For the seizure of Attu, Scouts were landed from the submarines USS Narwhal, USS Nautilus and the destroyer USS Kane on May 11, 1943. Al Brattain was at Red Beach in a 25—man group under Capt. Thompson. He wrote me that
    'We were sent in first to reconnoiter a suitable spot to land the main force. The fog was thick, visibility under 100 yards. Given a heading by the destroyer, we rowed to the beach. I was in the bow of the first boat to touch land. About 100 ft. inland was a low bank, maybe 2 ft. high. I reached it as fast as I could just in case there was a Japanese soldier waiting to dispute my right to be there. By the morning of the second day the fog had lifted, covering only the ridge tops where the enemy had dug in. They could see us; we couldn't see them. We were given the job of probing fog banks, working our way forward till we drew fire. On one of those trips I got a bullet in my collar.'
    In another sector, Scout Cpl. Al Levorson from the South Dakota Badlands and former park ranger Theron Anderson were guiding a 50—man patrol from the 17th Infantry tasked with taking out an enemy machine gun position on the jagged slopes of Sarana Ridge. Having been informed by his scouts, who had crept forward, that the Japanese also had mortars, the patrol leader tried to radio his commander about the situation. The radio was dead, so he sent Anderson and Levorson back to the command post to relay the information. Through snow, over slick mossy rocks and down slippery ravines, the pair crept, crawled and skidded until the CP was in sight. Then the enemy opened fire. Soldiers at the CP returned it. The Scouts, hugging dirt, were pinned down for several hours until darkness allowed them to reach friendly lines.
    The assault on Kiska in August 1943 was the Scouts' last mission. Ten thousand Japanese were reportedly on the island. Nobody really knew how many there were — if any. The Scouts led troops from the 1st Special Service Force 'Devil's Brigade' onto the island. Sgt. Clyde Petersen, who had fished the waters often, was first ashore. On the way in he whispered to his fellow Scouts 'Hear that? That's a kit fox bark, a good omen. If there were any Japs around, fox parents would kill their young.'
    Petersen's squad, led by LT Acuff, took the point and led !st SSF soldiers up a sharp ridge that rose from King's Cove. A few miles to the north, Sgt. Ed Walker was in the lead boat taking a 16—man Force team ashore. Towed behind was a rubber boat loaded with dynamite. A thousand yards inland they encountered and overcame their first obstacle — barbed wire. They proceeded stealthily until they could see enemy machine gun nests in the cliffs commanding the seaward approaches. Luckily for them they had been abandoned. After destroying the positions, Sgt. Walker and the others returned to the beach where they used the dynamite to blast gaps in the reefs blocking access to the beach. Now the main landing could get underway. Though unopposed, booby traps and mines set by departing Japanese took their toll of incautious or unlucky soldiers.
    After that last operation the Alaska Scouts returned to their Ft. Richardson base by way of Adak. Earl Acuff, promoted to captain, took over command from Bob Thompson, who was was forced to retire due to injuries. The Scouts remained active until 1946, during which time Capt. Acuff led 20 survey patrols that covered the Alaskan coast from Naknek all the way north to Point Barrow, then inland, south to Fairbanks and west to Unalakleet. In existence for some 5 years, the Alaska Scouts, never nore than 66 strong, carried out numerous important missions with skill and courage in the fogs, winds and snows of the mostly forgotten Aleutians campaign."

    American Thinker: Remembering the Alaska Scouts
  3. JCFalkenbergIII

    JCFalkenbergIII Expert

    Jan 23, 2008
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    'Castner's Cutthroats' recall Aleutian campaign in World War II

    James Halpin/Anchorage Daily News
    Originally published Monday, September 29, 2008 at 9:42 a.m.
    Updated Monday, September 29, 2008 at 10:22 a.m.
    • [​IMG]
    [​IMG]Anchorage Daily News

    ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- In the early days of World War II, while most of the world's attention was focused on Europe and the South Pacific, a small band of scouts began patrolling the reaches of the far-flung Aleutian Islands to spy on invading Japanese forces.
    Hard men, many of them Alaska Natives with skill as rugged outdoorsmen, formed the base of the unit that would later be known as "Castner's Cutthroats" - a tribute to their rough existence and appearances. Once there were 66 of them. Only three are still alive.
    Those three met at the Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center on Sunday afternoon to tell their tales at the unveiling of a yearlong display, in collaboration with the Alaska Veterans Memorial Museum, to honor the unit and Aleutian campaign.
    About 100 people showed up to hear Earl Acuff, William "Billy" Buck and Ed Walker tell about their service in the 1st Combat Intelligence Platoon, the creation of Col. Lawrence Castner, an officer who saw the need for a sly reconnaissance unit in the state's far reaches. At the gathering, the men - along with Buck Delkette, who recently died - were awarded the Alaska Veterans Honorable Service Medal.
    The unit's first members were miners, trappers and Alaska Natives who had no combat training. But they knew the land, how to live off it unaided and how to move about undetected - a perfect fit for spying on the Japanese.
    "I think we learned more from them than they did from us because they had all this experience in Alaska," said Acuff, 90, a Lower 48 officer who led the men. "The scouts were all very talented outdoorsmen. They could live and operate anywhere."
    To the regular Army, the windswept Aleutians were miserable: a cold, wet, hilly land without fixed airstrips, roads or electricity. But the Cutthroats excelled.
    "We learned Morse code and surveying," said Walker, also 90. "We didn't need to learn how to feed ourselves. We all knew how to do that."
    The scouts fed on wild birds such as ptarmigan, ducks and geese, but their favorite dish was king crab. The soldiers didn't have crab traps. Instead, they would dive out of skiffs and pluck the crustaceans from the seabed by hand, he said.
    When asked whether the unit had encountered any Japanese forces, Acuff said, "We killed a lot of them," to laughter from the audience.
    He described at times getting pressed to capture prisoners of war. The only problem was whenever the Japanese soldiers were defeated they would hug a grenade and pull the pin, he said.
    "I never saw soldiers like that," Acuff said. "I never saw anybody as idiot as that. They kill you, then they kill themselves."
    The Battle of the Aleutian Islands effectively ended in May 1943, when American forces defeated the Japanese at Attu Island at the cost of about 550 American and 2,350 Japanese lives. The Army also stormed Kiska Island in August that year, but by that time the Japanese had already abandoned it. Walker said he was in the lead boat for that assault, the last major operation for the scouts.
    They returned to Fort Richardson and helped survey Western Alaska until the unit was deactivated in 1946.

    newsminer.com • 'Castner's Cutthroats' recall Aleutian campaign in World War II
  4. JCFalkenbergIII

    JCFalkenbergIII Expert

    Jan 23, 2008
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    Oddly enough the Alaskan National Guard is now being deployed to Iraq. Not the same type of terrain that they are used to.

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