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"Combined Attu Reports on Japanese Warfare"

Discussion in 'Land Warfare in the Pacific' started by JCFalkenbergIII, Apr 2, 2008.

  1. JCFalkenbergIII

    JCFalkenbergIII Expert

    Jan 23, 2008
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    "Combined Attu Reports on Japanese Warfare" from Intelligence Bulletin, October 1943

    [​IMG] The following is a report on Japanese tactics during the WWII operations on Attu Island from the October 1943 issue of the U.S. Intelligence Bulletin.

    [DISCLAIMER: The following text is taken from the U.S. War Department Intelligence Bulletin publication. As with all wartime intelligence information, data may be incomplete or inaccurate. No attempt has been made to update or correct the text. Any views or opinions expressed do not necessarily represent those of the website.]


    This section has been compiled from various intelligence reports submitted by U.S. observers during the operations on Attu Island. A preliminary report on the Attu operations was published in Intelligence Bulletin, Volume I, No. 11. Except for isolated instances, none of the information in the preliminary report is repeated below.
    With few exceptions, the individual Japanese soldier on Attu lived up to all our expectations. He was tough, active, tricky, and treacherous, but absolutely no "superman." He was subject to fear, to confusion, and to thoughtless acts of desperation. As a rule, however, he could be counted on to fight to the last....
    Regarding the characteristics of the individual Japanese soldier, a U.S. platoon leader says: I feel very definitely that if a continual advance is made on the Jap, he becomes confused and doesn't quite know what to do next. One thing is certain. This business about his being a superman is so much tripe. When you start giving him the real business, he will run like hell and be twice as scared as you are—and when I think how scared I was, that's saying a lot.

    a. General
    As a rule, the Japanese on Attu organized their defensive positions on high ground which ordinarily (1) afforded plunging fire on the flanks and rear of forces pushing inland from the coast, (2) was extremely to moderately hard to reach, (3) was largely secure from our naval fire and aerial strafing, and (4) was extremely hard to observe from the valley lowlands.
    The enemy apparently organized the terrain so that they could obtain the best possible performance from each rifle and automatic weapon. Positions frequently were located high in side gullies. Trenches or tunnels (sometimes both) usually connected foxholes, rifle bays, and automatic-weapon positions, so that a single rifleman or automatic weapon man might have several fields of fire and several positions. These enabled the Japanese to take up a new position when, or before, an occupied position became untenable. Such shifting about tended to deceive our troops with respect to the enemy's strength.
    The foxholes, trenches, and bays commanding the flanks and rear of inward-pushing forces were far more numerous than the positions set up for frontal defense. Trenches, of the zigzag type, usually were about 75 yards long, 3 feet wide, and 4 to 5 feet deep.
    Broadly speaking, the Japanese did not organize a series of strong points, as we conceive it, but organized the terrain into scattered and frequently isolated strong points which were very loosely tied together with supporting fires. In selecting these strong points, the enemy apparently paid little attention to routes for withdrawals. This was particularly true in the case of machine-gun positions.
    Sometimes holes which, at a distance, appeared to be foxholes turned out to be entrances to large dugouts, living quarters, caches for supplies, or tunnels to observation posts or machine-gun positions. In several instances, trenches covered overhead with timber, dirt, and other forms of camouflage were constructed so as to connect buildings with gun emplacements.
    In many cases small prepared positions for riflemen and machine gunners were found near large rocks, under the walls of cliffs, and in other naturally protected areas.
    b. Machine Guns
    As a rule, the Japanese emplacement of machine guns was good with respect to mutual support. The guns were seldom placed alone. Each was supported by at least one other gun, generally located from 200 to 500 yards away. This made their reduction more difficult as all the weapons had to be taken at once—otherwise, the first gun position taken would receive prompt support from other positions. In at least one instance, this support was strengthened by the addition of a rapid-fire cannon, which twice forced our troops to withdraw under fire after they had taken a machine-gun position. Also, grenade dischargers were frequently located near machine guns.
    Often machine-gun positions were constructed either of blocks of tundra—which offered good concealment but poor protection—or of small and medium-sized rocks piled upon each other. Such positions along the rocky ridge tops afforded good camouflage but, once discovered, were deadly to the occupants because of rock fragments. Several Japanese bodies in these positions showed evidence that flying pieces of rock had caused deaths.
    c. Sniper and Observation Posts
    Sniper and observation posts were well located with respect to the terrain. They had no paths leading to them, and were well camouflaged with grass and, in some instances, turf and moss. A few of these posts had a T-shaped stick, about 3 feet high, which apparently was used as a rest for field glasses. The Japanese sniper or sentry apparently approached his post from a different direction each time he reported. Relief parties did not come close to the post.
    a. General
    By siting their weapons on high ground, the Japanese secured maximum fields of fire and excellent opportunities for long-range fire. They utilized both advantages. Most of their fire came at us from ranges of 1,000 yards or more. Some of the enemy's heavy machine guns were equipped with telescopic sights for long ranges, up to 2,500 yards.
    This long-distance fire, delivered from high, well-concealed positions, was plunging steeply when it reached our troops, and frequently pinned them down. Except for its harassing value, this fire was not considered effective. The enemy's rifles and machine guns had no grazing fire at such long ranges, and the cones of fire were too dispersed to be effective against individuals. Also, the opening of fire at such long ranges gave our forces a pretty good idea as to the location of the Japanese positions.
    b. Machine Guns
    In addition to siting their machine guns well, the Japanese also had prepared elaborate range cards for firing. Apparently many of the guns had been registered carefully on terrain features before our troops went ashore, and had been laid on specific ground areas with planned patterns of mutually supporting cross fire. In many cases the enemy guns on ridges were set to search out every hollow in certain valley areas. Small range and deflection stakes were often found in front of enemy positions. This arrangement permitted the Japanese to open well-aimed fire, regardless of visibility.
    As our troops advanced close to the Japanese positions, the hostile fire frequently was high—probably because many of the enemy gunners forgot to change their sights.
    c. Use of Bayonets
    Despite the fact that the Japanese place considerable emphasis on the use of cold steel in training, on Attu the enemy gave a poor performance with the bayonet, as a rule. Some observers believed the enemy may have feared our generally larger stature and, presumably, greater physical strength.
    d. Communication
    The Japanese placed great emphasis on the disruption of our communication facilities. Our soldiers could traverse wide areas known to be infested by enemy snipers, without being fired upon. However, when a soldier stopped for the apparent purpose of repairing telephone wire, snipers' bullets would begin to whine all around him. In the final all-out enemy attack, bayonets severed our wires in certain areas at an average interval of 20 feet, and rearward communications were disrupted. In some cases, enemy bayonets scratched the insulation off our wires in order to ground the circuits.
    a. General
    Japanese camouflage on Attu was excellent. The enemy relied mainly on natural material, such as grass, moss, and limbs of dwarf pussy willow trees. Other materials included the usual camouflage nets for the body and head, camouflage capes, strips of rice-straw matting and grass matting, rope matting, dummy men and guns, and white snow parkas (some observers reported that white wrap-around snow pants also were used).
    b. Natural Material
    Individual hillside positions for Japanese soldiers were usually shielded by pussy willow branches. These were draped with moss and tufts of grass which almost completely hid the opening.
    Tufts of grass were used to mask the narrow slits (for observation and firing) of covered positions. The outlines and shadows of these positions were broken up by tufts of grass which were loosely twisted into ropes. Sometimes rice straw was used in making the ropes. Straw matting also was used, to cover openings or excavations.
    All of these types of camouflage were generally used on one-man structures, while the principles of limiting shadows and of reducing silhouette elevation to a minimum were also generally well utilized.
    c. Rope
    Rope 1/2 inch in diameter was found in large quantities. In utilizing it for camouflage, the Japanese opened the rope strands—as in splicing—placed tufts of compressed grass between the strands, fluffed them out, and then twisted the strands of rope back into place. The tufts of grass were 15 to 18 inches long and 1 inch in diameter.
    After camouflaging a rope in the above manner, the Japanese coiled it up, or put it into immediate use by tossing a coil over the object to be camouflaged. This and other coils were then crisscrossed and secured until the camouflage operation had been completed.
    d. Wearing Apparel
    The individual camouflage nets were made of vari-colored netting. Wisps of similarly dyed raffia (strong fibrous strands from the leaf stalks of raffia palm trees) were tied into the string meshes of each section.
    Individual nets frequently were laced together to cover conical tents. In many instances high revetments were built around the tents, and the camouflage nets fell at a gentle angle from the peak of the tent to the revetment wall. The practice of locating tents at the bottom of deep and almost inaccessible ravines provided an additional safeguard.
    The white snow parkas were used for wearing above the snow line. Where possible, the enemy avoided travel across snow patches during the day unless clad in white clothing. When the enemy soldiers moved across the pale grass of the hillsides they often moved in a crouching position with strips of grass matting held in front of them.
    Individual enemy riflemen and observers were supplied with hooded camouflage capes, which were made of light, rain-repellant tan paper. The capes were about 9 by 6 feet, and were tied with tie strings. Behind and under these capes, riflemen and observers could sit for a day at a time, dry and protected from wind and rain and indistinguishable from the tundra.
    e. Installations
    As a rule, the Japanese constructed cooking and storage chambers, latrines, and bath houses by cutting into the sides of hills or banks. They made these structures blend with the surrounding terrain by grass covers, grass or straw, willow branches, and sometimes turf.
    Office buildings, barracks, officers' quarters, radio installations, and hospitals in the more developed centers were generally constructed with only the roof extending above ground level (barabara type). The roofs had low peaks, casting only small shadows. The tops of these roofs were covered with sod, which formed a green carpet over each gable. The sod also helped to shed the rain, and gave limited protection from fragments of shells bursting nearby. Glass windows inserted near the gables as skylights were covered on top with loosely strewn grass to prevent daytime detection, while blackout curtains covered the windows at night.
    The Japanese went some distance from the building to dig up sod for covering the roofs. The denuded areas left after the sod was removed were rectangular. It is believed that the enemy prepared the areas in this manner with the belief that the contrasting color would befuddle our air observers.
    Similar deceptive techniques were used in outlining entire trench systems, where only the surface sod was removed to reveal the dark earth.
    Foxholes and machine-gun nests dug in snow-covered ground were covered with white cloths which blended perfectly with the snow.
    Frequently small mounds of dirt were built in front of foxholes and covered with tundra. This made it impossible to see the foxholes from a lower elevation.
    f. Dummy Emplacements
    Islands at the entrance to Chicagof harbor contained complete dummy emplacements, including wooden guns and straw men (made by stuffing salvage uniforms with dry grass).
    Several Japanese "barrage" mortars, a comparatively new weapon, were captured on Attu. The mortar previously had been reported in the South Pacific theater. It was also noted on Attu that the enemy has made slight changes in hand grenades and the Model 89 grenade discharger.
    a. "Barrage" Mortar
    (1) Description.—The "barrage" mortar (see fig. 6) is a simply designed weapon for area bombardment. It consists of a smooth-bore tube, approximately 70-mm in diameter and 4 feet long; a base plate, a rectangular wooden block, and an iron rod, which holds the mortar in an upright position and controls the angle of elevation for firing. The wooden block, 12 inches long, 10 inches wide, and 8 inches thick, is used to absorb the shock during firing and to prevent the base plate from digging into the ground. The base plate is fastened to the block by two bolts. The iron rod, about 1 inch in diameter and 18 inches long, is fastened to the bottom of the block and extends straight down.
    The elevation or depression of the mortar is determined solely by the angle at which the rod is stuck into the ground. The weapon apparently has no range-control device.
    The tube of the mortar screws onto the base plate, which has a threaded male fitting. The firing pin protrudes upward from the center of this base fitting.
    [​IMG]Figure 6.—Japanese "Barrage" Mortar.

    The shell used in the mortar has an over-all length of 10 3/4 inches and a diameter of 2 3/4 inches (see fig. 7). It is made of steel, is cylindrical in shape, and is painted black. The nose of the shell is capped by a rounded wooden disk on a metal base, and is secured to the casing by six rivets. A red band is painted around the shell just below a wooden cap.
    The shell is divided into three main sections, namely:
    (a) Base section, which houses a central percussion cap and explosive charges (in silk bags) for propelling the shell from the mortar;
    (b) Central section, which houses powder delay trains and secondary charges of black powder for expelling seven bomb containers; and
    [​IMG]Figure 7.—Shell for Japanese "Barrage" Mortar. (Part a shows the details of the bomb; part b illustrates the three phases of action which occur in the air after the mortar is fired; and c is a view of the shell as a whole.)

    (c) Top section, which carries a silk parachute 12 inches in diameter and the seven bomb containers. (The parachute is fastened to a 6-foot-long cord, the other end of which is secured to the inside bottom of the casing.)
    Each of the bomb containers, which are made of steel, has a 4 1/2-inch square silk parachute fitted neatly into it. Also housed in each container is a steel tube bomb 3 1/4 inches long and 11/16 inch in diameter. The tube is filled with explosive, and is covered at the open end by a screw cap, which has a hole in its center for the passage of a cord fitted with a phosphorus igniter. The cord is 6 feet long. Its free end is attached to a rice-paper parachute which is 15 inches in diameter.
    The seven bombs are marked similar to the mortar shell—they are painted black except for a red band below the screw cap. The bombs also bear the Japanese inscription "Dangerous—don't touch."
    (2) Operation.—When the shell is dropped into the mortar tube, its primer falls against the firing pin and activates the propelling charge. In addition to shooting the shell from the tube, the explosion of the propelling charge also fires a delay powder train.
    This delay train burns momentarily until it reaches powder charges, the explosion of which expels, in mid-air, the seven bomb containers and the silk parachute housed in the top section. This parachute apparently is designed to check the speed of the shell and throw it violently off its course, so that the bomb containers, with their small silk parachutes, may be scattered without tangling up.
    The explosion of the charges that expel the bomb containers also activates powder delay trains in each of the bomb containers. These burning delay trains then explode expelling charges in the base of each container and force the bombs, each with its rice-paper parachute, from their containers. In the case of each bomb, the jerk caused by the opening of its parachute activates the phosphorus igniter which, in turn, causes the bomb to detonate.
    Figure 7b illustrates three phases which are involved in the firing of this mortar shell. Summing up, it will be noted that, after activation of the expelling charges in the bomb containers, there are—at least momentarily—15 different elements air-borne by parachutes, namely: the shell casing, the seven bomb containers, and the seven bombs.
    (3) Purpose.—The explosive content in the bombs is believed capable of producing a heavy detonation which would shatter the light casing into small fragments—too small to have any antipersonnel effect unless the bombs detonated close to personnel.
    The warning inscribed on the bomb suggests that it may also be designed for use as a booby trap. In this case, the blast effect would be highly dangerous.
    If necessary to handle an unexploded bomb, the following safety precautions should be observed:
    (a) Do not lift the bomb without lifting the parachute at the same time, or vice versa.
    (b) Unscrew the cap only when the cord is slack.
    (c) Dispose of the phosphorus match composition by placing it in water or by burning it after separation from the bomb.
    b. Hand Grenades
    The hand grenades inspected on Attu have an additional safety feature. The new safety is a small, loosely set screw which fits into the fuze at the top—underneath the cap. To arm the grenades found on Attu, it was necessary to turn the screw about 180°.
    Strewn about most of the captured Japanese positions were a number of hand grenades with their pins pulled out. Since the pins have to be withdrawn and the grenade hit sharply on a hard object before it will explode, the enemy may have removed the pins in order to have the weapons in a better state of readiness. Also, the pins may have been removed so that the grenades could serve as booby traps. In this case, the Japanese probably hoped that unwary U.S. soldiers would stumble onto the grenades, and accidentally kick the fuzes with enough force to cause detonation of the weapons.
    c. Grenade Dischargers
    The Model 89 grenade dischargers examined on Attu had a small bubble leveling device attached to the right side of the breech. The device indicates the angle at which the discharger is held, and thus enables the operator, or operators, to maintain a constant angle of fire.
    The projectile used in this grenade penetrates fairly deep into soft ground before the fuze, which has a slight delay element, is activated. This delay considerably restricted the effective bursting area of the shell.
    a. For the Individual Soldier
    (1) Packs.—Apparently the Japanese use their standard pack in all climates. It is only slightly larger than the U.S. canvas field bag, and will probably hold only rations, a change of socks, and perhaps a change of underwear. However, the pack is designed so that other articles may be strapped on. Several packs found ready for carrying had a blanket and wool overcoat in separate horseshoe-shape rolls, an extra pair of shoes, a shelter half, poles and pins, and felt leggings. As a whole it was a fairly comfortable pack.
    (2) Shelter Half.—The Japanese shelter half is a light-weight tarpaulin about 4 1/2 feet square. It is sometimes pitched like our own, with another to form a pup tent. The halves have no buttons; they are laced together. The pup tent is open at both ends. A segmented, or foldable, pole is supplied with each shelter half. Usually Japanese soldiers simply cover themselves in a foxhole with their own shelter half.
    (3) Cartridge Pouch.—The Japanese cartridge pouch is made of laminated duck, which has been thoroughly impregnated with rubber to give it a certain amount of rigidity and yet allow for resilience. The arrangement used to effect a snap closure is simply a buttonhole over a collar-button type steel fastener. The pouch has a partition in the inside to allow for separation of ammunition clips. Loops permit the pouch to hang from the waist belt.
    (4) Entrenching Shovel.—The Japanese entrenching shovel has a sturdier handle and a more pointed blade than ours, and it was better for cutting the matted grass roots in the Attu tundra.
    (5) Skis.—These were called "Glacier skis." They were short and broad, with about two-thirds of the length extending in front of the toes. This permitted excellent maneuverability and provided ample flotation on the granular-type snow found in the Western Aleutians.
    (6) First-Aid Packet.—All Japanese soldiers are taught first aid, and all carry a first-aid packet somewhat similar to the U.S. packet. The enemy has a powder which is designed to serve about the same purposes as our sulfa drugs, and another powder, which the solder takes internally when wounded.
    b. Wearing Apparel
    (1) Headgear.—Enemy troops on Attu were equipped with a steel helmet, which was painted olive drab and bore the Japanese Army star insignia in the front center. The helmet, somewhat smaller than ours, apparently was made of unalloyed, or poorly alloyed, steel, and it was not as tough or as resistant to shock as the U.S. helmet.
    The typical peaked Japanese field cap was found in large quantities. Also found were large numbers of a winter cap, which had ear flaps, and a fold-down section to cover the head, helmet-wise, and also the lower part of the face. The cap was lined with real fur or manufactured fleece. Also found were grayish purple knitted helmets, made of wool and silk, which could be worn under the steel helmet. (2) Uniforms.—Japanese officers wore clothing scarcely different from that of the enlisted man. The material for officers' uniforms was superior in some cases, but the tailoring was the same.

    Combined Attu Reports on Japanese Warfare, Intelligence Bulletin, October 1943 (Lone Sentry)
  2. JCFalkenbergIII

    JCFalkenbergIII Expert

    Jan 23, 2008
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    Thanks for the input Jack.

    I found this interesting about Kiska,

    "During the August 1943 invasion of Kiska Island in the Aleutions,an American-Canadian force of 35,000 men were sent ashore under cover of heavy fog.That same fog kept the island shrouded during the next two days of fighting. When the island was overrun, 32 Allied soldiers had been killed and some 50 more wounded. There were,however,no Japanese on Kiska:they had all been evacuated three weeks earlier. All the Allied casualties were due to "friendly fire" in the fog."
  3. mikebatzel

    mikebatzel Dreadnaught

    Oct 25, 2007
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    Thanks for the info JC.
    I always found that interesting myself, but was unaware it took two days.
  4. JCFalkenbergIII

    JCFalkenbergIII Expert

    Jan 23, 2008
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    I think that it is interesting that it took two days too. And because of the fog? I wonder how they finally figured it out that the Japanese were gone?
  5. Poppy

    Poppy grasshopper

    Apr 9, 2008
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    Wow. This is why I signed up boys. Loved it. Especially the book art . I can't get enough of the book art from the old Dell etc paperbacks from aboot the 50's, 60's. Really enjoy how the books are written and their take on the battles 10-20 yrs after. And then reflecting on those books 30-40 yrs later. I remember going to Granny's house when I was a kidlet. Would read the old Popular Mechanics mags that had the pictures of "hot ships" like the Jug and Lightning. This site for me is a time machine.
  6. JCFalkenbergIII

    JCFalkenbergIII Expert

    Jan 23, 2008
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    I have always like the artwork from Military manuals from the 40s to 70s. :)
  7. JCFalkenbergIII

    JCFalkenbergIII Expert

    Jan 23, 2008
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    "After the expulsion of the Japanese from Attu, U.S. naval and aerial bombardment of Kiska increased in fervor. Japanese submarines attempted to evacuate the estimated 5,100 Japanese troops on the island, but the process proved too slow, and far too dangerous with a tightened U.S. blockade. On July 28, under the cover of thick fog, Japanese cruisers and destroyers managed to slip through U.S. naval forces and aerial reconaissance without detection. In thirty minutes, the 5,100 Kiska troops were boarded, and the fleet headed back to the safety of Paramishiro Harbor. The evacuation was so bold and well executed, U.S. commanders refused to believe it had taken place. However, U.S. fighters strafing Kiska no longer received return anti-aircraft fire. In one instance, four U.S. P-40s landed on the shell pocked Kiska airfield. The pilots left their planes and strolled near the runway, seeing no sigh of the enemy. In spite of this evidence, U.S. intelligence argued that the Japanese adherance to the Bushido Code forbade them from surrendering Kiska without a fight. The lessons of Attu, America's first experience with Japanese suidice attacks, had been too well elarned. The invasion of Kiska prodeeded as planned. On August 15, 1943, U.S. and Canadian troops landed on Kiska. In the three day operation that ensued, over 313 allied soldiers died from "friendly fire," booby traps, and land mines. The Japanese had occupied U.S. territory for over a year before being routed at Attu. Not since the War of 1812 had a foreign battle been fought on American soil."

    History of World War II in the Aleutians "Experience your America"
  8. JCFalkenbergIII

    JCFalkenbergIII Expert

    Jan 23, 2008
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    "A Japanese tank crew poses with their tank on Attu sometime in 1943. Photograph later captured by US forces"

    I wonder if there were really any tanks on Attu? Looks more like the Philippines. Does anyone know if there were any there?
  9. JCFalkenbergIII

    JCFalkenbergIII Expert

    Jan 23, 2008
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    Amphibious Assault on Attu

    Plagued by logistical difficulties and lackluster leadership, the battle for the Aleutian island of Attu remains largely forgotten.

    By Lee F. Bartoletti

    In his classic History of United States Naval Operations in World War II, Navy Lieutenant Commander Samuel Eliot Morison wrote that the Aleutian Islands campaign could well have been labeled the "Theater of Military Frustration." This phrase aptly describes the American effort to retake the Aleutian island of Attu from the Japanese in 1943. It was a campaign handicapped not only by the island's fanatical defenders and the bitter Alaskan cold but also by the many miscalculations made by the Army itself. Yet this important campaign to take back U.S. soil, which witnessed the first American amphibious assault in the North Pacific as well as one of the first Japanese banzai attacks of the war, has been pushed into the background by many historians. Such obscurity is unwarranted, and an injustice to those soldiers who fought against extremely difficult odds to place the Aleutian Islands firmly back into Allied hands.

    Attu is the westernmost island of the Aleutians, a chain of some 70 islands stretching 1,700 miles from the southwest coast of Alaska and reaching out to within 650 miles of the Kurile Islands. Since purchasing the Aleutians from Russia in 1867, the United States had done little to develop the area, and most of the islands had not even been fully mapped. As a result of the Washington Naval Treaty of 1922, the United States pledged not to construct any naval fortifications on the islands, a promise that it quickly revoked after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

    By spring of 1942, there were 45,000 American servicemen in Alaska, 13,000 of whom were stationed on the partially fortified islands of Unalaska and Umnak. The only heavy fortifications were at Dutch Harbor, but even these were defended by a relatively small force.

    In early June 1942, during the Battle of Midway, a Japanese carrier force staged a diversionary attack on Dutch Harbor. Although damaging, the raid failed to divert American carriers from Midway, resulting in a decisive U.S. naval victory there. On the way back to base, however, Vice Adm. Boshiro Hosogaya, commander of the Northern Area Force, ordered Rear Adm. Sentaro Omori to occupy Agattu, Kiska and Attu islands.

    As it was American soil, the enemy presence in the western Aleutians was a source of embarrassment and discomfort to the U.S. government. It also brought several theoretical advantages to Japan. Although intense Arctic storms and fog around the islands made any attempt to use the Aleutians as a bridge to the Alaskan coast difficult, a gradual Japanese incursion onto the North American continent was not impossible. The islands also threatened vital shipping lanes between Seattle and parts of the Soviet Union. Finally, and perhaps most important, Japanese presence in the Aleutians meant that the airspace over the Home Islands might be relatively free of major U.S. bombing efforts.

    Shortly after landing, the Japanese withdrew from Agattu and began building airstrips on Kiska. American troops landed on the island of Adak about 210 miles east of Kiska, and built two air bases there. They also occupied the island of Amchitka about 60 miles east of Kiska, although airstrip construction was nearly impossible due to weather and terrain. Because operations in the Central Pacific were of higher priority, American plans for the recapture of Kiska and Attu were shelved for months. By early 1943, however, the Joint Chiefs of Staff decided that it was time to dislodge the Japanese from the Aleutians once and for all. Attu was chosen as the first objective, since reconnaissance seemed to show that is was less heavily fortified than Kiska. After Attu was taken, the plan was for troops from that island and Amchitka to jointly invade Kiska.

    The unit chosen to make the landing for what was code-named "Operation Sandcrab" was the Army's 7th Infantry Division, commanded by Maj. Gen. Albert E. Brown. The "Hourglass" Division had been reactivated at Fort Ord, Calif., in the summer of 1940 as a motorized infantry division. Following its reactivation, the unit had gone through extensive training in the Mojave Desert in preparation for service against the Italians and Germans in North Africa.

    In January 1943, after the Allied landings in North Africa, military commanders determined that there was no longer a need for the 7th's services in that theater. The division then began amphibious training on the beaches around Fort Ord. Unfortunately, the comparatively mild climate found along the California coast did little to prepare the men for the dense fog and bone-chilling cold of Attu.

    When the 11,000 men of the 7th were loaded onto transport vessels in late April 1943, many of the troops believed they were going to Hawaii. This seemed plausible, since most of the soldiers were wearing summer uniforms. The quartermaster general had intended that special winter clothing be issued to the troops participating in the invasion. But the order was rescinded because it was thought that the extra weight of winter uniforms might slow the men down. Although some soldiers were issued special equipment just before the landings, most 7th Division GIs reached Attu in inadequate clothing.

    The convoy arrived at Cold Harbor, at the eastern end of the Aleutians, on April 30. Due to bad weather, the ships stayed in anchorage until May 4, then headed west. Since a gale was pounding Attu at that time, the assault was postponed until May 9, and the convoy took off for the Bering Sea to avoid enemy detection.

    Japanese submarines operating around Cold Harbor, however, had seen the convoy and had relayed the intelligence to the garrisons on Kiska and Attu. The Attu garrison was put on alert on May 3, and for six days the men stayed in their battle positions. By May 9, it looked as if no invasion was coming, so the alert was called off. The next day, the U.S. convoy left the Bering Sea and arrived offshore of Attu, unaware of its good fortune.

    The Japanese forces on Attu were commanded by Colonel Yasuyo Yamazaki, whose garrison consisted of the 303rd Independent Infantry Battalion, along with engineer, artillery, mountain artillery and service troops. The Japanese were well dug-in, and were supplied with fur-lined uniforms and boots, kerosene stoves and sake. Initial American estimates of enemy strength were set at about 500, although this was later increased to 1,500.

    Preinvasion reconnaissance had shown that the Japanese were concentrated around Holtz Bay and Chichagof Harbor in the north and Massacre Bay in the south. Therefore, two landings were planned. The Northern Force, commanded by Lt. Col. Albert Hartl, consisted of the 1st Battalion, 17th Infantry Regiment, and its attached artillery and auxiliary units. The Northern Force's objective was to secure Holtz Bay and a valley lying to the southwest.

    The Southern Force was the larger of the two and was commanded by Colonel Edward Earle. The force comprised the 2nd and 3rd battalions of the 17th Infantry; the 2nd Battalion, 32nd Infantry; and field artillery and auxiliary units. After landing at Massacre Bay, the Southern Force was to go up Massacre Valley, take Clevesy and Jarmin passes, hook up with the Northern Force at Holtz Bay and then destroy the enemy at Chichagof Harbor. The 1st and 3rd battalions, 32nd Infantry, along with some field artillery troops, were to stay on the transports as reserves.

    Although the U.S. convoy included three battleships, destroyers and an escort carrier, to retain the element of surprise no preinvasion naval bombardment was ordered. Consequently, when the bulk of the Northern Force landed just west of Holtz Bay at 4:15 p.m. on May 11, the troops encountered no opposition. At 6:30 p.m. the force began moving toward its first objective, a series of small hill peaks collectively known as Hill X, located on the shelf west of Holtz Bay. The hill controlled the western arm of the bay. The first peak of the hill mass was only 800 yards to the south, there was still plenty of daylight left, and while it was foggy, the fog was very thin.

    Yet soon after the Northern Force started moving, it came into contact with four Japanese soldiers who were manning a beach defense site. The force killed two, but the other two managed to escape to their main camp. Not much later, Japanese anti-aircraft batteries around Holtz Bay opened up on the beach. Having already moved inland, the Americans took no casualties, but the Northern Force's advance was halted. Approaching nightfall, coupled with the lack of proper maps, persuaded Colonel Hartl to halt his men and have them dig into the soft, wet Aleutian muskeg.

    Down at Massacre Bay, intense coastal fog forced postponement of the Southern Force's landings from 7:40 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. When the landing craft finally came ashore, the weather had turned sunny and warm. Although the American landing was unopposed, the artillerymen found that moving their guns across the mucky muskeg was extremely difficult. Finally the gunners were forced to emplace their 105mm howitzers only 75 yards from the beach.

    By 5:30 p.m., the Southern Force had begun its advance through Massacre Valley, a wide, gradually rising valley flanked by high ridges. The plan was to advance north for three miles, proceed through Clevesy and Jarmin passes, and join up with the Northern Force at Holtz Bay.

    Although fog enshrouded the ridges around Massacre Valley, the valley floor was clear, and American troops advanced easily for about a mile. When the lead companies were well into the valley, however, Japanese soldiers hidden on the ridges opened fire with machine guns and mortars and rapidly mowed down GIs who tried to run for cover; other Americans twisted ankles in potholes in the muskeg and fell. As the advance bogged down, General Brown and his headquarters staff came ashore at Massacre Bay.

    While the GIs received support from the 105mm guns back on the beach, naval bombardment was impossible because of the thick fog. With nightfall approaching, the two U.S. battalions tried to dig in around a small ridge that bisected the valley. Some soldiers, unable to find cover, lay down in the mud or crouched behind stream banks in the valley.

    In the long daylight and short nights of spring in the Aleutians, evening on Attu began after 10 p.m. and ended just after 1 a.m. Although brief, the night was bitter for both the Northern and Southern forces. The Americans froze in their lightweight uniforms, while the Japanese, bundled in fur-lined coats, huddled around their kerosene stoves. Some of the GIs who had spent the night on the floor of Massacre Valley were later found frozen stiff, having burned the stocks of their rifles in a futile attempt to keep warm.

    May 12 dawned with the Southern Force still under enemy fire. Supporting U.S. artillery on the beach shelled suspected enemy positions for 40 minutes, then the Americans attacked nearby Jarmin Pass in an attempt to link up with the Northern Force. Their advance ran into heavy fire, most of it coming from the nearby Black and Cold mountains to the north. Further bombardment by the U.S. Navy did little to displace the Japanese, who thwarted a second American assault. When Colonel Earle went forward to see what was holding up the men, the Southern Force commander was killed by a sniper.

    With little progress being made, Brown brought in additional manpower. Even reinforced with the 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry, the Southern Force spent four unsuccessful days trying to destroy the Japanese emplacements that surrounded Jarmin Pass. Artillery fire did little but leave craters in the snow, while three Navy fighters attempting to bomb Japanese positions crashed as a result of heavy winds. Movement was only a few yards per hour, with men holding on to the jackets or cartridge belts of the men to their front in order not to be separated. On the evening of the 14th, a frustrated Brown reported to higher headquarters that "progress through passes will, unless we are extremely lucky, be slow and costly, and will require troops in excess to those now available to new command."

    Meanwhile, on the morning of May 12, the Northern Force suffered its first casualties. While moving south down the western arm of Holtz Bay, one company of Americans began to climb up a small hill in an effort to secure the nearby ridge. As the men entered a gully, they were fired upon by enemy troops who had occupied the ridge only the night before. For 12 hours the company was pinned down by Japanese machine guns, mortars and artillery. Two other companies, supported by artillery and close air support, vainly tried to eliminate the Japanese. It was not until 5 p.m., however, after a massive naval bombardment, that the Americans began to slowly advance, eventually taking the ridge and forcing the enemy down the far side. The Japanese quickly turned and counterattacked. As they advanced, their artillery fire fell indiscriminately on friend and foe alike. In a fierce battle that lasted only about 20 minutes, the Americans staved off the Japanese and took firm control of the ridge thereafter known as Bloody Point.

    The next day, the Northern Force was reinforced by the 3rd Battalion, 32nd Infantry, and a battery of coast artillery. This addition was soon further augmented by the 4th Infantry Regiment, which had arrived from Adak Island. American commanders then resumed their attack to clear out a Japanese camp south of Holtz Bay.

    When the Americans reached the camp on May 15, however, the enemy had already sneaked away in the fog and moved to a ridge that separated the western and eastern arms of the bay. As the GIs moved down the western arm, U.S. fighter pilots sent to strike the new Japanese positions mistook the advancing Americans for enemy soldiers and proceeded to bomb and strafe them. This tragic misidentification resulted in numerous casualties and delayed the advance for two hours.

    Finally, an American rifle platoon managed to fight its way to the ridge's highest point. No sooner had GIs secured the position than they were attacked by about 45 Japanese, led by a saber-wielding officer. The Americans quickly cut down the attackers and completed their occupation of the ridge.

    The Northern Force now overlooked Holtz Bay, and as soon as heavy weapons were brought up to Bloody Point, all Japanese positions on the rest of the ridge could be destroyed. Doing so would free the Southern Force, still pinned down in Massacre Valley, and allow it to link up with the Northern Force at Clevesy and Jarmin passes.

    Despite this success, Brown's superiors had grown impatient with the 7th's slow progress and the general's continued call for additional reinforcements. On the 16th Brown was replaced by Maj. Gen. Eugene M. Landrum.

    Realizing the predicament that his troops were now in, Colonel Yamazaki quietly withdrew them from Jarmin Pass early on the morning of May 17. He placed most of his soldiers at the Chichagof Harbor defenses, but he also reinforced some of his positions around Clevesy Pass, which was the principal route to the harbor. The next day the two American forces linked up at Jarmin Pass.

    The west flank of Clevesy Pass, leading to mountain peaks overlooking Chichagof Bay, was dominated by Cold Mountain. The east flank, which led to the Sarana Valley, was overlooked by Engineer Hill and an escarpment named Point Able. All these positions were occupied by the Japanese, and the Americans spent the next four days trying to take them.

    The first attacks against Point Able and Cold Mountain, led by the 32nd and 17th infantries, respectively, were stopped by enemy machine guns. The second assault on Cold Mountain was preceded by heavy artillery fire. The Americans swiftly wiped out a series of Japanese positions along the lower edges of the mountain, but were soon stopped by heavy Japanese fire. In the meantime, a company of the 17th Infantry had managed to secure a high point within Clevesy Pass, thanks in part to a smoke screen laid down before the assault. Thinking it was poison gas, the Japanese either donned masks or fled from their positions. Those who remained did not begin returning fire until the Americans had occupied that section of the pass.

    From their newly won position, two platoons of Americans were able to seize the closest enemy position on Engineer Hill. While Japanese soldiers farther up the hill fired down on the two platoons, U.S. artillery pounded the enemy positions, spraying shell fragments over the heads of American soldiers, but also blowing the Japanese out of their trenches. Despite continued artillery support, the Americans came under increasing enemy fire and were unable to move farther up Cold Mountain.

    By the afternoon of May 19, companies from the 17th and 32nd regiments had begun a slow ascent up the snowy slope of Cold Mountain. Despite heavy fire from above, the Americans gradually moved up the slope that faced Massacre Valley. The Japanese attempted to stay in their holes, but the GIs ousted them using grenades and bayonets. American attempts to reach the north side of the mountain, however, were held up until high explosives and smoke rounds were fired into the enemy positions. Again mistaking the smoke for gas, the Japanese were either killed while putting on their masks or simply fled toward Chichagof Harbor.

    Just before the peak of Cold Mountain was finally taken on the morning of May 20, the Americans on Engineer Hill were able to directly assault the northern slopes. The last obstacle, Point Able, was slowly climbed by companies of the 32nd Infantry just after Engineer Hill was taken. The snow was thick, the cold bitter and the night so bright that soldiers silhouetted against the whiteness could be seen for 200 yards.

    As the Americans reached the lower positions of the enemy strongpoint, the Japanese lobbed grenades down the hill, their explosions mingling with the flat crack of small arms. The Americans found cover among some rock outcroppings while a Japanese officer yelled insults at them in English. Following a few moments of chaos, more GIs reached the strongpoint and destroyed it. After a mortar section chief directed fire at the crest of the peak, the Americans secured Point Able on the morning of May 22. The last Japanese defender, after killing two Americans, hurled himself off the peak, screaming. While the final assaults on Cold Mountain and Point Able were being made, the 1st Battalion, 4th Infantry, along with the 3rd Battalion, 17th Infantry, cleared the ridges surrounding the entrance of Chichagof Valley.

    Also on May 22, the Americans began pushing the Japanese closer to Chichagof Harbor. The two ridges leading to the harbor, Fish Hook and Buffalo, contained numerous Japanese defensive positions, most of which had to be cleared out by machine guns and grenades. American advances were slow, supplies often ran low and casualties from gunfire and weather were high. Often the leadership of individual enlisted men helped push U.S. troops ahead. Such a leader was a Pfc Barnett of the 4th Infantry. While the rest of his outfit struggled slowly down a muddy hill studded with Japanese, Barnett managed to slide and walk down the hill, lobbing grenades and firing into a nearby trench system. His company began to follow him, but by the time the rest of the men had caught up, Barnett had killed all 47 enemy soldiers who had held the position.

    It was also on Fish Hook Ridge that Pfc Joe P. Martinez made his mark. The 32nd Infantry Regiment GI saw his battalion pinned down twice by the Japanese on May 26, and twice he got to his feet and took action. Cradling his BAR, Martinez advanced through a hail of enemy fire and coolly emptied his weapon into Japanese foxholes, reloading as he went. The men of his company followed Martinez as he led two assaults. It was only as he approached one final foxhole after the second assault that Martinez was shot in the head, dying of the wound the following day. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his bravery.

    By May 28, the Japanese had been pushed back into a small corner of Chichagof Harbor. The 3rd Battalion, 17th Infantry, along with one company of the 32nd, was positioned close enough to the Japanese to thwart any attempted withdrawal. Other U.S. units secured various valleys and passes, although Chichagof Valley itself was thinly occupied.

    On the 28th, all American commanders were notified of a pending attack against the enemy to begin no later than 5 a.m. the next day. All able-bodied men were ordered to leave the aid stations and on-ship hospitals and return to their outfits for what was meant to be the final American push. The fate of the Japanese seemed sealed.

    Colonel Yamazaki, however, had plans of his own. Rather than withdraw into a nearby harbor that provided better defenses but could not easily be reached by supply ships, he decided to counterattack. From Chichagof Harbor, he would have his remaining men, who numbered about 1,000, sweep down through lightly defended Chichagof Valley. His soldiers would then go on to reoccupy Point Able and Clevesy Pass, then take over the artillery in Massacre Valley. If the attack succeeded, the Japanese could then hold down the GIs in the valley, cut off the main American supply line and wait for help from the Kuriles.

    On the evening of May 28, a small American patrol from the 17th Infantry penetrated Japanese lines, seeking any information that might help the impending U.S. attack. When the patrol got about 500 yards into enemy territory, the GIs could hardly believe what they saw—groups of frenzied Japanese jumping up and down, yelling at the top of their lungs and guzzling bottles of sake. They were dispatching their own wounded, either through morphine injections or self-inflicted pistol shots.

    When the patrol returned to American lines, its members could not recall the password and almost were shot by their own troops. Then one man started yelling, "Brooklyn Dodgers, New York Yankees, Joe DiMaggio," and the patrol was allowed to pass through.

    The leader of the patrol, Tech. 5 Lee J. Bartoletti, reported what he had seen. His lieutenant shrugged off the information, but Bartoletti began to crawl from foxhole to foxhole, warning the men in his company that a Japanese attack was coming. Bartoletti's was the only warning the GIs would receive before coming under one of the largest Japanese banzai charges of the war.

    At about 3:30 a.m., a thousand screaming Japanese soldiers came running through the bivouac area of the 32nd Infantry. They carried rifles, grenades, even bayonets attached to sticks. The Americans, who had been ordered a few minutes earlier to leave their positions and have a hot meal at a regimental kitchen, were caught totally off guard. Some found cover on high ground, but many were overrun by the enemy. Much of the ensuing combat was hand to hand, and gunfire and screams rang throughout the valley. But the darkness kept the rest of the American troops unaware of what was happening.

    After the main Japanese assault began, diversionary forces attacked the 17th Infantry in Chichagof Valley. Screaming "We'll drink your blood," the Japanese butchered any GIs they could get their hands on. The main body of Japanese then stormed into the lower valley, where an American aid station was set up. They swept through the station, slashing the tent ropes and killing the wounded, who were trapped in their sleeping bags by the fallen canvas.

    When they had finished destroying the aid station, the main Japanese force headed down toward Clevesy Pass, occupied mostly by engineer, medical and artillery troops. The only warning these troops had came from retreating GIs shouting, "The Japs are coming!"

    Several groups of screaming Japanese, led by Yamazaki himself, hurled themselves at a detachment of artillerymen. With small arms and two heavy machine guns, the Americans fought them off, killing many. The engineer companies also managed to mount a hasty defense, while the cooks and bulldozer drivers grabbed a few automatic weapons from retreating infantrymen and proceeded to further decimate the enemy.

    As Japanese numbers dwindled, they became disorganized and began to run off in different directions. They also stopped killing Americans and began killing themselves with grenades.

    When the fighting was over, Chichagof and Sarana valleys looked like dug-up graveyards, with dead Americans and Japanese littered everywhere. Some wounded GIs could still be heard calling out to their mothers, or to God. The ghastly sight caused a chaplain of the 7th to exclaim, "I am glad they're [the Japanese] dead, really glad....How can I go back to my church when I've got it in me to be glad men are dead?"

    Although the last big battle was over, American patrols continued to search out and destroy isolated pockets of resistance. Most of the last Japanese defenders fought to the death, as Americans made no attempts to take prisoners. But one Japanese soldier clearly realized that neither continuing to fight nor taking his own life was worth the effort. Bundling himself up in the same Japanese uniform that some GIs were now wearing to keep warm, he managed to get into an American chow line. He might have actually gotten a hot meal had he not turned around and asked the man behind him how the Brooklyn Dodgers were doing. At least he left the island as a prisoner, instead of remaining as a corpse.

    By the evening of May 31, the island was fully in American hands, but at a terrible price for both sides. Out of the Japanese defenders, 2,351 were killed and only 29 were taken prisoner. The American figures were 549 killed, 1,148 wounded and about 2,100 listed as casualties from exposure, trench foot and shock.

    The subsequent campaign to retake Kiska, which was to involve 34,000 U.S. and Canadian troops, never got past the landings. Unknown to the Americans, the Japanese had come to realize the uselessness of defending such remote positions of minor importance in the overall struggle. When the first Allied units reached the beaches on August 15, 1943, they discovered that the island was defended by four dogs and the corpse of a Japanese soldier. Just three weeks earlier, the 5,000-man garrison occupying the island had been loaded onto transports and had headed back to Japan.
  10. Jim my

    Jim my recruit

    Aug 6, 2011
    Likes Received:
    This is a photo of an American M3 Light Tank, likely captured in the Philippines between December 1941 and April 1942. During the fall 1941, the US Army sent the 192d and 194th GHQ Tank Battalions (Light) to the Philippines. They were organized with the 17th Ordnance Company (Armored) as the 1st Provisional Tank Group led by Brig Gen James Weaver. During the defense of the Philippines, many were captured and reused by the Japanese Army. I have no idea whether they were shipped to Attu or not, but the M3 was part of the Japanese inventory folowing the surrender on Bataan.
  11. Biak

    Biak Adjutant Patron  

    Nov 15, 2009
    Likes Received:
    Roaming around in the basement again. Recent interest in the Aleutians so ......................... :bump:

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