Story Time with Aunt Phil: The WWII battle on the Aleutian chain
The battle for the Aleutians became – in proportion to the number of opposing troops – one of the most expensive battles in the Pacific, second only to Iwo Jima. It later was described as the most difficult and dangerous in all modern warfare.
U.S. infantry made the first amphibious island landing in its history with about 15,000 troops arriving at Attu the beginning of May. Regiments hit three locations on the 40-mile island: Red Beach, Holtz Bay and Massacre Bay.
Massacre Bay got its name when Russians killed 15 Aleuts there around 200 years before. American boys soon had their own variations on that theme, such as “Assassination Alley” and “Carnage Corner” as the battle raged on.
The island’s terrain was almost as hard to conquer as the enemy, and the fog and mist and continuous cold took their toll. A campaign that was expected to last a few days stretched into weeks, and it wasn’t until May 29 that the American pincers finally closed.
On the night of May 30, a banzai charge of wildly yelling Japanese soldiers made a final effort. When their attack failed, 500 men committed mass suicide by pulling the pins of their grenades and holding them against their chests.
The campaign ended with 549 American and 2,351 Japanese soldiers dead.
When 32,000 U.S. and Canadian forces arrived at Kiska in August, they found no Japanese troops left on the island. Under cover of fog, the Japanese fleet had secretly removed its 5,000 soldiers from Kiska by submarines.
Allied casualties during the invasion still numbered close to 200, however, as the enemy had set booby traps prior to leaving Kiska and a mine in the harbor sunk a destroyer. Trench foot, an infection of the feet caused by cold, infected about 130 men.
Hundreds of American servicemen would have their feet amputated as a result of cold, wet and unsanitary conditions during the campaign.
The original Fort Richardson become home to a mass grave for 235 Japanese, brought to the fort in 1953. It’s headstone read: “Here Lies Unidentified Japanese Soldiers.” And a few feet away from the Japanese dead were the graves of Russians and Canadians, most of whom had lost their lives ferrying warplanes to our World War II allies. Across the road, a separate plot held our American dead.