APPENDIX L: THE BATTLES OF ATTU AND KISKA
The full story of the Battle of Attu was omitted from the main text of Hirohito’s War because it did not sit comfortably with Chapter 13: ‘Battle of Midway’, in which these Aleutian Islands played a minor part, but which would, if elaborated upon as in this index, have detracted from the narrative flow of this major turning point of the Pacific War. In terms of context the Pacific War episodes that involved Attu and Kiska were as outlying as their geographic location. This does not mean that the Battles of Attu and Kiska are without interest. Indeed their oddity is interesting in itself, while the remarkable suffering of combatants on both sides is something that should not be forgotten. The Battle of Attu in May 1943 also sheds light on the quality of Japanese leadership and military technical accomplishment as well as the fanaticism that characterized the Japanese armed forces in the Pacific War. The flip side to these observations is the appalling complacency and lack of professionalism of American military commanders at the Battle of Attu. It was the bravery and endurance of the American GI that saw them through.
Hirohito’s War may have helped exacerbate a point of misunderstanding about the Pacific War. Much emphasis has been placed on the logistical ‘Everest’ faced by the United States in defeating and conquering a country that was over 5,000 miles distant across the vast expanses of the Pacific. Without retracting the logic of these arguments, it should be pointed out that there were places where the America and Japan were much closer. The Aleutians chain of seventy islands stretching out into the North Pacific from Alaska pointed menacingly toward Japan. The distance between Severo-Kurilsk the northernmost of Japan’s Kurile Islands, which extend north eastwards beyond Hokkaido, the northernmost of Japan’s four main islands, and Attu, the westernmost of the Aleutian Islands that curl out from Alaska like a skeletal dog’s tail, is just 735 miles. They are separated by Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula.
Vitus Bering, the Danish sailor and explorer, who served as an officer in the Russian Navy, and gave his name to the straits dividing Russia from Alaska, discovered Kiska in the mid-eighteenth century. Attu was a fur-trading outpost of the Alaska Commercial Company, founded by a grant of license by Catherine the Great. Such trading organizations including that of the ubiquitous Stroganov family, which brought trade and Russian colonists to the further reaches of Siberia enabled Russian Imperial expansion in Siberia and Alaska – the latter until its sale to the United States for US$7.2m in a deal arranged by Secretary of State, William Seward, in 1867.
Although in practice the North Pacific proved to be a quiet backwater of the conflict, there had long been fears that it could become a fulcrum of action between the combatants. The noted military strategist, General Billy Mitchell, went so far as to declare to a US Congressional committee 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.”1 It was a far cry from the derogatory name of ‘Seward’s Icebox’ that had previously been given to Alaska. Indeed Japan had taken the strategic value of the Aleutians so seriously that in the negotiations resulting in the Washington Naval Treaty  the United States had yielded to Japan’s insistence that no American naval bases should be developed there. It was an agreement quickly abandoned after Pearl Harbor. By the spring of 1942 some 45,000 American troops had been deployed in Alaska with some 13,000 placed on the major Aleutian Islands of Unalaska and Umnak. It should perhaps be noted that had the Soviet Union not signed a neutrality pact with Japan in 1941, it is very possible that the Aleutians and the Kamchatka Peninsula, rather than the Solomon Islands and the New Guinea in the South Pacific, would have become the major battlegrounds of the Pacific War. Billy Mitchell’s analysis of the strategic importance of the Aleutians was not incorrect.
America feared Japan establishing an airbase from which they could interdict shipping from Seattle to the eastern Soviet Union – remembering that, despite the neutrality pact agreed in April 1941 between the Soviets and Japan some two years after their border war known as the Battle of Nomonhan, they remained the deadliest of geopolitical rivals in northeast Asia. At the start of the war it was also considered possible that the Aleutians might be the first stepping-stone of Japanese encroachment on to the American mainland. Conversely Japan feared that America would use the Aleutians as a base for the long range bombing of Japan. Attu to Tokyo is just 2,000 miles.
On 3 June 1942 Rear-Admiral Kakuji Kakuta led a force of light carriers Ryujo and Junyo plus destroyers to 180 miles southwest of Dutch Harbor on Unalaska and launched bombers against its naval base and barracks. After two days of attacks they departed having killed 78 American soldiers and destroyed 14 aircraft and a barracks-ship. Remarkably the nearest US Air Force base was over 800 miles away. Although Rear-Admiral Robert Theobald had been instructed to go to Attu to intercept Kakuta’s carriers after Rochefort had tipped Nimitz off about Japanese naval plans, he ignored the intelligence advice and second-guessed the Japanese plan by stationing himself to due south of Dutch Harbor, assuming that the supposed plan to invade Attu and Kiska was a decoy. It was a mistake that cost Admiral Theobald his career.
On 6 June 500 Japanese Marines landed on Kiska where they found a ten-man squad of American troops manning a weather station. Another, Charlie House, escaped and hid in the wintery wastes of the mountainous 107 square mile volcanic island before surrendering. The following day the 302nd Independent Infantry Battalion made an unopposed landing on the Island of Attu, three times larger than Kiska and 205 miles to its west. American troops would find it equally mountainous and inhospitable. The Aleuts awoke to find a ship at anchor of Chichagof Harbor. At first it was assumed that it was an American ship sent to evacuate them before the now expected Japanese invasion. But there was no mistaking the Japanese flag when it was raised. Attuan Innokenty Golodoff recalled, “On Sunday morning a little after eleven we were all coming out of church when we saw them [the Japanese] coming out of the hills. So many of them.”2 The young Japanese recruits shot up the village wounding one Aleut in the leg. Another, Foster Jones, was murdered when Japanese troops occupied his home and he tried to take food with him for his wife. The invaders announced that the Attuans were now liberated from the American imperialists and promptly forced them onto a transport ship and took them to Japan.
Curiously Attu was entirely treeless even though its rich soil provides evidence of an ancient forest. The climate of Attu is notoriously bad, affected as it is by an almost permanent weather cycle known as the Aleutian Low. Warm air, the Japanese current, collides with blasts of artic cold producing icy fogs and violent storms. The forty-three Aleut residents of Attu Village lived by their ancient art of sea hunting. Kayaks known as baidarkas were made from skins and the villagers would surround their prey - sea otters, sea lions and walruses - before dispatching them with harpoons or latterly by rifle. Fish, often salmon, was the staple diet. In the eastern Aleutians. whaling was also part of popular culture. On land the Attuans supplemented their fish diet by hunting or with gulls’ eggs filched from Attu’s craggy cliff faces.
The island of Aggatu was also occupied but quickly abandoned. Little did the Japanese soldiers realize as they planted their Japanese flags in the Aleutians that, two days earlier, Japan had lost four of its six fleet carriers at the catastrophic defeat of the Battle of Midway. Indeed, as if nothing of import had happened, work began on building an airbase on Kiska and several on Attu.
On Attu, Lieutenant-Colonel Hiroshi Yanekawa established a base at Holtz Bay, which was reinforced with a contingent that eventually numbered 2,300 troops by March 1943. But in effect the soldiers there were marooned by the pickets deployed by Rear-Admiral Charles ‘Soc’ McMorris. For the Japanese troops it was a hard life; “The loneliness in this remote northern base is hard to imagine”,3 wrote a Japanese war correspondent.
It has been suggested that the capture of Attu and Kiska had been simply a diversionary tactic aimed at drawing the US carrier fleet out of their refuge at Pearl Harbor. This may partly have been the case but as has been explained, there was a strategic logic to the occupation of the Aleutians. The problem was that the catastrophe at Midway meant that Japan’s ability to reinforce or develop its foothold there was severely constrained. Their troops had to eke out an existence on the most barren of islands, which had previously hosted only the most hardy Russian fur traders and the 880 Aleuts who constituted the entire population of this remote Alaskan island chain. Supply had to be sustained across an ocean that they no longer controlled. At the end of March 1943 a Japanese naval force, comprising 2 heavy cruisers (Nachi and Maya), 2 light cruisers (Tama and Abukama) and 4 destroyers (Wakaba, Hatsushimo, Ikazuchi and Inazuma) was dispatched to resupply Attu and Kiska under the command of Vice-Admiral Boshiro Hosogaya.
The breaking of the Japanese Navy’s JN-25 code by Station HYPO on Hawaii gave advance notice of the resupply attempt and Admiral Nimitz dispatched Admiral McMorris with heavy cruiser (USS Salt Lake City), a light cruiser (USS Richmond) and 4 destroyers (USS Bayley, USS Coghlan, USS Dale, USS Monaghan) to intercept - unaware that Japan had reinforced its squadron with an extra heavy cruiser and light cruiser. At 180 miles west of Kiska and south of the Komandorski Islands, American pickets intercepted Hosogaya’s forces setting off a classic naval gunnery battle.
Although Nachi took the first hits with its electric systems destroyed, it was Salt Lake City that eventually came off worst, taking the brunt of Maya’s gunnery, which brought it to a dead halt; Richmond and Dale had to make smoke to protect the American heavy cruiser that, as a ‘sitting duck’, was fortunate not to take a hit from the Japanese destroyers’ Long Lance torpedoes. Meanwhile the remaining American destroyers launched their own torpedo attack – again unsuccessfully. Hosogaya, fearful that the US force was accompanied by an aircraft carrier withdrew his forces, including the supply transports, when his forces were on the cusp of a famous victory. There was no carrier nearby but the Asaka Maru transport ship did report the approach of two formations of American bombers from Adak. The Battle of Komandorski thus ended with a tactical victory for Japan but a strategic defeat and thereafter their forces in the Aleutians could only be supplied by submarine. McMorris’s forces took 20 casualties with 7 killed while Hosogaya’s forces had 14 killed out of a total of 26 casualties.
In immediate response to Japan’s Aleutian occupations, the United States had set about occupying Adak Island some 210 miles east of Kiska and constructed two airfields. Subsequently the island of Amchitka, just sixty miles east of Kiska, was also occupied by American troops though the construction of an airport proved difficult because of the bitter weather conditions.
By early 1943 America felt strong enough to decide on a plan of assault to retake Attu and Kiska. When 11,000 troops of the 7th Infantry, some of whom had been patrolling the Mexican borders, were loaded onto transport ships in Seattle on the west coast of America at the end of April, they must have assumed that they were embarked for the warm tropical climes of Hawaii. They were surprised to find themselves at Cold Harbor at the foot of Alaska without winter clothing; some still had short sleeve shirts. Their commanders had unkindly decided that winter uniforms would slow them down in an operation that was only expected to take a couple of days. American GIs would go into battle wearing summer uniform fighting Japanese soldiers wearing fur-lined clothes. The author of this catastrophic mistake is supposed to have been General John DeWitt, commander of the United States Western Defense Force, had been given the responsibility for supervising the recapture of Attu and Kiska. DeWitt, who harbored a visceral hatred of all Japanese people after Pearl Harbor, was best known for advising President Roosevelt to have all ‘undesirables’ [Japanese] rounded up and interned. The result was the incarceration of 110,000 men, women and children of Japanese ancestry, many of them born in the United States and fiercely proud of their new nationality. De Witt’s attitude to this human tragedy was best summed up by his blithe observation, “a Jap is a Jap.”4
Although the US transports arrived off Cold Harbor on 30 April, storms prevented an immediate advance to Attu and the convoy continued north to the Bering Sea to avoid enemy detection. The convoy arrived off Attu on 11 May. American commanders were so complacently confident of success that they supplied their troops with just a single day’s worth of ‘K’ Rations. (See Chapter 14: Battles of the Kododa Trail subsection Asaku Koryu versus ‘K’ Rations, p.487) The Northern Force, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Albert Hartl led the 1st Battalion of the 17th Infantry Regiment against the Japanese troops dug in at Holtz Bay and Chichagof Harbor. Landing at 4.15pm Hartl advanced inland before coming across the first Japanese resistance. Private Raymond Braun of the 17th Infantry recalled, “Our landing on that rock was screwy. We had been in boats all day long waiting to come into the island. Then we landed in fog as thick as mashed potatoes, expecting a wild dash across the beach with bullets flying, and there weren't any.”5 However an hour inland they were hit by a Japanese artillery barrage. Delayed by inadequate maps, American troops dug into the muskeg, the soft and spongy wet soil, which covered the low-lying areas of Attu. By the time tracked vehicles, used to pull artillery, had moved just seventy-five yards from the beach, it had become clear from the tracks spinning through the thick black mud, that the island’s topography presented unique challenges that would make logistics exceptionally difficult. Even foot soldiers could get bogged down. Lieutenant Darwin Kry of the 49th Field Artillery Battalion recalled a soldier carrying a 105mm shell uphill: “Its 54 pounds pushed his feet almost to the knees in the sticky mud and bent his back.”6
The following day, 12 May, Colonel Edward Earle led a larger southern force of the 2nd and 3rd battalions, which was tasked with a flanking advance up Massacre Valley, the taking of Clevesy and Jarmin passes and a linking up with the Northern Force. In reserve the 1st and 3rd Battalions of the 32nd Infantry stayed on board the transports. Landing at 3.30pm because of morning fog, Earle’s troops advanced without enemy contact into Massacre Valley. Living up to its name, from the valley’s ridges Japanese troops opened fire on the now trapped US battalions, forcing them to flee to the cover provided by a hill at its center. Other soldiers took cover behind the banks of streams. Meanwhile rolling icy fogs made artillery or air support impossible. A freezing cold night, albeit just three hours long in the arctic summer, was suffered by both Southern and Northern Forces as they slept in the open in their summer uniforms. Even when GIs were asleep “their bodies trembled violently from the cold. Empty shell cases, ration boxes, anything that would burn, had been torn up and consumed in tiny fires to heat the last packages of coffee and warm stiff fingers for a moment.”7
The American advance was painstaking. The Japanese defenders could see the advancing Americans but they couldn’t see the Japanese. Sergeant William Jones complained, “The Japanese had dug tunnels for strong points that we couldn’t see through the fog. They sniped at us every time the fog lifted. As soon as we concentrated our fire back where we though they were firing from, they pulled back into the tunnels.”8
Northern Force’s advance became similarly bogged down on 12 May by a Japanese ambush. Reinforcements were brought including the 4th Infantry Regiment from Adak. Advance was finally enabled when the fogs cleared and the three accompanying battleships were able to launch a ferocious bombardment of Japanese positions. However the delays in the US advance meant that by 14 June, soldiers had run out of food. Lieutenant Anthony Brannen dropped food from his B-24 but the parachutes were blown into a crevasse. The next day he tried again, but crashed into the mountains and was killed. In the succeeding days heavy fog made food supply difficult and exceeding dangerous for he pilots. A Japanese counterattack was then driven off a ridge that came to be known as Bloody Point. On reaching the highest point of the ridge, a sword wielding Japanese officer had led a forty-five-man attack that was quickly dispatched. Artillery was now brought up to positions that commanded Holtz Bay. By now thousands of troops had trench foot, an excruciating condition that swelled feet and damaged nerves and muscles. Some men were forced to crawl on hands and knees.
From their commanding positions the Americans could now clear the ridges that held down Southern Force in Massacre Valley. Nevertheless 7th Infantry’s slow progress brought about the replacement of General Brown with Major-General Eugene Landrum on the morning of 17 May. For the latter the timing appeared fortunate when the Northern and Southern Forces were able to link up at Jarmin Pass later that day. The 17th and 32nd regiment now began the piecemeal assault of Point Able and the snow covered Cold Mountain; it took them several days to winkle out the Japanese defenders mainly with grenades or bayonets. The difficulties of dealing with Japanese foxholes was well summed up by Corporal Tony Pinnelli:
“I started crawling straight up the hill at the little knoll behind which I had seen the smoke. I made it to the knoll without being seen. The Japs were behind it, like I figured, and they were watching down the hill toward our left flank. I crawled up on the rise of ground and threw a grenade. The first one was short. I tried another, and it fell into the Jap hole, but they threw it out.” 9
Cold Mountain succumbed on 20 May. However defense on Point Able was to last last until 22 May. The last Japanese defender, having killed two American GIs threw himself off the peak – screaming as he fell.
All the while US forces were taking heavy losses from ambushes, booby traps and snipers. It did not help that poor communication led to significant losses from friendly fire as US bombers hit their own troops. For the US soldiers the fighting conditions were beyond miserable. In their summer uniforms they froze with many suffering frostbite. In the midst of firefights, American troops would have to take it in turn to huddle in tents around small stoves to warm themselves. Sudden hurricane force williwaws would blow off the mountains hurling “snow, then ice and then dirt that reduced visibility to the length of your arm.”10 Others were so desperate for warmth that they burnt their rifle butts. Some soldiers froze to death, a particularly risk when they got lost in the icy fog - soldiers became so disorientated that guide ropes were fixed between posts Furthermore freezing mud made logistical supply by truck all but impossible.
On 22 May, American troops also began the push downhill toward Chichagof Harbor. Two ridges on the way, Fish Hook and Buffalo, threw up formidable defenses by the Japanese who had dug into position, forcing US troops to take them out one by one. Carefully prepared zigzag trenches, 3 feet wide and 4 feet deep, and tunnels that connected firing pits enabled Japanese officers to shift their soldiers from place to place. Machine guns were placed no more than 200 yards apart in positions that enable them to give crossing enfilades of fire. Apart from these traditional defensive weapons, the Japanese troops also employed barrage mortars that flung shells skywards before they fell to earth with parachutes, exploding and sending shrapnel over a wide area.
Observation posts were skillfully camouflaged. Similarly buildings such as radio shacks, latrines, officer positions, barracks, kitchens and supply buildings were dug into the ground and covered with sods of grass. Few details were overlooked; in case of limited visibility firing pits were provided with sighting posts covering likely lines of enemy incursion. It was later found that Japanese troops had been provided with sturdier entrenching tools with sharper cutting edges to cut through Attu’s tundra. Caps with fur-lined earflaps were found in quantity as well as knitted hats in wool and silk to fit under helmets. Fur-lined boots were also issued. Japan’s troops did not suffer from the trench foot and frostbite that turned US soldiers’ feet black and gangrenous – sometimes requiring amputation. Short skis suitable for travel over the granular type snow found in the Aleutians were supplied to the defenders. Above the snowline Japanese defenders were provided with white parkas. Below the snowline soldiers were provided with capes colored to match the brown-green tundra under which they could shelter all day. Noticeably the only thing Japanese troops were not provided with were routes for withdrawal. It was a sign of things to come six months before Admiral Nimitz’s Central Pacific campaign began at the Battle of Tarawa.
With the Americans running short of food and artillery munitions in positions that made them difficult to supply, the task of taking out the Japanese positions was made doubly awkward. Individual bravery helped get them through. As the 4th Infantry were patiently slugging their way down a particularly muddy hill pock marked with dug-in Japanese positions, Private Fred Barnett slid down the hill on his back hurling grenades and firing into Japanese trenches. His colleague followed finding that Barnett had seemingly singlehandedly killed forty-seven Japanese soldiers.
At Fish Hook Ridge, the attack was led by 7th Infantry’s Private Joe Martinez, who charged the Japanese lines carrying a BAR machine gun (Browning Automatic Rifle) and shooting the defenders in their foxholes. As Sergeant Glenn E. Swearingen and Sergeant Earl L. Marks recalled,
“The farther we went into the pass the worse it got. Once Private First Class Joe P. Martinez got caught in one of those hot spots and it made him mad. He had a BAR and he got to running from hole to hole spraying hot lead into each one until his BAR was empty. Then he grabbed an M 1 from somebody and went on like a wild man with that. He was a tornado that day…”11
In spite of a hail of bullets he cut a swathe through Japanese lines and enabled his colleagues to follow his path. From one of the final foxholes he took a bullet to the head and died the following day. Martinez, from Ault, Colorado, was awarded the Medal of Honor, becoming the first Hispanic-American to win the award in World War II. As his citation recorded, “His example inspired others to follow.”12 Not counting Pearl Harbor, his Medal of Honor was also the first combat award earned on American soil since the Indian Wars of the Nineteenth Century.
On 28 May, a US night patrol infiltrated Japanese lines in order to gauge Japanese defense intentions in the final phases of the battle. They were astonished to see Japanese soldiers crazed with sake jumping up and down and screaming at the top of their lungs. It was also seen that wounded Japanese soldiers were being put to death with morphine or simply shot dead. The patrol was lucky to get back alive as sentries mistook them for Japanese; it was shouts of “Brooklyn Dodgers, New York Yankees and Joe DiMaggio”13 that saved them. The leader of the patrol, Lee J. Bartoletti reported on what he had seen but aroused little interest from his commanding lieutenant. Nevertheless Bartoletti warned adjacent foxholes that an attack could be expected. He was right. At 3.30am the Japanese commanding officer Colonel Yamazaki led about 1,000 Japanese troops in one of the largest banzai attacks of the war.
Before the attack Dr. Paul Nobuo Tatsuguchi, an American educated Japanese physician wrote in his diary,
“The last assault is to be carried out. All the patients in the hospital were made to commit suicide. Only 33 years of living and I am to die here. I have no regrets. Banzai to the Emperor. I am grateful I have kept the peace of my soul which edict bestowed to me. At 1800 took care of all the patients with grenades. Good-bye Taeko, my beloved wife, who has loved to the last. Until we meet again, grant you Godspeed.”14
Most American troops were caught off guard as they went to eat a hot meal at the regimental kitchen, before the arctic sun started to light the early morning. They were overrun and the battle descended into a primordial hand-to-hand brawl with bayonet and sword.
In the Chichagof Valley the 17th Infantry were charged by intoxicated Japanese troops screaming “We’ll drink your blood.”15 Many US troops, unable to extricate themselves in time, were butchered in their sleeping bags. The tent of an aid station was collapsed and many wounded were trapped under the fallen canvas. Onward Yamazaki charged toward the reserve positions occupied by engineers, drivers, artillerymen and medics. They grabbed guns that lay to hand and joined in the pell-mell action managing to fight off the Japanese charge. One soldier later told his son James LaVerdure that he was stabbed three times and took a bullet through his helmet before he killed a sword wielding Japanese officer – later bringing the sword home as a souvenir. “Japs, lots of them, began appearing through the fog in the strange glow of the red flares,” an American soldier recalled, “They charged through the disorganized company, reducing it to little pockets of fiercely resisting men who shot down column after column, and still they came… They were yelling and shooting, bayoneting, grenading - utterly destroying everything in their way. For the next hour everything was a blur of shouts and explosions and screams and running figures.”16
As Yamazaki’s attack petered out some of the surviving Japanese troops blew themselves up with grenades. Yamazaki was among those who committed suicide. Dr. Paul Tatsuguchi was apparently shot dead by US troops as he tried to surrender. His diary was found by Dr. J. Lawrence Whitaker, a US battalion surgeon, who had studied with Tatsuguchi at Loma Linda University School of Medicine in California. American interrogators were surprised to find that the few Japanese soldiers who did surrender spoke quite freely. Major William Verbeck noted, “The Japanese prisoner… has never been told not to talk in event of capture because the possibility of capture is never considered by the enemy. As a result, this well-disciplined Japanese soldier obeys orders and answers any questions we direct at him.”17 In Tokyo, on 31 May, the Japanese government reported, “it is assumed the entire Japanese force has preferred death to dishonor.”18
As the sun began to emerge a scene of devastation greeted onlookers with hundreds of bodies littering the battlefield. As one GI noted, it looked like a dug-up graveyard. Afterwards the frozen GIs looted the Japanese dead of their much warmer clothes and headed back to the camp kitchens to line up for food. In the confusion a surviving Japanese soldier infiltrated a food queue hoping to snag a hot meal until he was discovered; overrating his English speaking ability he had asked the soldier behind him how the Brooklyn Dodgers were faring. At the scene of the battle, a chaplain of the 7th Infantry exclaimed, “I am glad the’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.”19 After this climatic engagement, isolated pockets of Japanese resistance were cleared over the next three days with the final fire-fights taking place on 31 May, almost three weeks after the first landings.
In spite of the excellent preparations made by Japanese commanders, after the Battle of Attu a US platoon leader noted:
“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.”20
But what the Americans had thought would be an easy operation had turned into a fiercely fought battle that took over two weeks to yield victory for 14,000 US troops over a force of just 2,300 Japanese diehards. In a victory that presaged the tough battles of the Central Pacific ahead, American troops took 3,929 casualties including 549 dead. A US Navy supply clerk, Edward Trebian, recalled, “There were so many [bodies]… The Army just cut a path with a bulldozer and then shoved ‘em in… What else could they do?”21 But for most veterans of the Battle of Attu the abiding memory was of the freezing cold. Eugene Telgmann of the 18th Engineers Battalion swore, “it was so cold that he never warmed up in four years.”22 Remarkably some soldiers of the 7th Infantry, like John Casey, subsequently made landings in the vastly different terrains of Kwajalein, Leyte Gulf and Okinawa. At Attu the slog across the Pacific had just begun.
After the desperate Battle of Attu, American commanders anticipated a much harder campaign on Kiska where 5,200 Japanese were believed to be stationed, more than twice as many as Attu. 29,000 American and 5,300 Canadian troops were deployed on Kiska on 15-16 August. Three battleships and a heavy cruiser to provide an offshore bombardment supported them. In addition 168 aircraft were provided as cover. In the event they found a deserted island, the Japanese having left some two weeks earlier. Apart from twenty GIs killed by Japanese booby-traps and more tragically, friendly fire, it was a bloodless operation. The Aleutians role as a possible fulcrum of a significant role in the Pacific War was ended.
For the Aleuts themselves the brief war in the Aleutians was a catastrophe. ‘Rescued’ by the Americans meant being housed in appalling conditions on the Alaskan mainland; some 20 percent of their population died during their few years of exodus. When they returned they found that their homes had been ransacked by Japanese and American troops of anything of value including guns, fishing tackle, furs, and heirlooms, including Russian Icons. It would take years for the Aleut communities to recover and years for them to receive reparation from the US government. On 10 August 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act, which granted reparations to the Aleuts and Japanese Americans who were interned in World War II. The Aleuts received a US$5m trust fund plus US$15m for the loss of Attu, US1.4m for the restoration of churches and US$12,000 per individual who survived the camps. A formal apology was also made. In Japan, ceremonies continue to be held annually for the fallen soldiers who lost their lives in what is know as the Forgotten War.
The Attuans who were shipped off to Japan by the Japanese troops, who had freed them from American tyranny, fared even worse. In Japan they were forced to learn Japanese under pain of death. Forced to work, men, women and children were whipped or beaten if their efforts were not satisfactory. Food was so deficient that within a year some Aleuts starved to death. Only 25 of the 42 Attuans returned to the Aleutians but not to Attu, whose community was forever destroyed.