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Attu


Digital relief map of Attu

Photograph of landing craft at Massacre Bay

National Archives #80-G-50921

Attu (173.174E 52.939N) is an island near the western end of the Aleutians chain, some 740 miles west of Dutch Harbor and just 650 miles from Paramushiro in the Japanese-controlled Kuriles. It is about 38 miles (61 km) long and 14 miles (23 km) wide. Like most of the Aleutians, it is mountainous and barren, with a maximum elevation of 3084' (940 meters) towards the west end of the island. The few beaches are narrow and steep and there are numerous offshore rocks and strong currents. There are, however, some small protected anchorages, at Holtz Bay, Chichagof Harbor, and Massacre Bay. Massacre bay was named for the frequent slaughter of seals by hide hunters that took place here early in the century; it would prove an ill omen for the coming battle. The only inhabitants were 39 Aleuts and an elderly white couple serving as schoolteachers at the village of Chicagof.

Attu's garrison in early 1942 consisted of a few weather observers with a single pistol between them. Japanese forces under Omori Sentaro seized the island on 7 June 1942, during the Midway operation, in order to extend the Japanese defense perimeter beyond the Kuriles. When the Japanese presence was discovered a few days later (bad weather had hindered air reconnaissance), American reinforcements were rushed to Alaska. However, Marshall recognized that the horrible climate and utter lack of facilities in the Aleutians meant that the Japanese were unlikely to mount a major effort any time soon, and American resources were needed elsewhere.

The Japanese considered Attu a secondary base and put their main force on Kiska. The Attu garrison was withdrawn in September 1942 as an unnecessary diversion of resources, but it was ordered back on 29 October in response to the American landings at Adak and elsewhere, which seemed to indicate to the Japanese that the Americans were considering an invasion of northern Japan from the Aleutians.

The American reconquest of Attu (Operation LANDCRAB) was finally mounted in May of 1943, following the victory at the Battle of the Komandorski Islands in March. The original target of the operation was to be Kiska, but a lack of shipping led the planners to shift the objective to the less heavily garrisoned Attu. The invasion force was built around 7 Division (Albert Brown), with 4 Regiment in reserve; was supported by land-based aircraft; and was escorted by the battleships Pennsylvania, Idaho, and Nevada and escort carrier Nassau. The Provisional Scout Battalion, a handpicked special force, made the first landing from submarine in the early hours of 11 May 1943. The main landings took place a few hours later at points north and south of the Japanese base at Chicagof Harbor. Brown's plan was for the Scouts to clear the pass above Chicagof, then join with the north and south pincers to box the Japanese in and push them into the sea.

All the landings were initially unopposed, but the 2350 defending Japanese (organized around 303 Independent Infantry Battalion) were well dug in on the ridges surrounding their base, and the invasion quickly bogged down. This led to Brown's relief by Kinkaid. There is reason to question the fairness of this action. Brown had been training his division for action in North Africa when it was reassigned to the Attu campaign with but three month's notice. Kinkaid later admitted that he would not have relieved Brown had he had better information on conditions on the ground. The American forces finally cleared the ridges around Chicagof on 29 May. The remaining Japanese staged a suicide charge that night, which chanced upon a portion of the American line whose defenders had just been pulled back for rest and recovery. A unit of engineers hurried to meet the Japanese charge, stopping it below what would thereafter be known as Engineer Hill. The surviving Japanese killed themselves with grenades, bringing an end to the campaign.

The Americans took just 28 prisoners, none of whom were officers. American casualties totaled 3829, of whom 549 were killed and 1148 wounded. The remaining casualties were mostly from cold weather or disease. Only in the battle of Iwo Jima would the Americans suffer a greater proportion of casualties to the number of troops engaged.

The Attu invasion was an early example of the leapfrog strategy. Attu was located west of the larger Japanese base at Kiska, which the Japanese evacuated after losing Attu.

Following the invasion, American airfield engineers concluded that the uncompleted Japanese strip at Chicagof was poorly sited, and began construction of a new strip on Massacre Bay. This was ready by 8 June 1943.

U.S. order of battle

North Pacific Force (Kinkaid)

 
TF 16 (Kinkaid)


 
TG 16.1 Shore-Based Air Group (Butler)



 
TU 16.1.1 Air Striking Unit (Butler)




 
28 Composite Group






8 B-24 Liberator
24 B-25 Mitchell





404 Bombardment Squadron






8 B-24 Liberator





21 Bombardment Squadron






8 B-24 Liberator





406 Bombardment Squadron






6 B-25 Mitchell




343 Fighter Group






50 P-38 Lightning
50 P-40 Warhawk





111 Squadron (RCAF)






16 P-40 Warhawk




14 Squadron (RCAF)






12 P-40 Warhawk



TU 16.1.2 Air Search Unit





VB-135 (Amchitka)






12 PV-1 Ventura





VB-136 (Adak)






12 PV-1 Ventura




VP-62 (Adak)





10 PBY-5A Catalina





VP-61 (Amchitka)





10 PBY-5A Catalina




AVP Casco
AVD Gillis
AV Teal
AV Avocet
AVD Hulbert



TG 16.2 Alaska Sector Escort and Supply Force (Reeves)     




DD King
DMS Lamberton
DM Ramsay
Corvette Dawson
Corvette Vancouver
PG Charleston
AM Oriole
ATO Tatnuck
AM Annoy
ATF Ute
AN Buckeye
AN Eucalyptus
4 LST
8 LCT(5)



TG 16.3 Motor Torpedo Boat Group




Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron 13





11 PT



TG 16.5 Submarine Group
Carrying the Provisional Scout Battalion



SS Narwhal
SS Nautilus




Submarine Division 41





SS S-18
SS S-23
SS S-28
SS S-34
SS S-35
SS S-38




Submarine Division 52





SS S-30
SS S-32
SS S-33
SS S-40
SS S-41



TG 16.6 Southern Covering Group (McMorris)




CL Raleigh
CL Detroit
CL Richmond
CL Santa Fe
DD Bancroft
DD Caldwell
DD Coghlan
DD Frazier
DD Gansevoort



TG 16.7 Northern Covering Group (Giffen)




CA Wichita
CA San Francisco
CA Louisville
DD Balch
DD Hughes
DD Mustin
DD Morris



TG 16.8 Attu Reinforcement Group
Carrying 32 Regiment less a battalion



AP U.S. Grant
AP David W. Branch
AP President Fillmore
AP Chirikof
AP Richar March Hoe
AP Joseph Henry
AP Kenneth A.J. Mackenzie
AP David W. Field



TG 16.9 Tanker and Service Group




AO Brazos
AO Cuyama
AO Platte
AO Tippecanoe
AO Guadalupe
AO Neches
AD Markab
AD Black Hawk



TG 16.10 Shemya Occupation Group (Copeland)
Carrying 4 Regiment and 18 Engineer Regiment



AP St. Mihiel
AP William L. Thompson
AP North Coast
AP Alaska
AP Yukon
AK Franklin Macveagh


TF 51 Assault Force (Rockwell)



TG 51.1 Support Group (Kingman)




BB Nevada
BB Pennsylvania
BB Idaho





CVE Nassau




26 F4F-4 Wildcat
3 F4F-3P Wildcat
1 SOC-3A Seagull




AVD Williamson




Destroyer Squadron 1





DD Phelps





Destroyer Division 2






DD Farragut
DD Hull
DD Macdonough
DD Meade
DD Edwards
DD Abner Read
DD Ammen



TG 51.2 Transport Group




APA Harris
APA Zeilin
APA Heywood
APA J. Franklin Bell
APD Kane
AP Perida
DD Dewey
DD Dale
DD Monaghan
DD Aylwin
DM Sicard
DM Pruitt



TG 51.3 Minesweeper Group




DMS Perry
DMS Elliot
DMS Chandler
DMS Long



TG 51.4 Landing Force (Brown)




17 Regiment
1 battalion from 32 Regiment
78 Coastal Artillery Regiment (Antiaircraft)
1 battalion from 50 Engineer Regiment
Scout Company and Reconnaissance Troop, 7 Division

Japanese order of battle

Attu Garrison
About 2500 men
  
North Chishima Coast Defense Infantry     


303 Independent Infantry Battalion

Naval Communications Unit


References

Garfield (1965)

Morison (1951)

Rottman (2002)

United States Strategic Bombing Survey (1946; accessed 2011-8-22)



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