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The Occupation of Attu and Kiska

Kiska and Attu Islands in the Aleutians, as well as Guam, occupied by the Japanese during WWII, was the first U.S. soil occupied by a foreign power since the War of 1812. Attu Island, the westernmost in the Aleutian Chain, is 1100 miles from the Alaskan mainland, but only 650 miles from the Japanese naval base at Paramushiro. The Japanese wanted a presence in the Aleutians to protect their northern flank from American long range bombers. On June 7, 1942, a Japanese invasion force landed on Attu and quickly captured 47 unarmed civilians, mostly Unangan (Aleut) village residents, and a non-Native couple who was employed by the public school. The previous day, they landed on nearby Kiska Island and captured the ten-man crew of a U.S. Navy weather station. None of the Americans offered any armed resistance, but one man was killed shortly after the invasion, and the rest sent to prison camps in Japan, where they suffered great hardship, and at least sixteen perished.

Operation LANDCRAB: Retaking Attu The American amphibious assault to retake Attu resulted in some of the bloodiest fighting in the Pacific Theater of WWII, second only to Iwo Jima. On May 11, 1943, U.S. soldiers landed and began pressing towards Japanese strongholds, meeting fierce resistance. With the help of the unorthodox Alaska Scouts, known as “Castner’s Cutthroats,” the Americans forced the Japanese to retreat into the mountains. In the end, approximately one thousand demoralized Japanese soldiers took part in futile banzai charges at the American line, inflicting heavy casualties before committing suicide. Wave after wave was repelled by a hastily organized defensive line. This was the Americans’ first encounter with this bloody Japanese tactic. Americans gained valuable information on Japanese weapons and tactics, which was forwarded to its forces around the Pacific theater. Casualties were heavy on both sides. Out of a force of about 2,500, only 29 Japanese survived. On the American side, the rate of death and injury was second only to its losses at Iwo Jima: for every 100 Japanese soldiers entrenched on Attu, 71 Americans were killed or wounded. Of the 15,000 U.S. troops who participated, 550 died and 1,500 were wounded. Another 1,200 Americans were casualties of Attu’s brutal climate.

 
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