The Attack on Alaska

Have you heard about the attack on Alaska? Most likely few of you have, but there were several viscous battles fought on Alaska soil during WWII, and unless you fought there or loss someone there, the memories have pretty much drifted off into oblivion as far as history is concerned.

Through people I have connected with while writing this survival blog, I have learned even the most ardent survivalist can become uninspired maintaining the rigors of constantly preparing for the SHTF event, while praying it never happens. Once the initial enthusiasm of becoming a survivalist wanes, it’s difficult to maintain the energy to stay on top of everything without motivation. Maintaining and rotating supplies is grueling and expensive, while keeping track of the newest and greatest survival gear can be mind boggling as technology sprints past most of our comprehension. Besides there hasn’t been an invasion of North America United States since the war of 1812, and although technically a foreign army, our fight with the British was more like quarreling in-laws. Every other war on the continent was waged between Americans mad at one another or stealing land from Mexico and the American Indians.

That’s why I decided to do a little research and discovered an event that may dash your false sense of security that America could never be invaded by a hostile force. Let’s look at the attack on Alaska through the Aleutian Islands. The invasion and occupation of continental United States land.

JAPAN SEIZES AMERICAN SOIL

In June of 1942, six months after the attack on Pearl Harbor and the defeat of American troops in the Philippines, the Japanese invaded the Aleutian Islands, a sparsely inhabited string of volcanic islands extending 1200 miles west of the mainland Alaska Peninsula. By June 6th & 7th the Japanese had invaded and controlled the islands of Kiska and Attu, establishing military garrisons and began conducting air strikes on Dutch Harbor where two American military bases were located.

At first glance the Aleutian islands appeared to be of little military value. The islands were historically barren with mountainous terrain, terribly harsh weather with heavy snowfall and dense fog. A wintry version of hell. Historians believe the Japanese invasion was a feint to draw the American fleet away from Midway, the real Japanese invasion target. It was also feasible that the Japanese thought holding these two islands would cut off any avenue of invasion by the US to invade Japan’s homelands. In either event the Japanese had invaded the US and now held American soil while attacking American troops. The blow to American moral was substantial. The Japanese had nearly destroyed the American fleet at Pearl Harbor, kicked MacArthur’s butt out of the Philippines and now occupied American soil. Moral tanked.

American Outrage to Japanese Occupation

The attack on Alaska shocked and outraged the American public. Just the principle that Japanese troops had invaded and occupied American soil, no matter how remote or barren, was unacceptable. Although the media stoked concern of Japan’s attack being the first step towards an invasion of mainland Alaska or perhaps the invasion of the US Pacific Northwest, the war planners were more concerned about rebuilding their Pacific strength and preparing for war in Europe. The Japanese invasion was hardly acknowledged with the exception of an occasional bombing raid originating from the nearby Aleutian Islands.

While being ignored the Japanese became acclimated to the harsh weather, built defensive fortifications and were kept well stockpiled by the Japanese navy. By the end of 1942 the Japanese were well entrenched and well supplied on the two islands of Attu and Kiska. However, the US war planners were now becoming proficient at addressing several war fronts at one time and by January 1943 the Alaska Command had grown to 94,000 soldiers, and had landed on Amchitka Island, 50 miles from Kiska.

The Attack on Alaska – Naval Blockade of Attu and Kiska

American brass anticipated the Japanese had used their time well and would be prepared to repulse an attack when America launched it. Surmising this they had to do something to weaken the Japanese before attempting an invasion, and they decided that would require a naval blockade in order to cut off all supplies to the garrisons on both islands, starving them of required resupplies.

Battle of Attu Anniversary

By March 1943 the navy fleet, under the command of US Rear Admiral Thomas Kinkaid, had encircled the two islands with a blockade intended to restrict the flow of supplies to the occupiers. On March 26, 1943, a Japanese fleet of supply and war ships attempted to breach the blockade in order to deliver supplies and reinforcements to Attu. The Japanese were spotted by scout vessels before they could run the blockade and the two fleets sped towards one another engaging in what became known as the Battle of the Komandorski Islands. The Japanese fleet outnumbered the American fleet and were more experienced in naval warfare than the Americans. After a several hour fight-fire the Japanese had extracted a severe cost on the American fleet in terms of ship damage and loss of life. Despite their advantage, the Japanese who were now low on ammunition and fuel for the return trip to Japan, and fearing American bombers being launched from Dutch Harbor could appear at any time, they withdrew without completing their mission. This would not be the last time the Japanese would withdraw prematurely while not realizing how much devastation they had wreaked on the American forces.

The blockade and subsequent battle had achieved its goal and with the exception of an occasional submarine supply vessel, the two garrisons were completely isolated and cut off. They Americans would starve them into a weakened condition before landing troops on the ground for actual combat.

The Battle of Attu … Operation Land-grab

The harsh winter climate these battles were waged in were far different from the sweltering heat of the South Pacific, but the lessons learned from these battles set the precedent of the entire island hopping campaign America used to win the war. No different than the battles of the South Pacific, these lessons were learned by the spilling of American blood.

The battle began with American naval ships bombarding the island for several weeks in conjunction with unleashing relentless bombing attacks in order to soften the enemy prior to the land invasion. On May 11,1943 11,000 American troops landed on Attu. This was the first of many strings of events where the Navy, Army and Marine top brass would continually underestimate the length of time required to secure the target island. In this case, it was estimated the island would be totally secured within 2 to 3 days, but the battle raged for more than two weeks.

The Japanese, being heavily outnumbered, retreated to their predesignated high ground fortifications, allowing the Americans to land unchallenged. The tranquility was short lived. The US soldiers were equipped with ill-designed uniforms and equipment that would not bear up to the harsh weather and rugged, muddy terrain that kept their advance at a snail’s pace. They endured more causalities from frostbite, trench foot, gangrene and other illnesses than they incurred from enemy fire. Unbelievably, food shortages, although well supplied, added insult to misery as they chased the enemy crisscross the barren island outrunning their supply route.

When they did engage the Japanese the fights were usually small but fierce as the Japanese, which became common, refused to surrender. Americans were ambushed while scouring the rocky terrain by dug-in enemy positions, pestered by sniper fire and harassed by deadly booby traps. The end result of the battle was never in question as the Americans controlled the air and sea denying any reinforcements or supplies from arriving. The only question was how many Americans would die before the island was declared secure.

By late May, the remaining Japanese garrison, starving, sorely lacking ammunition and trapped in a corner of the island, exemplified the Japanese attitude Americans would become all too familiar with in the South Pacific, they committed to a banzai charge. Colonel Yasuyo Yamasaki, garrison commander ordered the charge slightly before daybreak on May 29th. His troops charged wildly into the American lines, sweeping through their combat out post, penetrating line positions and not stopping until they reached the shocked American support troops at the rear of the American camp.

This suicidal charge ultimately failed, but mainly due to being outnumbered and out gunned by the Americans. The Japanese set a precedent which would be followed throughout the south Pacific theater of the commander, Yamaski, and all troops, 2000, dying instead of surrendering. The Americans lost 1000 men in the battle, a ratio worse than any other South Pacific battle.

BATTLE OF KISKA: OPERATION COTTAGE

The battle of Attu had taught the Americans some bitter and costly lessons, mistakes the Americans did not intend to repeat when they invaded Kiska, code name Operation Cottage. They knew they would encounter a much larger and better prepared enemy force, than they fought on Attu and mistakes would be extremely expensive.

On the morning of August 15, 1943 the Americans landed on Kiska unopposed, which they knew didn’t signal anything except hell waited ahead. 35,000 soldiers landed and fanned our across the island searching for the enemy. After several nerve racking days of scouring the entire island they realized the Japanese had used the previous weeks fog banks to evacuate the entire garrison. On August 24, 1943 the Kiska Island was declared secure and the Battle of the Aleutian Islands ended.

The Attack on Alaska – Cat & Mouse

Following Japan’s defeat in the Aleutians, they were forced to commit forces and resources to guard against an American invasion from the Alaskan Peninsula. Ironically their feint to draw Americans away from Midway may have given the Americans the idea of an invasion on their part. To reinforce that fear, American planes launched from the Aleutians would conduct an occasional surprise bombing of the Japanese Islands Kuril, which lies between Japan and Alaska. Just to perk the fear and unknowing.

Next time you get bored or disgusted with preparing as a survivalist for the SHTF event, remember American soil was invaded and occupied by a foreign enemy less than 80 years ago. If it can happen once… it can happen again. Just reminisce the attack on Alaska.

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