The Battle of Attu, which took place from 11–30 May 1943, was fought entirely between forces of the United States and the Empire of Japan on Attu Island off the coast of Alaska. The action, which was part of the Aleutian Islands Campaign during the Pacific War, was the only land battle of World War II fought on territory that was part of the incorporated territory of the U.S. It is also the only land battle in which Japanese and American forces fought in Arctic conditions.
The battle, which lasted for more than two weeks, ended when most of the Japanese defenders were killed in brutal hand-to-hand combat after a final banzai charge broke through American lines.
The strategic position of the islands of Attu and Kiska meant their location could control the sea lanes across the Northern Pacific Ocean. Japanese planners believed control of the Aleutians would therefore prevent any possible U.S. attacks from Alaska. This assessment had already been inferred by U.S. General Billy Mitchell who told the U.S. Congress 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."
On 7 June 1942, six months after the United States entered World War II, the 301st Independent Infantry Battalion from the Japanese Northern Army landed unopposed on Attu. The landings occurred one day after the invasion of nearby Kiska. The U.S military now feared both islands could be turned into strategic Japanese airbases from which aerial attacks could be launched against the West Coast of North America.
In Walt Disney′s 1943 film Victory Through Air Power, the use of the Aleutian Islands for American long-range bombers to bomb Japan from American territory was postulated.
Map showing the recapture of Attu
In May 1943, units from 17th Infantry, of the U.S. 7th Infantry Division made amphibious landings on Attu to retake the island from Japanese Imperial Army forces led by Colonel Yasuyo Yamasaki. Despite heavy naval bombardments of Japanese positions, the American troops encountered strong entrenched defenses that made combat conditions tough. Arctic weather conditions and exposure-related injuries also caused numerous casualties among U.S. forces. But after two weeks of relentless fighting, American units managed to push the Japanese defenders back to a pocket around Chichagof Harbor.
On 29 May, without hope of rescue, Yamasaki led his remaining troops in a banzai charge. The momentum of the surprise attack broke through the American front line positions. Shocked American rear-echelon troops were soon fighting hand-to-hand combat with Japanese soldiers. The battle continued until almost all of the Japanese were killed. The charge effectively ended the battle for the island, although U.S. Navy reports indicate that small groups of Japanese continued to fight until early July. In 19 days of battle, 549 soldiers of the 7th Division were killed and more than 1,000 injured. The Japanese lost over 2,850 men; only 29 prisoners were taken alive.
Attu was to be the last action of the Aleutian campaign. The Japanese Northern Army secretly evacuated their remaining garrison from nearby Kiska, ending the Japanese occupation in the Aleutian Islands on 28 July 1943.
The loss of Attu and the evacuation of Kiska came shortly after the death of Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, who was killed by an American plane in Operation Vengeance. These defeats compounded the demoralizing effect of losing Yamamoto on the Japanese High Command. Despite the losses, Japanese propaganda attempted to present the Aleutian Island campaign as an inspirational epic.
Attu village at Chichagof Harbor in 1937. It was occupied by the Japanese in 1942/43.
A U.S. Navy reconnaissance photo of four Japanese Misubishi A6M-2N Rufe seaplane fighters at Holtz Bay, Attu on 7 November 1942.
Imperial Army officers during the winter of 1942/43.
To reduce the effects of the cold, the Japanese built earthen billets on Attu.
Coastal artillery battery on Attu in 1943.
Soldiers unloading landing craft on the beach at Massacre Bay, Attu, on 12 May 1943.
More equipment and combat supplies are brought ashore at Massacre Bay on 13 May 1943.
An American mortar team fire shells over a ridge onto Japanese positions during the battle.
Dead Japanese soldiers are prepared for mass burial by U.S. forces.
The Japanese Peace Monument on Attu Island, July 2007.
See also 
- Cloe, John Haile (1990). The Aleutian Warriors: A History of the 11th Air Force and Fleet Air Wing 4. Missoula, Montana: Pictorial Histories Publishing Co. and Anchorage Chapter – Air Force Association. ISBN 0-929521-35-8. OCLC 25370916.
- Dickrell, Jeff (2001). Center of the Storm: The Bombing of Dutch Harbor and the Experience of Patrol Wing Four in the Aleutians, Summer 1942. Missoula, Montana: Pictorial Histories Publishing Co., Inc. ISBN 1-57510-092-4. OCLC 50242148.
- Feinberg, Leonard (1992). Where the Williwaw Blows: The Aleutian Islands-World War II. Pilgrims' Process. ISBN 0-9710609-8-3. OCLC 57146667.
- Garfield, Brian (1995) . The Thousand-Mile War: World War II in Alaska and the Aleutians. Fairbanks: University of Alaska Press. ISBN 0-912006-83-8. OCLC 33358488.
- Goldstein, Donald M.; Katherine V. Dillon (1992). The Williwaw War: The Arkansas National Guard in the Aleutians in World War. Fayettville: University of Arkansas Press. ISBN 1-55728-242-0. OCLC 24912734.
- Hays, Otis (2004). Alaska's Hidden Wars: Secret Campaigns on the North Pacific Rim. University of Alaska Press. ISBN 1-889963-64-X.
- Lorelli, John A. (1984). The Battle of the Komandorski Islands. Annapolis: United States Naval Institute. ISBN 0-87021-093-9. OCLC 10824413.
- Morison, Samuel Eliot (2001) . Aleutians, Gilberts and Marshalls, June 1942-April 1944, vol. 7 of History of United States Naval Operations in World War II. Champaign: University of Illinois Press. ISBN 0-316-58305-7. OCLC 7288530.
- Parshall, Jonathan; Tully, Anthony (2005). Shattered Sword: The Untold Story of the Battle of Midway. Dulles, Virginia: Potomac Books. ISBN 1-57488-923-0. OCLC 60373935.
- Perras, Galen Roger (2003). Stepping Stones to Nowhere, The Aleutian Islands, Alaska, and American Military Strategy, 1867 - 1945. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press. ISBN 1-59114-836-7. OCLC 53015264.
- Urwin, Gregory J. W. (2000). The Capture of Attu: A World War II Battle as Told by the Men Who Fought There. Bison Books. ISBN 0-8032-9557-X.
- Wetterhahn, Ralph (2004). The Last Flight of Bomber 31: Harrowing Tales of American and Japanese Pilots Who Fought World War II's Arctic Air Campaign. Da Capo Press. ISBN 0-7867-1360-7.
- MacGarrigle, George L. Aleutian Islands. The U.S. Army Campaigns of World War II. United States Army Center of Military History.
External links 
Coordinates: 52°52′44.67″N 173°9′24.80″E / 52.8790750°N 173.1568889°E