51 Photographs from the WWII Aleutian Islands Campaign
51 Photographs from the WWII Aleutian Islands Campaign

51 Photographs from the WWII Aleutian Islands Campaign

Jacob Miller - August 2, 2017

The Aleutian Islands campaign, conducted by the United States in the Aleutian Islands, part of the Alaska Territory, in the American theater and the Pacific theater of World War II starting on June 3, 1942.

A small Japanese force had occupied the islands of Attu and Kiska. The islands’ strategic value was their ability to control Pacific transportation routes. The Japanese thought controlling the Aleutians would prevent a possible U.S. attack across the Northern Pacific. The U.S. feared that Japan would use the islands as a base from which to launch assaults against the West Coast.

The United States Naval Intelligence had broken the Japanese naval codes. Admiral Nimitz learned, by May 21, 2942, of Yamamoto’s plans to attack the Aleutians. By June 1, the United States had 45,000 soldiers stationed in Alaska, with 13,000 only 200 miles from Dutch Harbor naval facility. When the first signs of a possible attack were known, the Eleventh Air Force was ordered to send out reconnaissance airplanes to locate the Japanese fleet reportedly heading towards Dutch Harbor and attack it with bombers. On June 2, a naval patrol plane spotted the Japanese fleet, reporting its location as 800 miles southwest of Dutch Harbor. Bad weather set in and no further sightings were made.

Utilizing the bad weather, the Japanese raided Dutch Harbor on June 3, 1942. Only half the striking force reached its target. The rest got lost in the fog and crashed or returned to the carriers. The 17 Japanese planes that found the base was greeted by intense anti-aircraft fire and soon were confronted by the Eleventh Air Force fighters. The Japanese quickly released their bombs and retreated back to the carriers. They did little damage. On June 4, the Japanese were able to successfully bomb the Dutch Harbor oil storage tanks, hospital, and a beach barracks ship. The American pilots, who had found the Japanese fleet, could not sink them due to the bad weather.

The Japanese invaded Kiska on June 6 and Attu on June 7 with little resistance from the local Aleuts. Most of the native population had been evacuated by the US military before the invasion.

On July 5, the US submarine Growler attacked three Japanese destroyers off Kiska, sinking one and heavily damaging the other two, killing or wounding 200 Japanese sailors. By August 1942, the Americans had established an airbase on Adak Island and began bombing the Japanese on Kiska.

In March 1943, a cruiser and destroyer force, assigned to eliminate the Japanese supply convoy, met the Japanese fleet in the naval Battle of the Komandorski Islands. One American cruiser and two destroyers were damaged, with seven sailors killed. Two Japanese cruisers were damaged, with 14 men killed and 26 wounded.

On May 11, American forces began their operation to recapture Attu. Despite many difficulties: a shortage of landing crafts, unsuitable beaches, vehicle operational failure in the tundra, and soldiers suffering from frostbite because the cold weather supplies could not be landed. A fierce battle ensued. 580 American soldiers were killed, 1,148 were wounded, and 1,200 incurring injuries from the cold. In addition, 614 soldiers died from disease, and 318 from Japanese booby traps and friendly fire.

On May 29, the remainder of the Japanese forces attacked near Massacre Bay. This was one of the largest Banzai attacks of the Pacific campaign. The Japanese penetrated deep into the US lines and after a fierce battle, the Japanese forces were virtually exterminated. 28 Japanese soldiers were taken, prisoner. American burial teams counted 2,351 Japanese dead, but it was thought that hundreds more had been buried by bombardment during the battle.

On August 15, 1941, an invasion force of 34,426 Canadian and American troops landed on Kiska. They found the island abandoned. The Japanese had left two weeks earlier, under the cover of fog. Despite US military command having access to the Japanese ciphers; the Army Air Force bombed the abandoned Japanese positions for two weeks. With the Japanese gone, the allies incurred 313 casualties on Kiska: all the result of friendly fire, booby traps, disease, and frostbite.

51 Photographs from the WWII Aleutian Islands Campaign
Map of Aleutian Islands. tsuru-bird
51 Photographs from the WWII Aleutian Islands Campaign
Map of the Aleutian Islands in relation to Japan. Warfare History Network
51 Photographs from the WWII Aleutian Islands Campaign
Bleak, mountainous Attu Island in Alaska had a population of only about 46 people prior to the Japanese invasion. On June 6, 1942, a Japanese force of 1,100 soldiers landed, occupying the island. One resident was killed in the invasion, the remaining 45 were shipped to a Japanese prison camp near Otaru, Hokkaido, where sixteen died while in captivity. This is a picture of Attu village situated on Chichagof Harbor. The Atlantic
51 Photographs from the WWII Aleutian Islands Campaign
On June 3, 1942, a Japanese aircraft carrier strike force launched air attacks over two days against the Dutch Harbor Naval Base and Fort Mears in Dutch Harbor, Alaska. In this photo, bombs explode in the water near Dutch Harbor, during the attack on June 4, 1942. The Atlantic
51 Photographs from the WWII Aleutian Islands Campaign
U.S. forces watch a massive fireball rise above Dutch Harbor, Alaska after a Japanese air strike in June of 1942. The Atlantic
51 Photographs from the WWII Aleutian Islands Campaign
The bombing of SS Northwestern and oil tanks in Dutch Harbor, Alaska, by Japanese carrier-based aircraft on June 4, 1942. The Atlantic
51 Photographs from the WWII Aleutian Islands Campaign
U.S. soldiers fight a fire after an air raid by Japanese dive bombers on their base in Dutch Harbor, Alaska, in June 1942. The Atlantic
51 Photographs from the WWII Aleutian Islands Campaign
Oil tanks, the SS Northwestern, a beached transport ship, and warehouses on fire after Japanese air raids in Dutch Harbor, Alaska, on June 4, 1942. The Atlantic
51 Photographs from the WWII Aleutian Islands Campaign
The ruins of a bombed ship at Dutch Harbor, Alaska, on June 5, 1942. U.S. Navy
51 Photographs from the WWII Aleutian Islands Campaign
Tents housing Seabees (members of the U.S. Navy’s Construction Batallion), Adak Island during World War II, 1943. Among the first to land on Adak, Attu, Kiska and Amchitka, the Seabees—carpenters, mechanics, electricians, welders, boilerman, and plumbers—built airfields, roads, barracks, and wharves. Dmitri Kessel—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images
51 Photographs from the WWII Aleutian Islands Campaign
Unloading supplies for the Aleutian Islands Campaign, Alaska, 1943. Dmitri Kessel—Time & Life Pictures: Getty Images
51 Photographs from the WWII Aleutian Islands Campaign
Barracks, Aleutian Islands Campaign, Alaska, 1943. Dmitri Kessel—Time & Life Pictures: Getty Images
51 Photographs from the WWII Aleutian Islands Campaign
Unidentified military personnel, Aleutian Islands Campaign, Alaska, 1943. Dmitri Kessel—Time & Life Pictures: Getty Images
51 Photographs from the WWII Aleutian Islands Campaign
Mail transports, Aleutian Islands Campaign, Alaska, 1943. Dmitri Kessel—Time & Life Pictures: Getty Images
51 Photographs from the WWII Aleutian Islands Campaign
In barracks, Aleutian Islands Campaign, Alaska, 1943. Dmitri Kessel—Time & Life Pictures: Getty Images
51 Photographs from the WWII Aleutian Islands Campaign
Laundry, Aleutian Islands Campaign, Alaska, 1943. Dmitri Kessel—Time & Life Pictures: Getty Images
51 Photographs from the WWII Aleutian Islands Campaign
Dentist in the Aleutian Islands Campaign, Alaska, 1943. Dmitri Kessel—Time & Life Pictures: Getty Images
51 Photographs from the WWII Aleutian Islands Campaign
The infirmary during Aleutian Islands Campaign, Alaska, 1943. Dmitri Kessel—Time & Life Pictures: Getty Images
51 Photographs from the WWII Aleutian Islands Campaign
Bathing in halved oil drums, Amchitka Island, Aleutian Campaign, Alaska, 1943. Dmitri Kessel—Time & Life Pictures: Getty Images
51 Photographs from the WWII Aleutian Islands Campaign
R & R, Aleutian Islands Campaign, Alaska, 1943. Dmitri Kessel—Time & Life Pictures: Getty Images
51 Photographs from the WWII Aleutian Islands Campaign
R & R, Dutch Harbor, Aleutian Islands Campaign, Alaska, 1943. Dmitri Kessel—Time & Life Pictures: Getty Images
51 Photographs from the WWII Aleutian Islands Campaign
Makeshift soda fountain, Adak Island, Aleutian Campaign, Alaska, 1943. Dmitri Kessel—Time & Life Pictures: Getty Images
51 Photographs from the WWII Aleutian Islands Campaign
Playing chess, Adak Island, Aleutian Campaign, Alaska, 1943. Dmitri Kessel—Time & Life Pictures: Getty Images
51 Photographs from the WWII Aleutian Islands Campaign
Pin-up photos adorn the walls of a bomber-crew shack on Adak Island, Aleutian Campaign, Alaska, 1943. Dmitri Kessel—Time & Life Pictures: Getty Images
51 Photographs from the WWII Aleutian Islands Campaign
An American nurse, Aleutian Campaign, Alaska, 1943. Dmitri Kessel—Time & Life Pictures: Getty Images

51 Photographs from the WWII Aleutian Islands Campaign
Nurses fishing, Dutch Harbor, Aleutian Campaign, Alaska, 1943. Dmitri Kessel—Time & Life Pictures: Getty Images
51 Photographs from the WWII Aleutian Islands Campaign
A Seabee strings wire for communications on the island of Adak, Aleutian Campaign, Alaska, 1943
51 Photographs from the WWII Aleutian Islands Campaign
American troops are carted by tractor to the movies from an isolated camp in Massacre Valley, Attu Island, Aleutian Campaign, Alaska, 1943. Dmitri Kessel—Time & Life Pictures: Getty Images
51 Photographs from the WWII Aleutian Islands Campaign
A P-38 Lightning above the Aleutian Islands, Alaska, 1943. Dmitri Kessel—Time & Life Pictures: Getty Image
51 Photographs from the WWII Aleutian Islands Campaign
The rocky peaks of Attu Island, Alaska, 1943. Dmitri Kessel—Time & Life Pictures: Getty Images
51 Photographs from the WWII Aleutian Islands Campaign
Dutch Harbor, Aleutian Islands, WWII, 1943. Dmitri Kessel—Time & Life Pictures: Getty Images
51 Photographs from the WWII Aleutian Islands Campaign
A docked submarine, Dutch Harbor, Aleutian Islands, WWII, 1943. Dmitri Kessel—Time & Life Pictures: Getty Images
51 Photographs from the WWII Aleutian Islands Campaign
American troops, Aleutian Islands, WWII, 1943. Dmitri Kessel—Time & Life Pictures: Getty Images
51 Photographs from the WWII Aleutian Islands Campaign
Aleutian Islands Campaign, Alaska, 1943. Dmitri Kessel—Time & Life Pictures: Getty Images
51 Photographs from the WWII Aleutian Islands Campaign
A bunker on Kiska Island, Aleutian Campaign, World War II, 1943. Dmitri Kessel—Time & Life Pictures: Getty Images
51 Photographs from the WWII Aleutian Islands Campaign
On the island of Kiska, men build fires near wrecked equipment and cook their meals, Alaska, 1943. Dmitri Kessel—Time & Life Pictures: Getty Images
51 Photographs from the WWII Aleutian Islands Campaign
Resting on a downed plane, Aleutian Islands Campaign, Alaska, 1943. Dmitri Kessel—Time & Life Pictures: Getty Images
51 Photographs from the WWII Aleutian Islands Campaign
USS Pruitt leads landing craft from USS Heywood toward their landing beaches in Massacre Bay, Attu, on the first day of the May 11, 1943, invasion of Attu. Pruitt used her radar and searchlight to guide the boats nine miles through the fog. The searchlight beam is faintly visible pointing aft from atop her pilothouse. Some 15,000 American and Canadian troops successfully landed on the island. U.S. Navy
51 Photographs from the WWII Aleutian Islands Campaign
Landing boats pouring soldiers and their equipment onto the beach at Massacre Bay, Attu Island, Alaska. This is the southern landing force on May 11, 1943. The American and Canadian troops took control of Attu within two weeks, after fierce fighting with the Japanese occupying forces. Of the allied troops, 549 were killed and 1,148 wounded — of the Japanese troops, only 29 men survived. U.S. burial teams counted 2,351 Japanese dead and presumed hundreds more were unaccounted for. The Atlantic
51 Photographs from the WWII Aleutian Islands Campaign
A train of bombs drops from United States Army Air forces plane on territory in the Aleutians held by the Japanese in 1943. The Atlantic
51 Photographs from the WWII Aleutian Islands Campaign
Bombs dropped from a U.S. bomber detonate on Japanese-occupied Kiska Island, Alaska, on August 10, 1943. USAF
51 Photographs from the WWII Aleutian Islands Campaign
Dozens of bombs fall from a U.S. bomber toward Japanese-occupied Kiska Island, Alaska, on August 10, 1943. Note the craters from previous bombing runs and the zig-zag trenches dug by the Japanese. USAF
51 Photographs from the WWII Aleutian Islands Campaign
Japanese ship aground in Kiska Harbor, on September 18, 1943. U.S. Navy
51 Photographs from the WWII Aleutian Islands Campaign
An American soldier leans against a wall in the captured Japanese headquarters on Kiska Island, beside graffiti caricatures of FDR and Churchill, 1943. Dmitri Kessel—Time & Life Pictures: Getty Images
51 Photographs from the WWII Aleutian Islands Campaign
The remains of a Japanese soldier, Aleutian Islands Campaign, Alaska, 1943. Dmitri Kessel—Time & Life Pictures: Getty Images
51 Photographs from the WWII Aleutian Islands Campaign
A heavily damaged midget submarine base constructed by occupying Japanese forces on Kiska Island, photo taken sometime in 1943, after Allied forces retook the island. The Atlantic
51 Photographs from the WWII Aleutian Islands Campaign
A Canadian member of the joint American-Canadian landing force squints down the sights of a Japanese machine gun found in a trench on Kiska Island, Alaska, on August 16, 1943. After the brutal fighting in the battle to retake Attu Island, U.S. and Canadian forces were prepared for even more of a fight on Kiska. Unknown to the Allies though, the Japanese had evacuated all their troops two weeks earlier. Although the invasion was unopposed, 32 soldiers were killed in friendly-fire incidents, four more by booby traps, and a further 191 were listed as Missing in Action. The Atlantic
51 Photographs from the WWII Aleutian Islands Campaign
Attu Island, Japanese Cemetery. Aleutian Campaign, World War II, 1943. Dmitri Kessel—Time & Life Pictures: Getty Images
51 Photographs from the WWII Aleutian Islands Campaign
Little Falls American Cemetary. Attu Island, Aleutian Campaign, World War II, 1943. Dmitri Kessel—Time & Life Pictures: Getty Images
51 Photographs from the WWII Aleutian Islands Campaign
Grave marker, Aleutian Islands, 1943. Dmitri Kessel—Time & Life Pictures: Getty Images

 

Sources For Further Reading:

The National WWII Museum – The Pacific Strategy, 1941-1944

The New York Times – Officer Who Broke Japanese War Codes Gets Belated Honor

The New York Times – Capt. Eric Nave, 94; Broke Japan’s Code Before Pearl Harbor

History Channel – How Codebreakers Helped Secure U.S. Victory in the Battle of Midway

Chicago Tribune – 1942 Tribune Story Implied Americans Cracked Japanese Code. Documents Show Why Reporter Not Indicted

The National WWII Museum – The Battle of the Komandorski Islands

WWII Database – Growler Ship

Brendan Coyle – Kiska: The Japanese Occupation of an Alaska Island

Business Insider – 75 Years Ago, US Troops Threw The Japanese Off North American Soil In A Frigid, ‘Forgotten’ World War II Battle

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