The Battle for Attu
A Photo Collection of Fighting for US Soil in World War II
by Cecil Sanders
On this day, 74 years ago, the U.S. military landed 11,000 troops on the island of Attu, in the Aleutian Islands, in an effort to retake the island from the occupying enemy forces of Japan, which they had seized the previous year.
PBY-5A Catalina patrol plane flying past Segula Island (just east of Kiska), Aleutians, Summer 1942.
A U.S. Navy reconnaissance photo of four Japanese Mitsubishi A6M-2N Rufe seaplane fighters at Holtz Bay, Attu on 7 November 1942.
Six months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Japanese forces attacked and occupied the remote volcanic island of Attu and built a garrison. Attu was significant for the Japanese strategy, because it would help give their military control of the northern Pacific.
The fierce battle began on May 11, 1943 and lasted till the 30th, 19 days. Military strategists had estimated the battle to last only two days. American forces were not prepared to fight in the elements for the extended duration of time. Many casualties were due to the inhospitable climate, but the brave troops carried on and defeated the occupying Japanese force.
With death or surrender imminent, Japanese Colonel Yasuyo Yamasaki and the remaining survivors led a desperate banzai charge. Eventually succumbing to the overwhelming American firepower, many of the surviving Japanese combatants from the banzai attack committed suicide, most by discharging a grenade against their stomach.
Of the nearly 2500 Japanese troops on the island when U.S. forces arrived, only 30 remained to be taken prisoner. Ninety-nine percent were dead. U.S. forces suffered a loss of 1,000 troops.
African-American soldiers of the labor battalion deployed by the US Army eating a meal in the field, Massacre Bay, Attu, Aleutian Islands, US Territory of Alaska, 20 May 1943 | Credit: Vincent Wallace
Aerial photo of Chichagof harbor on Attu island, Alaska (USA), during the Battle of Attu, 11 to 30 May 1943.
A group of approximately 40 dead Japanese soldiers at a ridge on Attu, Aleutian Islands, US Territory of Alaska, 29 May 1943
USS Louisville (CA-28) steams out of Kulak Bay, Adak, Aleutian Islands, bound for operations against Attu, 25 April 1943.
Japanese Special Naval Landing Force troops at Attu or Kiska, Aleutian Islands, US Territory of Alaska, circa mid-1942
American ships in Adak Harbor, Aleutian Islands, US Territory of Alaska, Aug 1943 | Credit: United States Nat’l Archives
If you enjoyed this piece of Alaska history, be sure to check out “The Trading Post – History of a Colony Project Building.“