Chapter 10: Second Bombardment of Attu
26 April 1943

During March our air operations had been stepped up to an extent which permitted 39 raids to be made on Kiska during the month. In early April, however, a spell of stormy weather with winds up to 108 m.p.h. grounded all planes for five days. Nevertheless, by the 21st Kiska had been attacked 83 times, and by the end of the month 640 tons of bombs had been dropped.

Meanwhile strong reinforcements for the North Pacific Force began to reach the area in preparation for the eventual assault on Attu. These included two battleships, four cruisers, and many destroyers. Admiral McMorris' striking group had lost the services of the Salt Lake City, Bailey, Dale, and Monaghan, but had been strengthened by the assignment of the Santa Fe (Capt. Russel S. Berkey), Detroit (Capt. Ellis H. Beiselman), Bancroft (Comdr. John L. Melgaard), Caldwell (Lt. Comdr. Horatio A Lincoln), Edwards (Lt. Comdr. Paul G. Osler), Frazier (Lt. Comdr. Frank Virden), and Gansevoort (Comdr. Edward A. McFall). During April it operated westward and northwestward of Attu, to prevent supplies and reinforcements reaching the western islands. The last ship known to have reached Attu was the Kankyo Maru (3,200 tons) which arrived and departed on 25 March. It is believed that after the Battle of the Komandorskis no enemy ships, except submarines, ran the blockade, but there was the continuing threat that the attempt would be made.

Task Group Mike was conducting its usual patrol on the afternoon of 25 April when it received a dispatch from Admiral Kinkaid directing the bombardment of Holtz Bay and Chichagof Harbor shortly after daylight the next day. Preparations were immediately made and targets assigned to individual ships. Course was laid for Holtz Bay and a speed of 20 knots set to arrive off its entrance soon after daybreak.

About 0530 Attu was sighted to the southeastward. Visibility was poor, with fog patches and snow squalls in many directions. An hour later the weather was still unpromising. Wind and sea had picked up so much that the contemplated launching of aircraft was canceled, since recovery would have been most hazardous. At this time heading was changed to 130º T., the bombardment course, which was maintained thereafter except

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for a six-minute interval when the group shifted course to close the coastline.

The weather began to clear slightly at 0800. Fifteen minutes later signal to commence firing was executed. The order of ships was Caldwell, Bancroft, Coghlan, Richmond, Santa Fe, Detroit, Frazier, Gansevoort, and Edwards. To avoid interfering with each other's fire, ships were, for the most part, to fire in succession, though not necessarily in accordance with their positions in the column.

The Caldwell began the action. The Santa Fe then joined in, and after several minutes a mass of black, smoke was observed in the east arm of Holtz Bay, near the airfield. At 0830 a small fog patch drifted across the harbor entrance and prevented firing for a short interval. When the guns resumed, various conflagrations and explosions were noted, but none of any great importance. By 0840 signal was made to cease firing, since allotted ammunition had been expended, and the headlands were closing off all targets. At the end of the bombardment, air coverage was instituted by a B-24 and later by a patrol plane.

Better results might have been achieved, in the opinion of Admiral McMorris, if it had been possible to use spotting planes. But the task group commander feared that the harbors would soon be completely closed down by the fog and felt that he should make use of present opportunities. As it was, except for the lack of spotting aircraft, "conditions proved to be excellent." The task group commander believed that the bombardment had been much more effective than the previous one of 18 February. Fire control was generally satisfactory.

No major installations or shipping were observed. There were no signs of personnel or activity ashore. A number of small buildings and huts, however, testified to the presence of the enemy, even if he did not choose to give away the positions of his artillery by firing on the task group. In April the task group was familiar with the area and was augmented by the Santa Fe, a most effective bombardment ships. Photographs taken nine or ten days after the action showed many craters in regions where building activity had been noted by prior reconnaissance, as well as in the vicinity of the incomplete airfield. In view of later experience, however, it seems unlikely that a restricted bombardment of this type could have caused more than transitory inconvenience to the enemy.

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By the end of April, Adak, the center of operations in the Aleutians area, was maintaining a garrison of 19.067 Army personnel and 7,811 Navy. At Amchitka, where there were 10,260 Army and 903 Navy personnel, a 5,000-foot bomber strip had been completed during the month. The new fields on Amchitka enabled our air power at last to assume significant proportions. Many buildings in the Main Camp area on Kiska, as well as part of the submarine base, had been destroyed. But despite the 1,000 sorties made by our planes during April, new construction on Kiska and Attu rapidly replaced damaged structures.

In May we made 35 strikes in 22 days, 17 against Kiska, 17 against Attu, and one directed at the Rat Islands. Our air forces dropped 470 tons of bombs on the two major islands with a loss of 28 planes, only three of which were known to have been destroyed by enemy action. But in this month air activity was suddenly eclipsed by the long-hoped-for, long-planned invasion of Attu.

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