Chapter 12: Softening Up Kiska

In preparation for the next move in the Aleutian Campaign, the occupation of Kiska, both surface bombardment and bombing played important parts. The 11th Air Force did heroic work under difficult conditions. From 24 May to 15 August Kiska received a total of 600 tons of explosives as a result of surface bombardment, while 1,310 tons were dropped from the air. in addition to bombing, much strafing was done. Total sorties were 1,581. Captured diaries bear eloquent witness to the physical and moral effects of the continuous raids.

Obviously the figures for bombing (as, indeed, the figures for bombardment) are in no way comparable to those reached in later campaigns against enemy-held islands farther south. It must be remembered, however, that the air forces involved in the Aleutians Campaign were never large, and that weather conditions offered impediments to air activity which were matched in no other theater of war. The obstacles overcome by our airmen in conducting their ceaseless attacks would have been considered insuperable at the outset of the war.

It is now known that on 8 June Rear Admiral Akiyama issued orders for the abandonment of Kiska. There was no way in which our high command could learn of this enemy decision, so plans for the seizure of the island went forward rapidly during the month of June, while the 11th Air Force dropped 262 tons of bombs with the loss of but two planes. (The bomb weight was held to this low figure by execrable weather.)

During the major part of the period from 24 May to 15 August, a task group of cruisers and destroyers was on station north or south of Kiska. Frequently task groups operated both north and south of the island. From 8 June a destroyer blockade was maintained continuously, with the exception of 23 and 24 July, when a submarine was on patrol to the west.

Bombardment of 6 July

With the coming of July our major surface forces began to take an active hand in the softening up process. On the afternoon of 6 July Kiska was subjected to a 22-minute bombardment by Task Group George (Rear

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Admiral Robert C. Giffen). Ships involved were the Wichita (F) (Capt. John J. Mahoney), Louisville (now commanded by Capt. Alexander S. Wotherspoon), San Francisco (Capt. Albert F. France), Santa Fe (Capt. Russell S. Berkey), Hughes (Lt. Comdr. Herbert H. Marable), Lansdowne (Lt. Comdr. Francis J. Foley), Morris (Lt. Comdr. Edward S. Burns), and Mustin (Lt. Comdr. Earl T. Schreiber). The two last-named destroyers took no part in the bombardment proper, having been assigned as anti-submarine screen for the main force.

No enemy opposition was encountered, except sporadic and ineffective antiaircraft fire directed against spotting planes. Target areas were thought to have been thoroughly covered, although observation of results was not generally possible because of overcast and other factors. Particular attention was devoted to coast defense batteries believed to be located on North Head and Little Kiska, antiaircraft batteries at Gertrude Cove and South Head, and the Main Camp area (see chart, 113).

Under the fairly good visibility conditions, the 6-inch coast defense guns on Little Kiska were regarded as the primary threat to our vessels. The Santa Fe, with her superior volume of fire, was therefore assigned to lead the cruiser column, smothering this target during the first few minutes, after which she was to swing around to take position astern of the other cruisers. It was, of course, impossible to tell whether this procedure was responsible for the fact that the enemy batteries did not fire. Planes from Amchitka were bombing Kiska during the bombardment, and this may have preoccupied Japanese personnel to an extent which prevented opening fire. It is more likely, however, that the enemy did not wish to disclose his positions.

Not long after firing ceased, the fog closed in. Had the bombardment been delayed an hour, no air spot would have been possible.

In the course of the shelling, the following ammunition was expended: 312 round 8-inch 55-caliber, 256 6-inch 47 caliber, 1,158 5-inch 38 caliber, 92 5-inch 25 caliber (about 100 tons).

*       *       *

During the rest of July, Kiska was bombarded a number of times by destroyers of our blockade force, as follows:

 9 July -- Aylwin, 100 rounds
10 July -- Monaghan, 100 rounds
14 July -- Monaghan, 100 rounds

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15 July -- Monaghan, 100 rounds
20 July -- Aylwin and Monaghan, 200 rounds
30 July -- Farragut and Hull, 200 rounds

Little return fire was received and there was no conclusive evidence of important damage to the enemy. "However, the purpose, that of harassing the enemy, was accomplished," according to CINCPAC.

Bombardment of 22 July

On 22 July Kiska was subjected to a heavy combined air and surface bombardment. Two task groups were involved. These were organized as follows:

The battleship group approached from the north and the cruiser group from the south. Army planes bombed the island during the approach. Task Group George fired on e main camp and Little Kiska for 21 minutes,

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while Task Group Gilbert fired for 18 minutes on batteries at North Head, South Head, Sunrise Hill, and the submarine base.

Enemy resistance was negligible, and the bombardment proceeded exactly according to plan. Indirect fire was used throughout, though the weather was exceptionally clear. Gunnery performance was excellent. The only disquieting occurrences were "frequent reports of submarines cause by at least two porpoises and three whales sighted in the area between the bombardment track and Kiska Harbor."

Aerial photos indicated that all targets had been well covered. The Commanding General 116th Air Force flew past Kiska in the afternoon and reported that the entire area from north of Salmon Lagoon to south of Gertrude Cove was on fire as a result of shells and bombs.

Ammunition expended by the task groups was as follows (about 212 tons):

Caliber Task Group George Task Group Gilbert
14-inch HC     123
8-inch HC   345    63
6-inch HC   300  
5-inch 51 caliber HC     272
5-inch 38 caliber AA common   942   615
5-inch 25 caliber AA   132         1145
Totals: 1,719 1,084

No enemy batteries fired on Task Group George. Only one battery, composed of four 75-mm., was believed to have directed fire at Task Group Gilbert.

Radar Contacts of 25-26 July

During the last week of July, several radar contacts which were never positively identified were made west of the islands. on 23 July a Catalina on patrol made radar contact at 1224 with seven vessels in latitude 49º50' N., longitude 170º04' E., about 200 miles southwest of Attu. This was at first presumed to be Task Group George, but was not. During darkness on 26 July both task groups operating in company, made a radar contact 90 miles southwest of Kiska and took it under fire at ranges of 12,000-

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20,000 yards. Starshells were used, but the target was never seen, and daylight searches by aircraft and ships failed to reveal anything. Radar officers later suggested that the contacts might have been caused by triple-trip echoes from Amchitka, about 110 miles away, brought about by unusual atmospheric conditions. Using this hypothesis in the case of the New Mexico, target course and speed could have been developed by the use of ranges of about 23,000 yards, instead of 223,000 (the distance to Amchitka), which finally gave target course approximately parallel to the American force and speed slightly less.

The heavy ships of Task Group Gilbert alone punished the phantoms with 518 14-inch shells, 485 8-inch, 25 5-inch 38 caliber, and 76 5-inch 25 caliber.

At 0840 on 29 July a Catalina made radar contact with 7 ships about 200 miles northwest of Attu. Contact was maintained until 1045 and then lost. Because of the fog, the vessels could never be identified. perhaps they were engaged in evacuating Kiska.

Bombardment of 2 August

On the afternoon of 2 August, Task Group Baker (Rear Admiral Wilder D. Baker) and Task Group King (Rear Admiral Howard F. Kingman) carried out a combined bombardment, the former from the south, the latter from the north. The groups were organized as follows:

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The weather was clear at sea level, with a slight surface haze. The ceiling was about 1,000 feet. The bombardment was coordinated with bombing by 18 Liberators which lasted from 1610 to 1700. Task Group Baker covered targets in the area of Gertrude Cove, Main Camp, the west end of Little Kiska, and the South Head batteries. Task Group King covered North Head and the submarine base. There was no retaliatory fire. Ammunition expended is listed below (about 185 tons):

Caliber Task Group King Task Group Baker
14-inch HC 120  
8-inch HC   250
6-inch HC   605
5-inch 931 406
Totals: 1,051 1,261

Bombardments were also conducted during this period by the destroyers of the Kiska blockade, two of which remained continually on station. Ten such bombardments were executed between 2 and 15 August by the Abner Read, Aylwin, Farragut, Hull, Monaghan, and Phelps. A total of 994 rounds of 5-inch ammunition was expended.

Bombardment of 12 August

On 12 August another pre-dawn bombardment was carried out by Task Group Baker, with the Phelps taking the place of the Farragut. Firing lasted from 0712 to 0733. Ammunition expended was 85 rounds of 8-inch, 450 of 6-inch, and 1,072 of 5-inch, or about 50 tons. Spotting planes reported target areas well covered, but damage was, as usual, difficult to assess, particularly because of the excellence of the enemy's camouflage. There was no return fire, except small arms and tracer, and possibly a few rounds from a battery on the west side of Jeff Cove. The bombardment was followed by two days of aerial attacks, involving 128 planes which dropped 87 tons of bombs.
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44 Drawn from her blockading station to augment the group.

45 On a whale.

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