Consequently, in December 1942, Rear Admiral Francis W. Rockwell, Commander Amphibious Force Pacific Fleet (and later ComTaskFor Roger), was directed by CINCPAC to submit an estimate of the situation and a plan for the reduction and occupation of Kiska. Admiral Rockwell in turn called upon Maj. Gen. Holland M. Smith, USMC, commanding Amphibious Corps Pacific Fleet, for his judgment as to the forces required and for a tactical plan. Since available information was insufficient, General Smith was unable to submit a tactical plan, but he believed that about 27,000 men would be required, an estimate which closely approximated those reached independently by Admiral Nimitz and Admiral Kinkaid,
Command North Pacific and Commander Task Force King (formerly Task Force Tare).
Early in January CINCPAC forwarded to ComTaskFor Roger and ComTaskFor King a plan developed jointly with Lt. Gen. John L. DeWitt, Commanding General Western Defense Command, which provided for training a force for the assault upon and occupation of Kiska. Army forces were to include the 7th Infantry Division plus the 184th Infantry Regiment, the 507th AA Regiment, and part of the Alaska garrison force. The training staff, transports, and landing craft were to be supplied by Task Force Roger. Support ships were to be provided by CINCPAC, since Task Force King still contained only a few cruisers and destroyers. Training of units in the United States proper was to be conducted under the supervision of Task Force Roger and the Western Defense Command at Fort Ord, California, while the Alaskan units, although indirectly under the same control, were actually to be trained by Task Force King and the Alaska Defense Command. The four commanders were to form a joint staff for training and for the conduct of the operation itself.
Shortly thereafter, Maj. Gen. A.E. Brown, USA, reported to ComTaskFor Roger with the 7th Infantry Division, reinforced, which was placed in training at Fort Ord under Maj. Gen. Smith. By 15 January preliminary work had begun, but until 10 February the division was at only about 70 per cent strength. Initial instruction was given by Marine officers. On 24 January Admiral Rockwell reported to CINCPAC that the earliest date of troop readiness would be about 1 May, assuming that four attack transports and one attack cargo vessel were available on 22 February and an additional division of ships a week later.
By the end of January the joint staff had assembled in San Diego and begun detailed study of the forthcoming operation. Basic decisions were reached regarding equipment and personnel desired, and resulting recommendations were closely followed, except as modified by circumstances and the non-availability of some items.
Early in February available shipping suffered a reduction because of other commitments, and COMINCH directed that preparations for the Kiska operation be modified accordingly. A revised estimate of required forces was to be submitted after the results of the current air offensive based on Amchitka were known. Shortly thereafter it was necessary to withdraw
all AKAs and all but two APAs from training use because of combat needs. Instruction of the 7th Division continued as best it could, however, in order to capitalize on whatever results the air attacks from Amchitka might produce.
Amphibious training of that portion of the invasion force already in Alaska presented its own difficulties. no proper equipment was on hand, nor could a sufficient number of officer instructors be detached for duty in the north. It was suggested that key personnel be brought from Alaska to Fort Ord for training, but the Army proved unable to act on this recommendation.
The forst actual; ;landing exercises were conducted in California between 21 February and 9 March, using the two remaining APAs. Combat loading, embarkation, debarkation, ship-to-shore movements, rubber boat training, and boat gun firing were stressed.
Two more APAs, the Zeilin and Heywood, were then added to the two already on hand (J. Franklin Bell and Harris). With these four ships and the XAP President Fillmore further exercises were held between 17 and 27 March. Included was a daylight landing on San Clemente Island, with actual gunfire support by the battleships Idaho, Nevada, and Pennsylvania and the destroyers Abner Read (Comdr. Thomas Burrowes), Doyle (Lt. Comdr. Clarence E. Boyd), MacDonough, and Phelps. Carrier Aircraft Composite Squadrons 13 and 20 dropped live bombs and strafed with live ammunition. After the troops were reembarked, the combatant vessels engaged in a series of firing exercises in which call fire was delivered in response to requests by shore fire control parties.
The shortage of troop equipment and the lack of AKAs unfortunately prevented full scale loading for the exercises. It was difficult, therefore, to indoctrinate properly the personnel of shore parties attached to the regimental landing groups. The air squadrons employed were not those which were to support the landing, since these were already in the area, carrying on the offensive from Amchitka. Consequently the latter planes received no training in amphibious operations or in direct support of ground troops.
The shortage of equipment and shipping was such that on 3 March Admiral Kinkaid recommended that the Kiska operation be tabled for the time being, and that an attack on Attu be substituted. upon request from
CINCPAC for additional details, Admiral Kinkaid submitted a brief estimate, including the following points:
The Commanding General, Alaska Defense Command (Maj. Gen. Simon B. Buckner) concurred in general with these suggestions.
As a result, CINCPAC directed Admiral Rockwell to plan an operation against Attu. The joint staff discontinued work on the Kiska plan and began a study of the new objective. Training continued under the supervision of Admiral Rockwell, while Admiral Kinkaid was designated to take command of the operation as a whole. On 11 March CINCPAC made the following surface forces available for the assault, support, and covering operations: three battleships, three heavy cruisers, three over-age light cruisers, one escort carrier, nineteen destroyers, plus tenders, oilers, mine-sweepers, etc., and four attack transports. no AKAs could be provided without taking them from the South Pacific, and this was disapproved. One XAP, the Perida, eventually accompanied the Force, carrying one LCM(3) and ten LCVs.
News that the Joint Chiefs of Staff were definitely committed to the operation was received by Admiral Rockwell on 24 March. On 1 April CINCPAC and General DeWitt issued the following joint directive:
The objective is the reduction and occupation of Attu and the occupation of the most suitable airfield site in the Near Islands at the earliest practicable date. The purpose is to sever enemy lines of communication to the Western Aleutians, to deny the Near Islands to the enemy, and to construct an airfield thereon for air operations; to render Kiska untenable and to create a base of operations for possible future reduction and occupation of Kiska. The first task is to reduce and occupy the most suitable airfield site in the Near Islands and build an airfield thereon. Commander Task Force [KING] is in supreme command. Commander Amphibious Force, Pacific Fleet, is to operate under Commander Task Force [KING] and command amphibious operations until landing phase completed.
The Army commander is Commanding General 7th Division. . . . The forces assigned Navy are Task Forces [KING] and [ROGER]. Army forces, assault, reserve, and initial occupation troops as follows: Assault on Attu, 7th Division Combat Team, consisting 17th Infantry, one battalion field artillery, one battalion engineers for shore parties, one battery AA automatic weapons, three detachments 75th Special Signal Company, one company 7th Division Organic Combat Engineers, one medical collecting company, 7th Division. One platoon 7th Division Medical Clearing Company, Detachment Headquarters 7th Division Battalion, detachment 7th Division Quartermaster Battalion, detachment 7th Division Organic Signal Company. For the initial occupation of the selected site in the Near Islands, 18th Combat Engineers from Adak, 4th Infantry Composite Regiment from Adak. The floating reserve is one regimental combat team consisting of the 32nd Infantry with reinforcements similar to those for the 17th Infantry indicated above. The garrisons for Attu and the selected site in the Near Islands are to be designated by the Commanding General Western Defense Command, and are to include 17th Infantry Combat Team, 32nd Infantry Combat Team, 78th CAAA and 2nd Battalion 51st CAAA. The target date is May 7th, 1943. Command of occupied area will revert to the Army when senior Army officer Near Islands informs Commander Task Force [KING] that Army is ready to take over.
One auxiliary carrier, the Nassau (Capt. Austin K. Doyle), had been assigned to the operation, but because of the necessity for repairs, she did not become available until 16 April. Her squadron29 was organized subsequent to the assignment of the ships and had only five days to train. In general, the air plan was as follows: the carrier aircraft were primarily for air cover, but available for support if required. General air support was to be provided by the 11th Air Force, while long-range search was to be taken care of by PatWing Four. Spotting was to be carried out by ship-based seaplanes. The Army Air Force member of the joint staff was to be airborne at the scene of operations to coordinate Army air support. One Army-Navy liaison party was to accompany each battalion, as well as Commander Landing Force.
None of the personnel had had previous experience in this work. The Nassau squadron's limited training was cut short by the fact that weather prevented any launchings between the time of departure from the West Coast and D-day.
The plan for the capture of Attu included the use of scouts who were to be landed by dark in advance of the main assault. Considerable delay was experienced in obtaining for this purpose the services of the submarines Narwhal (Lt. Comdr. Frank D. Latta) and Nautilus (Lt. Comdr. William H. Brockman, Jr.). The commanding officer of the Scout Company, 7th Division, and about 100 troops were given a limited period of training in the Narwhal off San Clemente Island before departure for Dutch Harbor on 18 April. The Nautilus was under repair at Pearl Harbor, and had to proceed directly to Dutch Harbor on 21 April. Her complement of scouts was sent north in transports and received brief training at Dutch Harbor before the sailing date of the expedition.
Before the APAs were sent to San Francisco to load the assault force, a general conference was held, attended by the transport commander (Capt. pat Buchanan) and his staff, all commanding officers of APAs, and all transport quartermasters. At this meeting final discussions were held in connection with loading plans. Because of the lack of AKAs, the logistical problem was abnormally difficult, which resulted in considerable overloading of transport with both troops and cargo.
The APAs Harris, Heywood, J. Franklin Bell, and Zeilin arrived at San Francisco and began stowing cargo on 19 April. Soon they were joined by the motorship Perida. The loading was complete on 24 April, and the group departed for next day's rendezvous with the Naval Attack Force Commander (Admiral Rockwell). The latter had left San Pedro in the Pennsylvania on 23 April and had already rendezvoused with the Nassau, Neches, and screen. On the 25th the complete force set course for Cold Bay.
In order to maintain the utmost security concerning the planned assault, a number of effective measures had been adopted. A complete training order issued prior to departure from San Diego indicated that the force was merely going to train in that area. Medical officers were directed to give lecture on tropical diseases and on hygiene and sanitation in the tropics. Winter clothing shipped to the various vessels was concealed. After the rendezvous off San Francisco, the secret was finally divulged.30
During the planning phase, all aspects of security were rigorously enforced. When plans were completed, a minute inspection of the office which had been used was made by the security officer. Each desk drawer was pulled open and the space back of it searched. Everything, including walls and floors, was gone over several times to make sure nothing was left.
During passage, conferences took place between associated echelons of the transport group and the landing force. All instruction feasible on shipboard was given. photographs and relief maps were studied and the features of the terrain were discussed in detail.
While at anchor in Cold Bay on 1 May, debarkation drills were held. Debarkation and loading for the first boat trip were practiced the next day. A rehearsal landing which had been planned for the 3d, however, was abandoned because of dirty weather. All other drills were hampered by the necessary assignment of boats to other ships and by many special boat trips.
Simultaneously, joint Army-Navy conferences were held at which the final details of the task were worked out. D-day was tentatively set for 7 May, with H-hour at 0740. The basic plan for the operation had been prepared by the joint staff in San Diego.
The Western Defense Command estimated that enemy strength on Attu was now at least 1,350, mostly AA personnel and labor troops probably equipped as infantry. Admiral Kinkaid's estimate was 1,587.31
As the Attack Force prepared to sail on its mission, the basic organization of Task Forces King and Roger was as follows:
(b) Alaska Sector Escort and Supply Group, Rear Admiral John W. Reeves, Jr.:
(c) Motor Torpedo Boat Group
(d) Submarine Group.
(e) Southern Covering Group, Rear Admiral Charles H. McMorris:
(f) Northern Covering Group, Rear Admiral Robert C. Giffen.
(g) Attu Reinforcement Group, Capt. Charles L. Hutton, USN:
(h) Tanker and Service Group:
(i) Shemya Occupation Group, Brig. Gen. John E. Copeland:
4th Infantry Regiment, 18th Engineer Regiment, to be transported in 1 AP, 1 XAP, 3 XAPc's, 1 XAK.
Task Force Roger (Attack Force),32 Rear Admiral Francis W. Rockwell.
(k) Transport Group, Capt. Pat Buchanan:
(b) The Composite Battalion, consisting of the 7th Scout Company and the 7th Reconnaissance troop (less one platoon), was to land on D-day in Blind Cove (Beach Scarlet) from the Narwhal, Nautilus, and Kane.
(c) Battalion Combat Team 17-1 was to await orders afloat off Holtz Bay, ready to land at Beach Scarlet, Massacre Bay, or Sarana Bay, depending upon developments.
(d) One platoon of the 7th Reconnaissance Troop was to land on D-day at Alexai Point (Beach Rainbow).
(e) Support was to be provided by naval gunfire and ground force artillery, as well as by Army and Navy planes. Long-range search by naval aircraft was to take place twice a day. A striking force composed of one-third of available Army heavy and medium bombers was to be held in readiness to destroy all enemy shipping discovered by the search planes. Air liaison parties were assigned to each combat team to transmit requests for support to the attack force commander (Admiral Rockwell). Spotting for naval gunfire would be carried out by battleship or cruiser planes.
(f) Antisubmarine patrol was to be conducted by PBYs based on a tender in Massacre Bay or Sarana Bay.
(g) Reinforcements were to be held at Adak pending developments. A total of approximately 11,000 troops was to be used in the assault, 8000 of them in the main effort at Massacre Bay.
as 8 May by Admiral Kinkaid. On the afternoon of the 7th, it appeared likely that surf conditions would be unfavorable on the 8th. D-day was accordingly put off another 24 hours. The Idaho, Nevada, and screen were detached at 180033 on the 7th to proceed on westerly courses until in position to support the light cruisers of the Southern Covering Group, now operating to the west of Attu.
Weather continued so inclement that D-day was postponed to the 11th. Simultaneously it was learned that an important enemy convoy, protected by a strong naval force, was probably approaching the Aleutians from the west.34 Consequently Capt. Buchanan was ordered to take the transports and cargo vessels of the task force and proceed with six destroyers on an easterly course, while the Pennsylvania and two destroyers rendezvoused with the Idaho group. The battleships made contact with the Southern Covering Group and searched for the enemy throughout the 9th and 10th, but nothing was found. At 1800 on the 10th the battleships rendezvoused with the transports again in a dense fog, while the light cruiser group continued its patrol.
As a glance at the map, p. 112, will show, the assault plan involved widely separated landings. The 7th Scout Company was to land from the submarines on Beach Scarlet at 0300, followed by the 7th Reconnaissance Troop from the Kane. Battalion Combat Team 17-1 was to lie off Holtz Bay in the Bell, awaiting developments. The other three combat teams were to land in Massacre Bay at 0740. The two areas were separated by about 30 miles, and it was necessary to divide the task force into two groups for the approach. This entailed considerable shifting of units, and was carried out with great difficulty in the all-pervading fog. During these maneuvers the Sicard and MacDonough collided, with the result that the services of these vessels were lost. The Sicard was to have been boat control ship in the Holtz Bay area.
Unavoidable delays necessitated the postponement of H-hour to 0940, and finally to 1040. Had it not been for SG radar equipment, any formation of approach divisions would have been impossible, according to Capt.
Corn, commanding officer of the Pennsylvania. "The SG radar," he added, "is essential for combatant ships operating in the Aleutian area. The SG radar repeater (PPI) installed on the navigation bridge was invaluable."
At length the two sections of the force felt their way southward in the fog. The Northern Group consisted of the Pennsylvania, Idaho, Bell, Williamson, Meade, Phelps, Edwards, and Farragut. The Kane was not located in time to accompany this formation as planned. The Southern Group was composed of the Nevada, Zeilin, Heywood, Harris, Perida, Long, Ammen, Hull, Dewey, Dale, Abner Read, Pruitt, Chandler, Elliot, and Casco. The tug Ute was also attached to the task force, but her services were lost because of absence of radar for station keeping and lack of suitable communication equipment.
At 0927 the Phelps, which was acting as northern control vessel in the absence of the Sicard, led in eight landing craft with Aleut scouts to determine the feasibility of a landing on Beach Red. Nassau planes bombed the Holtz Bay area for half an hour. Later a scout boat reconnoitered Beach Red and reported to the Bell at 1205 that beach and surf conditions favored a landing. However, the Landing Force Commander (Maj. Gen. Brown) had directed Combat Team 17-1 to land either at Beach Red or Beach Scarlet, depending on advices from the scouts who had now been landed at both beaches. no reports had been received, so there was some delay in reaching a decision. Meanwhile the Southern Group off Massacre Bay had asked and received permission to delay its landings because of zero visibility.
The Kane had finally landed the Reconnaissance Troop at Beach Scarlet after the Scouts had looked it over and gone on. At 1349 Air reported that
the Scouts had reached the pass south of Beach Scarlet. Supplies were dropped to them there an hour later. They sent information that the pass beyond the crest was not feasible for motor vehicles. At 1540 Air reported that the Scouts were completely exhausted and had not moved for three hours, although enemy opposition had apparently not developed.
The hour finally selected for the main northern landing was 1450 and the place Beach Red. A few boats from the Bell had already followed the scout boat in, and now the remainder of Combat Team 17-1 went ashore. The Phelps had been patrolling around the point of departure since she had led the Aleut scouts in, but she returned to the transport area at 1250 with six empty boats. At this time the Bell's signal light was visible only at less than 600 yards .The Phelps started back toward the shore with 29 boats at 1410. An hour and a half later she led in six more. Between 1739 and 1754 she searched for empty boats lost in the fog and collected 26 of them, returning them to the transport area by 1903. The remainder of the night was spent in leading other waves to the beach.
Because of the atrocious visibility conditions, no direct gunfire support of these landings was possible for fear of hitting boats and troops. The Pennsylvania and Idaho, however, began a bombardment of the Chichagof area at 151 to neutralize enemy batteries. Radar control was used, and fire was maintained for an hour.35
The charts showed a track through the bay and stated that no soundings of less than nine fathoms had been discovered. The duties of the control
vessel Pruitt were further complicated by the faulty visibility. Having no SG radar, the Pruitt had to be conned in by the Dewey.
As originally scheduled, the first wave was to be preceded by long-range battleship bombardment. Thereafter two destroyers were to enter the bay at either end of the track charted nine years earlier by the Quail, close the beaches to give gunfire support, and retire at the opposite end of the track. If visibility was low, which it definitely was, there was danger of collision between the destroyers. This danger was removed, however, by bad weather which forced a cancellation of this portion of the plan.
At 0815 the transports topped in the transport area. The Pruitt closed the Zeilin to within 300 yards, but visual communication was often impossible. Boats were lowered, while the Pruitt stood off and awaited the formation of waves. At 1020 the Harris boat group commander reported. The Zeilin group was then mustered and accounted for, except for 6 LCPs which were lost in the fog. They finally rejoined at 1355. H-hour was then scheduled for 1530.
At 1410 the Pruitt got underway and headed for the point of departure at 6.5 knots. The fog made it difficult to keep the boat waves in sight, and one of them was soon lost, despite the sounding of "Charlie" on the Pruitt's whistle every minute. The group commander was sent back to round the waves up, and the formation lay to from 1422 to 1449 while this was being accomplished. At 1515, on word from the Dewey, which was navigating by SG radar, the Pruitt started deploying the boats in attack formation. Shortly thereafter four LCMs were dispatched to Beaches Blue and Yellow to fire rockets and return.36 At 1520 the Pruitt reached the point of departure, stopped, and planted a buoy. Visibility had not improved. No land was in sight.
The first wave of 12 LCPs was sent off for Beaches Yellow and Blue on course 320º T., the heading which the ship was maintaining at anchor with the engines. Two reserve boats followed the first wave in, and two LCPs went to Beach Rainbow with one platoon of the Reconnaissance Troop. At 1530 the second wave of 13 LCPs was dispatched to the main landing places. A few minutes later the following message was received from the first wave: "Hit brick wall, what do?" It was thought that the wave had run into the foul area to the east of the objective, so it was instructed to turn left, which proved to be correct.
At 1550 the third wave of ten LCPs went in. Thereupon the Pruitt requested Admiral Rockwell's permission to advance within sight of the beach in order to overcome the persistent tendency of coxswains to steer off course to the right. Lacking SG radar, the Pruitt had been prevented by the fog from tracking the boats in more than 300-400 yards and had been unable to coach the wave commander by reference to prominent landmarks.
The request was granted. At 1606 the beach was sighted, and, with typical Aleutian fickleness, visibility suddenly lifted to 1,500 yards. Other waves were then dispatched. At 1620 word was received that the first two waves had landed without resistance. Soon radio communications with the beachmaster were established. By 1640 all the remaining waves had landed. The Pruitt waited until 1732, when the empty boats had closed her and been accounted for, and then returned to the transport area with the assistance of coaching by the Dewey.
The task force commander was informed that six waves had landed at Beach Blue, three at Beach Yellow, and one at Beach Rainbow. No opposition had been encountered anywhere, nor did the troops on Beach Yellow meet the enemy while driving about 2,000 yards inland before 1800. The only casualties were those caused by an accident during the second boat trip from the Heywood. In the murk, Boat No. 13 hit a submerged object. The bow man thought it had touched shore and released the ramp safety hooks in preparation for landing. The brake on the winch then tripped accidentally, dropping the ramp. The boat was going full speed, and despite all effort of personnel it filled with water and sank, drowning four soldiers.
* * *
By 2000 the troops at Beach Red had advanced 1,500 yards, noting some firing which was presumed to come from our own forces. By 2130, 1,100 troops were ashore at this beach, 2,000 at Yellow and Blue, and 400 at Scarlet.
During the first trip to the southern beaches, considerable difficulty was experienced because of the necessity of interchanging landing craft between transports so that complete combat teams could be landed. During the second trip the fog was so dense that each ship was directed to use its own boats. This trip landed about 2255. Shortly thereafter Commander Landing Force set up his command post on Beach Yellow.
Except for the brief bombing in the morning by Nassau planes, the weather permitted no effective air support. Army planes remained overhead, however, and were occasionally able to make valuable reports on progress of units such as the Scout Company at Beach Scarlet and drop supplies to them.
Apparently the enemy did not discover our landings until about 1510, and complete tactical surprise was achieved.37 All in all, progress was most encouraging. It had been estimated that one full day would be required for the capture of the airfield, and it still seemed that this length of time would not be much exceeded.
Upon request of Shore Fire Control Party No. 3, the Pennsylvania delivered an hour's neutralization fire against enemy targets in the West Arm of Holtz Bay. Communications were good, and the bombardment, in which both 14-inch HC and 5-inch 38 caliber AA common were used, was reported most effective.38
At 1158 the air liaison officer reported to Admiral Rockwell that the Holtz Bay area was sufficiently open to permit air bombing and strafing. A flight from the Nassau was sent in to operate against that sector with 100-pound demolition bombs and machine guns. Heavy antiaircraft fire was encountered. Shortly thereafter, Army bombers were able to carry out an attack against targets to the rear of the East Arm. The air coordinator reported heavy antiaircraft fire from two targets in the beach area. At 1400 the Idaho fired 48 rounds of 14-inch HC at an average range of 18,000 yards to try to neutralize these targets.
Beach Red suffered from intermittent enemy artillery fire throughout the day. The Phelps was ordered to deal with targets in the Chichagof area which were suspected of being responsible for this annoyance, while at 1537 the Idaho fired 200 rounds of 14-inch into the West Arm to support attacks by Combat Team 17-1, which had finally run into strong enemy resistance. Though the day's gunfire support of the northern landings was reported as being well-delivered and effective, it did not succeed in actually destroying the artillery targets.
The Bell continued unloading off Beach red all day, a tedious process, because rocks permitted only one or two boats to go ashore at a time. As a result, the ship was thoroughly exposed to submarine attack, but none eventuated.
In the southern area, meanwhile, the Nevada and Abner Read had supported our troops with heavy gunfire several times during the day, paying particular attention to the Massacre Bay-Holtz Bay passes. Shore fire control was employed. The Nevada silenced an enemy mountain battery, and results were believed to have been generally excellent.
Combat Team 32-2 from the Perida began to go ashore during the morning, the first boats reaching the beach about 1140, after the fog had again closed in. Three hours later, weather conditions permitted the transports to move in. The Long, Elliot, and Chandler swept the channel into Massacre Bay, and the Ute led the Zeilin in by about 500 yards. Immediately upon anchoring, continuous unloading was begun, as well as evacuation of casualties from the beach. Slight interruptions began to occur at 1700, when berths were shifted as a result of a survey of the bay which was being completed by the Ute, Pruitt, and Hydrographer (Comdr. William M. Scaife, Jr.). During one of the moves, the Perida struck a pinnacle, ruptured holds No. 1 and No. 2. The Hydrographer was ordered to sound a course from the Perida to the beach, while the Ute stood by to assist the stricken vessel. The Perida reported that it would be necessary to run her bow ashore to prevent further flooding and requested the location of a suitable shoal. She was told to use Beach Yellow. At 2010, with five feet of water in No. 1 hold and seven feet in No. 2, she was run on the west end of Beach Yellow. The Ute stood by to keep the damaged ship's stern to seaward and to assist in salvage operations. Other ships were directed to send one LCM(3) apiece to help discharge the flooded holds. The
Hydrographer was then ordered to complete a survey of the bay, placing navigational aids which consisted in the main of empty gasoline drums supplied by the Zeilin.
The situation ashore was not so favorable as had been hoped at the end of the previous day. The troops were finding the going very difficult, and the number available for combat was greatly diminished by an unforeseen circumstance. It was found almost impossible to operate trucks and tractors in the Attu mud, with the result that many soldiers had to be assigned to labor duties. At the urgent request of Commander Landing Force, Admiral Rockwell directed the Chirikof and the Grant (Capt. Charles L. Hutton), which were remaining within ten hours steaming distance, to approach and land their reserve troops, although he felt some hesitation in issuing this order until the transports already in Massacre Bay had been unloaded.
Shortly thereafter there was considerable excitement in the Holtz Bay area when the Pennsylvania, which was moving offshore, saw a torpedo approaching. Successful evasive action was taken.
At midnight the first casualty report reached the task force commander. Forty-four officers and men had been killed so far. It also became know at this time that progress inland had ceased in the Massacre Bay sector, both battalion combat teams being pinned down by machine-gun fire. Commander Landing Force expressed the opinion that results would be best and most quickly achieved by commitment of another battalion from those aboard the Chirikof and Grant.
As on the previous day, visibility limited the amount of air support which could be offered. Several missions, however, were accomplished by both carrier and Army planes under conditions of great danger. The Casco moved into Massacre Bay, and six PBYs and four battleship OS2Us based on her. When the latter were not spotting gunfire or flying antisubmarine patrols, they dropped depth bombs with instantaneous fuzes on isolated Japanese positions.
The control of all air support remained in the hands of Admiral Rockwell until 16 May, when it was turned over to Commander Landing Force. During the period of the attack, the Nassau cruised off Holtz Bay and northeast of Attu. Because of the necessity of taking advantage of brief breaks in the weather, she rarely operated more than 40 miles from the
target area. Sometimes she ventured within ten miles of Holtz Bay. When she steamed independently of the task force, antisubmarine coverage was provided by PBYs and destroyers.
At 1200 the transports Grant and Chirikof, escorted by the gunboat Charleston, arrived at Massacre Bay with their reinforcements. At this juncture enemy resistance in the Holtz Bay was so determined that the Chirikof was directed to proceed to the northern landings area and land her battalion combat team at Beach Red. Fog delayed arrival at that point until 1730, when boats from the Bell were immediately employed in effecting landings. Because of the restricted approaches already mentioned, these were not completed until 1030 the next morning. The Grant, however, unloaded at Massacre Bay by 2100.
The Nevada bombarded targets in the southern landing area four times during the day.39 Progress in this sector was negligible, however, and at
about 2300 Commander Landing Force recommended landing further reinforcements which were still at Adak. Commander transports reported at 2400 that the APAs were 55 per cent unloaded, the Perida 14 per cent, and that the Hydrographer was making progress in buoying a safe entrance channel to massacre Bay and expected to complete the work in 24 hours.
In the northern landing area, the Idaho and Phelps executed minor fire support missions whenever the weather let up. From 1713 to 1800, planes from the Nassau armed with 100-pound demolition bombs made five to seven runs apiece, strafing and bombing enemy barges in Holtz Bay which were reported to be lobbing shells into our lines. Japanese machine guns were also silenced, enabling our troops to move to new positions and set up their artillery. Hitherto the guns with Combat Team 17-1 had been silent because of enemy shelling. It was fortunate that they were able to open up at last, because at 1818 Admiral Rockwell informed Commander Landing Force that the ships were running low on ammunition.
that the ship's position be established by radar. Both main and secondary batteries were used, air bursts being employed for the 5-inch firing.
The troops managed to advance only 500 yards, but Admiral Rockwell considered this fire support the most successful of the entire operation because it was closely integrated with the ground effort. Enemy positions were well dug in and gun positions well defiladed, but neutralization was accomplished.
The Army reported that the battle in the Holtz Bay area was in a critical state, but that if naval gunfire could be kept up, our troops could forge ahead. Consequently, some time after the flagship had ceased firing, the Phelps was sent in to back up the advance and fired 677 round of 5-inch. Spotters stated that fire was "excellently done."
Admiral Rockwell informed Commander Landing Force that Admiral Kinkaid felt the need of prompt action to secure Attu and pointed out that the naval task force must be ready to meet strong Japanese naval forces possibly assembling in the North Pacific. In connection with his request for reinforcements from Adak, General Brown was asked to furnish an estimate of the situation.
Meanwhile Commander Landing Force had reported that little progress was being made in dealing with the entrenched positions in the mouths of the passes between Massacre and Holtz Bays and said that he intended to resume the attack in the morning. Later, in estimating the situation as requested, he ascribed the slow progress to difficult terrain, greater enemy forces than had been expected, as evidenced by captured documents, and lack of sufficient troops to accomplish his mission.
Carrier air activities during the day were limited to two flights of four Wildcats, dispatched in response to urgent requests from troops. The weather was so severe that four planes and three pilots were lost.
One flight each of Army B-25s and B-24s managed to reach the area. The B-25s were unable to drop, but the B-24s "made a daring flight" and bombed targets in the East Arm of Holtz Bay. Another B-24, in an effort to get provisions to forward elements, crashed in a mountain pass.
By the early afternoon of the 14th, the Nevada and Idaho had expended all their 14-inch HC ammunition. Because of this and the increasing submarine threat, the force commander ordered them to proceed northward with their screen and await orders. At the end of the day, the unloading
situation was as follows: Heywood, 100 per cent; Zeilin, 90 per cent; Harris, 72 per cent; Grant, 50 percent; Perida, 30 per cent.
Attacks scheduled for the morning were delayed by the usual poor visibility. Commander Landing Force again recommended to Admiral Rockwell that reinforcements be sent from Adak, saying that they might make all the difference between the success and failure of the operation. in order that all concerned might fully understand the situation, he requested a conference with Admiral Rockwell, Admiral Kinkaid, and General DeWitt.
At 1140 four torpedoes passed on either side of the Bell and not far from the Pennsylvania. Attempts to destroy the submarine were unsuccessful. The Bell was temporarily withdrawn from the area to avoid further attacks.
A fuller estimate of the situation was received from General Brown and forwarded with comments to Admiral Kinkaid by Admiral Rockwell. The task force commander recommended that the requested reinforcements be sent, as well as tugs, barges, and other smaller craft to promote local mobility, that maximum air support be afforded, but the naval gunfire support be withdrawn. He further stated that the landing phase of the operation would be completed with the withdrawal of the APAs, and that the Pennsylvania and Nassau should sail in company with them.
At 1410 General Brown came aboard the Pennsylvania and urgently reiterated his requests for reinforcements, saying that all available forces were now committed, and that without additional strength it would not be possible to take Attu. Admiral Rockwell reported the results of this conference to Admiral Kinkaid and said that the Bell had been ordered to return to Beach Red with the hope of completing unloading next day so that she and the Harris and Zeilin might be sent to Adak to load troops if Admiral Kinkaid so directed.
At the conference captured Japanese documents were produced which indicated that the size of the enemy force was between 2,000 and 2,500 men.
The troops in the southern landing area made little headway during the day, but the northern forces, which had at length been joined by the troops from Beach Scarlet, had advanced two-thirds of the way across the valley of the West Arm of Holtz Bay. At 1700, however, Beach Red was still undergoing artillery fire from the East Arm.
Weather prevented carrier operations, but an Army B-24 managed to drop urgently needed supplies to the provisional battalion (the troops from Beach Scarlet). A flight of P-38s arrived during the late afternoon simultaneously with a break in the weather, and delivered an effective attack on Japanese forces opposing our northern troops, including the antiaircraft artillery in the East Arm.
Admiral Rockwell was informed during the morning that one battalion of the 4th Infantry would leave Adak on the 17th in the St. Mihiel to arrive early the next evening. At 1910 the attack force commander directed Capt. Knowles in the Heywood to assume local naval control, and the Pennsylvania in company with the Abner Read, Ammen, and Pruitt, and the Nassau with the Aylwin and Meade, withdrew to the northward. Air-ground control passed to Commander Landing Force at 2000. At 2130 the Zeilin, Harris, and Bell, having discharged all their cargo, departed for Adak with their screen.
At 2210 Maj. Gen. Eugene Landrum reported to Admiral Rockwell that he had assumed command of the landing force by order of Admiral Kinkaid.
The following day General Landrum informed Admiral Kinkaid of his future plans. He requested two rifle companies, a firing battery, and the headquarters unit of the 32d Infantry at Adak, as well as freighters contianing 105-mm. ammunition, which was running short. Further he asked that one attack transport be retained at Adak to move up additional reinforcements.
Late rin the morning the rest of the Holtz Bay area was cleared of the enemy, and contact was reported between the southern andnorthern sections of the landing force. Consequently, at 1633, Admiral Kinkaid informed Admiral Rockwell that when the St. Mihiel arrived at Massacre Bay the landing force would become Attu Occupation Force.40 Thereafter Admiral Rockwell was to retire to Adak, leaving the SOPA in the Heywood (Capt. Knowles) in naval control. Admiral Rockwell told General Landrum that the Aylwin, Meade, and Phelps (the first-named when she had completed her duty with the Nassau's screen) would be available for gunfire support. He also notified Admiral Kinkaid of his intention toepart at 0600 on the 19th. At 2218 the landing phase of the operation was completed.41
One passed 50 yards ahead of the Charleston, one paralleled the ship 25 yards to port, and two passed 50 and 100 yards astern respectively. The Charleston was struck by 17 bullets, the Phelps by eight. One plane crashed about three miles away, under fire from both ships. One torpedo was exploded by gunfire as it was dropping.
The next day another air attack on Attu by 126 Bettys was intercepted over Cape Wrangell by six P-38s, and the Japanese planes were forced to jettison their bombs. Five hostile aircraft were shot down. We lost two P-38s and one pilot.
On the morning of the 24th the Phelps conducted a final bombardment, expending 426 rounds of 5-inch 38 caliber antiaircraft common. At 1155 the destroyer departed for Adak accompanied by the Meade. The Charleston continued her support work on the 25th and 26th. On those days and on the 22d she expended a total of 951 rounds of 6-inch 47 ammunition.
After preliminary reconnaissance, the island of Shemya was occupied on 30 May by Army troops under command of Brig. Gen. Copeland. The landing was made without opposition, and Army engineers immediately began construction of a bomber runway which was ultimately to be 10,000 feet long. By 21 June 3,000 feet were complete, and fighters could operate.
When supported from the air and by naval gunfire, our troops were able in most instances to advance with only minor casualties; but when such support was limited by conditions of poor visibility, the men were pinned to the ground by enemy fire and suffered severely. The entire operation was thus modified, like every phase of the Aleutians Campaign, by the variability of weather conditions and the prevalence of fog and winds.
The foul weather, and the nature of the terrain and of the Japanese defenses, required the support force to use large quantities of ammunition to achieve neutralization of enemy positions, a fact which might have handicapped our vessels had effective Japanese naval opposition developed.
The air forces, both Army and Navy, accomplished many missions under the most hazardous conditions and did everything they could to support the ground troops. Weather, however, hampered aerial activity on every day of the operation proper. At no time was it possible for the Nassau to launch and all-out air attack. Very rarely could more than four planes operate efficiently against an enemy position. It was not considered advisable to risk having a total of more than eight planes in the air at once lest a shift of weather prevent recovery.
Because of insufficient wind over the flight deck, the Nassau had to catapult every one of the 179 planes launched. The loss of five pilots was considered low, in view of the lack of training, the nature of the operation, and, again, the weather.
During the landing operations, hot food for approximately 1,200 Army personnel was sent to the beach twice daily. Food consisted of hot coffee, cocoa, stew, chili and beans, and corned beef mulligan. Tags marked "FOR FRONT LINE TROOPS ONLY" were attached to food containers, and reports were received aboard ships that the food arrived satisfactorily at the front lines. In addition, 60 rations were sent to the Harris beach party, and after the first day, at the request of the beachmaster, this was increased to 300 rations to include Army personnel working with the beach party. Supplying boat crews with hot food, coffee, and box lunches presents no special problem. Ship's cooks, bakers, and stewards' mates were stationed on the upper decks at all times ready to lower food into the boats which were being loaded alongside. Cigarettes, cigars, matches, and candy were given to the beach party and boat crews daily, and an additional 5,000
packages of cigarettes and matches and several thousand candy bars were sent to front line troops.43
30 Secrecy survived better in some ships than in others. Despite all precautions, flying personnel in the Nassau discovered that cold weather equipment had been brought aboard. The commanding officer thereupon "allowed himself to be seen studying charts of Argentia and sailing directions for the North Atlantic."
31 According to later information, the last Japanese reinforcements reached Attu on 10 March, at which time the garrison numbered, 2,200. Further reinforcements were to arrive during May but were forestalled by our landing. As previously noted, no enemy surface ships are thought to have run the gantlet to Attu after the Battle of the Komandorskis on 26 March. Consequently, when the invasion took place, the defenders of the island not only were vastly outnumbered but also were on half rations.
32 In the actual operation, some units of Task Force King were added to Task Force Roger, including the DDs Abner Read (Comdr. Thomas Burrowes) and Ammen (Lt. Comdr. Henry Williams, Jr.,), the AVP Casco (Comdr. Willis E. Cleaves), the DMS Elliott (Lt. Comdr. Henry Mullins, Jr.), and the ATF Ute (Lieut. William F. Lewis).
33 The operation was conducted on Zone plus 10 time.
34 It now seems probable that small reinforcements were on their way to Attu at this time but were withdrawn because of our attack. Apparently the Japanese had in northern waters only 1 CA, 1 CL, adn 3 DDs to oppose the strong U.S. naval forces in the area. Under the circumstances, conservatism was indicated. It is thought that several destroyers charged with evacuating the Attu garrison left Paramushiru on the 25th, but were forced to turn back by continuous bad weather.
35 Action Report, USS Pennsylvania: "For above firings visibility was 500 to 2,000 yards. No land was visible. Guns were controlled from navigational position obtained through radar ranges and bearings and checked by radar ranges to the beach in the line-of-fire. Salvo fire was used throughout. Air and ground bursts were used. [Only the 5"/38 batteries were in action.] Fuzes were set for the navigational range to the target and bursts were raised and lowered by elevation spots to give a percentage of air bursts over the target. If eight (8) air bursts were heard on a salvo, down-spots in elevation were applied to give four (4) or more air bursts per salvo. Air bursts make a distinct 'popping' noise that can readily be distinguished from ground bursts. Range to the target was checked by placing occasional salvos in he water and observing the splash on the SG radar. The MPI was shifted around on each target to cover an area approximately double the assumed size of the actual target area. The fire was considered only partially effective because of lack of visual observation and spotting."
36 The rockets were never discharged because of the danger of hitting our own boats and men.
37 There was evidence that the enemy expected a landing at Massacre Bay, but no organized beach defenses were established in that area. Instead, the Japanese decided to defend the high ground at the northern end of Massacre Valley, 3,000-4,000 yards inland, and the valleys leading to Chichagof Harbor. The enemy apparently anticipated a landing in May, but statements of prisoners indicated that distribution of supplies and arms had not been completed by late April. "In view of the impending attack," these elementary preparations were rushed thereafter, but they had not been finished when we landed.
38 In this instance indirect fire was controlled by the shore control party. Batteries shifted to direct fire when the target area became visible, and spots were applied to obtain maximum target area coverage. Air bursts of the secondary battery were reported to have done good work. The main battery also was effective when direct fire became possible.
During this series of missions, visibility was generally poor, and targets were not in sight. According to the Nevada's action report, "During operations two near groundings were avoided by (1) operating at slow speeds: (2) posting a watch on fathometer; (3) backing emergency full when depth of water shoaled rapidly." Toward the end of the last mission, the following radio colloquy took place between the Nevada and the shore fire control party:
40 Up to 19 May our loss of landing boats was reported as 7 per cent.
41 The following is a résumeé of activities ashore after the Attu operation came under Army command:
Between 18 and 25 May, the progress of our ground forces and the retreat of the enemy was attended by stubborn fighting in the several steep and narrow passes in the area south and southeast of Chichagof Harbor, through which lie the approaches from Massacre, Sarana, and Holtz Bay toward the rear of Chichagof Harbor and valley. The enemy retreated under steady pressure toward Chichagof, where it was apparent that his last stand would be made.
On 23 May General Landrum reported that the final defense of the island would probably take place in Chichagof Harbor and along the northwest ridge, since enemy activity was observed nowhere except in this area. Later in e day the Japanese retired to the fishhook-shaped hill south of the harbor.
Further paraphrases from General Landrum's reports show the general character of the fighting in its final stages:
26th: American center is continuing to advance slowly. Enemy positions above the fog line are being carried with the assistance of artillery and 30-mm. guns which are being dragged up difficult mountain terrain. Severe weather on the heights, with some morning snow.
27th: A number of important advances have been scored in the rugged area below Chichagof Harbor. The fishhook region was entered in the late afternoon of the 26th, cutting off the enemy escape route in that direction. Mopping up was carried out by five companies in hand-to-hand fighting with grenades, bayonets, and rifle butts. On the afternoon of the 27th the strong Japanese position in the lower arm of the fishhook fell after heavy artillery preparation. The assault force had to scale a sixty degree incline.
29th: About 250 Japanese launched a counterattack early this morning up the Chichagof valley. The enemy force reached and overran positions of the 3d Battalion, 17th Infantry, in the bottom of the valley. The Battalion and Regimental command posts were targets for violent assaults, and after the enemy had broken through this area, he continued toward the Sarana-Massacre Pass, cutting all telephone wires. This group of Japanese was intercepted by the force reserve and more than a hundred of them were killed, while the rest scattered, with some groups holing up as snipers. These are being liquidated. Sixty-one Japanese were killed in a single position of this type.
30th: A weak counter thrust against the U.S. right was repelled this morning and the last Japanese were cleared from Sarana Pass. The 3d Battalion, 17th Infantry, killed 50 more enemy on its front. It is now estimated that 300 Japanese were in yesterday's attack and that 250-275 of them were killed. It was the biggest day's kill so far and considerably higher than was at first believed. This afternoon U.S. forces gained the beach in Chichagof Harbor. They met little opposition in their three-pronged advance down different passes. They are still mopping up.
31st: It is now clear that the enemy lost more than 400 men killed in the counterattack of the 29th and the action of the 30th. It is believed that the Japanese command threw most of its remaining strength into the counterattack. Almost all the troops taking part were slaughtered. While the counterattack certainly indicated desperation on the part of the enemy, it was not a pure suicide attempt, since the attackers fought well and achieved considerable early success.
With this destruction of the greater part of the enemy's force, and with the seizure of Chichagof Harbor and all enemy housing and storage areas, our capture of Attu was virtually completed, except for incidental mopping up. Losses were as follows: U.S., 552 killed, 1,140 wounded. Japanese 2,350 killed, 24 prisoners.
42 These planes had been detected at 74 miles by the Dewey's radar. The information was broadcast over the warning net by the tender Casco but was not intercepted by either target of the attack, possibly because of interference by intervening mountains.
43 Action report, USS Harris.
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