The Battle of Attu アッツ島の玉砕

This photo along with many ohers was taken from fallen Japanese soldiers. Subsequent efforts in the Japanese press to identify the two soldiers failed.
This photo along with many others was taken from fallen Japanese soldiers. Subsequent efforts in the Japanese press to identify the two soldiers failed.

Second Chapter Translation of Sato Kazumasa’s(‘佐藤和正)

“Gyokusai no Shima” 玉砕の島

All introductory paragraphs are my own writing. All translations errors and omissions are completely my own.




With the drive to the Southern Pacific checked at Guadalcanal, the routes to New Zealand and Austalia could be kept open and the front in the Solomon Islands and New Guinea supported as both armies threw an every increasing amount of men and material at each other, both hoping to gain the upper hand. In the North Pacific the Japanese strategy to draw the remaining Pacific-based American aircraft carriers into a final battle near the Midway Islands went calamitously wrong. Japan lost four of its front-line carriers, and a cruiser, against the loss of one American carrier and a destroyer.

Part of the Midway operation provided a tacked-on plan to attack and land in the Aleutian Islands, a broad string of volcanic islands belonging to the state of Alaska extending across the northern Pacific Ocean almost to the then Soviet Union. Japanese landings led to the establishment of garrisons on Attu and Kiska Island in the Aleutians. At their height they had a combined force of almost 10,000 men, seaplane bases, airstrips under construction and even, in the case of Kiska, a midget submarine base. Although generally thought to be one of the more ill-conceived operations of Japan during World War II, it did succeed in tying up tremendous amounts of America men and equipment in the defence of Alaska that could be better used to confront the Japanese in other theatres. It should be remembered that Japan had also been attacked by Jimmy Doolittle’s carrier-based planes in April 1942. Initial Japanese suspicions were that these planes had come from bases in the Aleutien Islands.

Although some have seen Japanese landings as a prelude to more major attacks on Alaska and North America, the real purpose was to deny the islands to the Americans and defend their northern Naval base of Paramushiro in northern Kuriles Island and deny the Americans a northern entry to the Pacific for possible air and naval operations against the home islands of Japan. The landings were scripted to happen at the same time the Midway operation. In this sense it was also conceived as a action to divert American attention away from Midway.

Occupying these islands can be seen as a northern extension of the island barrier defense Japan had established throughout the central and southern Pacific. While its strategic gains were dubious it did effectively establish two Japanese garrisons over 3500 kilometres from the main Japanese islands in mountainous uninhabited islands where sub-arctic conditions persisted almost year round. It also attracted the Americans to build large facilities for their air, naval and ground units through the entire Aluetian chain of islands. This chain of massive logistical supply supported a force pointing at the established Japanese garrison on Attu.

However bleak and desolate the islands of Attu and Kiska the American high command was highly motivated to take back American soil. In May 1943, the US Navy and Army undertook amphibious operation first against Attu to be followed up with direct landings on Kiska. Although Kiska was later evacuated by the Japanese in a skilful and daring operation, Attu was seen as the key to unlocking the Aleutians. The previous landings on Tulagi in the Solomons were limited in scale and the defending force and the island very small. It was quickly occupied. Large scale amphibious operations had yet to be tried on a major scale later in 1943 at Tarawa. The landings on Attu were six months prior to this large scale operation. Much was to be learned and some lessons in the Arctic would not be applicable in the South Pacific. But all of that was ahead of the Americans. The Attu landings were the first major Pacific amphibious operations besides the initial landings on Guadalcanal. 

On Attu the Japanese were expecting the Americans and had fully deployed to meet them in ground that offered excellent defensive positions. Fog and rain neutralized the American air power. Mist and Fog had an common tendency to shroud the peaks while leaving the valley bottoms clear, offering the Japanese views of the American positions.  Gunners on the large battlewagons offshore however could not see their targets or register fire on the mountains. The wet ground meant that tracked vehicles could not be used, and it tended to absorb the explosive energy of high explosive and disapate shrapnel harmlessly.  Attu was a classic light infrantry engagement with the Japanese holding the high ground. This was the type of battle that Japan was trained to fight. It was a first case of the  conscious doctrine of Gyokusai being ordered to leave no stain of surrender on the fighting record of the Attu garrison — and to cost the Americans maximum lives.


The Japanese gave place names to all features on Attu. As was the practise, they rarely used the original English or Aluet names in either phonetic rendering or translating them into Chinese-based characters. I have used the more common English names for almost all geographic features, one exception being the “Grassy Knoll” only because the Americans only identified it on their maps as “Hill X”. By doing this, those who are familiar with the battle will not be disrupted in the flow of narrative and can easily find such features on a map. Japanese names however are added in notes at the end of the text.  THe hinge of battle was on the events in the North on Fishhook RIdge, known to the Japanese as Umanose, which translates directly as “Horseback” Ridge. However perhaps a better translation would be “Saddleback” Ridge.  




Blizzard from the North: A Noble Death in the Snow

The Night Before The End.

“Death…. How easy is it… how disappointing… I have thought about this a lot. It is not especially dreadful or tragic… death compared to life is peaceful and simple…I think it is May 20th….I was in a position on Horseback Pass[1] My right leg from the knee down has been blown apart by shell fire from the American ships. If that isn’t bad enough, an enemy plane strafed me and my right leg is a mess with a bullet lodged in my thigh near the femur. My friends carried me to Atta Harbour,[2] to the field hospital. The pressure of the battle is getting more and more desperate and I can no longer move my cursed body. It is coming toward the end, the glorious end (Gyokusai)….no… maybe one more day,

The doctor just came in and handed a can of gasoline and a hand grenade to the badly wounded sergeant in bed at the back of the hospital. He didn’t say a word as he passed it over. When I saw this I thought it was the end. It is strange. There is no rush of emotions, everything is calm and still and muted like staring at a film negative.

The doctor has come around and gave the more gravely wounded unconscious patients injections of air. What a ghastly business this kind of task must be. Injecting air into their veins, after 5 minutes they were all dead. Just a short, sharp spasm and then it was all over.  Quite peaceful usually, but there were also those who would not die. In these cases the doc took a pistol and slammed a bullet into their foreheads like they were so many rag dolls. It was rather strange. Some patients who had been unconscious and near death would suddenly open their eyes when they felt the barrel against their head. Hollow, tainted eyes, bloodshot. Maybe they didn’t see anything at all…. Maybe they just opened unconsciously to look at this world one last time…but really saw nothing”

Asatake-san former corporal in the Imperial Japanese Army draws us a picture of hell of the last stand on Attu Island. The contrast between the hell of the last days and his seeming indifference in his descriptions is haunting. Asatake-san was the one of 16 Japanese survivors of the battle of Attu. A member of a detachment of the 7th Division, raised and based in Hokkaido, and led by Lt. Colonel Yonegawa Kou,[3] he was landing on the Attu along with about 600 members of his same division in October 13th, 1942. Attu is part of an island chain stretching from Alaska to the Kamchatka peninsula. Strung out over thousands of miles of sea, it is the western most point in the United States of the Aleutian Island chain. It is about 65 kilometres East to West and about 35 Kilometres North to South. It is lashed by rain and fog throughout the year, covered in deep snow most of the time. It is a barren and desolate land. At the beginning of June 1942 both Attu and Kiska were occupied in a joint operation designed to coincide and support the operations underway at Midway. About 1000 men of the Hozumi-detachment [4] of the Imperial Army’s 7th Division seized Attu island. In October of the same year, Imperial Headquarters made the decision to beef up Kiska island garrison in light of expected American attempts to take back the island.  The Hozumi Detachment was sent to Kiska in October of the same year leaving Attu a deserted island. But this state of affairs could not last. Attu was 350 kilometres East of Kiska, if the Americans took Attu then Kiska would be like a rat trapped in a bag. Plans were made to reoccupy the island and Commander Yonekawa-san’s 1000 men were dispatched to Attu.

Originally Attu was not thought of as any immediate strategic advantage for the Americans, but as the fact that American soil had actually be seized sunk in, pride acted as a spur to goad the Americans into start planning on how to get it back. Air attacks on Attu increased in frequency with Japanese transports being attacked and damaged by the Americans. Between raids the Attu garrison was added to bit by bit. On November 22nd transports brought in 454 men. On the 25th a further 450 were landed in succeeding operations. On January 31st of 1943, a further 700 men were landed from the 303 Battalion of the 7th Division, under the command of Major Watanabe Tokuji.[5] By the middle of March the last remaining troops, roughly 350 men arrived. The Attu garrison now comprised one and a half battalion-sized infantry detachments, a battery of mountain artillery, 12 anti-aircraft guns, and a company of engineering troops forming a combat nucleus of about 2650 men. They were under the overall command of Colonel Yamasaki Yasuyo[6] of the Imperial Army. Battalion Antiaircraft units were commanded by Major Aodo Shinji,[7] and Lieutenant Houkabe Toshio[8] was in charge of all battalion artillery. The future commander was also landed by submarine on April 28th, 1943, the same day that Admiral Yamamoto Isoroku was shot out of the sky by ambushing American planes.

Out of the Fog: The American Landings

At this time American activity became more and more noticeable. Planes would make regular reconnaissance and bombing operations on Attu from other islands. They would come down out of the sky and strafe those working on the new runway and bomb Japanese installations. On the sea American patrolling very more noticeable. They would appear out of the fog, unleash a frightful shelling of our shore positions and then disappear just as quickly. By the beginning of April it was publically known and broadcast that the Americans wanted Attu back and they were planning a push. It was also no secret that if they landed it would be from out of the fog, which offered any landing force a perfect cover. With the changing of the weather fronts as one moves in Summer at that high latitude, the worst month for fog is May. At the same time the winds usually slackened and the seas calmed. Perfect weather for an enemy landing. In the interest of completing the airstrip all personnel were pulled off of building defensive installations and put to work on completing the airstrip by June, the time of an expected American attack.

Transports were expected by no one knew when they would arrive to bring materials in order to build more installations and beef up the existing rather spartan earthen floor barracks. Until now most Japanese soldiers slept in tents in the snow.  Food was also an concern. There was only allotted amounts on hand to last until the middle of May. From April 01st the daily rice allowance per person was reduced to 540 millitres (or about a little less than a pint). [9] Japanese troops supplemented their diet with a local growing  a thistle -like plant called a butterbur.[10] In June Salmon and Trout would begin making their way up the many streams on Attu. That would be one and perhaps only delight on this barren island. Every day the garrison waited for the transports to arrive and every day the cold and the hunger in their stomachs was made worse by the unpleasant and constant strafing and bombing runs of the enemy.

Against this background the Americans were busy preparing for a landing. The supreme naval commander, Admiral Kincaid, was burning with a passion to take back the island.

By May 05, he had assembled an invasion force and was heading towards the Bering Sea. His task force left Cold Bay comprising more than 40 ships of all types including an aircraft carrier, three Battleships, three heavy and three light cruisers. In addition, it had some of the first “attack transports:” The first transports designed to load and unload larger landing craft in order to carry infantry, vehicles and supplies. They carried an invasion force of 11,000 men of the US 7th Division under the command of Major General A.E. Brown.

Landing on Attu has been set for May 08th, 1943. Due to bad weather and high waves the landing was put off until May 10th. On the 09th the weather and waves persisted and the task force hung off shore 150 nautical miles taking on fuel from oilers. Because of the shrouding mists the American ships were not detected by either Japanese planes or submarine pickets operating in the waters. The 12th was reckoned to have the best conditions the Americans could expect at this time of year and around 1030 a.m. on that date the Americans threw their men on to the island at one go.[11] The Japanese on Attu has no apprehension of the landing.[12]  The main American force on the North side of the Island landed in Holtz Bay on the north west side of the harbour. [13] Landing here came as a big surprise and totally unexpected in that sector as the beach was totally undefended. [14]They did not encounter any resistance and by the end of the day 1500 infantry were firmly ensconced behind positions ready to move further inland in the morning. To the south in Massacre Bay,[15] an even larger force landed unopposed and by the end of the night had about 2000 men ashore. The beachheads had been seized and the buildup continued throughout the day. Scouting units also made their way ashore at various places without a hitch.

The First Desperate Defences:

“During the time of the American landing, I was working on airstrip in the east arm of Holtz Bay. American planes appeared to be almost everywhere that morning, but unlike usual they were not strafing or bombing us. We wondered what in hell they were doing. It just seemed plain daft to be flying all over and not trying to kill us. Usually they would try and pound us with planes and then use their ships to shell our positions on land. Today we did not even receive any shelling from the ships. It was strange so the Daihatsu landing craft went to look and see what was going on. They returned almost at once in a hurry. Over in the west arm of Holtz Bay the enemy was landing. When we heard this everyone’s face went pale – it was completely unexpected.”

With the landing, the command elements of General Yamazaki were immediately informed. Yamazak-san knew this day would be coming. All units were informed and immediate orders given to counter attack. In Chichakof Harbor, Major Watanabe went into preparation and all positions were informed and made ready for battle. In Holtz Bay, units under the command of Lt. Colonel Yonekawa were strengthened.  The anti aircraft batteries under Major Aodo were positioned on top of the ridge between Holtz and Chichakof bay so as to offer protection for both[16]. At  Massacre Bay there was a single company deployed under the command of Lieutenant, Hayashi Toshio as an advanced post to give warning of an American landing.

Although the landings came as a surprise the response of the command and the units on Attu was quick and all officers and men were in position ready to react and counter the landings as well as watching American movements. At about 10:50 that morning, the fog shroud broke the guns on the large American battleships Pennsylvania and the Idaho  opened up. The large shells whistled and groaned overhead and we could see them slamming into the shore line where the Americans were landing. The shelling lasted for about an hour bouncing mostly off of the rocky skin of Attu. On the first day there was some small jockeying for position against the other, but no major clashes, however on the second day, the 13th,[17] a frightful defensive battle was played out in many defensive positions on the island.

From the northern side of Holtz bay the advanced elements came against our Shibadai position. [18] Posession of this feature would dominate and control the high ground for Japanese positions and troops concentrated in the North Arm of Holtz bay. Its possession was vital to retaining any cohesion. Out of the fog and  mist lead elements of an American company started advancing upon our position at Shiba-dai. On this part of the hill was the Kobayashi detachment comprised of a company of transport engineering troops[19] and a company sized detachment called the Sato detachment from, Yonekawa-san’s command. These latter units concealed themselves and waited to lure the Americans into their trap. All along the front at this point were small ravines directly in front of the Japanese positions. Captain Kobayashi waited and waited and then gave the order to attack.

“Now, Charge, Charge.”

All hell was let loose and the Japanese  machine guns opened up sprayed the advancing Americans. Great holes opened up in their ranks as soldiers started to drop here and there. Many were hit as they tried to run away and blasted into the air. For those that were left, they tried to hide themselves among the rocks and grass and we made short work of them with our Type 99 rifles. In a few moments the Americans had lost the better part of the company. But it was not a time to rejoice for they came back promptly with 8 pieces of field artillery and immediately shelled our positions. Offshore the big guns of the ships started chiming in to shell the Japanese positions as well. To add further insult, carrier based aircraft began strafing runs. The whole of the Japanese position was bathed in an earth-shaking fire that tore up the ground and sent large clods of earth skyward while the aircraft fire licked the ground from one side to another.

The Japanese were only sheltered inside their foxholes and of these nothing was left as the unit was ground into dust by the intense shellfire. Eventually they were forced off the summit and a decision was made to withdraw. In this engagement Kobayashi’s unit lost 40 men and Sato’s detachment approximately 50 men. Immediately the Americans saw what was happening and seized the position with new units brought in off the beaches.

Over on Massacre Bay however, although they had gained a foothold on the beaches[20], but the Americans had been stopped rather easily once they hit any high ground. One company under the command of Lieutenant Hayashi positioned his men rather dexterously. On the left of Henderson Ridge and Terrible Mountain,[21] and in the centre looking down the valley and over Jarmin Pass were the main Japanese positions.[22] From these positions the Americans on the beaches could be hemmed in on the landward sides with a minimal number of troops.

The American landing was confused and their condition was made more so by the fact that they could rarely see the dispositions of the Japanese troops in their mountainous dispositions. Fog usually went half way up the hills but left the bottom relatively clear. Japanese positions could clearly look down upon the Americans and pour fire into them with relative ease. It was during these times that the senior American field commander on Massacre Bay was killed during and engagement with Japanese troops.

On the ocean the Japanese were also forcing the Americans to run around in circles. Three submarines were immediately dispatched from the Japanese base on Kiska Island – I-31, I-34 and I-35 [23] These deployed around Attu and at 1:30 p.m. I-35 fired torpedoes against the battleship USS Pennsylvania striking her twice amidships as two water pillars rose amidships and started a terrible fire on board. Despite this lucky marksmanship the ship did not sink. [24]

Bayonets and Grenades: Closing With the Enemy

On the 14th of May dawn finally broke to find the hills, as usual shrouded in mist. The remnants of our forces that the been pushed off the grassy knoll positions in the north part of the island moved and were now protecting the West Arm of Holtz Bay from commanding positions overlooking the bay on Fleishman’s ridge.[25]. American soldier could be seen concentrating on the grassy knoll and our anti-aircraft guns across the harbor on Fishhook ridge commenced firing on a flat trajectory at the Americans. But it was not like firing at aircraft and we could not verify the accuracy of our shooting.

“It was on that day I remember looking out across the West Arm of Holtz bay  I watched about 80 American soldiers appeared out of the mist on skis to the north of our position heading for Buchanan Ridge[26]  This was of particular concern as this ridge was over 500 metres in height and if the Americans seized it all our positions in Holtz bay would be worthless since it looked over the lower Fleishman’s ridge. HQ ordered Buchanan ridge to be secured before the Americans could reach the summit. A small platoon of men was assembled and began climbing towards the top from our side.  I watched with bated breath as the Americans also started climbing from the opposite side. Who would reach the summit first? “

Asatake-san watched both side move as small spots of black sesame seeds against the snow-covered mountain range – both sides pushing for all they were worth to be the first on the summit. It was almost like sport of some kind with the first to the top being the “winner.” The fate of the individual unit scrambling up the side seemed to hang in the balance and so for the fate of all of us also being determined by the actions of men who appeared as mere dots in the distance.  The life or death struggle commenced when the Japanese forces reached the top of the ridge first. A heavy machine-gun was set up on the summit and immediately took the Americans under fire tearing large holes in their ranks. Screams and shouting reverberated across the harbour and off of the hillsides. A strange sort of howling was coming from the hill as the Americans began to drop on the sides of the hill some of them rolling over on their back as they were shot and then somersaulting down the mountain. Their bodies could be seen spread about, here and there on the ground. On this hillside over 80 Americans were killed in one go. It could more properly be called a massacre. [27]

That night the Lt. Sato and his remaining survivors from the early Grassy Knoll battle above Red Beach were assembled. Sato-san had a heavy sense of duty and was resolved to counter-attack and take back the position they were so peremptorily removed from by the Americans. The plan was to lead three groups that night under cover of darkness and fog into and through enemy positions making for the enemy field guns. One group was detailed to get around into the rear of the Americans to try and create a diversion and add as much confusion as possible. They promptly got underway climbing up what were soon to be blood stained slopes. A furious battle developed almost immediately. Grenades were tossed and both sides gouged at each other with the bayonet. Bundles of tracer fire ripped the night down the slopes from the American positions. Japanese soldiers tore at the American ranks just like devils and the American line began to falter but as the Americans threw in more troops our force virtually ceased to exist as they endured endless machine gunning and grenades.  In the end 120 brave souls lost their lives in this attack.

On the southern beaches of Massacre Bay the American plan to sieze Jarmin Pass had gone badly from the start. The American plan was to ascend the broad ascending slope up out of Massacre Bay[28], take Jarmin Pass, link up with the Northern Force, and push the Japanese into the ever smaller Chichagof Harbor region on the north-east portion of the island. In order to take Jarmin Pass however, the Americans had to take the low ascending ground in front of the pass. All of this region was cold snowy tundra allowing only the growth of short grass with no cover and all of the low ground was overlooked by the Japanese positions on three sides. Outside of the low area around the small stream running down the center of the valley,[29] the Americans had little to show for their efforts. In spite of the lack of tactical experience however they were slowing making their way up towards the pass. Overlooking the pass and the surrounding low area were the positions for Captain Hayashi and his 1st Company of the 303rd Infantry Battalion.[30]

He could bring murderous crossfire to bear on virtually any American position in the valley from his positions on the nountain tops..[31]

In spite of the opposition, several brave American soldiers, flitting through the fog and snow, eventually made it into the entrance to Jarmin pass.[32] Here the entrance to valley became a steepened snow-slope, and they could not make it into the valley as they became even better targets for the Japanese infantry guarding the heights. As casualties began to mount the Americans pulled back for the night and retreated into their original positions near the beach.

The Defense Starts to Crack

Besides the loss of the grassy knoll position on the north shore defences, Until May 15th  Japanese forces gave up little ground to the enemy at all and all front line positions were maintained. The following days however fire from ships and aircraft increased and it became and ever increasing battle of firepower. The massive 14inch guns of the USS Pennsylvania pounded positions in the east arm of Holtz Bay, and around the Chichagof harbor for over two-and-a-half hours. Destruction was widespread. Combined with the overwhelming weight of numbers forward Japanese position were untenable. On the morning of the 16th the American pressure on the east arm of Holtz bay increased as an American battalion pressed into the area and hit the Japanese with a shock-like force. There was little the Japanese could do to repel such a force.

Colonel Yamazaki reluctantly gave the order to withdraw his forces into the region of Chichagof Harbor. He had decided to wage a battle of attrition in defence of this region. The reversal of fortune for Japan led to a feeling of defeat for the remnants of the army that remained. They now withdrew into the Fishhook ridge and the Sarana Pass regions defending Chichagof Bay. Troops from outlying positions came in from outlying positions. Climbing in the fog and snow of the trails that cut across Attu. From all around the heights surrounding the American landing at Massacre they walked in like gaunt ghosts. Some did not receive orders and those that did often got lost.

In May the ground was still covered with deep snow. This combined with lack of adequate rations led to extreme exhaustion among the troops, sometimes taking over an hour to walk 100 metres. After actual combat had started most of the troops had lived on one meal per day., usually a single cold rice ball.  Some, mad with the cold, and starvation entered a state of madness in some cases disappearing or breaking away from the rank and file to throw themselves at the enemy to get shot and put an end to misery. The seriously wounded were another study in despair. Retiring to a hollow in the rocks they would commit ritual suicide with a sword or bayonet, or hold a grenade against their stomach and blow themselves up.

In the well defended reaches of Jarmin Pass the shelling from the American ships was constant. Track-mounted howitzers added to the weight of the bombardment. A single platoon from Captain Hayashi’s force was miraculously holding the pass against two American infantry companies. Against this concentration of firepower however they stood no chance and were eventually annihilated.

After the 18th the main American attacks began to squeeze the outer ring of the defences in the north on the saddle before Fishhook ridge and in the south againt the positions on defending the last line of hills beyond Jarmin pass and on the north side of Massacre Bay. As the Japanese defensive perimeter shrunk pressure from on Japanese increased.  But the Japanese began still showed a determined and dexterous defense. On the right of the American flank at Massacre bay was Tiger Mtn[33] detachment of another platoon of Captian Hayashi’s men. Again and again the Americans threw over two companies of troops against its heights. After the attack the Americans left more than 300 bodies[34] on the slopes with the Captain jeering them in perfect, fluent English. A sense of satisfaction at repelling the enemy well up inside them and they all howled in laughter at the retreating enemy.

The Americans were getting frantic and started pouring the firepower in on the Japanese positions. Behind tremendous amounts of shelling the Americans advanced yard by yard eventually forcing the troops off of Tiger Mountain and penetrating into the last ring of defenses.

The Last Full Measure:

“In the final stages of the battle the most horrible of events began to happen to the no more than 1000 Japanese personnel left on the island. Of the heavy weapois all artillery had been all lost or destroyed. All that was left was a few high-angle anti-aircraft guns and mortars. We have been defending the saddle below Fishhook ridge and holding our own until May 28th with much of the last combat being close quarters, with the Americans losing almost half of their numbers in each attack. I am sure our soldiers have been fighting like devils. We have no more rations left except for one ball of sticky rice per day. In the vicinity of our field hospitals the shelling is particularly intense, even the medical orderlies and doctor are wounded. It cannot end in our favour, we have been defeated .. I find myself thinking these thoughts often.

They began disposing of the particularly badly wounded on the 29th. Today Colonel Yamzaki gave the order for all to survivors to assemble at his general headquarters. Here and there in the thick, descending fog, groups of soldiers began to congregate. Some with severe leg injuries using their rifles as canes, others with hands wrapped in bandages, their hands shredded tottered uneasily. Everyone wounded in one way or another….”

Those that could walk, about 300 personnel,  came closer and heard about the resolve for one last attack. They all well knew with these plans they were heading down the path to death, but wherever one looked there was not a sign of doubt or confusion. They all became unbound from their worries and showed a new determination in their faces, After the meeting broke up and they waited half a day for confirmation. From the 300 reasonable effectives Yamazaki assemble three companies of 100 men each: one unit for the fit, one for the lightly wounded, and one unit for non-combatants troops.[35] They were to jump off to the attack separated but 10 minute intervals. Survivors among the anti-aircraft crew would fire off the remainder of their ammunition in support of the attack. The objective was the enemy position at Gagyu Mountain’s slope (the Hogback).

At eight p.m. everyone rose and faced the homeland and made a final bow of respect. At 1030 p.m. Yamazaki’s lead company, was led by the commander himself launched the attack with his sword in one hand and the national flag in the other. [36]The night fog and mist covered them completely and visibility was no more than 100 metres at the most – perfect conditions for such an attack. The speed of the initial attack developed quickly as those who had been tired beyond belief and without adequate food for weeks, flung themselves forward in an superhuman running human wave. They pierced through the outlying positions of the Americans and then threw themselves at Engineer Hill the last major obstacle before they would be able to pour into Massacre valley. Rushing up the slopes of Engineer Hill they bayoneted and cut their way through the Americans and killed them in their tents or dug-in positions. Those too late to run away were stabbed or hacked to death. Captured food was stuffed into the mouths of the attackers before they yet again quickly advanced. It was a fanatical, bloody and cruel climax to the battle.

The results of the last charge of Yamazaki's men near Engineer Hill
The results of the last charge of Yamazaki’s men near Engineer Hill.

“As everyone else was committing themselves to an honourable death in the final attack, in the field hospital a sergeant stood with his back against the wall, knocking his head in some final contemplation. Gasoline had been sloshed all over the floor. The eyes of the thirty people too wounded to move followed the sergeant. He pulled out the pin of a grenade gave a shout — “Mother!!”—and then threw himself on the floor. An earth splitting roar rang out and everyone inside the hut began to burn, flames completely engulfing their bodies. I had retreated into a deep hollow cave-like place inside myself. I felt that I was in a dream. I do not know what happened at that point. I completely blacked out.

I have no idea what happened next, but when I came to I was rolling around outside the hospital and there was an American soldier standing over, looking down at me… “

American Reaction to The Last Attack

On the morning of May 29th the epic battle of Attu was over. The Americans had been shocked at the unbelievable fury of the last attack and their own accounts bear witness to the situation as they saw it. [37]

The Japanese attack was stealthy and developed very quickly once they started to advance from their forward positions. They passed through our forward defences with little effort. In the morning twilight several crazed groups rolled into and mowed down our troops. Many were killed as they were sleeping in their foxholes of rifle pits The Japanese were making a straight bee-line for the pass allowing them final access into Massacre Bay (Asahi Bay). One group pounded into an encampment. Anything that was alive was killed. Food and ammunition were scattered everywhere, tents were ripped to shreds. Those who followed the crazed ranks of the first wave ended up often bayoneting again and again American soldiers already killed. At food collection points the attack usually halted for a time while the Japanese collected and stuffed as much canned food as possible into their mouths. They ran wild in the field hospital stabbing those already wounded as they lay in their cots. Somehow we managed to put together a defensive position and piling into them with well aimed shots from our rifles. But there was little we could do to check their advance. They ran on screaming into the night as they passed our positions. Lt. Herbert Long watched the final hours of the death struggle of Yamazaki’s men and relates the following. He had an automatic weapon tucked under my arm overlooking a section of the island. Fog was all around and he could not see more than 100 metres. Suddenly he saw something strange and sounds ringing from out of the fog. Realising it was an enemy attack he could see a group about 3-400 soldiers moving towards me. Standing in the lead was undoubtedly Colonel Yamazaki. In his right hand a sword, and in his left the Japanese national flag.

The Japanese soldiers came on with pale expression in tattered uniforms. Those without rifles grasped short swords. Most were already visibly wounded some limping others on their knees slowly advancing toward and through the American lines. Long relates how it made their skin crawl. We aimed for the lead elements and scored a hit on the commander who promptly dropped to the ground. In a short while he slowly raised himself then fell down again. Little by little he kept crawling towards the American lines. He appeared to be struck by a bullet in the left arm as he dropped this to his side. He slowly transferred the flag to his right hand along with his sword. Our loudspeakers kept repeating again and again “Surrender, give yourselves up,” but the Japanese soldiers were not having any of it. Eventually our artillery began to concentrate on the last remnants.

American army records report that the ground operations on Attu ended with the Japanese army losing 2351 soldier of all services. Only 28 prisoners were taken.

Translator End Note:
Moriyama Kouhei notes that the annihilation of the garrison was communicated to the Emperor on May 30th, Chief of Staff Sugiyama Gen. Upon hearing this the Emperor sighed and then finally said ” well done. Please communicate this message to the garrison.” When Sugiyama related that there was no one on the island alive to recieve such a message the Emperor asked that the message be sent anyway as a sort of respecful prayer for the departed. 森山康平『図説・玉砕の戦場』河出書房新社、2004年、ISBN 4-309-76045-7

[1] A position near the base of what was known as Fishhook Ridge. A pass connecting Holtz Bay to Chichagof Bay. Taking this area was the key to the Japanese defences on Attu Island at the base of Fishhook Ridge. By the 20th of May the Japanese, though stretched still possessed the majority of the ridge and the surrounding features. If they could hold this area,  there was still a chance of evacuation and rescue from a Japanese task force. Most of Fishhook ridge was in US position by the 25th of May. With the American Occupation of most of Fishhook Ridge the fate of the Japanese garrison was sealed.

[2] After capture the Japanese renamed both Attu and Kiska Island with thoroughly Japanese names. Attu was renamed Atta-do 熱田島 meaning roughly, ironically, “tropical field island.” Chichagof Harbour was also therefore renamed to Atta Wan, Atta Harbour.

[3] 米川浩中佐Yonegawa, Kou ( an alternative reading of the last character – among many others – would also be “Isamu.”

[4] 穂積部隊

[5] 渡辺十九二少佐

[6] 山崎保代大佐

[7] 青戸慎士少佐

[8] 波々伯部利雄大尉

[9] One go = 180 millietres.

[10] ヤマブキThe Americans noted that the Japanese ate boiled “thistle.” In fact it was a form of wild butterbur found in the Aleutians. Both are however part of the same Asteraceae family

[11] Although this may be the writer’s opinion, the actual landings happened at different times during the day. From early that morning with Scouts in the northern part of the island at Austin Bay to later in the day with landings near Holtz Bay and Massacre Bay. See Brian Garfield’s “The Thousand Mile War.

[12] Again the actual landings may not have been detected until they were underway, but the Japanese had been expecting and were informed through various reconnaissance methods that the Americans were on their way and could be expected soon enough.

[13] True to the Japanese penchant for renaming their maps with Japanese names, Holtz Bay was called Kitakai Wan (北海湾) “North Sea Bay”

[14] One reason is that the beach was small, less than 200 metres and surrounded by steep cliffs on both sides.

[15] The Japanese called it !Asahi Wan (旭湾) Asahi Bay.

[16] A prominence called Fishhook Ridge whose ultimate control would decide the final days of the battle.

[17] The Americans landed on the 11th, of May. Japan is over the international dateline and all dates are one day ahead.

[18] 芝台 Meaning a “grassy knoll”-like position. On US maps mostly likely a position called “Hill X” on Cupps Hill.

[19] Senpaku Kohei 船舶工兵 No exact equivalent in the Allied Armed forces. They were assigned to specific ships engaged in Army-related work. Landing craft, tenders, and small patrols boats and various fast attack craft were run by members of this core. As the war intensified and the needs of the Army grew, personnel with sailing experience in private company boats were drafted into this core to support Imperial Army operations.  They were formed in 1943, and grew to a maximum core strength of about 180,000 personnel. Though they were given some training in seamanship, combat arms training was very ad hoc, and presumably, not very much.

[20] Kitahama 北浜was the name of the beach at Massacre Bay.

[21] Jarmin Pass was called Arai Toge 荒井峠 Arai Pass.

[23] Japanese Submarines were numbers and carried the Japanese phonetic symbol for “i” pronounced “ee.” The phonetic reading would therefore be read “ee”-31 etc. (イー31、イー34、イー35)

[24] Indeed, although a I-31 did launch torpedoes against the USS Pennsylvania the ship managed to dodge all of them and escaped unscathed from its tour of duty at Attu. The I-31 was depth charged and sunk the next day by US destroyers. Not sure where the author is getting his facts about this engagement.

[25] Shitakeidai Position (Shitakeidai Jinchi) 舌形台陣地

[26] Triangle Ridge, Sankakudai, 三角台

[27] Although this action did take place, the American casualties were nowhere near those stated in the text.

[28] Called Gagyuu Mountain (臥牛山), but really a gentle rising slope to Jarmin Pass. The Americans called it the Hogback.

[29] Asahi River, Asahi Kawa, (旭川)

[30] Hayashi and his men were fighting mostly from prepared positions where they had expected an American attack. His troops comprised about 200 infantry plus a single battery of mountain artillery.

[31] The positions were on all peaks of over 2000 feet in height (700 metres) Henderson Ridge in the south, including Terrible Mountain( Oowashi-yama(大鷲山) to Black Mountain (Shogun-yama)( 将軍山) over to the North of the pass on Prendergat Ridge and Cold Mountain、 Shishi-yama = Lion Mountain(獅子山)。Captain Hayashi had a force of about 200 infantry and a single battery of mountain artillery. .

[32] On the 15th Colonel Yamazaki gave orders Capt. Hayashi and his Company to withdraw from positions on the south side of Massacre Bay and link up Northern Forces to protect the valley entrances to Chichagof Harbor region. The Americans linked up on May 17th. Hayashi and his men had held up a force more than 10 times its size with overwhelming fire superiority for a week.

[33] Tora-san – 虎山 This feature was subsequently names Gilbert Ridge. It overlooked the entire right flank of the American landing beaches and the hogback.

[34] Again, certainly exaggerated as the total number of US dead in the entire battle was 560 of all ranks.

[35] There were a number of construction related personnel and those who were nominally part of the military, but had no or little combat training.

[36] This timeline does not correspond with American account of first contact with the advancing Japanese about 0300, on the morning of the 29th.

[37] Although the description the Japanese author presents of the American impression is largely correct, he does not cite his source(s).


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