Battle of Kiska – Where the Allied lost a battle against ghosts

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In the summer of 1943, American and Canadian forces launched an amphibious assault on the north Pacific island of Kiska, in order to seize the last enemy strongholds on U.S. Soil from Japanese forces who managed to capture various U.S. Islands (Kiska and Attu Island) in June 1942. The operation received codename Cottage and would take place on August 15, 1943.

The island of Kiska was subjected to a heavy pre-invasion bombardment. The Eleventh Air Force dropped a total of 424 tons of bombs on Kiska during July. During the same month, an armada of US warships lobbed 330 tons of shells onto the island. This continued into August and was only to be interrupted by bad weather. For the invasion of the island itself, a force of 34,426 soldiers was foreseen, of which 5,300 Canadian soldiers.

Battle of Kiska

On 15th of August, the U.S. Forces (7th Infantry Division, 4th Infantry Regiment, 87th Mountain Infantry Regiment and 1st Special Service Force) landed on Kiska. The Canadian 13th Infantry Mountain Brigade came ashore the next day. For 2 long days, the invasion force slugged its way inland through thick fog and against the constant din of machine-gun and artillery fire. Rumors spread of casualties, firefights, and elusive Japanese snipers circulated with abandon. However little did they know, the Allies had attacked an uninhabited island.

Earlier Admiral Thomas Kinkaid had remarked that it would be a “super dress rehearsal, good for training purposes.” His words will never be edged in stone, after “intense days of fighting” where the American and Canadian forces mistook each other for the enemy, they had lost 32 men (28 Americans and 4 Canadians were killed) with around 121 sick and wounded. The U.S. Navy sustained 71 men KIA or MIA and 47 wounded after the USS Abner Read (DD-526) hit a mine. By the time the search of the island had ended and was declared secure, the Allied casualties totaled 313 men. There were those who had been killed by the so-called friendly fire of their confused and scared comrades; others by mines and the timed bombs left by the Japanese; accidental ammunition detonations; vehicle accidents; unexploded bombs in the tundra; and insidious booby trap explosions.

To make the embarrassment complete, the entire enemy garrison of 5,183 Japanese men that occupied Kiska, had slipped away unseen, they were evacuated on 28 July – almost three weeks before the Allied landing!

References:

  • The Battle for Kiska by Canadian Heroes,
  • KISKA, ALEUTIAN ISLANDS, AK
  • Aleutian Islands – 3 June 1942-24 August 1943. U.S. Army History.

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