Mark Terry

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Japan Attacks Alaska!

March 9, 2011
Eric Mayer suggested I write about non-writing topics, which seems like an interesting idea. I've been slamming away at novels almost non-stop since 1985 and been blogging about writing for 8 or 9 or 10 years, so maybe I'll try an ANYTHING BUT WRITING blog for a while.

I'm reading Albert Cowdrey's FIGHTING FOR LIFE, which is about medicine in World War II. I have come across tons of things I didn't know; for instance, did you know that Japan attacked Alaska? Yes, everyone knows about the attack on Pearl Harbor, but there actually was a WWII battle on American soil.

As part of Japan's ambitious Midway campaign, it bombed Dutch Harbor, Alaska in mid-1942 and took control of two islands in the Aleutian chain, Attu and Kiska. Then Japan got their butts kicked at Midway and pretty much abandoned their people on the islands. The U.S. military, not surprisingly, wasn't too happy to have Japanese troops in their backyard, even if the troops weren't exactly doing anything. On April 1, 1943, Admiral Nimitz and the U.S. Army's Alaska Command invaded Attu.

On May 11 about 11,000 U.S. soldiers went ashore. It started out okay, then got bogged down, primarily due to weather and the environment. One factor was that the invading Marines and Army had been trained in Monterey, California, so they weren't really prepared--let alone dressed--for slogging through Alaskan weather in May, especially wading through Arctic waters to get there.

Cowdrey says, "Green troops, poor leadership, lack of reliable intelligence--the litany was long, sad, and all too familiar at this period of the war."

Eventually the U.S. took back the islands, although it was a bloody mess. The statistics don't quite tell the story: 549 Americans dead and 2,350 Japanese killed. But more than 1,100 Americans had been wounded, and given the lopsided numbers on each side, American battle casualties were around 70% compared to Japanese losses. This figure was only surpassed on Iwo Jima.

He goes on to say that due to the weather and poor preparation there were more than 2,100 nonbattle injuries. "All in all, three Americans had become casualties for every two Japanese who were on Attu at the time of the invasion, and five of every hundred medics had been killed in treating or moving them."


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