Chapter 15: The Campaign in the Aleutians
(See Sketch 6)
The War in the Pacific, January–June 1942
For half a year after the fall of Hong Kong, the tide of Japanese conquest flowed strongly and, it seemed, irresistibly. Allied naval power in the Pacific had been temporarily crippled by the loss of HM Ships Prince of Wales and Repulse off Malaya on 10 December 1941, and the tremendous damage done to the United States fleet at Pearl Harbor.* And the Japanese made hay while the Rising Sun shone.
The Allies were astonished by the enemy’s ability to conduct simultaneous offensives in a number of widely separated areas. Invasion operations were launched in December against Malaya, the Philippines, and Hong Kong, and smaller expeditions took Guam, Wake Island and North Borneo. In January the Netherlands Indies were attacked, and the attack there widened during the next month. On 15 February Singapore surrendered. The last American garrison in the Philippines, that of the island of Corregidor in Manila Bay, was overwhelmed on 6 May. By that time, the Japanese were also in control of most of Burma and had footholds in New Guinea and the Solomons.
Although the Japanese had no immediate intention of attempting the conquest of Australia, and still less of invading the mainland of North America, they undertook at this period a further advance intended to widen their own defensive perimeter and cut their enemies’ supply lines. This entailed the completion of the occupation of New Guinea and the Solomons; the seizure of Midway Island and bases in the Aleutian chain; and the occupation of New Caledonia, Fiji and Samoa. The attempt to achieve the first of these objects was checked in the Battle of the Coral Sea (4–8 May). The second was attempted at the beginning of June. The Japanese hoped that it would bring on a successful fleet action with the United States Pacific
* In fact, although six battleships were sunk at Pearl Harbor, the vessels which turned out to be most important – the three aircraft carriers – were absent from the base at the time of the attack and escaped damage. Moreover, all naval shore facilities at Pearl Harbor remained intact. These circumstances go far to explain the rapid renaissance of American naval power.
Fleet. It actually brought on the Battle of Midway (4–7 June) in which they were soundly beaten. Midway remained in American hands; but the Japanese did gain a foothold in the Aleutians. The third stage was never initiated, for the tide had turned.1
The Japanese Invade the Aleutians
On the map or on a globe, the Aleutian island chain appears to form something like a natural bridge between North America and Asia and accordingly to be an area of great strategic importance. These appearances are deceptive. The Aleutians themselves are barren and very mountainous, with no natural resources to attract or maintain a conqueror; and the weather conditions in those seas – persistent overcast, very frequent fog, very high and variable winds – are acutely unfavourable to either air or naval operations. Moreover, the distances are very great. It is true that it is only some 700 nautical miles from Attu, the westernmost island in the chain, to Paramushiro in the Kuriles, the nearest pre-war Japanese base; but from Attu east to Dutch Harbor on Unalaska Island at the base of the chain, the only American pre-war base in the Aleutians, is about 800; and Dutch Harbor is some 1650 miles from Vancouver, and Paramushiro roughly 1000 from Tokyo.2
The aims of the Japanese in going into the Aleutians in 1942 were evidently mainly defensive – to obtain a firm anchor for the left flank of their perimeter and to prevent the Americans from using the islands as an offensive base; although their records, it appears, do not support the idea that they feared an actual American attempt to invade Japan by this route.3 It was hoped that the islands would provide useful bases for flying boat patrols. Probably prestige – the effect both in Japan and in the United States of the occupation of territory which could be claimed as part of North America – had a good deal to do with the project. At any rate, it was carried out as a secondary part of the Midway offensive. Three Japanese naval forces were employed in it. The Second Mobile Force, built around two aircraft carriers, was to deliver an air attack against Dutch Harbor and cover and support two occupation forces. One of these was to seize the islands of Adak and Attu (the former being occupied only long enough to destroy any American installations);* the other was to occupy Kiska. The plan in the first instance was to withdraw from the islands before the winter.4
The plan was carried out, but not as written. The first air “strike” went in on Dutch Harbor on 3 June, causing limited damage. A second the
* There were none. The Japanese knew remarkably little about the American forces and dispositions in the Aleutians.
following day was more successful. This was the day the Japanese lost four carriers at Midway. This untoward event led Admiral Yamamoto to cancel the Aleutian occupation, but almost immediately he reversed himself and ordered it to proceed. Adak, however, was not occupied. American fighters from a new airfield on Umnak Island, of whose existence the Japs had been ignorant, had taken toll of the attackers, and this may have influenced the decision to leave Adak alone. Japanese forces landed on Kiska on the afternoon of 6 June and on Attu early the following morning.* There were no American troops on either to oppose them, and the Americans did not discover the occupation until four days after it had begun.5
Following the landings of 6 and 7 June, the Japanese build-up was comparatively slow. Kiska was reinforced with 1200 men early in July, and most of the Attu garrison was moved to Kiska in August and September. In the autumn, however, the enemy high command decided to retain the islands permanently. Attu was reoccupied at the end of October and a programme of constructing defence works and airfields was put in hand with February 1943 as the target date for completion. A limited air effort was maintained, but weather and Allied aircraft combined to make it of very little value. The garrisons of Attu and Kiska were gradually reinforced, with increasing difficulty as the U.S. blockade tightened, until in the spring of 1943 Attu had about 2500 men. Kiska had close to 6000, including a considerable number of civilians. No further Japanese advances took place and the enemy led a precarious and uncomfortable existence until evicted.6
The Counter-Offensive Against the Islands
United States Army Air Force bombers from Cold Bay at the tip of the Alaskan peninsula, staging through Umnak, attacked Kiska as early as 11 June 1942. From then on, Kiska was hit frequently. Attu had to wait until new American bases were established farther west than Umnak. These were found at Adak (occupied on 30 August 1942), and Amchitka – only 80 miles from Kiska – where American forces landed on 12 January 1943. Attu was under air bombardment at intervals from November 1942 onwards.7 In these air operations the Royal Canadian Air Force played a part. No. 8 (Bomber Reconnaissance) Squadron and No. 1.11 (Fighter) Squadron moved to Anchorage from bases in British Columbia, 2–8 June 1942, and in July an air and ground party of No. 111 moved forward to Umnak. No. 14 (Fighter) Squadron went to Umnak in March 1943 and the next month relieved No. 111, which had moved up to Amchitka; thereafter these two squadrons alternated in operations in the forward area. The RCAF had
* All times and dates are those of the Alaskan zone.
just one air combat, in which a Japanese Zero was shot down; otherwise, the enemy opposition took the form of anti-aircraft fire against the strafing Canadian planes. In the Aleutians airmen found the weather more dangerous than the Japs.8
The United States Navy was also busily harassing the intruders. Its submarines were active around the islands, and on 7 August 1942 a cruiser force delivered the first of many bombardments against Kiska. On 18 February 1943 Attu was bombarded, and on 19 February a munition ship bound for that island was intercepted and sunk. On 26 March an attempt by the Japanese Navy to reinforce Attu was frustrated by Rear Admiral C. H. McMorris, who beat off a superior force in the Battle of the Komandorski Islands.9
A strong case could have been made for leaving the Japs to freeze in their own juice on Kiska and Attu, where they were at most a nuisance to American operations in the Pacific. However, their presence naturally worried the inhabitants of Alaska, British Columbia and the Pacific Coast states, and there was thus a “political” motive for ejecting them. Lieut. General John L. DeWitt, Commanding General of the U.S. Western Defence Command (which included the Alaska Defence Command) asked the War Department in Washington as early as 14 June 1942 to set up an expeditionary force for the purpose. Washington, however, recognizing that there were far more urgent problems at that moment, proceeded with caution. The only immediate action taken was the occupation of Adak. Later, in December 1942, the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, in authorizing the occupation of Amchitka, ordered General DeWitt to prepare a force for an attack on Kiska. The Americans went to the Casablanca conference next month intending to advocate this operation; but General Marshall “came to fear” that the British might construe such a proposal as implying the diversion of large forces to a secondary Pacific theatre, and a memorandum by the Joint Chiefs dated 22 January 1943 accordingly merely advocated that Allied policy should be to “make the Aleutians as secure as may be”. This vague and modest formula was written into the agreed conclusions of the conference.10
The result of this was that the Kiska operation was postponed; but Rear Admiral Thomas C. Kinkaid, USN, Commander North Pacific Force and in overall command of all three services in the Alaska theatre, proposed instead an attack on Attu, where the enemy’s garrison and defences were weaker. This would not entail much diversion of forces from other theatres. The Joint Chiefs of Staff approved the scheme in March 1943; and after due preparation the 7th Division of the U.S. Army assaulted Attu on 11 May. This was the beginning of a thoroughly nasty little campaign, in which the Japanese fought to be killed and the Americans obliged them. A final Banzai charge on 29 May was followed by mopping up. The U.S. commander
reported 2350 Japs killed; only 24 allowed themselves to be taken prisoners.11
The garrison of Kiska remained to be dealt with. The question received some attention, along with much more important matters, from the Combined Chiefs of Staff during the TRIDENT conference in Washington (12–25 May 1943). The U.S. planners argued that until the Japanese were driven out of Kiska the United States would have to keep large air and ground forces in the Aleutians and was obliged to “disperse naval forces to that area”; the Japanese must therefore be expelled. This argument was accepted by the Combined Chiefs, and the final conclusions of the conference, as approved by President Roosevelt and Mr. Churchill, included “Ejection of the Japanese from the Aleutians” as one of the objects of operations in the Pacific in 1943–44.12 On 24 May, the second-last day of the conference, the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff accordingly authorized planning and training for the attack on Kiska, and subsequently gave final approval for the enterprise.13
We have already noted the part played by the RCAF in Alaska. The Royal Canadian Navy, although it had only minor forces available on the Pacific Coast, placed these vessels and its port facilities at the U.S. Command’s disposal as soon as the threat to the Aleutians developed. At this time the U.S. Commander-in-Chief, Pacific Ocean Areas, placed “all Army, Navy, and Canadian forces in the Alaskan–Aleutian theater” under the Commander Task Force 8, later North Pacific Force (then Rear Admiral Robert A. Theobald).14 The Canadian Army’s activity in Alaska was limited in the first instance to the anti-aircraft defence of Annette Island (above, page 174). Now, however, it was brought into the Kiska project. This piece of cooperation resulted from very informal American suggestions which were warmly taken up in Canada. On 19 April General DeWitt had visited General Pearkes at Vancouver and given him an outline of the operations projected in the Aleutians commencing early in May. Pearkes reported this to Ottawa. There had apparently been no actual suggestion of Canadian assistance.* On 10 May, however, General Pope in Washington reported to the Chief of the General Staff (General Stuart) that the Secretary of the American section of the Permanent Joint Board on Defence, Mr. J. D. Hickerson, had suggested to him that it would be eminently appropriate if Canadian forces cooperated in removing the existing threat in the Aleutians. The following day General Stuart telegraphed General Pearkes referring to the latter’s earlier report and inquiring whether it was “too late to consider some form of army participation”.15 (The CGS did not know that U.S. troops had landed on Attu that day, for the operation was not announced until some days later.) On 12 May General Pope was instructed to approach General Marshall, Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army,
* The General Staff report on the organization of the Kiska force, prepared later, states that the matter was discussed on this occasion, but there is no reference to it in General Pearkes’ report sent at that time.
and had an interview with him the following afternoon. Marshall received the suggestion of Canadian assistance cordially and proceeded to consult the_ Western Defence Command. On 24 May he wrote Pope that he had had a message from General DeWitt stating that both he and Major General Simon B. Buckner, Commanding General, Alaska Defence Command, were “delighted at the prospect of having units of the Canadian forces associated with his Command in present and future operations in the Aleutian area”.16
DeWitt now presented to Pearkes two requests: one for the immediate provision of one infantry battalion and a light anti-aircraft battery “to be ready to move 15 June to reinforce Amchitka or Attu in case of counteroffensive”; the other, the provision in August of a brigade group for “offensive operations” – that is, the attack on Kiska. These proposals were placed before the Cabinet War Committee at a special meeting on 27 May, and although final decision was postponed pending a more formal approach from the United States the consensus was that the second of the two proposals was preferable. On 31 May a further meeting of the Committee considered a letter from the U.S. Secretary of War (Colonel Henry L. Stimson) to Colonel Ralston, extending a formal invitation in general terms;* and approval was then given for the employment of a brigade group. The battalion scheme was not proceeded with.17 Arrangements had already been made, on the initiative of General Pearkes, to send ten Canadian officers to the Aleutian theatre as observers.18
The decision was taken to use the headquarters of the 13th Infantry Brigade and the three infantry battalions in Pacific Command which were numerically strongest: The Canadian Fusiliers, The Winnipeg Grenadiers (re-formed after the destruction of the previous active battalion at Hong Kong), and The Rocky Mountain Rangers.19 Subsequently, it being considered desirable to include a French-speaking unit, Le Regiment de Hull was added.20 It took the place of the battalion of Combat Engineers included in the assault organization of the U.S. regimental combat team, which was equivalent to a Canadian brigade group, and one of its companies was attached to each of the three battalion combat teams into which the Canadian force was divided. The other major units chosen were the 24th Field Regiment and the 46th Light Anti-Aircraft Battery RCA, the 24th Field Company RCE, a company of The Saint John Fusiliers (M.G.), and the 25th Field Ambulance RCAMC21 The code name GREENLIGHT was assigned to the special training to be given the force (the actual operation against Kiska was called “Cottage”).22
* This letter was written on the suggestion of the Canadian Army Staff, Washington, acting on the instructions of the Minister of National Defence. The idea caused some initial surprise at the War Department, which was accustomed to work through more exclusively military channels.
The GOC-in-C First Canadian Army was asked to nominate a commander for the force, and Brigadier H. W. Foster was brought back from England to take the appointment. With him came Major W. S. Murdoch, for the appointment of Brigade Major. As it was decided to organize the brigade headquarters on the U.S. staff system he was promoted lieutenant colonel and appointed Chief of Staff.23
The units were brought up to strength and were assembled as soon as possible for combined operations training, two battalion combat teams at Nanaimo and one at Courtenay. The major units were concentrated by 14 June.24 The programme included hardening and toughening training, weapon and tactical training, and amphibious training comprising work with assault craft, organization of beaches, and loading and unloading of vehicles.25 It was complicated by the arrival of unfamiliar American equipment. Although in general Canadian weapons were to be used, the U.S. 81-millimetre mortar was substituted for the Canadian 3-inch, and in the field artillery regiment a proportion of 25-pounders (12) was replaced by U.S. 75-millimetre pack howitzers, to provide a support weapon capable of being manhandled across rough country. The U.S. 30-calibre carbine was used as a personal weapon for officers.26 All transport vehicles were of American types, but little transport of any type could be used on the Aleutian terrain. The Canadians wore their own battledress, but were outfitted with U.S. special Alaskan clothing and U.S. web equipment. American sleeping bags were issued. The administrative task resulting from these equipment adjustments was tremendous, and there were even larger ones on the personnel side. Not only had the units to be brought up to full strength, but it was necessary to ensure that no men were included who had not had four months’ training, or who were not physically fit for action. The job was made heavier by the fact that while it was in progress the date of the operation was put forward and the time available reduced from two months to six weeks.27
The units contained a great many soldiers enrolled for compulsory service under the National Resources Mobilization Act. One of the reasons adduced by the CGS for taking part in the Kiska enterprise was that “The use of Home Defence personnel in an active theatre will serve to break down the hostile attitude with which Home Defence personnel are regarded by large sections of the Canadian public.”28 As we have seen (above, page 123) an order in council of 18 June 1943 authorized the employment of such personnel in Alaska, including the Aleutians.29 This was put into effect with some caution. Under its terms, the Minister of National Defence issued on 11 July a “Direction” permitting the dispatch of the GREENLIGHT force for “training, service or duty” at Adak or points in Alaska “east of Adak” – i.e., those parts of the Aleutians then firmly in American hands.30
Only on 12 August,*
* This was at the very last moment, since the force sailed from Adak on 13 August. Generals Murchie and Pearkes had arrived there on 6 August. Since it would have been scarcely practicable for the Canadians to have disrupted at this stage what seemed an important Allied operation, the VCGS’s report appears little more than a formality. General Pope in Washington subsequently commented that this episode seemed to indicate that “what is needed is a little more political confidence at home”.31 It seems likely that these precautions had their origins in the criticisms directed at the Government in connection with the organization of the Hong Kong expedition.
following receipt of a formal report32 from the Vice Chief of the General Staff (Major General Murchie), who went to Adak for the purpose, that the state of the force was in all respects satisfactory and the plan represented “a practical operation of war”, was “Direction No. 2” issued removing this limitation, and Pacific Command authorized to allow the force to proceed.33
Fiasco at Kiska
On 12 July the 13th Infantry Brigade Group sailed from the Vancouver Island ports of Nanaimo and Chemainus in four U.S. transports. Its actual embarkation strength was 4831 all ranks.†
† This was as reported on 5 August. The report sent on the day of embarkation indicated exactly 4800.34
At this time 165 men were reported absent without leave.35 Pacific Command attributed these absences largely to the fact that “in the space of about a month, or less, we had to replace about one third of the existing personnel in every unit”, and to resultant resentment among men who had found themselves tossed from one unit to another.36 It is perhaps significant that Le Regiment de Hull, which had suffered less disruption of its “other ranks” than the other units, had only six men absent, while the other battalions had considerably larger numbers.37
The status of the Canadian brigade commander in relation to the American forces was defined in instructions approved by the Cabinet War Committee on 18 June and subsequently issued by the Chief of the General Staff to the GOC-in-C Pacific Command38 and transmitted by the latter to Brigadier Foster in a formal letter of appointment.39 An order in council40 authorized an arrangement, similar to that made earlier with respect to the First Special Service Force (above, page 108), by which each member of the U.S. armed forces serving in Alaska should “for the purposes of command only (but not discipline and/or punishment) be deemed to be a member of the Military Forces of Canada with rank therein equivalent to that held by him” in the U.S. forces. This was on a reciprocal basis between the two national forces. Brigadier Foster was instructed that “the operational control exercisable by the United States Commander shall be
observed in letter and spirit as fully as if he were a Canadian officer”. However, certain emergency powers were, as usual, held in reserve. . General Pearkes wrote:
10. Each Government has reserved itself ... the right under extraordinary circumstances to withdraw from the undertaking. You as the Senior Combatant Officer are empowered to exercise this right of withdrawal, but it cannot be exercised at any lower level. The authority extends to withdrawal of the whole or any part of the force but any such action should only be taken after consultation with me except where there is not sufficient time to enable consultation feasibly to be carried out and it is necessary to act without consultation.
11. In addition to the foregoing the Canadian participation in the campaign is subject to the retention by you as Senior Combatant Officer of the right to refer to the Canadian Government through this Headquarters in respect of any matter in which such force is likely to be involved or committed.
No occasion for the use of these emergency powers ever arose.
Brigadier Foster was informed that his force upon arrival at Adak would come under the command of Lieut. General Buckner (as he had now become); subsequently Buckner would place it under Major General C. H. Corlett, the Military Task Force Commander.41 Admiral Kinkaid controlled the whole Kiska operation, taking his orders in turn from Admiral Nimitz, C-in-C Pacific Ocean Areas.42
The 13th Brigade Group were not the only Canadians taking part. The TRIDENT conference had briefly discussed the employment of the First Special Service Force (PLOUGH Force) and the view had been expressed that it should be given some battle experience as soon as possible. General Marshall said it was perhaps a pity that it had not been used at Attu; but there might be an opportunity of using it in “another operation in that area”.43 The United States proceeded to suggest using the force in the Kiska attack, and the War Committee of the Canadian Cabinet approved this on 11 June.*
* This approval following an informal suggestion, anticipated a formal request which was made next day.44
A month later the Force with its Canadian component sailed from San Francisco Bay for Amchitka. There it did its final training.45
On 21 July the 13th Brigade Group disembarked at Adak, where it joined the main body of General Corlett’s “Amphibian Training Force 9”.46 Here a programme of intensive combined training was carried out under the direction of Major General Holland M. Smith, U.S. Marine Corps. Its high point was a landing exercise held on Great Sitkin Island the first week in August.47 Thereafter nothing remained but the operation. On 8 August General Pearkes established at Adak an Advanced Headquarters, Pacific Command from which he could observe at close quarters.48 D Day was 15 August; on 30 July a conference of officers at Adak, at which Brigadier Foster was not present, had recommended putting it off until the 24th to permit of further training, but Admiral Nimitz refused to allow this.49 On
13 August, accordingly, the assault force sailed from Adak for Kiska. General Corlett had under his command 34,426 soldiers; of these, including the 1st Special Service Battalion, some 5300 were Canadians.50
In the light of the sequel, there is no point in describing the assault plan in great detail. Fire support was very heavy. The island had been heavily bombarded on 22 July and 2 August by air and sea forces, and less heavily on other occasions; and to cover the landings there were three battleships, two cruisers and 19 destroyers. The main Japanese defences and installations were on the south and east side of the “caterpillar-shaped island”.51 The scheme accordingly was to deliver the bombardment support and a feint landing on this side, while the real landings were made in two sectors on the north and west. On both these sectors units of the First Special Service Force would be the first men ashore. On 15 August they would precede U.S. troops landing in the Southern Sector; on 16 August the Northern landing, in which the 13th Brigade would take part, was to be made. American troops would land here on the left portion of the sector, followed by the Canadian brigade on the right. The Northern Sector was commanded by Brig. Gen. Joseph L. Ready.52
The landings took place as scheduled, but there was no opposition. The Japanese had decamped, and the invasion was a blow in the air. Conviction that the enemy was really gone came to the attackers only gradually – the more so as the Southern force on the first day “reported having seen a few laps and received a few rifle shots”.53 There were cases of mistaken identity in the fog, and some casualties in consequence. The Canadians had one soldier wounded by unidentified machine-gun fire on 16 August, and one officer killed by a mine the following day; later three other fatal casualties were caused by enemy booby-traps or accidents with ammunition.54
The story of the evacuation is now available from Japanese sources. While the fighting on Attu was still in progress, the Japanese decided to withdraw the Kiska garrison and use it to strengthen the Kuriles. The decision was promulgated in an Imperial Headquarters directive of 21 May.55 An attempt was made to remove the men by submarine, and 820, more than half of them civilians, are said to have been safely brought away in this manner; but this was done at a cost of four submarines lost to the U.S. Navy or navigational hazards, and three others damaged; and the effort was abandoned late in June.56 Orders were then issued for the job to be done by surface forces under cover of fog. The force detailed for the enterprise made one unsuccessful attempt, being driven back to Paramushiro on 17 July by unsuitable weather and shortage of fuel.57 A second try was favoured by fortune, in spite of collisions on 25 July which incapacitated two ships. On 28 July (West Longitude date), while one light cruiser stood
off south of Kiska, two others and a flotilla of destroyers dashed in through the fog to the island. The garrison was waiting eagerly, and the whole remaining force – according to the best Japanese source,58 5183 servicemen and civilians – were jammed aboard the cruisers and six of the destroyers in, it appears, less than one hour. The force dashed out again and reached Paramushiro in safety.59
The American naval blockade of Kiska had heretofore been notably effective, and the failure to intercept the evacuation force was due to bad luck as well as to Japanese skill in utilizing Aleutian weather. On 23 July a U.S. aircraft reported radar contact with vessels south-west of Attu. What vessels, if any, these were, is unknown; but the American battleship and cruiser force in the area moved against them, and the two destroyers blockading Kiska were taken off station to join it. On the night of 25–26 July the American ships’ radar appeared to indicate the presence of enemy vessels, and heavy fire was directed at these radar targets; but it subsequently appeared that what had been seen were merely “return echoes” from distant islands. On 28 July, while the Japs were running in to Kiska, the American force, including a destroyer detailed to re-establish the blockade, was fuelling from a tanker 105 miles south-south-east of the island.60
The Japs left Kiska eighteen days before the Americans and Canadians made their abortive assault. How did it happen that U.S. Intelligence at Adak did not detect their absence? This misfortune, which led to an attack by 34,000 men on an empty island, requires some analysis.
Fog prevented aerial reconnaissance of Kiska between 26 July and 2 August. On the latter date photographs were taken which showed many buildings destroyed and many barges formerly present missing. However, a number of returning pilots reported some machine-gun and small arms fire from the ground, and similar reports continued to be made on subsequent days. There were also reports of fresh digging, etc. But there were no radio transmissions from the island after 28 July, and pilots reported its radar no longer working; and repeated naval bombardments drew no reply, except for one report of “very light” return fire on 3 August and a similar one on 12 August.61
The reports made by No. 14 (Fighter) Squadron, RCAF, on its Kittyhawk sorties over Kiska represent a fair sample of the intelligence picture. Beginning on 3 August and continuing through 12 August the squadron flew seven missions (a total of 33 individual sorties) against Kiska. The only indication of the presence of the enemy resulting from any of these was the report of a single pilot (one of seven in the mission) on 3 August that he had seen seven bursts of anti-aircraft fire. On 10 August the mission reported “no A.A. or M.G. fire of any kind, encountered during the whole
trip – all at low levels”. On 11 August the report was “No signs of life seen anywhere... No A.A. or M.G. fire received.”62
Looking at the record a decade later, it may seem remarkable that the evidence on the side of evacuation did not receive more credence. But in 1943 the Japanese were credited – and with reason – with unusual talent for ingenuity and trickery; and the interpretation of the evidence adopted at Adak seemed plausible. The 13th Brigade’s operation order, dated 9 August, observed, “As a result of heavy air and naval bombardments enemy forces have been driven into the hinterland and may be met with in small groups on any part of the Island. It is not known which of the installations... are now occupied and which have been vacated.” On 17 August, when the real situation was becoming clear, General Pearkes wrote from Adak, “At the beginning of August he [the enemy] apparently evacuated his main camps and moved, so everyone thought here, into battle positions on the beaches and in the hills. His radar and radio ceased operating and it was believed that they had been put out of action. There was considerable movement of barges around the coastline of the Island which seemed to fit in with the general ideas of the redistribution of the enemy forces on the Island.”63
How is one to explain the rather numerous reports by airmen of antiaircraft fire from Kiska after 28 July? It has been suggested that the Japanese left behind a rear party which was to fire light weapons to deceive Allied airmen and naval observers, and which was later removed by submarine.64 The suggestion is inherently improbable, for the one thing which any deception party would have been certain to do was keep the radio operating. But in any case the information from Japanese sources now available offers no support whatever for the idea of a rear party.65 Capt. Arichika Rokuji, chief of staff of the 1st Destroyer Squadron which conducted the evacuation, said in 1945, “There was no one left ashore except for three dogs; however, timed explosives were left to detonate a few days later to give the impression that troops were still present and going about the business of changing the defences.”66 These delayed-action charges, plus fog and cloud, must be the explanation of the reports made by the sailors and airmen.
It appears that suggestions were made that it would be desirable to undertake a reconnaissance of the island with boat parties; but “doubts of enemy resistance were not compelling enough to result in advance reconnaissance of Kiska except from the air.”67 In the light of hindsight, this decision seems unfortunate. It was a pity to give the enemy the satisfaction of laughing at us.
On the basis of the experience of Attu, the Kiska enterprise might have produced a very bloody campaign. Thanks to the Japanese withdrawal,
this was avoided. The enemy had lost his only foothold in the North American zone, and this was a source of satisfaction. From the Canadian point of view, however, it was particularly unfortunate that the episode could be presented as such a ridiculous anti-climax. It had been hoped, as we have seen, that participation by NRMA soldiers in an active campaign would improve the attitude of the public towards them. The Kiska affair certainly had no such result. This was the more regrettable as the NRMA men had behaved admirably. Their discipline was good and their morale high, and Brigadier Foster received many compliments from United States officers on their general standard of behaviour.68
The 13th Infantry Brigade Group remained on Kiska for more than three months, living in “winterized” tents, and engaged in road and pier construction, transport fatigues, building and manning defences, and carrying on such training as conditions permitted. Fog, rain and wind made the island an acutely unpleasant residence, and the troops were heartily glad when the withdrawal to British Columbia began in November 1943. The last shipload of Canadians left Kiska on 12 January 1944.69 The Special Service Force had left much earlier, and were back in the United States by 1 September.70
Though the Kiska enterprise had not brought the action that had been expected, it had been well completed and had set some precedents. This was the first occasion when Canadian units operated in the field under United States higher command and on United States organization. These arrangements worked very satisfactorily. It was also the first occasion in history when an expedition left the shores of Canada prepared and equipped with a view to immediate offensive action, and the arduous task of administration which this necessitated appears to have been well performed.