Termed "the forgotten battle," the Battle for the Aleutians represented the only instance during World War II when the Japanese occupied American soil and the campaign exacted a significant toll of American lives and treasure. The Aleutians became strategically significant during World War II for the Japanese as well as the United States, but the American preparations in anticipation of this attack were woefully inadequate. Despite a U.S. naval base was being established at Dutch Harbor in 1942, the Japanese bombed the base and later occupied Attu, Kiska, and Agattu islands. Although a U.S. counterattack from bases on Adak and Amchitka retook these islands in 1943, several thousand of American lives were lost in the process and many more were injured. The purpose of this study is to provide a comprehensive and critical analysis of the primary and secondary juried and scholarly literature concerning the Battle of the Aleutians to develop an informed answer to the study's guiding research question: "How might the American response to the Japanese invasion and occupation be directly linked to the chain of events in the Pacific, and did the 'forgotten battle' mobilize Americans more than historians have admitted?" The research will show that if the weather and logistics had been only slightly more favorable to the Japanese, the outcome of Pacific theatre of operations may have been much different and the war would have been prolonged even longer.
Table of Contents
Chapter One: Introduction
Purpose of the Study
Importance of the Study
Overview of the Study
Chapter Two: Review of the Literature
Background and Overview
Background and History of the Aleutian Islands
Settlements at the Time of Battle
Events Leading to the Battle
The Campaign: Early Days
The Campaign: American Response
Chapter Three: Methodology
Database of Research
Chapter Four: Summary and Conclusion
Battle of the Aleutians: A Cold Wake-Up Call
In an air war, if we were unprepared Japan could take it away from us, first by dominating the sky and creeping up the Aleutians. It could work both ways, of course. We could jump off from Alaska and reduce Tokyo to powder. But if we were asleep, without planes, Japan might well seize enough of Alaska to creep down the western coast of Canada. Then we would be in for it. -- Murray Morgan, Bridge to Russia (1947)
Chapter One: Introduction
The Korean War is frequently referred to as "the Forgotten War" because although more than 33,000 Americans lost their lives, few people today remember it in contrast to more recent conflicts such as the War in Vietnam or the major conflict of the two world wars. Similarly, the Battle of the Aleutians is frequently referred to as the "forgotten battle," "forgotten war" or "the theater of military frustration" (Hodas-Walsh 1997, p. 3) of World War II, partly because it has been overshadowed by subsequent events that took place in the South Pacific Front, such as the costly Guadalcanal Campaign and the bloody battle for Iwo Jima. Moreover, the Battle of the Aleutians is not widely considered to have been a decisive battle either, and it is overshadowed in the Pacific Theatre of operations by the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the bloody events that followed. Nevertheless, it was the thesis of this study that the Battle of the Aleutians was instrumental in "waking up" the Americans and its Allies to the danger looming in the Pacific and helped to ensure an Allied victory.
The research shows that the Americans seriously underestimated the importance of protecting the islands prior to the Japanese invasion. Despite warnings from some prominent military leaders, the Aleutians remained largely out of sight and out of the minds of American policymakers until 1942 when the Japanese actually invaded American soil for the first and only time during World War II. Moreover, the battle precipitated a vast Pacific campaign and served to prepare Americans for their role in the looming war to come. This research will also take into account the American and Russian positions prior to the Battle of the Aleutians. It has been suggested that the Aleutians were "virtually undefended" which is why the occupation was a shock to American policymakers (Whitman, n.d.). At the height of the conflict, 144,000 American personnel were arrayed against 8,500 Japanese defenders (The Stamford Historical Society 2009). All told, Allied forces experienced 1,481 deaths and 2,500 wounded, sick, or frostbitten casualties compared to 2,351 Japanese battle deaths (Stamford Historical Society 2009).
Although the Japanese invasion and occupation of two Aleutian (Alaskan) islands was ultimately unsuccessful, the research also shows that had weather and geography been more favorable for the Japanese, the battle might have been lost, and the outcome in the Pacific Theatre could have been much different. The Battle of the Aleutians also kick started an "island hopping" of battles from the north to the South Pacific and was therefore significant for the outcome of World War II.
Purpose of the Study
The purpose of this study was to deliver a comprehensive and critical analysis of the relevant primary and secondary peer-reviewed and scholarly literature concerning the Battle of the Aleutians in order to develop an informed answer to the study's guiding research question. The overarching research question that guided this study was as follows: "How might the American response to the Japanese invasion and occupation be directly linked to the chain of events in the Pacific, and did the 'forgotten battle' mobilize Americans more than historians have admitted?"
Importance of the Study
The strategic location of the Aleutians has not been lost on military tacticians who cite the archipelago's potential for future incursions into the United States by hostile forces. Furthermore, although it may be "forgotten" by many Americans, the more than three thousand Americans who made the ultimate sacrifice to defend this desolate but strategically important part of the United States should not be lost to the mists of time, but rather commemorated for the heroism that characterized the war in the Pacific Theatre.
Indeed, fully half again as many Americans died fighting the Japanese in the Battle of the Aleutians as the War of 1812, but American history textbooks make little or no mention of the conflict (Loewen 2005). As Hodas-Walsh (1997, p. 3) emphasizes, "Conducted over a thousand miles of islands in extremely harsh conditions it was a conflict that involved 'military frustration.' This conflict should not be 'forgotten' as it consumed hundreds of Japanese and Allied lives and resources. A close study of the Aleutian Campaign has much to offer the future operational planner." Despite the sacrifices that were made by the American army and naval personnel during the Aleutian campaign, there remains a dearth of scholarly investigation into the events that led up to the conflict and how it was prosecuted. In fact, a study by McGinnis (2012, p. 1) concluded that, "No official histories have been published specifically addressing this theatre as a separate entity."
Other military historians agree that the Battle of the Aleutians remains understudied. For instance, Huntoon (1988, p. 3) emphasizes that:
The Aleutian campaign offers significant insights as one of the first joint amphibious operations of the Second World War in a misunderstood and relatively unknown theater. This campaign reflected planning errors which led to disastrous operational results. Both the Japanese and American sides are analyzed to understand the campaign process from planning to execution to end state.
Up to this point in time, the U.S. Army and Navy had never collaborated in a meaningful fashion in a joint campaign, and the lessons learned from this experience continue to be relevant today. According to a study by Breslin (1994, p. 2), the Aleutian campaign was "America's first effort to fight in a joint theater and contains many insights as to how today's commander should fight in a joint environment." Therefore, a modern analysis of the Battle of the Aleutian Islands represents a timely and valuable enterprise. The organization of this study for this purpose is described below.
Overview of the Study
This study used a four-chapter format to achieve the above-stated research purpose and to develop an informed answer to the study's guiding research question. Chapter one of the study was used to introduce the issues of interest, including the purpose and importance of the study. Chapter two provides a review of the primary and secondary peer-reviewed and scholarly literature including a background and overview, the background and history of the Aleutian Islands, the settlements that existed on the islands at the time of the battle, and salient geographic issues that played a role in the campaign. A discussion concerning the events that led up to the battle, the early days of the campaign and the American response is followed by an analysis of these events. An assessment of the Japanese strategy used in the Battle of the Aleutians is followed by a discussion of the aftermath of the battle. Chapter three of the study is used to more fully describe…