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Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Maritime Logistics Professional

Attu Island

Posted to Maritime Musings (by on October 17, 2014

A remote Alaska island with a bloody history

Attu Island (known to Aleuts as Atan Island) is the westernmost island in the Aleutian Chain and is the largest island in the Near Islands group.  Located nearly 1,100 nautical miles from the Alaskan mainland, it is only 650 nautical miles from the Kuril Islands, northeast of Hokkaido, Japan.  Inhabited by Aleuts for centuries, it was named Saint Theodore Island by the Russian explorer Aleksei Chirikov when he landed there in 1666.  Russians soon established a trading post and factory for hunting sea otters.  In 1745, Cossack fur hunters kileld 15 native Aleutians at what is now called Massacre Bay.  After the sea otter population declined, Russia lost interest in the island.  The United States acquired possession of Attu when it purchased the Territory of Alaska from Russia in 1867.  Like Russia, the United States paid little attention to this distant island.  In the summer of 1941, though, the Alaska Indian Service dispatched Charles Foster Jones and his wife Etta Jones to Attu to serve as teachers for the approximately 40 Aleuts in the village at Chichagof Bay.  Mr. Jones also served as the resident weather man, transmitting regular weather reports via his radio set.  On the morning of 7 June 1942, the island and the village were invaded by about 500 soldiers of the 301st Independent Infantry Battalion of the Japanese Northern Army.  Troops were also landed on nearby Kiska island.  This invasion was intended to divert American forces from the Battle of Midway, but the US military initially ignored the incursion.  The inhabitants of Attu were not so fortunate.  Mr. Jones destroyed the radio transmitter as the invasion began.  When he told the Japanese soldiers that he was unable to repair it, they shot him and then beheaded his lifeless body.  The native Aleuts and Mrs. Jones were taken to a prison camp near Otaru, Hokkaido.  Twenty-one of the 40 Aleuts forced into the prison camp died before the war ended.  Mrs. Jones survived and returned to her childhood home of Vineland, New Jersey where she soon died.  On 11 May 1943, the operation to recapture Attu began.  Casualties, both from combat and from the appalling weather conditions, were high.  On 29 May, the remaining Japanese soldiers launched a banzai attack at what is now called Engineering Hill.  They were defeated after brutal, close-quarter combat.  Only 28 Japanese soldiers survived to be taken prisoner.  The US Army and Navy quickly built landing strips from which bombing attacks were launched against Japanese bases in the Kuril Islands.  The US Coast Guard was also tasked with building one of its first LORAN stations on Attu to help guide US forces as they stepped up attacks against the Japanese.  When the war ended, the Army and Navy forces departed, but the Coast Guard LORAN station remained.  It was upgraded to LORAN-C in 1960, but eventually ceased operation on 1 August 2010.  Attu Island is now a National Historic Landmark.  It is also home to numerous bird species. 

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