Invasion of Kiska From YANK Magazine

Posted on June 12th, 2016 by:

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Invasion of Kiska From YANK Magazine


By Sgt. Georg N. Meyers

YANK Staff Correspondent

KISKA—If any Japanese dared to come back to Kiska today, they would be blown out of the bay or blasted out of the sky with their own guns. Less than a week after Yanks and Canadians foreclosed on Hirohito’s abandoned homestead in the Aleutians, Kiska was a strongly defended—with our own and with enemy equipment—as it had been at any time during the 14 months of Japanese occupation.


Greasing up with face camouflage for Kiska

The Plain fact is that the Japanese were pot-poor retreaters. The bulk of the Japanese troops were probably shuttled out over a period of several weeks, only a skeleton garrison left behind to defend demolition crews in case the Yanks arrived sooner than expected. Though these crews laid a great many mines, they pulled out in such a rush that the major plans for destroying Japanese installations and camp areas were botched up.

Big 4 ½ – and 6-inch coastal cannon and 3-inch dual-purpose guns were left intact, except for missing breech blocks. Trained on American invasion parties fighting their way up the cliff walls, these guns might have massacred great numbers of our forces, had the Japanese chosen to defend the position.


Yanks leave landing craft at Lilly Cove

Cached away near the abandoned guns was plenty of ammunition, enough for the Yanks to have fought off a month-long counter siege, using only the enemy’s fortifications. Dozens of 6-inch shell casings had been stuffed with explosives by the Japanese and cemented at the mouth, but fuses intended to blow them up fizzled out less than a foot from the charges.

Small arms and ammunition, construction materials, piles of blankets and heavy coats with dog-fur lining and sea-otter collars and cuffs were scattered around for the taking—further evidence that the Japanese demolition crews had muffed the ball.

But most of the installations of the Japanese Army Garrison at Gertrude Cover were “wired for sound,” as were almost all the major Japanese Navy and Marine installations at Kiska Harbor.

Advance elements, exploring half-buried Japanese huts at the Gertrude Cove Beaches, picked up boots and blankets from the floor and exposed booby traps. Dark shafts into the mountainsides, almost as complicated as a Pennsylvania coal mine, had to be scouted as possible hiding places for Japanese.


The Kiska fog turns soldiers into silhouettes, seen with the backs bowed under their equipment, they are part of a patrol moving along the island ridges

Even after the Allied invasion forces had swarmed over the island, a number of Americans and Canadians fell dead and wounded as a result of the enemy mines. Unlike Attu, where American soldiers on the hunt for souvenirs pawed through tents and dugouts almost without mishap, the pickings on Kiska were dangerous.

All these details we had no way of knowing as we boarded the invasion ships, our faces painted green and gray. At midnight we breakfasted on grilled steak and potatoes and a couple of soft-boiled eggs—standard invasion fare. As the men stood at their mess racks to eat, the chaplain’s voice came over the ship’s loudspeaker: “And now we commit ourselves, our bodies and our souls unto Thy keeping.” Some of the boys did not finish their breakfast.


Moving in, an advance reconnaissance patrol cautiously approaches the mouth of a 200-foot tunnel dug by Japanese on Lazy Creek near Gertrude Cove, Kiska

By a kind of poetic justice, the first four American soldiers to set foot on Kiska were Alaskans. They were part of an advance patrol of scouts from the Alaska Combat Intelligence Platoon, known as “Castner’s Cutthroats.”

From Offshore a brisk chill wind was blowing in their faces as they left the big ship in bobbing rubber boats and paddled through the dangerous rocky passage toward Quisling Cove on the west side of the island.  It was 2:30 A.M., and the jagged skyline of Kiska was silhouetted in the moonlight 500 yards abeam.

A short sharp sound, faintly carried on the wind, bit the ears. Sgt. Clyde Peterson whispered: “Hear that! That’s a good omen. That’s a fox bark. This is the season when the fox are whelping. If there were any Japanese around, the fox would have killed their young.”

The sergeant was right. There were no Japanese.

Peterson, a lank blond 22-year-old fisherman from Sitka, Alaska, was first ashore. Clambering out of the fragile rubber dory right on the heels of Peterson’s shoepacs were Pvts. Stanley Dayo, from the interior Alaska mining hamlet of Livengood; Chuck O’Leary of Nome, and Billy Buck, half-Eskimo from King Cove.


Cpl. D.M. Buck found a Japanese Motorcycle similar to a Harley-Davidson

While Peterson’s squad of scouts, headed by Lt. Earl Acuff, paced hand-picked troops up the knife-edge ridges rising from Quisling Cove, S/Sgt. Edgar M. Walker, a few miles to the north, was guiding a spearhead party of 16 under S/Sgt. Dan Green of Swift Current, Saskatchewan, onto Lilly Beach. Behind their rubber boats on a towline was a third air-inflated craft with 1 ½ tons of dynamite aboard.

One hundred yards from the surf, the deploying patrol crawled into barbed-wire entanglements. They crept beyond, through the wet morning darkness, until they were within grenade range of Japanese machine-gun dens burrowed into the cliff faces commanding the entire shore.

Satisfied that this area was clear of Japanese, Sgt. Walker and his men gingerly shifted the cases of dynamite ashore and planted them among the reefs blocking the passageway to Lilly Beach. Promptly at 5:30 A.M. he touched off the charge.

For the troops still churning in the bay in landing boats, that explosion was a heartening signal. It meant that everything was proceeding according to plan. An hour later the barges were lining up to disgorge men, guns, ammunition and the tractors on the beach.


The Nozima Maru, one of three ships found beached at Kiska after bombing

We crunched low across the rocky beach and scrambled up the mossy cheek of the mountain on our hands and knees. By daybreak the first objective, Link Hill, had been reached. Wind cupped under our tin hats and almost snapped our heads off. Fog pressed under our bodies, shouldering us onward like an invisible wet net. We could hear the voices of the men in our patrol, but we couldn’t see them.


A Japanese hangar shows effects of American bombs

Already tiers of empty enemy gun slots, deep interlaced trenchworks and one observation post sunk into the hilltop had been passed. By noon, after trailing a think yellow strand of Japanese communication wire of the moss bogs, we had cautiously explored the deep, awesome cavers of Lazy Creek.

As darkness fell, we trudged through the dismal desolation of Gertrude Cove on the southeast side of the island, where stream and stench rose in smoky plumes from the sodden earth. Warily we bedded down for the night in a long low hutment, half-buried in the ground, shattered by some of the 4,000,000 pounds of bombs dropped by the Eleventh Air Force since Jan. 1.

Before morning we were cursing the Air Force for its marksmanship. Rain roared down and poured through the splintered roof onto the raised wooden platform where we were huddled, rolled up in damp, musty Japanese blankets.

At dawn our patrol was on the march again. We stumbled up the steep, twisting road that the Japanese, with dynamite and tamping blocks and little wicker baskets full of dirt, had scratched out of the rocky promontory separating Gertrude Cove from Kiska Harbor. Along the road were abandoned Japanese heavy-gun emplacements.

Ahead of us, in the murky dusk of the first day ashore, two Yank dogfaces, supported only by each other, had invaded the main camp areas at Kiska Harbor. Like a pair of hoboes sneaking into a chickenyard, Pvt. Francis Heston of Council Bluffs, Iowa, and Sgt. Gerald Roach of Wilkes-Barre, Pa., had crept along the Japanese road.


Three of the enemy’s two-man submarines destroyed in drydock

Now, with fog and sweat begriming our faces, we followed their path to the summit of Magie Mountain. And while we paused, panting, for a break, the haze blew out to sea for an instant.

Below us, gray and ashen and still, lay Kiska Harbor, the main camp area of the Japanese. And now we knew for certain they were gone. At first disappointment rippled hotly over us. “Dirty bastards,” we muttered. And then we remembered the first day at Attu, and the way the litter bearers had shuffled past with their limp loads. And our disappointment passed, even if we had waited 14 months.

Veterans of Attu among the American invasion forces found it hard to believe that the Japanese had chickened out. Though we had been repelled by the methods, we respected the singleness of purpose of an army whose men committed suicide by grenade rather than surrender, who shot or bayoneted their seriously-wounded fellow soldiers before relinquishing the ground where they fell. That respect was gone now. Japanese, we learned at Kiska, are only human after all.


KISKA-In a Japanese ack-ack emplacement on South Head, Yanks found a copy of Margaret Mitchell’s “Gone With the Wind,” with the title in English on the rear cover and the entire 614 pages of text in Japanese. A partly destroyed hut yielded Japanese popular song sheets with pictures of Geisha girls, phonograph records, and the face masks and wooden rifles used in Kendo, a form of bayonet practice. Deep in the mud of a cavern several cases of Suntory whisky (“First Born in Nippon”), and near the cave was the wreckage of an American P-40, with a Japanese inscribed plaque in English: “Sleeping here, a brave hero who lost youth and happiness for his motherland. July 25.” But the prize trophy was a panel at Kiska Harbor, lettered on hand-high characters: “WE SHALL COME AGAIN AND KILL OUT SEPERATELY YANKI-JOKER.” –YANK Staff Correspondent

For More on the Fighting in Alaska Check Out:

81 Days Below Zero: The Incredible Survival Story of a World War II Pilot in Alaska’s Frozen Wilderness

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One thought on “Invasion of Kiska From YANK Magazine

  • Bill Getz says:

    Good story. My B-24 co-pilot’s brother, a fighter pilot, was killed during a raid on Kiska early in the war, not by enemy fire but a midair collision.

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