Kiska: The Aleutian Battle That Never Was

By Purdon, Eric | Sea Classics, February 1999 | Go to article overview

Kiska: The Aleutian Battle That Never Was


Purdon, Eric, Sea Classics


With the fall of Attu to American forces might, Kiska remained the last Aleutian Island in Japanese hands. Girding for an all-out battle to retake Kiska the American/Canadian planners mustered an imposing invasion force little suspecting. they would be outwitted in the most amazing naval coup of the Pacific War.

The capture of Attu and the establishment of airfields there and on the neighboring island of Shemya tightened the noose around the heavily fortified Japanese garrison on Kiska. Air reconnaissance and intelligence showed that the enemy was even better prepared to stand off an attack than Attu had been, and there was no reason for thinking that Brig. Gen. Mineki would not fight to the end as Yamazaki had done.

Attu had been good preparation for Kiska. Attu had been fa tough fight; Kiska would probably be tougher, but the experience gained in May would be put to good use in August - for the Joint Chiefs of Staff wanted Kiska by the middle of that month.

They got it, but in a totally unexpected way.

The island of Kiska stretches out like a huge bat across the Aleutian barrier between the Bering Sea and the Pacific, a slightly asymmetrical bat flying southeast toward San Francisco, about to seize in its mouse-like mouth the chunk of volcanic land known as Little Kiska.

The left paw of the bat, or North Head, curves in toward the neck to form Kiska Harbor; the right paw is the blunt promontory of Bukhti Point and the right wing curves around Vega Bay to the tip of Vega Point.

Between the blunted knob of Kiska volcano on the north and the marshy flatlands of Vega Point on the south, the island extends in a series of dun-colored hills, ridges, ravines, lakes and bog. Gertrude Cove on the Pacific side, where Jap ships had been caught and bombed, might make a good point of attack. But the sheltering cliffs looked like mandibles in which a complete landing force could be chewed up and destroyed by Japanese cross fire. Mutt and Jeff coves, just east of Gertrude, were thought to be mined.

For the navigator, Kiska was not readily accessible to any large group of ships. Between Little Kiska and the nearest American base of Amchitka, the Aleutian barrier scraped the surface of the foggy sea with a series of islands, pinnacles and reefs. No one had ever recorded a north-south passage between Kiska and Amchitka. The water was not considered navigable. So any large force of ships would have to approach from above or below the Aleutian chain.

Admiral Rockwell's staff pondered over the map and charts. On the ragged Bering Sea side of the island they found two beaches, so narrow, rockstrewn and militarily unpromising that it was believed the Japs might have overlooked their significance. The southern beach was only a quarter of a mile wide, just enough to squeeze single waves of assault boats in upon the strand. This they christened "Quisling Cove."

The route toward the Jap stronghold at Kiska Harbor would lead American troops into the badlands. A midget army could stand them off, just as had been done in the passes at Attu. It was imperative that the Americans reach the bridge line first to strike the enemy from above.

On the northern wing of the island, a second possible gateway for assault was found on the low shore above Witchcraft Point in Bamboo Bay, most ironical place name on the map.

The first blow would be struck at Quisling Cove, where a regiment of Special Service Force troops would be landed in the darkness so that the ridge could be gained in secrecy. At dawn, when the southern forces would start coming ashore in Quisling Cove, the northern transport group would feint at the gun-studded shore line of Vega Bay near Gertrude Cove.

The Japanese had constructed a crisscross pattern of trenches on the hills overlooking Vega Bay. How pleased they would be to see the American assault boats preparing to beach under their guns. …

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