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Native name: Atan
Attu sat.jpg
Attu Island
Coordinates 52°54′8.92″N 172°54′33.84″E / 52.9024778°N 172.9094°E / 52.9024778; 172.9094Coordinates: 52°54′8.92″N 172°54′33.84″E / 52.9024778°N 172.9094°E / 52.9024778; 172.9094
Archipelago Near Islands group of the Aleutian Islands
Area 344.7 sq mi (893 km2)
Length 35 mi (56 km)
Width 20 mi (32 km)
Highest point Attu Mountain (2,946 ft (898 m))
United States
State  Alaska
Census Area Aleutians West Census Area
Largest city Attu Station (pop. 20)
Population 20 (as of 2000)
Density 0.022 /km2 (0.057 /sq mi)

Attu (Atan[1] in Aleut) is the westernmost and largest island in the Near Islands group of the Aleutian Islands of Alaska, making it the westernmost point of land relative to Alaska and the United States. It was the site of the only World War II land battle on United States soil (the Battle of Attu), and its battlefield area is a U.S. National Historic Landmark.

Attu Station, the only inhabited area on the island, is actually located at 52°51' north latitude, 173°11' east longitude, making it by one definition one of the westernmost points of Alaska (and the United States). Attu is nearly seven degrees west of the 180° longitude line. (Hence by another definition, a second Aleutian Island, Semisopochnoi Island at 179°46'E is the "easternmost" location in the United States and North America, since it sits only 14 minutes westwards of the 180° line.)

Attu is nearly 1,100 miles (960 nmi; 1,800 km) from the Alaskan mainland and 750 miles (650 nmi; 1,210 km) northeast of the northernmost of the Kurile Islands of Russia, and it is 4,800 miles (4,200 nmi; 7,700 km) from the capital city, Washington DC. Attu is about 20 by 35 miles (32 by 56 km) in size with a land area of 344.7 square miles (893 km2), making it #23 on the list of largest islands in the United States. The population as of the 2000 census was 20 people, all at the Attu Station.

As of 1982, the only significant trees on the island were those planted by American soldiers at a chapel constructed after the 1943 battle with the Japanese was over.[2]



The name Attu is a transliteration of the Aleut name of the island. It was called Saint Theodore by the explorer Aleksei Chirikov in 1742.


World War II

Attu Battlefield and U.S. Army and Navy Airfields on Attu
U.S. National Register of Historic Places
U.S. National Historic Landmark
Built/Founded: 1942
Added to NRHP: February 4, 1985[3]
Designated NHL: February 4, 1985[4]
NRHP Reference#: 85002729

The Aleuts were the primary inhabitants of the island prior to World War II. But, on June 7, 1942, six months after the USA joined the war, the 301st Independent Infantry Battalion of the Japanese Northern Army landed on the island, without opposition, one day after landing on nearby Kiska. Earlier, in response to Japanese aggression in the Pacific, American territorial authorities conducted a mandatory evacuation of about 880 Aleuts from villages elsewhere in the Aleutian Islands. These people were interned in civilian camps in the Alaska Panhandle, where about 75 of them died of various infectious diseases over the two years.

However, Attu Village had not yet been evacuated when the Japanese attacked. At the time, Attu’s population consisted of 45 native Aleuts and two other Americans, Charles Foster Jones, 60, a schoolteacher, and his wife Etta, both originally from Marion, Ohio.[5] The village consisted of several houses around Chichagof Harbor. The 42 Attu inhabitants who survived the Japanese invasion were taken to a prison camp near Otaru, Hokkaidō. Sixteen of them died while they were imprisoned.

According to Gen. Hideichiro Higuda, the Commander of the Japanese Northern Army, the invasion of Kiska and Attu was part of a threefold objective:[6]

  • To break up any offensives against Japan by way of the Aleutians.
  • To place a barrier between the U.S. and Russia in case Russia decided to join the war against Japan.
  • To make preparation for air bases for future offensive action.

In late September, 1942, the Japanese garrison on Attu was transferred to Kiska, and then Attu was essentially left unoccupied, but American forces made no attempt to occupy Attu during this time. On October 29, 1942, the Japanese reestablished a base on Attu at Holtz Bay under the command of Lt. Col. Hiroshi Yanekawa. Initially the garrison was about 500 troops, but through reinforcements, that number reached about 2,300 by March 10, 1943. No more reinforcements arrived after that time, owing mainly to the efforts of the U.S. naval force under Rear Admiral Charles "Soc" McMorris, and U.S. Navy submarines. McMorris had been assigned to interdict the Japanese supply and reinforcement convoys. After the sizable naval Battle of the Komandorski Islands, the Japanese abandoned their attempts to resupply its Aleutian garrisons by surface ships. From then on, only submarines were used for the resupply runs.[6]

U.S. troops negotiate snow and ice during the battle on Attu in May, 1943.

On May 11, 1943, the operation to recapture Attu began. A shortage of landing craft, unsuitable beaches, and equipment that failed to operate in the appalling weather caused great difficulties in projecting any force against the Japanese. Many soldiers suffered from frostbite – because essential supplies could not be landed, or having been landed, could not be moved to where they were needed. Army vehicles would not work on the tundra. The Japanese defenders under Colonel Yasuyo Yamasaki did not contest the landings, but rather they dug in on high ground away from the shore. This resulted in bloody fighting: there were 3,929 U.S. casualties: 580 were killed, 1148 were injured, 1200 had severe cold injuries, 614 succumbed to infectious diseases, and 318 died of miscellaneous causes – largely from Japanese booby traps and from friendly fire. The Japanese were defeated in Massacre Valley (with some soldiers led by Sergeant Morgan Sinclair). The death count for the Japanese was 2035. The Americans then built "Navy Town" near Massacre Bay.

On May 29, the last of the Japanese forces suddenly attacked near Massacre Bay in one of the largest banzai charges of the Pacific campaign. The charge, led by Colonel Yamasaki, penetrated U.S. lines far enough to encounter shocked rear-echelon units of the American force. After furious, brutal, close-quarter, and often hand-to-hand combat, the Japanese force was killed almost to the last man: only 28 prisoners were taken, none of them officers. U.S. burial teams counted 2,351 Japanese dead, but it was presumed that hundreds more had been buried by naval, air, and artillery bombardments over the course of the battle.

The other Japanese forces in the Aleutians, after realizing that their position was now vulnerable, evacuated Kiska three months later.

The USAAF built a larger airfield, and then used that on July 10, 1943, as the base for an air attack on the Japanese-held Kurile Islands, now a part of Russia. This was the first air attack on the Japanese "homelands" since the famous Doolittle Raid in 1942. Other attacks followed.[2]


The WWII peace memorial on Attu Island

After the war, the survivors of the Otaru prison camp were shipped to other Aleutian islands or to the mainland of Alaska, and the United States government decided to construct a LORAN station on the southern tip of Attu, at Theodore Point. This installation is currently manned by the United States Coast Guard. The equipment to build the station came out of Holtz Bay and was ferried on barges and landing craft to Baxter Cove, about one mile east of the station. Bulldozers were used to cut a road from Baxter Cove to Theodore Point.

In 1954, the station was moved to Casco Cove, near the former Navy Base at Massacre Bay. In 1960 it was moved to Massacre Bay.

The battlefield area and subsequent military sites were declared a National Historic Landmark in 1985.[2][4]

In 1987, with the approval of the U.S. Department of the Interior, the government of Japan placed a monument on Engineer Hill, site of the hand-to-hand finale of the battle against the Japanese. An inscription, in Japanese and English, reads: "In memory of all those who sacrificed their lives in the islands and seas of the North Pacific during World War II and in dedication to world peace." In February, 2008, a group of American veterans led by John E. Jonas TSGT USAF (Ret.) began a petition to have the Japanese memorial removed or relocated from the island and replaced with two U.S. funded markers: one to the Japanese soldiers who died on the island and one to the Americans. The Battle for Attu veteran Bill Jones and others were upset to find out that the Japanese memorial on Attu was erected near the site of a massacre of wounded American soldiers by the Japanese on the battle's final day.[7]

Jones, along with fellow Attu survivor Andy Petrus, were featured in the 2006 documentary film Red White Black & Blue. It is directed by Tom Putnam, and debuted at the 2006 Locarno International Film Festival in Locarno, Switzerland on August 4, 2006.

There is currently a search being conducted to find any remains of Japanese soldiers that are there.[8][9]


The weather on Attu is typical Aleutian weather: cloudy, rainy, and foggy. High winds occur occasionally. Five or six days a week are likely to be rainy, and there are only about eight or ten clear days a year. The rest of the time, even if rain is not falling, fog of varying density is the rule rather than the exception. There are 39–49 inches (990–1,200 mm) of annual rainfall & other precipitation, with the heaviest rains in the autumn and early winter. Attu is in a maritime climate zone.

See also



  1. ^ Bergsland, K. (1994). Aleut Dictionary. Fairbanks: Alaska Native Language Center.  
  2. ^ a b c Author unavailable (Date unavailable) (PDF), National Register of Historic Places Inventory-Nomination: Attu Battlefield and U.S. Army and Navy Airfields on Attu (partial scanned copy), National Park Service,, retrieved 2009-06-22   and Accompanying photos from 1943, 1982, and 1983.PDF (2.58 MB)
  3. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2007-01-23.  
  4. ^ a b "Attu Battlefield and U.S. Army and Navy Airfields on Attu". National Historic Landmark summary listing. National Park Service. Retrieved 2008-01-08.  
  5. ^ United Press, "Attu's Whites Tried Suicide As Japs Came," The Seattle Daily Times June 18, 1943, page 1
  6. ^ a b Mitchell, Lt. Robert J.; Sewell T. Tyng, Capt. Nelson L. Drummond Jr., Gregory J. W. Urwin (April, 2000). The Capture of Attu: A World War II Battle As Told by the Men Who Fought There. University of Nebraska Press. pp. 2–3. ISBN 080329557X.,M1.  
  7. ^ Monumental concerns for World War II veterans, Anchorage Daily News, March 18th, 2008
  8. ^ Japan seeks WWII soldiers' remains on U.S. soil
  9. ^ U.S. helps search for Japanese dead on Attu

External links


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