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Battle of Attu

Operation Landcrab
11 May 1943
75 years ago:


Map of the Aleutian Chain

On 7 June 1942, the Japanese Northern Army landed, unopposed, on Attu Island. The island of Kiska had been invaded the day before. Allied command for the Aleutian Campaign spent the better part of the next year preparing to repel the Japanese from the Aleutian Islands.


Attu Island with 1943 Battle descriptions

On the morning of 11 May 1943, visibility off the coast of Attu was estimated at a “ship’s length”, due to the heavy fog blanketing the island. The 7th Division’s Northern Force was to land at Beach Red, a few miles north of Holtz Bay. Beach Red was a narrow strip, maybe 100 yards long, and surrounded by 250′ walls of rock. The Japanese had no defenses nearby, because they never considered it a viable landing point.

Captain William Willoughby had 244 men in his Scout Battalion. They came up to Attu in two submarines: the Narwhal and Nautilus. They shoved off in their rubber boats with 1-1/2 days rations, landing at Beach Scarlet in Austin Cove. The air temperature was 27 degrees.

The 7th Division’s Southern Force was the largest of “Operation Landcrab”. They landed at Massacre Bay All three landings were unopposed. The beach heads were secure and all forces had made gains, but they were now stalled. The Americans could not see the Japanese up in the fog, but the Japanese could see down out of it.

The very first shot fired by American land forces was a 105 mm howitzer. The big guns had been mired on the beach. Cat tractors tried to maneuver them, but their treads broke through the muskeg, and were quickly spinning uselessly in the black muck underneath. A Japanese mortar crew was spotted on a ridge, and a howitzer was moved into position by brute strength. The howitzer fired, and the recoil of the big gun slammed the gun’s sled 18 inches into the muskeg.*


Massacre Bay, Attu Island 12 May 1943

The following day, men and equipment streamed onto the beaches. The Navy ships bombarded the ridges. The Battleship Nevada unloaded her 14″ guns onto the mountain tops above Massacre Valley. The Japanese positions were heavily entrenched, the progress for the Allied forces was slow. The Arctic conditions were brutal, and exposure-related injuries common. Travel over the island was through mud, snow, ice and the unforgiving muskeg. After two weeks of endless fighting, the Japanese were finally pushed up against Chichagof Harbor.


Japanese troops lie at the bottom of Engineer Hill after the banzai charge

With no hope of victory, and little hope of rescue, Colonel Yasuyo Yamasaki led his Japanese troops in one final banzai charge. The Japanese broke through the front lines, and rear echelon troops suddenly found themselves in hand to hand combat with the Japanese. The Japanese charged Engineer Hill in an attempt to gain control of the big guns set up there. The 50th Engineers held their ground, however, and the charge failed. Almost all of the Japanese in the charge were killed, many by suicide by grenade after the charge failed. The failure of the banzai charge effectively ended the Battle for Attu.


American troops making their way across Attu

Officially, the Battle of Attu ended on 30 May 1943, but isolated Japanese troops continued to fight until early July.

549 men of the U.S. 7th Division were killed on Attu, 1148 wounded, and over 1200 suffered severe cold weather related injuries, 614 disease, 318 other casualties: accidents, drowning, self-inflicted.

The Japanese lost over 2350 men. Only 28 were taken prisoner.

The Battle of Attu, when considering numbers of troops engaged, would rank as the second most costly battle for the United States in WWII – second only to Iwo Jima.*

The Battle of Attu was the only battle of World War Two to have taken place on U.S. territory. It was also the only battle between the U.S. and Japan to have taken place in Arctic conditions.

The Japanese had assembled a massive fleet in Tokyo Bay to repel the Americans from retaking Attu. The fleet had 4 carriers, 3 battleships, 7 cruisers and 11 destroyers. The Allies captured Attu before the fleet could leave the bay.

*The Thousand Mile War by Brian Garfield


Ice Out


The Tanana River at Nenana. Photo Credit: Nenana Ice Cam

The ice went out on the Tanana River on Tuesday May 1, at 1:18 pm AST. The pot this year for the Ice Classic is $225,000. No word yet on how many winners picked the exact day and time of the ice going out. The mangled body of the iconic tripod, can be seen in the ice to the lower left of the photo.


PPL Center

Allentown, Pennsylvania

The curiously named, “Midwest Regional” for NCAA D-1 hockey was held in Allentown over the weekend. Both the Curator and I thought that the city put on a decent regional. The interest was here, and the community seemed to know why we were here, which is always a good sign.


Opening face-off between OSU and Princeton

The Princeton Tigers would face the Ohio State Buckeyes in game one. It looked like the Princeton magic from the ECAC tournament was running dry, and not even the Hobey Baker video could drum up some extra life for the Tigers.
OSU scored twice within 20 seconds in the first period. There was no score from either team in the second period, then OSU scored two more goals in the third.
Princeton finally showed some life, when OSU took a penalty with less than a minute left in the game. Princeton would score twice in the final minute, but that was not enough to avoid a season ending loss. OSU gets the W, 4-2.


DU vs PSU

We went into game two thinking we’d see some great hockey. Unfortunately, only one team provided that. The game was never as close as the opening puck drop; Denver just beat Penn State in every facet of the game. The crowd was decidedly pro-PSU, but that only made for a lot of very disappointed fans. Final score: 5-1 Denver.

Ticket to Saint Paul:


Puck drop in OSU v DU

We finally had a game. Ohio State and Denver were evenly matched, and the up-tempo style of play was fun to watch. A lot was on the line: Denver was the defending national champion, and Ohio State had never made a Frozen Four field before.

The first period was scoreless, and both goalies had been looking good. OSU finally got a puck past DU net minder Tanner Jaillet on a nice backhander by Dakota Joshua. Then, 3/4 of the way through the second period, OSU doubled their lead on another beautiful backhand shot by Kevin Miller. Things were looking up for the Buckeyes.
OSU would take a 3-0 lead before Denver scored their first goal. OSU gets their first trip to the Frozen Four with a hard fought 5-1 win over Denver.

Sean Romeo, the OSU net minder finished with 30 saves, and was the Regional MVP.


Ohio State celebrates their first trip to the Frozen Four

The field is now set for Saint Paul. Three B1G Teams will advance: Michigan, Ohio State and Notre Dame. Minnesota-Duluth also advances for their second trip in two years.


1932 Olympic Arena

The 1932 Olympic Winter Games were also held in Lake Placid. Clarkson Doug & I did a quick tour of that arena prior to the ECAC Championship game.

The old arena is still being used today. In fact a Can/Am Tournament was being held that week.

The arena is now dedicated to Jack Shea, the first American to win two gold medals at a Winter Olympics. He won twice for speed skating in 1932.


During the ’32 Olympics; Photo credit: Team USA Hockey

Canada, represented by the Winnipeg Hockey Club would win gold in ’32. The USA took home silver, and Germany won the bronze.


Herb Brooks Arena

Lake Placid, New York

We arrived in Lake Placid to see the ECAC Hockey finals. The three games were to be held at the famed 1980 rink, home of the “Miracle on Ice”. I have been wanting to see some hockey played here for years, and finally the opportunity came about with The Curator and Clarkson Doug.


Center ice, an hour before puck drop

High ranked Cornell was to face upstart Princeton in Game 1. Cornell took the early lead at 1-0, but it really was all Princeton after that. The Tigers scored 4 unanswered goals, two by Eric Robinson, on their way to a 4-1 upset. Ryan Ferland was excellent in goal for Princeton.

Game 2 was a very fun game to attend. Both Harvard & Clarkson skated well to open, and both teams had scoring chances. The Crimson took leads of 3-0 and 4-1, before Clarkson really turned things on. The Golden Knights, in an exciting comeback, scored 3 times in less than 3 minutes in the third period to send the game into overtime. Sheldon Rempal, who had been just buzzing all around the ice all game, scored the game winner in OT on an assist by Nico Sturm. 5-4 Clarkson win.

Clarkson would face Princeton for the ECAC championship. The Golden Knight already had a ticket to the National Tournament due to their good year overall. Princeton, on the other hand, needed to win to get in.


Opening puck drop, Clarkson vs Princeton

Princeton played their game, and Clarkson seemed off all day long. The Tigers would take a 1-0 lead in period one, and they held on until 6.4 seconds were left in regulation, when the Golden Knights tied things up. For two nights in a row, Clarkson would send the game into OT, but their magic wasn’t going to last. Princeton had five shots in OT and Clarkson had none. You can’t win if you don’t put the puck o net, and Jeremy Germain scored the game winner for Princeton at the 2:37 mark of overtime.


The addiction that is Alaska

For Pete:


Caribou gauntlet on the Alaska Highway

I will be starting my 24th year in Alaska on the first day of May. I drove up in a copper-colored ’74 Ford Bronco, with my yellow lab in the back of the truck, along with my camping gear, a box of books and my typewriter. I didn’t really have a plan, just a desire to check out the Last Frontier. Much to my father’s dismay, I fell in love with the state immediately. It isn’t a stretch to say, that I realized that I had found my way home, on that original first day of May.

There are Two Truths about Alaska that I learned very quickly upon my arrival, and they are diametrically opposed. That does not make either one, any less true.
Truth One is the definition of a sourdough: Someone who has soured on Alaska, but doesn’t have enough dough to get out. Truth Two, is that Alaska ruins you from being able to live anywhere else. I fall into the latter category. I’m not just an Alaskan, but an Interior Alaskan to boot. I had a buddy from Anchorage who came up to visit one summer, and stayed at my cabin near Fairbanks for a whole week. He lamented to mutual friends after the visit, that “Mike has ‘gone Fairbanks’ on us. He has gone over to the ‘Dark Side’.” I took it as a compliment, even though he did not mean it as one. It was true, I had gone all in on my life at the end of the road.

Alaska isn’t for everyone; it does take a certain personality to thrive here. I’ve known people who could not leave the state fast enough after their first winter. But I’ve also met many retired military members who served in Alaska, eventually transferring out, but returning to build a life here after their service was done. There is something about Alaska that burrows into your bones, and soaks into your soul. For those of us who choose to live here, Alaska becomes a part of us, and we take a little bit of the state with us everywhere we go.


The Alaska Range as seen from the University of Alaska campus in autumn

“When you first arrive in Alaska, you notice that even the towns on the road system maintain a rugged uniqueness. Alaska is still a destination that beckons the adventurer, the individualist, and the free spirit… Home to 15 species of whales, and healthy populations of caribou, grizzlies, and moose, plus one of the last remaining strongholds of wild salmon, Alaska is still a place to behold.”
— Dave Atcheson, “Hidden Alaska: Bristol Bay and Beyond”

There is an ability here to immerse yourself in the natural world which is unique. Not because it can not be done elsewhere, but because there is still wilderness in Alaska. True wilderness. I do not know how long we will be able to hold onto that wilderness, but for now, we still have it, and it lies outside our back door.

On one or two occasions, I have been called a “free spirit”. I’m not 100% sure what that means, but I do follow my own trail some of the time. Heading into Year 24, I’m as thrilled to be here today, as I ever have. We all have our roller coaster rides, and I’ve lived through my fair share. I’m excited to be returning to The Ridge full time, and that should happen this summer. There are several trips planned over the next several months that will allow me to explore additional areas of this amazing corner of our planet, and I can’t tell you how thrilled I am about that.

I state all of this with caution. I tend not to plan out too far, because that is when the universe decides to throw you a wicked curve ball. I send out hope to the fates, that they will allow me to think out as far as September, if only for a change of pace.
I’ve been up in Alaska for a while now, and I know that each day is a blessing. After some revisions, I hope to immerse myself in this natural wonder for a while longer yet. At some point, I realize that I may have to move on from here. All one can do is make the most out of life wherever you are. That holds true for everyone/everywhere.

I will be heading Outside shortly. It is time to travel, and I’m excited to be heading Out. Some new places to explore, and some old friends and family to visit. As much as I am looking forward to it, I know I will be just as excited to return to Alaska when the time comes. As much as I do love to travel, I am always anxious to get back home in the end. I’ve seen Alaska recently described as a drug, and I think that is as accurate a description as any.

Alaska is a drug, and I’m addicted to her, just like many other very special people.


Ice Classic 2018

The Nenana Ice Classic is underway. The tripod was raised on the Tanana River this past Sunday. Buy a ticket for $2.50, and guess the day & time when the ice will go out on the river. Alaskans first bet on this rite of spring in 1906, and have been guessing annually since 1917. Other than pull tabs and bingo, it’s about the only legal gambling in the state, and the Ice Classic proceeds go to charity.

On April 1, the average ice thickness on the Tanana at Nenana is 41″. Tickets are sold through April 5. Winning times must be in Alaska Standard time.

There were 42 winning tickets in 2017, splitting a jackpot of $267,444.