Chapter 5: From Adak to Amchitka
Our forces were still operating under the "strong attrition" directive and continued to do so until the spring of 1943. But the seizure of Adak accelerated the rate of attrition appreciably. As soon as the airbase was operative, the Army began a new and considerably heavier bombing campaign against Kiska. The first raid of major proportions took place on 14 September. Three cargo vessels were hit, two minesweepers apparently sunk, and three midget submarines strafed.
September 1942-January 1943
The Japanese had not been idle, however. During August they had reinforced Kiska with 1,000 Marines and 500 civilian laborers. The island was redesignated the 51st Naval Base and placed under the command of Rear Admiral Akiyama. It was clear that our base at Adak had been occupied just in time if we were to counter the enemy's obvious intent to accelerate the completion of air facilities in the western islands.
In mid-September the enemy moved the 301st Independent Infantry Battalion from Attu to Kiska, temporarily abandoning the former island. On the 25th of that month a strong force of Army and RCAF bombers and fighters hit the newly strengthened garrison, destroying eight seaplanes, strafing two submarines, and setting serious fires on one of two transports found in the harbor.
It was not until 2 October that it became definitely established that the Japanese knew of our occupation of Adak, thought he heavier raids by our bombers must have given them food for thought. On that date the first of a number of enemy nuisance bombings occurred. We retaliated with minor raids almost daily. On the 10th six separate attacks were launched. Six days later, a particularly strong formation sank an enemy cargo vessel and a destroyer and damaged another destroyer. The 11th Air Force continued to whittle away at the enemy's air strength also, whenever opportunity
provided. At no time were the Japanese permitted to operate more than 14 planes. Usually they were so weak in the air that their pilots avoided combat.
The precarious situation of our forces in the South Pacific now began to exercise a serious influence on the Aleutians Campaign. in mid-October it was suggested that a bombardment of Kiska by two or three old battleships would help make the island untenable by the enemy. This plan was turned down for a variety of reasons, most of which were related to critical conditions in the south. Since our principal naval concentration was in that area, it was felt that all available old battleships should be retained at Pearl Harbor to guard against the remote likelihood of a Japanese attack. Also no 16-inch HC ammunition was on hand, and only small quantities of 14-inch. Furthermore, the somewhat optimistic impression prevailed that our air attacks were already making Kiska too hot for the Japanese.
Thus the policy of "strong attrition" could not at this time be bolstered by a big-gun bombardment. An even more serious blow to North Pacific operations was the necessary detachment of several vessels for service in the Solomons. On 12 October the Louisville (now commanded by Capt. Charles T. Joy) headed south. On the 24th the St. Louis followed, as did the tender Thornton (Comdr. Wendell F. Kline), which was needed because of damage to the McFarland (Lt. Comdr. John C. Alderman). This left only the tender Gillis (now commanded by Lt. Comdr. Herman L. Ray) in operative condition in the Aleutians. The Indianapolis and Nashville (now commanded by Capt. Herman A. Spanagel) were also scheduled to leave as soon as they could be replaced by the Raleigh and Detroit.
The tenseness of the South Pacific situation was further highlighted by the departure of 12 F4F-4 replacements gleaned from the Alaskan theater's none too adequate air force.
On 30 October five Canadian ships, including the three auxiliary cruisers, were released. The Nashville and Indianapolis were detached on 17 November (the latter ship only temporarily), and the Raleigh (Capt. Ward P. Davis) reported on that date.
Since our surface forces had been so depleted, our attrition tactics during November were carried on from the air alone. our planes were unable to drive the Japanese off Kiska and Attu, which had again been occupied by the enemy; but they and our submarines were thoroughly successful in
preventing the enemy from building up his offensive potentialities, which our base at Adak and a new airfield on Tanaga Island, even closer to Kiska, continued to be rapidly developed. Finally, on 17 November, events had reached a state where Admiral Theobald could be directed to prepare a plan for the occupation of Kiska, to be preceded by the seizure of Amchitka.
As December opened, however, our naval striking force in the Aleutians consisted only of the
Detroit (Capt. Ellis H. Geiselman),
Raleigh (Capt. Ward P. Davis),
Bailey (Lt. Comdr. John C. Atkeson),
Bancroft (Comdr. John L. Melgaard),
Caldwell (Lt. Comdr. John E. Newman, Jr.), and
Coghlan (Lt. Comdr. Benjamin F. Tompkins), a group too weak for offense and indeed hardly powerful enough to oppose any serious Japanese attack on our position on Adak. And in the first days of the month it appeared that such an attack was imminent, or at least that an effort would be made to occupy the Semichi Islands. On the 4th of the month a search plane located what appeared to be a large enemy convoy in latitude 49º N., longitude 180´, about 160 miles southeast of Amchitka. The commanding general, 11th Air Force, was ordered to hit this force with every available plane, but before the attack was launched, the report was discovered to be erroneous. Further alarms and excursions enlivened the next few days without discovery of any actual hostile move.
On 9 December Rear Admiral Charles H. McMorris replaced Rear Admiral Smith as commander of Task Force Tare's striking group, which will hereafter be referred to as Task Group Mike. On the 17th Amchitka Island was surveyed by U.S. reconnaissance parties. Evidence of Japanese visits within the past month was plain. Test holes had been dug on several sites suitable for airfields. No advance posts or coastwatchers were unearthed, however. Since the situation appeared favorable, Admiral Theobald was directed on the 23d to occupy Amchitka as soon as forces could be assembled.
During the period of preparation, the fast minesweeper Wasmuth (Lt. Comdr. Joseph W. Leverton, Jr.) was lost. On 27 December she was proceeding at six knots in very heavy weather when several depth charges fell overboard and exploded, snapping the keel. The ship broke up and sank. Fortunately all personnel were saved.
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