Chapter 7: First Bombardment of Attu
In early February it was realized that since the enemy now knew of our occupation of Amchitka he could be expected to take counter measures. One of the most likely steps appeared to be an increase in Japanese forces and installations on Attu, notably in the Holtz Bay and Chichagof Harbor areas. Therefore it was decided that Task Group Mike (Rear Admiral McMorris) should weaken these positions by direct naval bombardment. The task group was now organized as follows:
18 February 1943
Task Group Mike
One heavy cruiser:
Indianapolis, Capt. Nicholas Vytlacil.
One light cruiser:
Richmond (F), Capt. Theodore M. Waldschmidt.
Bancroft, Comdr. John L. Melgaard.
Caldwell, Comdr. John F. Newman, Jr.
Coghlan, Comdr. Benjamin F. Tompkins.
Gillespie, Comdr. Chester L. Clement.
D-day was tentatively designated as 21 February and H-hour as 15 minutes before sunrise, if visibility and other factors permitted. The Holtz Bay area was to be the first target, followed by Chichagof Harbor. Any ships present were automatically to become the primary targets of our cruisers.
On 13 February the task group proceeded in accordance with an earlier operation plan which directed it to steam west of Attu to intercept and destroy enemy Marus believed to be supplying Japanese positions on the islands. Contacts were negative, except with aircraft. Since the latter had undoubtedly reported Task Group Mike's presence in the area, our force returned on 18 February to conduct the bombardment of Attu, where enemy shipping had been reported by the submarine S-128 (Lieut. John D. Crowley). The shelling was conducted without opposition in the air, on the sea, or from shore batteries, although desultory antiaircraft fire was directed against spotting planes.
The approach was made from the west, and later in the day than had originally been planned. Cruisers were in column with the Richmond as
guide. The destroyers were disposed around the cruisers as antiaircraft screen. The formation was later modified to place two destroyers in the van and the other two astern of the cruisers.
Task Group Mike first steamed past the objective to ascertain if enemy shipping was present in either Holtz Bay or Chichagof Harbor. No contacts were made. At 1431 a Liberator flew over the center of the formation without identifying itself and was fired on before recognition was possible. Fortunately no hits were scored. At 1452 the ships reversed course by simultaneous movement for the firing run. The wind was about 12 knots from the northeast. The sea was smooth, and visibility excellent. Under the revised plan, Chichagof Harbor was the first target. Firing began at 1504 and continued for ten minutes at ranges varying from 10,000 to 12,000 yards. At 1625 Holtz Bay was taken under fire and shelled for 11 minutes at a range of 9,000-11,500 yards.
During the bombardment, the Indianapolis used a proportion of AP shells in order to distinguish her salvos from those of the Richmond. A few projectiles landed on the beach, throwing up red clouds of snow which facilitated identification by spotting planes and Top Spot. no prominent targets were visible, however, and no conclusive results were observed.
Two Indianapolis spotting planes dropped two 100-pound bombs on buildings in the Chichagof region. They also strafed some landing boats, but without apparent damage.
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