Topic: Canadian Army
The Battle of Kiska
In an Aleutians Islands operation in 1943, U.S. and Canadian troops found themselves pitted against three Japanese dogs.
Ottawa Citizen, 3 January 1956
By Warren Baldwin, Southam News Services
On August 15, 1953, an assault force of 29,000 Americans and 5,300 Canadians was dispatched to attack a force of three Japanese dogs.
The story of the Aleutian Island of Kiska, gleaned for the first time from both Japanese and Canadian military records, is included in the first volume of the official history of the Canadian army in the Second World War. The author, C.P. Stacey, Director of the Historical Section, General Staff, labels it "Fiasco at Kiska."
The story confirms finally the fact that the last Japanese had been evacuated from Kiska under cover of fog 18 days before the Canadian-American operation was scheduled to start. The decision to evacuate was not taken because of any knowledge of the assault but because the Japanese believed the forces occupying the island could be employed more usefully in the Kuriles, nearer home. It also strengthens Colonel Stacey's conclusion that at no time during the war did the Japanese have any plans for a full scale assault on Canada's west coast.
The Aleutian campaign to get the Japanese off Attu and Kiska, Colonel Stacey says, was more political than military. On the map, he points out, the Aleutians seem to form a natural bridge from Asia to North America, but appearances are deceptive. From the most westerly island, Attu, to Dutch Harbour is 800 miles and from Dutch harbour to Vancouver 1,650 miles. It might have been better, he suggests, to "leave the Japanese to freeze in their own juice on Kiska and Attu, where they were at most a nuisance to American operations in the Pacific."
But the people of Alaska and British Columbia were alarmed and critical and both Ottawa and Washington were concerned. Stacey reports elsewhere that by February, 1942, "public opinion of Canada's pacific Coast was in a state approaching panic." The Vancouver Sun was prosecuted under Defence of Canada Regulations in March for suggesting that Ottawa was treating British Columbia as expendable.
Attu was occupied in May, 1943, by the American 7th Division after "a nasty little campaign in which the Japanese fought to be killed and the Americans obliged them."
Canadian participation in the Kiska expedition of one brigade group was requested formally in a letter from Secretary of War Stimson to Defence Minister Ralston on May 31, 1943. The 13th infantry brigade formed for the purpose under the command of Brigadier H.W. Foster consisted of the Canadian Fusiliers, the Winnipeg Grenadiers (reformed after Hong Kong), the Rocky Mountain Rangers and Le Regiment de Hull. In addition, the first battalion of the U.S.-Canadian Special Service Force was brought up from a United States training base to join the expedition.
There was plenty of evidence Colonel Stacey points out, to indicate that the Japanese had evacuated previously. RCAF planes on August 11 reported no sign of life. But trickery was suspected. Major-General G.R. Pearkes, the Commander-in-Chief of Pacific Command, who had set up advance headquarters at Adak, wrote afterwards that it was thought the enemy had evacuated main camps and moved to battle positions on the beaches and hills.
It took four days for the troops to realize they had landed on an empty island. Japanese records state that nothing had been left on the island but three dogs.
One reason behind Ottawa's decision to participate was the opportunity to use draftees under the National Resources Mobilization Act on active service in order to break down the hostile attitude of the public towards "zombies." The Kiska affair, Stacey comments, had no such result, which was "particularly regrettable as the NMRA men had behaved admirably."
There had been some suggestion of a reconnaissance of the island by boat to check on air force reports, but this was not done.
"In the light of hindsight," he says, "this decision seems unfortunate. It was a pity to give the enemy the satisfaction of laughing at us."