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High Road to Tokyo, The Globe and Mail, May 3, 1943
"High Road to Tokyo"
The Globe and Mail, May 3, 1943

The Aleutians Campaign, 1942-1943

In June 1942, some 8,500 Japanese personnel, supported by naval forces, occupied the islands of Attu and Kiska, American parts of Alaska at the western end of the Aleutian island chain. Their aim, and it was successful, was to distract the Allies and cause them to take resources away from more significant areas in the central Pacific. This small single landing in North America, in a place closer to Siberia than to United States-owned mainland Alaska, alarmed the inhabitants of the Canadian and American Pacific northwest. They all demanded an end to the occupation.

RCAF bombing aircraft were already patrolling the area from bases in Alaska, and now fighter squadrons moved north-west and flew alongside the Americans in operations over the islands. One formation of five Canadians was lost when their Kittyhawk fighters flew into a fog-covered mountainside in July 1942. Squadron Leader K.A. Boomer shot down a Japanese seaplane fighter over Kiska in September.

An American division, supported by three battleships, attacked Attu in May 1943. Two Canadian corvettes, HMCS Dawson and Vancouver, provided anti-submarine support. It took the Americans twenty days and nearly 4,000 casualties to eliminate the much smaller Japanese force, which fought to the death. An even larger Allied force assembled to re-take Kiska - nearly 30,000 American soldiers and 5,300 Canadians of the 13th Canadian Infantry Brigade and the 1st Special Service Force. The Canadians included many NRMA conscripts ( see Conscription ) who were at the time liable for service anywhere in North America.

When the landings finally went ashore on August 15, 1943, after three weeks of bombardment by ships and aircraft, the troops found that the Japanese soldiers had slipped away. Tragically, twenty Americans and four Canadians died and fifty Americans and one Canadian were wounded as they shot each other in the fog or tripped mines and booby traps.

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