The Japanese occupation of Kiska took place between 6 June 1942 and 28 July 1943 during the Aleutian Islands Campaign of the American Theater and the Pacific Theater of World War II. The Japanese occupied Kiska and nearby Attu Island in order to protect the northern flank of the Japanese Empire. Along with the Attu landing the next day, it was the first time that the continental United States was occupied by a foreign power since the War of 1812, and was one of the only two invasions of the United States during World War II.
Initially, the only American military presence on Kiska was a twelve-man United States Navy weather station—two of whom were not present during the invasion—and a dog named Explosion. The Japanese stormed the station, killing two Americans and capturing seven. After realizing that Chief petty officer William C. House had escaped, a search was launched by the occupying forces. The search ended in vain, with House surrendering some fifty days after the initial seizure of the weather station, having been unable to cope with the freezing conditions & starvation. After 50 days of eating only plants and worms, he weighed just 80 pounds. Beforehand, the prisoners of war had been sent to Japan.
The attack on Pearl Harbor and beginning of the Pacific Theater in World War II, coupled with Japanese threats to mainland Alaska along with the rest of the United States West Coast, had already made the construction of a defense access highway to Alaska a priority. On 6 February 1942, the construction of the Alaska Highway was approved by the U.S. Army and the project received the authorization from the U.S. Congress and President Franklin D. Roosevelt to proceed five days later.
Reacting to the Japanese occupation, American and Allied forces waged a continuous air bombardment campaign against the Japanese forces on Kiska. Also, U.S. Navy warships blockaded and periodically bombarded the island. Several Japanese warships, transport ships, and submarines attempting to travel to Kiska or Attu were sunk or damaged by the blockading forces.
In May 1943, U.S. forces landed on Attu in Operation Landcrab and subsequently destroyed the Japanese garrison there. In response, the Imperial Japanese Navy successfully evacuated the Kiska garrison on 28 July, ending the Japanese presence in the Aleutian Islands. Not completely sure that the Japanese were gone, the Americans and Canadians executed an unopposed landing on Kiska on 15 August, securing the island and ending the Aleutian Islands campaign. After the landing, the soldiers were greeted by a group of dogs who had been left behind. Among them was Explosion, who had been cared for by the Japanese.
On 19 June 1942, American aircraft attacked and sank the Japanese oiler Nissan Maru in Kiska Harbor and on 30 June American naval forces bombarded the island. The American submarine USS Growler attacked and sank one Japanese destroyer 7 mi (6.1 nmi; 11 km) east of Kiska Harbor on 5 July, two other destroyers were also heavily damaged. Over 200 Japanese sailors were killed or wounded while the Americans sustained no losses, it became the single bloodiest engagement during the operations on and around Kiska. USS Grunion was attacked by three Japanese submarine chasers while patrolling Kiska Harbor on 15 July. In response, she fired on and sank two of the Japanese ships and damaged the third. Grunion was lost a few weeks later off Kiska on 30 July with all hands, she is suspected of being sunk after one of her own torpedoes circled back when she attacked the Kano Maru.
On 8 August, the Japanese cargo ship Kano Maru was sunk at Kiska Harbor by PBY Catalinas. Days before, the cargo ship was damaged by one of Grunion's torpedoes. Troopship Nozima Maru was also bombed and sunk in Kiska Harbor on 15 September. On 5 October, the Japanese steamer Borneo Maru was sunk at Gertrude Cove and on the 17th, the destroyer Oboro was sunk by American aircraft. RO-65 sank off Kiska on 4 November, Montreal Maru on 6 January 1943, and Uragio Maru on 4 April. I-7 was grounded and abandoned by her crew on 23 June while assisting in removing Kiska's garrison. She was chased onto the rocks by USS Monaghan.
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