Not many people know that two Alaskan islands were invaded and occupied by the Japanese during World War II. In June of 1942, about six months after Pearl Harbor, the Japanese took the sparsely populated Aleutian islands of Attu and Kiska.
The only American military presence on Kiska had been a small team running a Naval weather station with a dog named Explosion. Two Americans were killed in the invasion and another seven were captured. But Chief Petty Officer William C. House managed to escape the invading Japanese and spent 50 days living on plants and worms in freezing weather conditions, before surrendering. He weighed 80 pounds.
The U.S. government was busy on many different war fronts during this period and seems to have been a little reluctant to talk much about the Aleutian situation; three days after the invasion, the United States Navy stated publicly “None of our inhabited islands or rocks are troubled with uninvited visitors at this time.” It took them two more weeks to admit that the Japanese had entrenched themselves on Attu and Kiska.
The American military were not the only ones keeping secrets. Prime Minister Hideki Tojo ordered that his defeat at Midway be kept secret, and he diverted attention from it by celebrating his “great Aleutian victory.”
For a little over a year, the Japanese occupied Kiska and Attu Islands to protect the northern flank of their territory. It was the first time since the War of 1812 that the United States had been occupied, and the American military worried that the Japanese would use the Aleutians as a jumping off place to attack cities on the west coast.
In May of 1943, American forces began the struggle to recapture Attu. They immediately ran into trouble with a shortage of landing craft, difficult beach conditions, vehicles that would not operate on the tundra and equipment that failed in the frigid cold. The Japanese had dug themselves into high ground a good distance from the beaches and rained bullets and bombs down on their struggling enemy.
The Americans were not properly equipped for the dreary cold weather, and they were soon hungry. They had been allotted only a two-day supply of food because their commanders had anticipated a short campaign, but it took 18 days before the remaining Japanese capitulated, ending their occupation with a huge banzai charge.
The following August, the Americans took the lessons learned from the Attu attack in making plans for re-taking Kiska. Over 34,000 Canadian and American troops landed on Kiska only to find that, in spite of a U.S. naval blockade, the Japanese had been able to evacuate their troops in July. They left behind several dogs, among them, Explosion.