To the Editor:
The end of March will mark a naval battle concerning one of the lesser known campaigns in the Pacific. Since June of 1942, the Japanese had occupied the Aleutian Islands of Kiska and Attu. While not strategically important, the United States could not ignore the occupation of US territory. Both the Japanese and US (along with Canadians) would find themselves fighting in the harsh Alaskan weather.
While both sides experienced logistical difficulties, the Japanese had to contend with the dangerous task of transporting goods over the North Pacific. Taking precautions, escorts for two transports consisted of two heavy cruisers (HIJMS Nachi and Maya), two light cruisers (Tama and Abukuma), and four destroyers (Wakaba, Hatsushimo, Ikazuchi, and Inazuma); placed under the command of Vice Admiral Boshiro Hosogaya.
Having been tipped off by intelligence that the convoy was bound for Attu, the US Navy quickly assembled a task force to intercept. Led by Rear Admiral Charles McMorris, it was a smaller group. The flagship was the light cruiser USS Richmond, along with four destroyers (Bailey, Coghlan, Dale, and Monaghan). The last ship was the heavyweight, the Pensacola-class heavy cruiser Salt Lake City (SLC). Patrolling the waters west of Attu, the two groups met on March 27 (due to being east of the International Dateline) south of the Soviet Komandorksi Islands.
Realizing he was outnumbered, McMorris kept the Japanese from enveloping his command. For nearly four hours, the two groups engaged in a gunnery duel. Despite outnumbering the Americans, only Nachi and Maya were truly in the fight. They focused their fire on SLC, and were shelled upon in return. Trading blows, SLC received multiple 8 inch shell hits. At one point, her boilers were extinguished, leaving the cruiser dead in the water for a short period.
By 12:30 PM, though he had inflicted more damage, Hosogaya retired his ships. Two major reasons were that his destroyers were low on fuel while Nachi and Maya were low on ammunition. Another reason was that he mistook SLCs high explosive rounds (the armor piercing had been expended) for aerial bombs. Despite the damage done to the Americans, casualties were light with seven killed and fourteen wounded (Japanese casualties were similar). The outcome of the battle saw the Aleutian garrisons deprived of badly needed supplies, contributing to their later defeat. I would ask on the 27th to give a small moment of silence for those lost.