American ships and planes bombed Attu and Kiska for several weeks before the U.S. military began Operation Landgrab on May 11, 1943, landing 11,000 troops on Attu. The Americans expected the operation to take no more than several days, but harsh weather and rugged, muddy terrain extended the combat for more than two weeks. The Japanese troops, greatly outnumbered, had withdrawn to high ground rather than contest the initial landings. However, U.S. soldiers, with uniforms and equipment ill-designed for the harsh weather conditions, suffered more casualties from frostbite, trench foot, gangrene and other illnesses than from enemy fire. Food shortages added to their misery as they crisscrossed the barren island, fighting mostly small but fierce engagements while scouring the rocks and slopes for booby traps, snipers and dug-in enemy troops.
But the fate of the Japanese had been sealed when the Americans established air and naval supremacy over the island, cutting Japanese supply lines and making it unlikely that reinforcements would arrive. By late May, the last remaining Japanese troops were starving and had insufficient ammunition when U.S. troops trapped them in a corner of the island. The Japanese commander, Colonel Yasuyo Yamasaki (1891-1943), decided to make a last-ditch frontal charge. Shortly before daybreak on May 29, he and his soldiers began one of the largest banzai charges of the war in the Pacific. Yamasaki’s troops charged wildly into the American lines, sweeping through their combat outposts and penetrating all the way to shocked support troops in the rear of the American camp. But the gambit ultimately failed. After a final attack on May 30, U.S. soldiers counted more than 2,000 Japanese dead, including Yamasaki. The Americans lost some 1,000 men in the retaking of Attu. Within two days, U.S. forces secured the island and the Battle of Attu, the only land battle fought on American soil in World War II, was over.