This Day in History

May 20, 1943: The Battle of Attu

Time Periods: Prosperity, Depression, & World War II: 1920 - 1944
Themes: US Foreign Policy, Wars & Related Anti-War Movements, World History/Global Studies

From May 11-30, 1943, the Battle of Attu (an Aleutian Island of Alaska), was fought between U.S. (aided by some Canadian support) and Japanese forces. It is one of the least known battles of WWII. Although the U.S./Canadian forces won, the Japanese took 44 villagers from Attu as prisoners of war.

Attu Village | Zinn Education Project

People from the village of Attu in 1935. Source: Alan G. May papers, Archives and Special Collections, Consortium Library, University of Alaska Anchorage.

Half the villagers died in Japan. When those that survived were released at the end of the war, the U.S. government did not allow the people of Attu to return to their island home.

In 2018 , there was an event in Anchorage to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Attu. An Aleut woman at the commemoration asked how to make sure more people learn about this history.

Towards that end, we encourage everyone to read the experiences and reflections by some family members who recently visited the island for the first time: “After 75 years, a bittersweet homecoming for Attu descendants” at Alaska Public Media.