On the island of Attu in the Aleutians the US 7th Division infantry were getting into close contact with the Japanese. There was little scope to give them much support from the air or with armour. It was difficult to the get the heavy artillery ashore and emplaced in the soft ground. Much of the ammunition had to be laboriously manhandled up to the guns. Even then they were fighting a battle that was remote from the front lines, but essential to the support of the infantry.
Sometimes the artillery was able to make a more direct contribution, based on their own initiative. Lieutenant John C. Patrick, of Battery B, 49th Field Artillery Battalion was to remember one particular incident in detail:
This was an artilleryman’s dream. The same kind of a dream a fisherman has when the big trout he has tried to catch for three seasons in a row swims right into his landing net. The battery had been set up on Bagdad Hill, to fire a preparatory barrage for the Doughboys’ attack on Sarana Nose on May 22.
It had been a long and good barrage, and the infantry was moving over the hill in the attack. Our immediate job was done, so the colonel called up and turned the battery loose, to fire at targets of opportunity.
This was the first time in all the fighting that the battery had been set up where we could actually see Jap positions and live Japs running around on the hills, so naturally we were all excited and anxious to get our licks in, where we could watch the results first hand.
We had picked as a base point the southwest end of Lake Cories, where a little tip of water lies closest to the foot of the mountain, and had registered on it the night before.
We were studying the valley and the surrounding hilltops for targets, and we had fired several rounds at machine-gun positions here and there during the late afternoon.
S-2, Captain Oscar M. “Nick” Doerflinger, had come up to the battery OP and we were making small talk about steaks and salads and the virtues of scotch over bourbon, when suddenly Nick stopped talking and said “Look!” There up the valley came five Japs, walking close together along a path that led around Lake Cories next to the mountain, and crossed directly over our base point.
We all got the idea at the same instant I think. “It’s a fifty-second flight,” I said, referring to the shells from our guns. Nick began gauging the Japs’ speed with his watch. It wasn’t a legitimate artillery target, but it was just too damned good to miss the opportunity.
The necessary data were phoned to the battery. . . . “Battery,one round. . . .” Nick was watching the Japs and his watch. . . . “Now! . . . Fire!” We heard all four of our guns roar behind the hill. . . . The next fifty seconds were endless.
. . . The Japs continued to move along the path, without a pause, completely ignorant of the 110 pounds of high explosive already streaking through the sky . . . the little stretch of path grew shorter and shorter between the five Japs and the tip of the lake.
. . . Now they were on it . . . now . . . NOW! A great flash ripped out of the very center of the tiny group, followed almost instantly by three other flashes, totally engulfing the five figures in a heaving mass of flying hunks of muck and smoke and rocks. The smoke hung in a big puff over the ripped area of our base point, and we could see five little piles of fabric lighter than the black holes over which they were scattered before the boom! baroomboom! of the explosions reached our ears.
Probably no one but me remembers even hearing the explosions, because we were all cheering like a bunch of high-school kids at a track meet