A surprise from the US 7th Division artillery

Div. Artillery Camp at Front
Radios and Telephone on Jeep., Alaska, 1943. Attu, Alaska

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

See Robert J. Mitchell: The capture of Attu.

In this picture men can be seen carrying 105 howitzer ammunition to supply the guns already going into position. In the background, blanketed by the fog, can be seen other landing barges coming into land. This picture shows to a degree the weather conditions in which the landing was made. Holts Bay, Attu, Aleutian Islands May 11, 1943

4 thoughts on “A surprise from the US 7th Division artillery”

  1. One may find it of interest to view Attu Island on Google Earth, locating Lake Cories on the NE quadrant of the island. There remains distinct evidence of the conflict in the form of numerous and significant earthworks interspersed with craters caused by artillery and aerial bombs. Tundra is slow to recover from or erase such things.

    From Lake Cories, one can follow the winding Lake Elwood Rd that bisects the island north to south. It leads to Massacre Bay and the site of the base that was being fought over, also the landing beach for US armed forces. One can also see the treacherous shoals in the bay that took their toll.

  2. My Grandfather was S2 Captain Oscar M “Nick” Doerflinger. I am so proud of my Grandfather and the accomplishments he made with our great military. He was a very decorated soldier. My father, his son passed away in September and all of Grandaddy “Nick’s” medals were given to me. I am proud of my Grandfather. In his honor I named my first born son Nick.

    Daniel P. Doerflinger

  3. My father, Allan L. Spangler, was a member of the 48th Field Artillery Battalion of the 7th. I am so grateful for the work and sacrafices the men of the 7th Infantry Division did for us. What a great bunch of guys! After the Aleutian’s they went on to great glory at Kawajlein, the Phillipines, and finally, Okinawa where my father was wounded and the war ended for him after 2 and a half long years in the Pacific Theater. I will forever cherish the freedom the men of the 7th gave to us……You were one hellofa of a bunch of guys……you will live forever in my memory.

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