The dead man’s guard after ‘Banzai’ suicide charge

The recapture of the Aleutian Islands in the Northern Pacific May 1943: American soldiers carry a wounded comrade to safety during the fighting on Attu Island.

The recapture of the Aleutian Islands in the Northern Pacific May 1943: American soldiers carry a wounded comrade to safety during the fighting on Attu Island.

On the Aleutian island of Attu the U.S. 7th Division was on the point of finally overcoming the Japanese. The Japanese had suffered terrible casualties, only up to 1000 men out of the original 2,800 now remained fit to fight. Their prospects were bleak, they were running out of both food and ammunition. There was no prospect of being relieved at all, whilst the U.S. forces grew stronger every day, with ample supplies being landed.

It was a hopeless situation. Surrender should have been inevitable but such a course of action was ‘dishonourable’. Instead the Japanese commander decided to launch a final desperate ‘Banzai’ charge for the Emperor. If they were going to die they could try to take a few American soldiers with them. So all the Japanese wounded were ‘helped’ to commit suicide and all of the remaining men, apart from those in remote positions, were formed up for a last charge on the U.S. positions.

By the combined attacks of the enemy land, sea and air units the Bat­talions on the front line havo been defeated. However, our morale is excellent and we are holding in some important points. We will attack and annihilate tho United States Forces.

YONUYO YAMASAKI
Colonel,
Infantry, Commanding

See hiswilliwaw.com for one of the U.S. post combat reports.

In the early hours of the 29th May they ran down to try to overcome U.S. positions with weight of numbers alone, screaming and shouting ‘WE DIE, YOU DIE’. The U.S. front lines were overcome but other troops towards the rear, including the Engineering Battalion, quickly improvised defences. It became a vicious battle that went on most of the day.

One of the rear area position was overrun and the tents surrounded. In the darkness and fog the Japanese did not realise that one of the tents was an Aid station occupied by wounded men:

It was light enough now for the eyes accustomed to the darkness inside the tent to distinguish more than just lumps and shadows. The tent was a mess. It had been riddled by bullets and the stove and stovepipe were full of holes.

Of the thirteen men in the tent, four were still able to move about. Captain Buehler had miraculously escaped being hit at all. Captain Bryce had been creased across his eyebrows. The CQ [Charge of Quarters - base 'guard duty' in US Army ] was intact and one aid man who had been sleeping outside had somehow managed to get inside the tent without being seen or hit.

The exposure case, who had been stripped and was sleeping near the stove, had been killed on the stretcher. The top of his head was a mess where a bullet had ripped into his skull, his face was bloody and brain tissue was spattered over the litter.

The boy who had been hit trying to get out of the tent was moaning, “I’m hit in the heart. . . . I can’t last long!” and Sergeant Lester L. Onken, who had been hit in the leg, was trying desperately to quiet him.

They were both in the end of the tent near the stove. The rest of the men were in the other end of the tent. It was darker there, away from the flapping doorway.

The Japs outside seemed to have thinned out, their chatter had subsided. Apparently many of them had moved on up the draw toward Clevesy Pass. But there were still many of them around the tent.

Captain Bryce crawled to the dead man on the litter. Cautiously he moved him toward the door. The tactics were simple – the aid station had escaped complete annihilation by a miracle. By a miracle twelve men were still living, only one was dead. And twelve were playing dead.

Bryce pulled the mutilated man halfway off the stretcher and left him sprawled face up in the doorway so that curious Japs who peered inside would see this first and perhaps only this, and accept the grisly testimony at its dead face value. Bryce had just completed setting the precarious stage and had crawled back from the doorway when the effectiveness of his work proved itself. A Jap pulled back the flap of the door and peered in.

He just glanced at the dead man’s head and withdrew, satifised that the destruction inside had been complete. He will never be cited for valor, but the mutilated, dead soldier held his position against the door of the tent more valiantly and more effectively than he could have in life, and to the twelve live men in the tent he was a hero. Five times during the morning Japs pulled back the tent flap and looked in and each time they were driven back. The sight of the dead boy convinced them.

Later in the morning after the frenzy of the early morning fighting had sub-sided one Jap, perhaps in search of food, stuck his head into the tent and looked all around. He stepped over the body of the dead man in the door and stood up inside the tent. He had a rifle with a bayonet fixed. He blinked in the darkness of the tent’s interior for a second.

From deep inside the dark end of the tent Captain Buehler slowly raised his carbine and pushed off the safety realizing fully that a shot coming from inside the tent would bring the whole horde in on them. Either way it was suicide. At least he would take one of the bastards along.

The Jap was looking down at the two wounded men. They were lying face down on the grassy floor. If Buehler stuck his bayonet into the man he would scream and the whole show would be lost. The Jap took a tentative step toward Sergeant Onken; Buehler’s finger tightened on the trigger. Then suddenly, in response to a shout from outside, the Jap turned and ducked out through the doorway.

From an account given by Captain George S.Buehler of Company C, 7th Medical Battalion to Robert J. Mitchell. See Robert J. Mitchell: The capture of Attu.

Eventually the U.S. troops overcame the Japanese during the course of the day. By then all but a few Japanese soldiers were dead.

U.S. Army Signal Corps) Japanese soldiers used hand grenades to commit suicide when it was clear that their final banzai attack on Attu on May 29, 1943, would fail. This photograph shows a group of approximately 40 Japanese soldiers who died in this manner; the rest were killed by Americans. The photo shows just where the soldiers fell. Later these bodies were removed and buried.

Japanese soldiers used hand grenades to commit suicide when it was clear that their final banzai attack on Attu on May 29, 1943, would fail. This photograph shows a group of approximately 40 Japanese soldiers who died in this manner; the rest were killed by Americans. The photo shows just where the soldiers fell. Later these bodies were removed and buried.

{ 0 comments… add one now }

Leave a Comment

Earlier in the war:

Later in the war: