09 November 2014

On a Deserted Island, the Scars of WWII Remain (updated)

On a deserted Aleutian island, the scars of World War II remain

WWII Pacific gun expert Professor Dirk Spennemann documents one of the Kiska coastal defense guns as part of the joint National Park Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service condition assessment project in 2007. NPS photo by Bruce Greenwood

Seven decades later, few Americans are aware that World War II engulfed the westernmost region of Alaska. It’s a curious oversight, considering that the community of Dutch Harbor was bombed and two Aleutian Islands -- Attu and Kiska -- were occupied by Japan for more than a year. Even the fight to reclaim Attu, one of the bloodiest battles of the war and a pivotal victory in the Allied drive to end Japan’s designs on the Pacific, gets scant mention. Kiska, which Japanese troops evacuated on the eve of the Allied invasion, rarely warrants a footnote.

While Kiska was restored to U.S. control without resistance, it still bears the scars of war.

(snip) While some effort was made by U.S. and Canadian troops at cleaning up the mess after the island was retaken, much of what the Japanese left behind in their hasty evacuation remains strewn about, there to be found by occasional visitors. 

(snip) Japanese forces arrived in Alaska on June 3, 1942, with a two-day aerial assault on Dutch Harbor, leaving 34 Americans dead. On June 6, they invaded Attu, taking its tiny population of Native Aleuts and two Caucasians prisoner. Next they moved on to Kiska, where only a 10-man Navy weather crew stood in their way. Bases were quickly established, but the American response was swift. U.S. bombing campaigns were soon underway, especially over Kiska. Owing to its lack of a civilian population, Kiska could be attacked mercilessly. Signs of the bombing remain, with many of the craters left by the explosions having become ponds where aquatic life now resides.  

Read the whole article at the link. Note: the article serves as an ad for a book on the topic, but the article itself is still fascinating.

Update: since so many were unaware of this, I should point out that the Japanese invaded the Aleutians (part of the Territory of Alaska, years before statehood) as a feint to draw the Navy's attention away from the impending attack on Midway Island. And now you know the rest of the story.

18 comments:

PioneerPreppy said...

I have watched some of the old film footage of those battles and all I can say is BRRRRRR.

Chickenmom said...

Thanks for posting this. I never realized there were so many islands. Shame on me, but thankfully there is Google Earth.

Rev. Paul said...

Preppy, it doesn't get THAT cold out in the Aleutians, thanks to the Japanese current, but man oh man it gets windy.

Chickenmom, I probably know more about them than a lot of folks, on account of having been stationed on Adak (half-way out the chain) for two years. And it's never too late to learn. :)

Sandy said...

Rev. Paul,

Interesting! Still finding wreckage and pieces out on the islands.

Not to change the subject, stay warm and safe with this storm going through.

Cathy said...

My husband and I are sitting here feeling pretty uniformed (stupid). No. We did not know this history. Thank you.

Rev. Paul said...

Thanks, Sandy, on both counts.

Cathy, everyone has to learn as information is presented. Don't feel bad because you didn't know; the media tend to ignore Alaska for the most part, anyway.

Keads said...

Thanks for this post! I did not know this.

Old NFO said...

Yep, there used to be a book in the library at Adak on the 'Alaskan' campaign. And there was a good bit of stuff STILL on Adak too...

Rev. Paul said...

You're welcome, Kelly.

NFO, I saw that book. My uncle Verl was stationed there during the war, as part of a crew maintaining B-25s, and also as base security. And I remember a number of craters there, too, along with all the unexploded ordnance, concertina wire, etc.

denimflyz said...

Thank you for sharing. I feel just as stupid. I am 56, and we were never taught this part of history ever in school. It was years later that I found out about this part. I have been cleaning out my parents home, and came across newspaper clippings in historic WWII books about this. Amazing history.

Guffaw in AZ said...

Funny, we hear all about Pearl harbor, but little or nothing about AK.
I think political correctness is at it, again.
We've been told for years how the geographic U.S. wasn't attacked, forgetting too the sabotage on the East Coast and attacks against California.
It's just easier that way!
Sigh.
gfa

Rev. Paul said...

denimflyz, you're welcome.

Guffaw, that's also true. Easier for the liars, anyway...

Murphy's Law said...

Pretty rough fighting up there, battling the weather as much as the enemy. I read that both sides lost more aircraft to weather and the mountains than they did to each other. Plus we lost a submarine up there, something most people never associate with Alaska.

Rev. Paul said...

ML, that's true, and I have a picture of a B-25 that did a belly-landing on Adak, near what became Loran Cove.

Jenny said...

Did you see any old WWII relics like that while stationed out there?

Rev. Paul said...

Jenny, quite a few. Most of them had been recovered & moved indoors, though. Since Adak had been continuously occupied from the early '40s on, there weren't many "abandoned" relics.

maddmedic said...

My Uncle fought there. Never met him as he died in a car crash long before I came about.
According to my Dad it was a cold miserable experience for his brother.
The Americans were ill equipped for the weather.

Rev. Paul said...

That's correct: the Army issued summer-weight uniforms, and hypothermia was a constant threat, nearly year-round.