Action Reports Series 4
The Aleutians – A Battle Against Weather

Below are one of the three Action Reports included this section "The Aleutians – A Battle Against Weather." If you would like to read more, please order the newly re-published book available from the Ship's Store.

Report 4-1 - A Race for Islands
It is farther from the southeastern tip of the Alaskan Panhandle to Attu, westernmost of the Aleutians, than from Savannah to Los Angeles. Nearly half the distance is covered by the arc of the Aleutians, more than 100 small, rocky, desolate island which form the shortest land route between the American mainland and the Japanese Empire. Attu, nearly 1,000 miles from the Alaskan mainland, is only 650 miles from the northernmost of the Kurile Islands, where the Japanese has a large naval base at Paramushiru.

Aleutian weather, particularly toward the western part of the chain, is the worst in the world. Nowhere else are storms so numerous and so intense. Squalls known as “williwaws” sweep down from the mountains with terrifying speed, building up to gale proportions in half an hour. Winds of 100 knots are not uncommon. The accompanying heavy seas, with strong currents running through the passes and channels, the jagged shorelines and submerged rock formations, make navigation extremely hazardous. In the western islands, when it is not raining, there is usually fog, and it is a peculiarity of the Aleutians that fog and wind may persist together for many days at a time.

Coordinated with their massive and futile assault on Midway, the Japanese made two damaging but inconclusive attacks on our naval base at Dutch Harbor on the island of Unalaska on June 3 and 4, 1942. Weather caused may enemy planes to miss their carriers and fall into the sea. It also prevented our planes, flying from Cold Bay and Umnak, from making effective attacks on the enemy carrier force.

The raids on Dutch Harbor were the enemy’s only strikes at the central and eastern Aleutians. Possibly his defeat at Midway and his discovery that we had an air base at Umnak, 100 miles west of Dutch Harbor, caused the cancellation of more ambitious plans. To the westward, however, a race for islands quickly developed. On June 6, under cover of fog, the enemy began the occupation of Attu and Kiska, where our only installations were small meteorological outposts. Reports from these stations ceased on the 7th, but it was not until the 10th that the weather cleared sufficiently for our patrol planes to confirm the fact that the enemy had landed substantial forces on both islands.

With the greater part of our available forces committed to the impending campaign in the Solomons, no immediate major countermove was possible. Navy Catalinas and Army bombers of the 11th Air Force bombed and strafed Attu and Kiska when weather permitted; submarines attacked enemy shipping, and on August 7 our heavy cruisers Indianapolis and Louisville, with the light cruisers Honolulu, St. Louis, and Nashville, and nine destroyer types, shelled Kiska Harbor.

Army forces occupied Adak, 200 miles east of Kiska, on August 30 without opposition. Once ashore, the Army performed a miraculous feat of engineering, building an airstrip in 12 days. Thereafter, whenever it was possible to fly, our planes bombed Kiska and Attu. The planes could not drive the Japanese from the islands, but, with our submarines, they kept the enemy from building up his bases to the point where he would be able to undertake further offensive action.

On December 17, American reconnaissance parties surveyed Amchitka Island, only 70 miles east of Kiska, and found that the Japanese had already been there, digging test holes for possible airfield sites. On January 12 Army forces made unopposed landings at Constantine Harbor, on the eastern end of Amchitka. Twelve days later the enemy began a series of minor attacks on Amchitka, but by February 16 a new fighter strip was place in operation on the island, and the enemy bombing ceased. The occupation of Amchitka further accelerated the bombing schedule of the 11th Air Force and proportionately increased the enemy’s supply problems.


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