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History of Alaska/Territorial Alaska (1912-1959)

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Territorial Alaska (1912-1959)[edit | edit source]

Presidential Visits to Alaska[edit | edit source]

Warren Gamaliel Harding, 1923[edit | edit source]

President Harding in Alaska on Presidential Train

Warren Gamaliel Harding was the 29th president of the United States, and the first president to visit the territory of Alaska while serving in office. In July 1923, while traveling on the USS Henderson, Alaska became the end destination of President Harding’s “Voyage of Understanding." On this journey, the President brought with him three members of his cabinet, including Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover and the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. The tour made at least nine stops and was done in an effort to restore faith in President Harding's administration. The "Voyage of Understanding" lasted two months and provided the president with a better understanding of Alaska and its potential resource development. While in Alaska, one purpose of his visit was to place the ceremonial golden spike of the railroad located in Nenana, connecting the last two ends of the railroads to the southern port of Anchorage. Over the 15 days spent in the Territory of Alaska, Harding and his entourage visited Metlakatla, Ketchikan, Wrangell, Juneau, Skagway, Seward, Anchorage, Wasilla, Willow, Nenana, Fairbanks, Cordova, and Sitka. After Harding’s visit to connect the two railways, Alaska saw an increase in tourism due to their newly finished mode of transportation. Alaska Railroad Corp was created during this time due to the increase in railway use.

On route from Alaska, Harding was also the first U.S president to set foot on Canadian soil in July on the 26th. One week after his arrival in Canada, and completing the railway, marked President Harding’s last public appearance. President Harding would die after suffering a sudden heart failure in San Francisco on August 2. A separate speculation regarding the president’s cause of death was brought into the public's eye, which claimed the natural cause of death resulted by eating poisoned Alaskan crabs, however, the official ruling was reported as a heart attack.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1944[edit | edit source]

FDR and Fala, 1940

Franklin D. Roosevelt visited Alaska as part of his trip across the Pacific during World War II in 1944 to tour military facilities in Hawaii and Alaska.He left his wife at home however he was accompanied by his black Scottish Terrier, Fala, on the USS Baltimore. Since Roosevelt’s health had been declining his assistants believed that a trip to a quiet war zone, such as Alaska, would do well to not only help the president's health but to increase moral with the troops.

With the Second World War coming to a close, one major purpose of this trip was to lift spirits of the troops. While addressing over 150 troops in a mess hall located in Adak, FDR was taken aback by the beauty and prosperity set forth by Alaska, gaining admiration from the soldiers after stating "I wish more people back home could come out to Alaska -- and see what we have done here in an incredibly short time." Phrases such as this were repeated throughout FDR’s visit to Alaska where he encouraged the troops to build a life there after the war. These notions increased the number of veterans that chose to settle down in Alaska, and even today the state currently hosts the highest number of veterans nationally.

August 7, 1944 - Franklin D. Roosevelt, Captain Mcdade, and General Robinson in Kodiak, Alaska

While visiting Alaska, President Roosevelt and his associates were taken fishing, a pastime the president enjoyed, to a variety of destinations along the Alaskan coast. Amid his leisure fishing time, there was a concern for Japanese submarines being located within Roosevelt’s designated path. This led to the president switching ships from the Baltimore to the USS Cummings in Auke Bay. After making these vessel changes, Roosevelt and his entourage headed to Tee Harbor, where he wrote that they caught five salmon, one halibut, two flounder and numerous cod, before heading south to Tolstoi Bay on Prince of Wales Island. It is rumored by the Republican party that in the time of his ship change and departure from Alaska, Roosevelt had left Fala, his faithful companion, behind and diverted a warship to retrieve the dog, costing up to 20 million dollars in taxpayers’ money. This was denied by Roosevelt, stating that "These Republican leaders have not been content with attacks on me, or my wife, or on my sons. No, not content with that, they now include my little dog, Fala. Well, of course, I don't resent attacks, and my family doesn't resent attacks, but Fala does resent them." This lecture was given over the radio during Roosevelt’s campaigning for a fourth term and is referred to as the “Fala Speech”, of which Roosevelt denied causing such an action and costs to taxpayers, leading to a win of his fourth term as president. Ultimately, it was confirmed that the trip to Alaska was not as beneficial to President Roosevelt’s health as expected, as he died eight months later from a stroke, making him the second sitting president to visit Alaska and die less than a year later.

Alaska and the New Deal[edit | edit source]

Role of Highways[edit | edit source]

The beginning of highways in Alaska started with the large networks of dogsled trails and trading routes across the Territory. The Chilkoot Trail is one example of a critical trade route for the easy access to the Yukon Goldfields. In the twentieth century, traditional dogsled trails quickly became obsolete as Alaska’s railway system took shape. This network of railroad track continued to experience growth through the Territorial Alaska period with new rail lines extending to Seward, the Matanuska-Susitna Valley, Ship Creek (later known as Anchorage) and eventually to the Mears Memorial Bridge that crosses the Tanana River at Nenana. These routes were critical to the population growth and economic development in Alaska in those geographical areas.

With Canada being between the continental United States of America and Alaska, support from the Canadian government was critical to the highways success in connecting Alaska to the mainland US. Originally the Canadian government did not see any value in putting up the required funds and support for any new highways to Alaska since the only Canadians that would benefit from a highway were the few thousand people that lived in the Canadian Yukon Territory. Real support for the highway began in 1929 when the British Columbian government wanted to build a highway to Alaska to promote tourism and economic development in the province. With the impacts of the Great Depression and the Canadian government still not on board with the idea, efforts for new highways to and within Alaska were again forgotten.

Columbia Glacier in Alaska.

With both the United States of America and Canada declaring war on Germany and allied powers in WWII, the changing needs and wants for both the US and Canada were greatly aligning with the increased attacks on the West Coast from Japan. On February 6, 1942, the United States Army approved the construction of the Alaska Highway and received authorization from Congress 5 days later. The Government of Canada also agreed with the construction of the Alaska Highway (also known as the ALCAN Highway, Alaska-Canadian Highway or Alaskan Highway). The Canadian Government was in agreement as long as the United States paid the whole cost of it. They also wanted the highway and any other facilities built to manage the highway, that was built in Canada to be turned over to them after the war ended. The highway was very important for the US Army to have a steady and easily accessible connection to Alaska. This strategically important connection between the Continual United States and Alaska was vital if Japan were to attack Alaska, especially after Pearl Harbour.

A caterpillar tractor with grader widens the roadway of the Alaska Highway, 1942

The construction of the ALCAN Highway also now connected many population centers together and could now be accessed more easily. The route initially connected Dawson Creek, Fort St. John, Fort Nelson, Watson Lake, Whitehorse, Haines Junction, Tok and Delta Junction together for an easier transfer of goods and services. The ALCAN Highway was constructed in the extreme terrain in a very short amount of time. Construction commenced on February 6, 1942, and finished on October 28, 1942, proving how critical this connection to Alaska was for the US Government. The highway didn’t end up going the most efficient way since time was more important than efficiency. This direct connection, while still a very long highway, contributed greatly to the population growth in Northern Canada and especially Alaska. The ALCAN highway was one of the main contributing factors to economic growth for Alaska in the time after it was built. Highways were, as they still are, critical to the delivery of goods and services. They also provided land travel to Alaska so new residents could more easily get there to settle the snowy terrain. Since automobiles were ever growing in popularity in the 20th Century, more and more people had cars and could easily move to a new part of the country when there was a promise of work or land ownership. Highways are also very fast methods of transportation when compared to traditional methods of walking across the land, by train when a railroad was already built or by boat through the Pacific Ocean.

After the war, the highway continued to be the ultimate way to get to Alaska cheaply and easily. It also contributed to the rise of tourism in Alaska as a way of income for many of the residents. Early tourists travelling on the new highways in 1950s Alaska loved the state because the glaciers shimmered in the sun, which never set and thus the state’s reputation as a tourism destination began to grow. The new modern highways that were being built also contributed to the growth of oil production and pipelines in Alaska. This was one of the great economic values to Alaska’s land before tourism really started to take root. The CANOL pipeline was also built during the construction of the ALCAN Highway and laid the groundwork for the extensive network of pipelines that Alaska has today. This new type of ‘highway’ system contributed to the discovery of more oil across Alaska and more economic growth in the Territory throughout the 20th Century.

Mining / Public Works[edit | edit source]

Independence Mine in Hatcher Pass is now a State Historic Park

Following his election in 1932, President Roosevelt began implementing the New Deal: a multifaceted approach to relief, recovery, and reform in the wake of the Great Depression. One objective of the New Deal involved the reorganization and revitalization of natural resource industries. Alaska’s export-driven economy relied heavily on natural resources and was particularly vulnerable to fluctuations in world commodity prices. The effects of the Great Depression were further increased by the introduction of tariffs and market blockades by central states seeking to protect farmers and cattle herders in the continental United States. The FDR administration established the National Resources Board and appointed a Federal Alaska Committee to study the Alaskan economy and propose solutions. The mining industry was revitalized after an executive order was introduced to increase the price of gold from $20.67 to $35 an ounce. Renewed interest in mining led to a 135% increase in coal production from 1935 to 1940. Exports of other mineral products such as platinum, Quicksilver, antimony, and gypsum, doubled in value to over a million dollars annually in the late 1930s. The Public Works Administration and the Works Progress Administration, created in 1933 and 1935 respectively, financed various infrastructure projects throughout the territory which provided employment to thousands of Alaskans and facilitated the construction of schools, emergency services, waterworks, and paved roadways. A steel bridge was constructed between Juneau and Douglas Island, and harbours were renovated based on the expertise and approval of US army engineers. In an effort to provide jobs and promote tourism, hotels were built near Alaska’s National Parks and hundreds of young men were employed by the Civilian Conservation Corps to carry out conservation work.

Matanuska Colony[edit | edit source]

Rural resettlement projects organized as part of the New Deal involved the relocation of struggling farmers to cooperative farming communities in under-cultivated areas. The Matanuska Valley in south-central Alaska was home to one of the largest and most expensive rural resettlement projects in the country. Harry Hopkins, the supervisor of the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA), proposed the establishment of a government-assisted agricultural colony in Alaska. The Matanuska Valley, sitting approximately 45 miles northeast of Anchorage at the Knik Arm of Cook Inlet, was chosen as the ideal location due to its proximity to the Alaska Railroad and it’s relatively mild climate, generous rainfall, and fertile soil.

Temporary tent community in the Matanuska Valley Colony. Colonists lived here prior to the construction of permanent housing.

In 1934, federal agents were sent to survey the valley and access its agricultural potential. The promising results of the survey led to a decision on the part of the FERA and the Department of the Interior to develop and implement a plan for the creation of a government-assisted agricultural colony in the Manasuka Valley. The plan called for the relocation of 200 families from Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. The Social Services Administration selected settlers based primarily on the amount of time they had spent on active relief rolls. Preference was given to experienced farmers between 25 and 35 years of age, particularly those of northern European descent since it was thought that they could adapt more easily to the Alaskan climate. The primary objectives of the colony were to encourage the self-sufficiency of the farmers, supply food, and promote the growth of Alaska’s economy. The colony was organized based on building types, farming practices and spatial arrangements found in small Midwestern agricultural communities. It was to be a cooperative community in which members would raise similar crops and engage in cooperative marketing. Scandinavian agricultural models were adopted based on the “Scandinavian Analogy”, which pointed to similarities in latitude and day length between Alaska and Scandinavia. This led government administrators to incorrectly anticipate similar levels of agricultural productivity. The “Scandinavian Analogy” ignored differences in climate and soil composition, as well as Scandinavia’s proximity to large populations and the centuries of infrastructural development that facilitated the country’s agricultural production. Implementation of the plan in Alaska began on February 4, 1935 with Executive Order No. 6957, which prohibited homesteading, allowed the federal government to take possession of all abandoned homesteads and declared that all government lands in the area would be reserved for the colony. Government agents and surveyors plotted out two hundred 40-acre tracts of land. The 917 adults and children who arrived at the Matanuska Valley in May 1935 struggled to adapt to the climate, and grew frustrated after several poor harvests and delayed supply shipments. After 4 years, almost half of the original colonists had departed. While the colony did not achieve the success that was hoped for by government administrators, it publicized the area and led to an influx of other Americans seeking to capitalize on Alaska’s natural resource potential. Remnants of the project can still be seen today throughout the landscape of the Matanuska Valley, as many of the houses, barns and roadways all resemble those found in the Midwest.

Alaskan Natives[edit | edit source]

Totem poles from Sitka National Historical Park, Sitka, Alaska

The FDR administration established the Indian Civilian Conservation Corps (ICCC) in April 1933 to improve reservation lands throughout the country. Projects in Alaska included the construction of new living quarters for teachers in Hoonah and reparation of the Juneau Government hospital. The Department of the Interior, under Secretary Harold Ickes and his Commissioner of Indian Affairs John Collier, appointed a committee to study the link between Alaskan Native arts and their economic and cultural welfare. The committee concluded that government-assisted development of Native arts could provide income, promote self-sufficiency, and help the tribes maintain their cultural heritage.

After years of assimilation policies, the traditional practice of totem pole carving in Alaska had nearly ended. The ICCC, working in collaboration with the Forest Service, administered a program aimed at restoring totem poles throughout the territory. More than one hundred 19th century totem poles were restored, and over 250 Alaskan natives were employed in the process. Miniature models of the poles were sold to tourists with the help of the Indian Arts and Crafts Board, which developed promotional strategies to expand the market and used a government trademark to ensure authenticity.

Alaska in World War II[edit | edit source]

USS Panay sinking after a Japanese air attack

Prelude to the Japanese Invasion of Alaska[edit | edit source]

After the First World War, a key treaty was made between the winning powers. The primary signers that affected Alaska were the United States and Japan. The treaty was called Five-Power Naval Armament Treaty and was signed in 1922. The treaty restricted what the United States could fortify, Hawaii was non-negotiable. But the United State made concessions with Japan saying that they would leave the Aleutian Islands alone. However, this treaty expired in 1936 after which the United States made no move to fortify them. Five years later the United States realized that the Aleutian Islands were very important to their national defense as they helped to prevent Northern Pacific naval attacks. The United States military built bases to occupy these islands. This pressured Japan into feeling like they were slowly being surrounded by the rival power. Newspapers in Japan commented that an outside power was trying to strangle Japan slowly. Hence the Japanese attacks on the Aleutian Islands which led to them occupying the islands of Kiska and Attu.

Another event prior to the American-Japanese conflict in World War II, was an incident that occurred in which Japanese naval aircraft mistakenly fired upon an American ship off the coast of the Chinese city of Nanking, believing it was an enemy Chinese vessel. Japan took full responsibility for the attack and apologized to the United States; however, many Americans grew suspicious of the Japanese imperial expansion and worried that the Japanese government would launch an attack on America across the Pacific Ocean. Brigadier General William Mitchell recommended to Congress that the United States develop strong air defences to protect the West Coast from a potential Japanese attack. At the start of America’s involvement in World War II in 1939 – and two years before the Pearl Harbor attack – the American Congress created a Panama-Hawaii-Alaska defense triangle, which the Americans planned as the main defensive line against a possible Japanese assault. However, Alaska was not adequately fortified which allowed to the occupation by Japanese forces.

Trade During the War[edit | edit source]

President Roosevelt signs the Lend-Lease bill.

Due to its unique geographic position as the most northwestern territory, and its proximity to the Soviet Union(USSR), Alaska played a vital role in the United States’ trade and support to its allies during World War II. When the Lend-Lease Act was signed in 1941, it meant that the United States could ship large quantities of military supplies such as weapons, ammunition, and vehicles to major allies such as Britain and China without any immediate compensation. Due to cultural tensions between the two countries, the USSR was not immediately included in The Lend-Lease Act as, despite President Roosevelt's sympathy for the Soviets during wartime, he did not have the support of the American people or Congress to do so. However, the United States was also aware of the importance of having good relations with the Soviets, and after holding meetings with Stalin and Churchill, Roosevelt managed to convince Congress to add the USSR to the list of benefactors. They were introduced as a member of the second Lend-Lease Act when it was renewed by Congress in November 1941.

With trading activity established between the two parties, the next challenge was to develop transportation routes by which supplies could be sent. The solution was to use Alaska as it was the closest piece of US land in proximity to the far east of the USSR, only separated by the Bering Strait. However, due to its geographic location in relation to the rest of the country, the United States had to first find a way to the get supplies to Alaska. That is why in February 1942, construction started on a brand new, Alaska-Canada Highway. The thirty-million-dollar highway stretched 2, 237 km and was composed of two parts. The first starting from Dawson Creek, British Columbia leading to Whitehorse, Yukon, and the second from Whitehorse to Fairbank, Alaska. After the attack on Pearl Harbour in 1941, all new development was to be stopped for a brief period. However, it became apparent that trading paths and further reinforcement were needed in the northwest to prevent vulnerability facing Japan in the Pacific. Over forty-five thousand workers and engineers moved at a rapid pace as the project was completed before the end of the year. The construction was done predominately by African American workers. Conditions were quite poor as the weather was often freezing and the pace which workers were pressured to work under was quite intense. Apart from the newly acquired ability to efficiently send supplies from the US to Alaska, many consider the most significant impacts of the Alaska- Canada Highway to be the US occupation of northwest Canada. It had fundamental changes politically, socially, and economically as it brought a large diverse group of Americans into what was otherwise a scarcely populated area of the country. Many locals had not lived with African Americans in their communities previously and the large influx of workers meant a more Americanized social structure.

Satellite photo of the Bering Strait

Now that the United States had an efficient means of getting supplies through Canada and into Alaska, transportation methods had to be established to send equipment to the USSR. The decided method of transportation was air, rather than by sea. After testing many different flight paths and differently sized air-crafts in the earlier years of the war, the United States and the USSR established the Alaska-Siberian Airway (ALSIB). The nearly ten-thousand- kilometer route went from Fairbanks to Moscow, stopping at several military bases in the east along the way. A key factor that made the airway a possible transportation route was the minimal amount of flight time over water as the Bering Strait was only 85 km wide.

Throughout the war, the Alaska-Siberia Airway helped deliver over half of a million tons of supplies from the years of 1943-1945. While ships could still use the Bering Strait to transport supplies, the air was the most efficient mode of transportation as it allowed for a greater distance to be travelled over a shorter period of time. The development of the ALSIB would later prove to be vital as the Soviet’s dependency on the Lend-Lease Act would increase when the allies announced a second front in 1943.

The Japanese Occupation[edit | edit source]

During the summer of 1942 and six months after the Japanese Pearl Harbor attack on Oahu Hawaii, which had brought America into armed conflict with Japan, Japanese forces landed troops in the Aleutian Islands. This had been preceded by an aerial attack that left several American fuel tanks and a hospital damaged. This 15-month campaign was the only World War II military campaign fought on North American soil. Japanese forces included the carrier Ryujo and a brand-new aircraft carrier, Junyo, which together carried an armada of eighty-two attack planes. Two heavy cruisers, three destroyers, and an oil ship supported the carriers. This group was also supported by Admiral Boshiro Hosogaya’s Northern Force which included four cruisers, nine destroyers and three means of transport that carried two thousand five hundred Japanese soldiers. Their plan was to assault Dutch Harbor; drawing American naval forces north toward Alaska, then Yamamoto’s Combined Imperial Fleet would make its massed attack in the vicinity of Midway Island, 2000 miles to the south of Kakuta. The Aleutian Islands were a target because of their proximity to Paramushiro in the Japanese Kuriles. The Aleutians were the only area from which American planes could reach Japanese soil.

Doolittle's B-25 at launching, 18 April 1942

Following the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo where American bombers targeted industrial areas, the Japanese were scrambling to prevent further attacks. Thus, the Aleutian islands were targeted by The Imperial High Command in part because they believed there were bases there. Following the battle of Dutch Harbor, The Imperial Northern Force landed on the beaches of Kiska and Attu. After some time, all the sailors stationed in Kiska were captured; William House was the last to surrender after spending fifty days at large in the Aleutian mountains. However, Japan encountered no military resistance because the United States Army had not stationed any units nearby, and the closest military units were stationed on Unalaska Island at Dutch Harbor 847 miles away. A few hours after landing on Kiska, Massacre Bay, Attu was taken. The only man to die during the invasion of the western Aleutians was Charles Foster Jones, an American civilian who died in captivity. The successful takeover of American territory represented a symbolic victory for Japan since they had taken territory from what they considered to be a strong military power. It also allowed the Japanese government to create propaganda, masking their casualties and declaring the campaign a success.

In August 1942, however, the Americans created an airbase on Adak Island located 248 miles from Kiska Island, which the Americans used to send aircraft to bomb Japanese ships stationed at Kiska. Kiska harbour was used as the main naval base for Japanese ships during the invasion. In addition, the American Navy sent submarines to Kiska to bombard the Japanese strongholds and to sink Japanese warships, though these operations were aimed just to harass the Japanese stationed there until a plan could be put in place to re-take the islands.

Prisoners of War and Evacuation of Islands[edit | edit source]

The Japanese forces held the Alaskan villagers for two months. During the occupation, Japanese forces ruled the area harshly. A local native noted “We did not have much food, but sometimes they would let us go out in a dory to fish. They made us take a little Jap flag on our boat”. The Attuans were kept under close watch by the Japanese soldiers, those who attempted to run were shot. Japanese officers were able to control their forces well, and the people of Attu were mostly unharmed.

In September 1942, forty-two Attuans were moved aboard a merchant ship, the Yoko Maru. They were allowed to bring food, blankets, and even furniture, however, the Japanese forces shipped the Attuans back to Japan as prisoners. The trip to Japan took two weeks and one casualty, Anecia Prokopeuff, died on board the ship. Upon arriving in Japan the Attuans were housed in a vacant railroad employee dormitory on Wakatake-cho. In Japan several Attuans died of disease, tuberculosis and beriberi were likely the cause, as these diseases ran rampant throughout the camp. The Attuan residents were employed in digging clay from an open pit mine, while they were supposed to be paid for this work they received no compensation until they were released. Out of the 42 prisoners taken, only 26 survived their internment. In response, the U.S. military began evacuating Aleuts (Natives of the Aleutian Islands) from the other Aleutian Islands nearby. In total, 881 Aleuts were evacuated from the Aleut islands in June and July 1942. In addition to evacuating the residents, the U.S. military burned the local residences to prevent their use by Japan.

American Re-Capturing of Islands[edit | edit source]

U.S. Soldiers walk through treacherous terrain.

Battle of Attu[edit | edit source]

On May 11, 1943 the United States Army prepared to capture the island of Attu. This was known as "Operation Landgrab". The US had already started bombing the islands of Attu and Kiska before sending 11,000 troops to Attu. American soldiers rowed ashore in the dead of night, and during the landing, the army faced several challenges. These included foggy and freezing weather, a shortage of landing craft, and equipment that malfunctioned due to the cold. Many soldiers suffered from frostbite as well. The fight for the island lasted a total of 19 days. The battle for Attu would last five days before Americans could take any ground from the Japanese entrenchment. The Japanese who were severally outnumbered gained high ground making it hard for American soldiers to advance given the weather conditions. By the seventh day, American forces had suffered eleven hundred casualties, 500 of which were due to cases of exposure. However, on the final day, the entire remaining Japanese army on Attu made the LARGEST SUICIDAL BONZAI CHARGE IN THE PACIFIC THEATR1. In total, the Americans suffered 500 combat dead and 3829 casualties but the Japanese suffered 2571 dead out of 2600; only 29 Japanese prisoners were captured alive. The excessive killing was partly due to American hatred toward the Japanese for capturing American soil. The resulting anger saw many Americans killing wounded Japanese soldiers on the battlefield.

Following the end of the war, the Attuan prisoners were released. American forces were able to airdrop them much-needed supplies, which they shared with their friends among the Japanese. The Japanese eventually gave back the cremated remains of the Attuans who had died in Japan. The remains of the deceased Attuans were buried near the Atka church, but outside church grounds as the Russian Orthodox Church does not allow cremation. Though the Attuans wished to return to Attu, they were told there weren’t enough people left to resettle their village. The Attuans were moved into the village of Atka. This initially caused significant friction between the two groups, but eventually, the remaining Attuans were able to integrate with the Atkans.

Battle of Kiska[edit | edit source]

The Battle of Kiska occurred on August 15, 3 months after the battle of Attu. Prior to the battle, the Canadian Air-Force patrolled the skies above Kiska in a reconnaissance role. American and Canadian Naval Forces were also stationed off the coast of the island. A combined American and Canadian infantry force was sent to re-take the island. The American military command believed the mission would be quite dangerous; some commanders predicted the casualty rate would be upwards of 90%. However, upon arrival, they found the Japanese forces had already retreated. Rumors of Japanese snipers operating in the area led to significant friendly-fire among the infantrymen which ultimately took the lives of 28 American soldiers and wounded 50 others. The Japanese forces had actually completely left the island before the Americans even arrived. Before they left, Japanese soldiers had installed time-bombs, booby-traps, and mines throughout the Kiska area which continued to injure and kill soldiers in the days following the original battle. The operation ended with over 300 recorded casualties.

American troops landing on Kiska.

Weather and the War[edit | edit source]

The soldiers who fought at the battle of Kiska dealt with challenging weather conditions. During their first night, rain and fog came in from the Bering Sea and impaired their vision. In one case, an incidence of friendly-fire was narrowly avoided when a man appeared out of the fog and was mistaken for an enemy soldier. Fortunately, he was able to identify himself before he was shot. In the aftermath of the battle, soldiers were wrought with sickness and disease due to their exposure to the elements. Those serving in the U.S. and Canadian Air Forces were also faced with difficult and sometimes dangerous weather conditions. In the January 1943 issue of Air Force magazine, an article called “North from Great Falls” contained advice specifically for airmen flying in Alaska. For instance, it described how to navigate through the weather conditions, what to do in the event of a crash, and how to use a special heater to warm the engine prior to starting it. The survival kits that these pilots carried with them contained items such as fire starter, a pistol, bouillon cubes, and iodine to purify water. Pilots in Alaska had a wide range of unconventional duties; in addition to operating the planes and equipment, they were expected to guard gasoline and keep bears off the runway at night. The mud and slush that soldiers walked through during the spring and fall seasons made them particularly susceptible to Trench Foot. It was one of the most common medical conditions for soldiers stationed at Kiska. The Air Force Magazine mentioned earlier also had an article titled “How to Keep Well” which discusses the symptoms and treatment of trench foot.

Poster Warning About Trench Foot

Adjusting to life in Alaskan was especially difficult for servicemen who had come from warmer states. A common issue they dealt with was getting their skin stuck to metal objects. The “How to Keep Well” article discussed earlier talked about how to deal with that situation if it happens. If it happened to someone they could either try to break loose and risk leaving some skin behind or they could pour hot water on the metal piece in order to warm it up and risk getting burned. This was a unique and unfortunate challenge that these soldiers faced that would only add to the misery they felt.

Overall, the weather and battle conditions in Alaska were miserable for all the soldiers who served there. The weather along the Aleutian chain is among the worst in the world. Dense fogs, rough waters, and raging windstorms worn down soldiers from both sides. One physician on the ground noted how he could tell which soldiers had been on the islands for longer than six months: the number of American soldiers suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder steadily increased during this campaign. In order to keep morale up among the United States citizens and to keep them from realizing how close their homeland came to being attacked, and, in some cases such as Kiska occupied, the information given to the public was limited. The failure and the mistakes that the United States faced on Kiska also helped limit the information provided to the public. Due to all these factors, the campaign fought in Alaska has almost been forgotten but remains an important part of both Alaskan history and the history of the United States as a whole.

Aftermath[edit | edit source]

Peace Monument on Attu Island July 11, 2007. U.S. Coast Guard Press Release 2007-07-17 SitNews, Ketchikan, Alaska, 2003-10-03

Shortly after the Battle of the Aleutian Islands, the Japanese re-positioned themselves in Northern Japan to protect themselves in case of an American attack. No major form of retaliation would come from the Americans. The United States learned many lessons from the fighting that took place on the Aleutian Islands. One of the most important ones was that it was an important strategical point for their military. They learned that they should have taken the islands back quickly to prevent the Japanese from building fortifications. The United States also needed to refine their tactics in order to properly address the conditions commonly seen in Alaska. Weather and terrain needed to be considered when planning infantry attacks. They needed to plan attacks so that they could coordinate both aerial and naval bombardments which synced with the infantry divisions attacking routes. Battles in Alaska were very difficult because of the mountainous terrain and cold conditions. The time spent before battles proved that the United States was not ready logistically. The logistical failings can be seen in the United States soldiers morale. The soldiers were constantly under dressed and under supplied for the battles they were fighting, causing low morale among the troops. The United States also learned how to properly transport goods to their troops so that they could fight properly. It was events like these that forced the United States military to adapt when they built and armed the forces deployed in Alaska.

After the war, thousands of American civilians moved to the sparsely populated region. Larger cities such as Anchorage grew from 3,000 to 47,000 people and Fairbanks grew from 4,000 to 20,0000 people. Between 1940 and 1950, the Alaskan population as a whole expanded by 72,000. In addition, the Secretary of the Interior designated eight sites – including the battlefields and landing sites at Attu and Kiska – as National Historic Landmarks. Furthermore, in December 2008, President George Bush Jr. issued an Executive Order which established the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument. The Alaska unit includes the battlefields and landing sites of Attu and Kiska.