Due to its proximity, Alaska was a tempting target for the Japanese during their Pacific expansion. Much of their advancements, however, never penetrated into the Alaskan heartland. Instead, much of the fighting occurred on the Aleutian archipelago, a chain of islands that stretch out into the Pacific.
Dutch Harbor Attack
June 3-4, 1942
Unalaska is a hamlet located on the island of Amaknak along the shores of the Dutch Harbor. It held an army and naval base (Ft. Mears), functioning primarily as a reconnaissance base. On June 3rd, the Japanese launched an air attack on the community and continued to do so for an additional day. The Japanese caused significant damage on the base, as well as the community of Unalaska, taking out the radio tower and oil reserves. Although, the troops stationed there were on alert for an attack, many were jolted awake as the bombs fell late in the night. Twenty-five soldiers were killed when a bomber struck a barracks.
A second attack commenced on the fourth. Civilian ships in the harbor were targetted, as well as military ones. Another target was the hospital, which had an entire wing collapse. Following the bombing, air support came to Dutch Harbor. Although, it was a defensive victory for the Americans, over 78 people died in the resulting battle, and four-out-of-six air fighters were lost as well.
In the aftermath of the attack, a Mitsubishi A6M Zero was damaged, and crash-landed 32 kilometers northeast of Dutch Harbor. It was later found, repaired, and provided a technical advantage for U.S. forces.
Occupation of Kiska and Attu
June 3, 1942 - July 29, 1943
Simultaneously as the battles of Dutch Harbor and Midway commenced, the Japanese launched operations to claim the islands of Kiska and Attu. Both islands were taken with relative ease for the Japanese, as the only inhabitants on Kiska were that of a small naval weather station that had a complement of 10. On Attu, some 40 civilians in the lone village on the island were taken hostage and later shipped to Japan to be POWs. Strategically, the Aleutian islands were sought to prevent the Americans from having a base close enough to strike the Japanese mainland. At the same time, Japanese forces hoped to convert the island of Attu to become an important air base to launch attacks along the Canadian and American western coast. After the Americans retook the island, they did repair the Japanese runway and use it to stage bombing raids on Japan.
In May of 1943, American forces reclaimed the island of Attu, after encountering a large banzai raid when they beached. 29 Japanese soldiers survived and were taken by American forces. Over 549 Americans lost their lives during the push to retake Attu, and over 1,000 injured.
The campaign to retake Kiska was more complicated than need-be for Allied forces. Having lost the island of Attu, the Japanese had ample time to retreat from the island of Kiska. Not knowing what to expect when they arrived, the US sent 34,000 troops to the island. It was, however, abandoned at the time. A dense fog had entrapped the island as American and Canadian forces beached, and a brief exchange took place among the Canadian and American troops, mistaking each other for the Japanese. The USS Abner Read lost a part of her stern when a stray naval mine struck.
Battle of the Pips incident
July 27, 1943
On July 27, 1943, just as American forces were about to commence the invasion of Kiska, a RADAR blip prompted the USS Mississippi and USS Idaho to open fire on an unknown target. Their artillery, however, hit no targets. RADAR was still a new technology, and the initial blip turned out to merely be a migrating flock of birds.
1942 - 1943
Intense patrol would be needed over the North Pacific if the Japanese hoped to keep it, but the Americans made sure that it would be a difficult task to maintain. American submarines and blockading brigades were ordered to sink any ships carrying the Imperial flag, which made supplying the islands of Attu and Kiska a challenge. Bombardments from sea and air were commonplace.
On July 5th, 1942, the American submarine Growler launched a sneak attack on three Japanese ships anchored near the Kiska harbor. They were successful, severely damaging one and sinking another, the Arare, which was involved in the campaign to attack Pearl Harbor.
The most important battle of the Aleutian campaign came near the Soviet Komandorski Islands, the westernmost island in the chain. A Japanese convoy, which was en route to Attu, came under fire from an American patrol on March 27, 1943. The Americans were significantly outgunned, but persisted. Fearing a pending air assault, the Japanese retreated. The battle is significant in being one of the last daytime surface battles in which no submarine nor air support was present. This most-likely due to the isolation.