Monthly Archives: August 2018

Fireweed Omen

For anyone who has spent at least a year in the north, this comic needs no explanation.

For those who have not: WINTER IS COMING

Comic credit: Jamie Smith and Nuggets


Battle of Kiska

Operation Cottage:
15 August 1943
75 Years Ago


Kiska Island on the Aleutian Chain

The Japanese had occupied Kiska Island on Alaska’s Aleutian Chain since June of ’42. After the brutal Battle of Attu, Allied forces expected the same type of defense of Kiska from the Japanese.


Japanese Type A mini submarines on Kiska Island

Leading up to the invasion, the U.S. Air Force bombarded the Japanese positions on Kiska. In June of ’43, 407 bombing sorties were sent to the remote island, and even more in July. Japanese troop level was at just over 5100 men. Resupply of the island had become by submarine only.


Japanese tunnel to the beach

In August, bombing sorties increased even more. On August 4 alone, 135 sorties dropped 304,000 pounds of explosives on Kiska.* No Japanese troops were sighted by the bomber pilots, but that was not unusual, since the Japanese went underground during the raids.


Allied troops landing on Kiska Island

7300 combat troops landed at the main beach head. They were greeted by six dogs wagging their tails. One of the dogs was “Explosion”, the pup that was with the Navy weather station crew that was on Kiska when the Japanese invaded the island the previous June. In all, 34,426 Allied troops were a part of the invasion, which included 5300 Canadians.

As troops moved across the foggy island, occasionally a bomb or booby trap was set off, but no enemy soldiers were to be seen. Still, shots were fired into the fog by the jumpy soldiers.

The Japanese were no longer on the island. Realizing they could not defend Kiska after losing Attu, they had evacuated the island two weeks before the invasion.

92 Allied troops were killed, and 221 wounded. Most came when the destroyer Abner Read struck a Japanese mine causing 118 casualties. 4 Canadians and 17 Americans were killed on Kiska, and 50 were wounded, many by friendly fire in the fog. 130 men suffered from trenchfoot, of which only one was a Canadian due to their proper footwear.


Guns of Kiska

The Americans would not learn how or when the Japanese evacuated the island until after the war ended.


The Japanese Type A midget sub on Kiska today

Today, Kiska is part of the Aleutian Islands Wilderness, and the Japanese occupation site a National Historic Landmark.


The Navy Weather station crew on Kiska prior to invasion. Explosion is front and center.

*The Thousand Mile War

Photos courtesy of The Alaska State Library


Heading out of Resurrection Bay


The Nenana River


Nenana River

The 140 mile long Nenana River forms the eastern boundary of Denali National Park. This tributary of the Tanana River, is a popular white water rafting destination. The Nenana begins as a Class I, but turns into a Class IV in the Nenana Gorge.


Thunder Mountain Crash

A de Havilland Beaver (DHC-2), flying out of Talkeetna on a flight seeing tour of Denali National Park, tragically crashed near the summit of Thunder Mountain on August 4. The crash site is roughly 14 miles from Denali’s peak.

There were four tourists from Poland on board, as well as the pilot. Initially, word spread that several people on board survived the crash, but that is not the case. All five in the de Havilland perished.

Heavy cloud cover hampered efforts to reach the site in the days right after the crash. The National Park Service eventually was able to send out two crews in helicopters. The first was to check for survivors, and the second was to evaluate the scene for possible recovery. Park rangers were dropped by cable to the broken Beaver, which lay precariously on the mountain side.

After accessing the risk, The National Park Service came to the conclusion Friday, that any attempt to recover the five bodies in the plane would put the rescue crews in too much danger. One look at the photos show why. The Beaver is broken behind the wing, and the tail section is pulling the entire plane down. It’s a 3500 foot drop to the glacier below. Since the crash, 30 inches of snow has fallen, driving up the risk of avalanche.

On Friday, I spent some time downtown, and overheard several tourists complain about the NPS decision. I get why they thought that way, but I respectfully disagree. The risk to a recovery crew would be too great, and as tough as it is to hear it, NPS made the right call.

Photos credit: Denali National Park & Preserve


Fort Raymond

Seward, Alaska


Fort Raymond, circa 1941

Fort Raymond was activated on 1 July 1941, with the purpose of protecting the rail terminus and the ice-free port of Seward, leading up to WWII. The fort was named after Captain Charles W. Raymond, a member of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Captain Raymond had been sent to Alaska in 1869, to determine the precise location of Fort Yukon. When he confirmed that Fort Yukon was indeed within the Territory of Alaska, Raymond evicted the famed Hudson Bay Company from the region.


Fort Raymond historical marker

At its peak, Fort Raymond housed over 170 officers and 3200 enlisted men. In 1940, the civilian population of Seward was only 949.

On 25 March 1942, a Japanese submarine was spotted in Resurrection Bay, only 2000 yards from the Army dock. By June of that year, Japanese troops had taken the islands of Kiska and Attu in the Aleutian Chain, and Dutch Harbor had been bombed.

But by the fall of 1943, the Japanese had been forced out of the Aleutians, and the threat to Alaska had decreased substantially. In November of 1944, the fort went into caretaking status.

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In 1946, the hospital at Fort Seward was renovated into a sanatorium for Alaska native children with tuberculosis. The sanatorium was open for 12 years.

The 1964 Good Friday Earthquake wiped out much of the town of Seward, including what remained of Fort Raymond. Several buildings from the fort can still be seen in Seward, however. Many quonset huts are scattered about the town, that came from Fort Raymond. The NCO building had been built out of local logs. That building is also still in use; it is the bottom half of the local American Legion post.

Today, the Seward Military Resort is located on the land that Fort Raymond once stood on.


Wild Salmon Day

It’s Alaska’s third annual Wild Salmon Day. Events and salmon barbecues are being held throughout the state today. Get out and enjoy some wild Alaska salmon.