Category Archives: history

Kodiak after Novarupta

Kodiak, Alaska in 1912


Photo courtesy of Katmai National Park & Preserve

The Alaskan community of Kodiak one day after the eruption of Novarupta in 1912. Over a foot of ash fell on the town, collapsing roofs and engulfing the area in near total darkness.


Attu 75


Jarmin Pass, Attu Island; Photo Credit: USFWS

Long before WWII and the Japanese invasion of the two islands in the Aleutian Chain, Attu Island was part of the earliest Federally protected wildlife areas.

This year is the 75th Anniversary of the Battle of Attu, and the National Park Service and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service are both commemorating the battle with several discussions, gatherings and art displays. Unfortunately, most are being held in Anchorage, but the big city, that’s a little closer to Alaska, has its merits too.

Their website: https://www.attu75.org


Battle of Attu

Operation Landcrab
11 May 1943
75 years ago:


Map of the Aleutian Chain

On 7 June 1942, the Japanese Northern Army landed, unopposed, on Attu Island. The island of Kiska had been invaded the day before. Allied command for the Aleutian Campaign spent the better part of the next year preparing to repel the Japanese from the Aleutian Islands.


Attu Island with 1943 Battle descriptions

On the morning of 11 May 1943, visibility off the coast of Attu was estimated at a “ship’s length”, due to the heavy fog blanketing the island. The 7th Division’s Northern Force was to land at Beach Red, a few miles north of Holtz Bay. Beach Red was a narrow strip, maybe 100 yards long, and surrounded by 250′ walls of rock. The Japanese had no defenses nearby, because they never considered it a viable landing point.

Captain William Willoughby had 244 men in his Scout Battalion. They came up to Attu in two submarines: the Narwhal and Nautilus. They shoved off in their rubber boats with 1-1/2 days rations, landing at Beach Scarlet in Austin Cove. The air temperature was 27 degrees.

The 7th Division’s Southern Force was the largest of “Operation Landcrab”. They landed at Massacre Bay All three landings were unopposed. The beach heads were secure and all forces had made gains, but they were now stalled. The Americans could not see the Japanese up in the fog, but the Japanese could see down out of it.

The very first shot fired by American land forces was a 105 mm howitzer. The big guns had been mired on the beach. Cat tractors tried to maneuver them, but their treads broke through the muskeg, and were quickly spinning uselessly in the black muck underneath. A Japanese mortar crew was spotted on a ridge, and a howitzer was moved into position by brute strength. The howitzer fired, and the recoil of the big gun slammed the gun’s sled 18 inches into the muskeg.*


Massacre Bay, Attu Island 12 May 1943

The following day, men and equipment streamed onto the beaches. The Navy ships bombarded the ridges. The Battleship Nevada unloaded her 14″ guns onto the mountain tops above Massacre Valley. The Japanese positions were heavily entrenched, the progress for the Allied forces was slow. The Arctic conditions were brutal, and exposure-related injuries common. Travel over the island was through mud, snow, ice and the unforgiving muskeg. After two weeks of endless fighting, the Japanese were finally pushed up against Chichagof Harbor.


Japanese troops lie at the bottom of Engineer Hill after the banzai charge

With no hope of victory, and little hope of rescue, Colonel Yasuyo Yamasaki led his Japanese troops in one final banzai charge. The Japanese broke through the front lines, and rear echelon troops suddenly found themselves in hand to hand combat with the Japanese. The Japanese charged Engineer Hill in an attempt to gain control of the big guns set up there. The 50th Engineers held their ground, however, and the charge failed. Almost all of the Japanese in the charge were killed, many by suicide by grenade after the charge failed. The failure of the banzai charge effectively ended the Battle for Attu.


American troops making their way across Attu

Officially, the Battle of Attu ended on 30 May 1943, but isolated Japanese troops continued to fight until early July.

549 men of the U.S. 7th Division were killed on Attu, 1148 wounded, and over 1200 suffered severe cold weather related injuries, 614 disease, 318 other casualties: accidents, drowning, self-inflicted.

The Japanese lost over 2350 men. Only 28 were taken prisoner.

The Battle of Attu, when considering numbers of troops engaged, would rank as the second most costly battle for the United States in WWII – second only to Iwo Jima.*

The Battle of Attu was the only battle of World War Two to have taken place on U.S. territory. It was also the only battle between the U.S. and Japan to have taken place in Arctic conditions.

The Japanese had assembled a massive fleet in Tokyo Bay to repel the Americans from retaking Attu. The fleet had 4 carriers, 3 battleships, 7 cruisers and 11 destroyers. The Allies captured Attu before the fleet could leave the bay.

*The Thousand Mile War by Brian Garfield


The Palm Sunday Avalanche

3 April 1898:
The Chilkoot Trail, Alaska Territory


Front page of the Dyea Press, 4 April 1898

The conditions were perfect: Late season snow, followed by days of unusually warm temperatures, which were followed by another snowstorm. Experienced packers refused to head up the trail, due to the conditions, but many stampeders didn’t listen and carried their own supplies up the trail towards Canada.

The avalanches started on 2 April. A small camp of 20 men was buried, but all were dug out alive. The snow really started to fall on Sunday, the third, which happened to be Palm Sunday. Mini avalanches rumbled from the mountain pass, so The Scales on the Chilkoot Trail were abandoned for the day. Roughly 150 men headed down the mountain pass towards Sheep Camp.

Then the main avalanche hit.


Stampeders looking for fellow buried miners after avalanche. Courtesy of Yukon Archives

The avalanche swept down from above The Scales and headed towards Sheep Camp. When it came to a halt, it covered an area of 10 acres under 30-50 feet of snow. Stampeders raced up from Sheep Camp digging frantically for survivors. At least 65 men were killed by the avalanche, but that number is an estimate, considering the mad rush that was taking place on the Chilkoot to get to the Klondike gold fields.

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The Slide Cemetery
Dyea, Alaska


The Slide Cemetery in Dyea, Alaska – Camera: Kodak Folding Cartridge; Film: Kodak Verichrome 120

I hiked the Chilkoot Trail several years ago, and have written about that trek on here before. When I did that hike, one of the cameras I carried was an old Kodak No.2 Folding Cartridge. I thought it would be cool to carry a camera that was at least close to the era of the Klondike Stampede, even though this particular Kodak was manufactured around 20 years, or so, after the famed gold rush.

There is very little left of the town of Dyea from its heyday. A few store fronts are propped up in the woods, and the old dock piers are still visible going out into the bay. Dyea is also the location of the Slide Cemetery. All of the bodies that were found under the Palm Sunday Avalanche are buried here. I ventured out there with my cameras before I started on the hike. It’s an eerie place, which is only compounded by seeing the same date etched onto every grave marker: April 3, 1898. The air hung heavy, and the only sound that broke the silence was the click of my camera’s shutter.


E.T. Hutton Camera: Kodak Folding Cartridge; Film Kodak Verichrome 120

I was out there for quite some time, but I had the cemetery to myself; not one other person came by. The cemetery is not layed out in neat rows; the grave markers are haphazardly scattered about, which makes complete sense considering its origins. Today, the forest is reclaiming much of the cemetery.

I had taken several pictures from different angles, when a strong breeze blew in; I could follow the gust as it moved its way through the trees towards the cemetery. It blew overhead, and I looked up in time to see large broken limb fall from the trees above. I easily jumped out of the way, and the shaggy treetop landed right where I was standing. I thought for a moment, then said out loud: “I can take a hint. Just one more picture, and I will leave you in peace.”

I took the silence for an answer, clicked my final photograph, then left Dyea. Looking back at the print, I think the old Kodak did a great job of capturing the eerie feel of the cemetery that day.


A Kodak No.2 Folding Cartridge Camera


Normandy

This drone footage was taken in 2014 during the commemoration of the 70th Anniversary of the D-Day Invasion. It’s some phenomenal footage, and I thought today would be an appropriate day to share it.

This came to C-to-C via Milwaukee


Battle of Olustee

Battle of Olustee
Lithograph by Kurz and Allison

The Battle of Olustee, was fought on 20 February 1864. It was the only major battle of the Civil War, fought in the state of Florida. Union troops, 5500 strong, led by General Truman Seymour, landed in Jacksonville, and moved towards Tallahassee, in order to disrupt Confederate supply lines, mainly the rail lines.
There were 5000 Confederate soldiers, led by General Alfred Colquitt, dug in near the town of Olustee.

The two armies crashed into each other at Ocean Pond, in one of the bloodiest battles of the war.

Ocean Pond battle

The Federal army was funneled in between swampy areas, where the Confederates had built up sturdy earthworks. Still, the Federals looked like they could win the day, when several events turned the tide. Fighting was fierce on both sides. At the end of the day, the Confederate soldiers held their ground, but suffered 946 killed and wounded, and 6 captured or missing. The Union force suffered 1861 killed or wounded, with 506 captured or missing.

Olustee Battlefield Park

While in Florida, I visited Olustee Battlefield. I had stopped by the Olustee Depot for details on the battle, and the National Forest that surrounds the area. Ocean Pond now has a popular campground. There is a small museum on the main road into the battlefield, and an interpretive trail that follows some of the troop movement.

Swamp near Olustee

It was a sketchy day to be hiking about, but I did the battlefield trail anyway. There was a line of thunderstorms across the Florida panhandle and Georgia. When I left the Depot, I knew that we were already in a tornado watch area, and that there were tornadoes sighted just north of the Park. Still, I figured I had until 4pm, when things would get nasty. The rain was spotty, but when it came down, it came at me sideways. The wind howled, and thunder rolled all around me. Out in the middle of the swamp, was a lone bell or chime, clanking endlessly in the wind. It was an eerie addition to the old battlefield.

Olustee cover

If the cover today was anything like it was in 1864, there would be little to hide behind if you were a Union soldier marching in on the entrenched Confederate force. Ferns, and a lot of tall pines.

Olustee Memorial

Every year, near the battle’s anniversary, a reenactment takes place on the site of the Civil War battle. It is suppose to be one of the most vivid one’s out there. So much so, that movie producers have filmed the reenactment for their Civil War movies. One film that contains footage shot of the reenactment is “Glory”.

Olustee Reenactment


Ybor City Museum

Ybor City Museum

The museum is located in the historic Ferlita Bakery building, circa 1896. The original bakery burned down, leaving only the brick oven standing, but was rebuilt larger and with a second oven.

Brick oven
Now this is a bread baking oven. The thing is huge, and there are two side by side

I joined the tour which took us through one of the homes provided to the cigar workers.

Cigar workers' homes
A row of cigar-workers’ homes

Very neat structures, that quickly gained my interest. Single story, with an attic, I figured that each one was just under 800 sq ft.

Front room

The rooms had 12′ ceilings, which no doubt help in the heat of summer. I was fascinated by what was the smallest boxwood stove I have ever seen, and I’ve seen a lot of them. Luckily, it doesn’t get too cold here, and there is the wood cookstove in the kitchen.

Hallway cigar house

With the “parlor” taking up the front of the house, and the kitchen taking up the rear of the house, this hallway connects the two rooms and runs along an outside wall. In between the kitchen and parlor are two bedrooms.

There were many people on the tour who had seen many of the kitchen items used in their youth, I’m willing to bet that I was the only one there who has seen them used in the past year. One thing about living in Interior Alaska, the past is only a door step away. From oil lamps, to wood fired cookstoves, cast iron skillets, granite ware, coffee boilers, the list went on. The ice box was an exception: I’ve never actually seen one of those in use.