Tag Archives: Aleutians

Attu Island

7 June 1942

attu_village_1937
Attu Village on the island of Attu in 1937

A force of 1140 Japanese infantry, landed on Attu Island in the Aleutians. The island had been occupied by 45 Aleut villagers, a school teacher, and her husband. The school teacher’s husband was shot, and the others made prisoners of war, and shipped to Japan.

Japanese ski patrol Attu
Ski troopers of the Japanese Imperial Army, Attu Island

Construction began immediately on an airbase and fortifications.

Holtz Bay Attu '42
Japanese seaplanes in Holtz Bay, Attu Island, November 1942


Alaska Volcanoes

Bogoslof by USCG
Bogoslof’s eruption of 23 December 2016. Photo credit: Crew of USCG Cutter Alex Haley

With Bogoslof being as active as it has been recently, there has been an increase in interest regarding Alaska’s many volcanoes. Since mid December, Bogoslof has erupted ten times.

Bogoslof plume
Plume from the eruption of Bogoslof on 20 December. Photo credit: Paul Tuvman/AVO

According to Alaska Volcano Observatory, which is a joint program by the U.S. Geological Survey and the University of Alaska – Fairbanks, Alaska has 90 volcanoes that have erupted in the past 10,000 years – and could erupt again. Of those 90, 50 have erupted since records started being kept in 1760.

Unlike volcanoes in Hawaii, which tend to ooze lava, Alaska volcanoes usually explode, sending ash as high as 50,000 feet in the air. Airlines get anxious when ash gets above 20,000 feet, and Bogoslof has consistently sent plumes into the 35,000′ range.

FAA estimates that roughly 80,000 large aircraft fly downwind of the Aleutian volcanoes yearly, with 30,000 people doing so every day. When Redoubt erupted in 1989, a KLM jet, which was 150 miles away, flew through Redoubt’s ash path. The jet lost all four engines with 231 people on board. The aircraft had dropped two miles, down to just over 13,000 feet, when the crew managed to restart the engines, and safely land in Anchorage.

Bogoslof change
Changes in Bogoslof Island with the recent eruptions. Credit: USGS/AVO

Photos and statistics come courtesy of AVO and their website. A special shoutout to the USCG Cutter Alex Haley: Nice photo, I hope its inclusion in the post is acceptable.


Bogoslof erupts unexpectedly

bogoslof island
Bogoslof Island

The submarine volcano at Bogoslof Island in the Aleutian Chain has gone Red twice in two days. An ash plume was sent up 34,000 feet on Wednesday, causing some concern for passing aircraft.

Bogoslof Island was first mapped after it’s eruption in 1796. The 173 acre island has seen six eruptions since then, from various vents. The island rises to 490′ above sea level, but approximately 6000′ from the seabed.

Castle Rock
Castle Rock on Bogoslof Island; Photo credit: Ann Harding/AVO

“Castle Rock”, as seen above, is the eroded remnant of a dome from the 1796 eruption. Currently, AVO has downgraded the alert level to Orange.


USS Indianapolis

USS Indianapolis
The USS Indianapolis leaving San Francisco Bay

On the 30 July 1945, the USS Indianapolis was torpedoed by the Japanese submarine I-58. The sinking of the Portland-class cruiser was the greatest single loss of life, at sea, in the history of the U.S. Navy.

Launched on November 7, 1931, and commissioned a year later, the Indianapolis was engaged in a training exercise at Johnston Atoll on the morning of December 7, 1941. After the New Guinea campaign, the Indianapolis would head to the Aleutian Islands, to take part in the shelling of the Japanese held island of Kiska.

After delivering some components, including the enriched uranium, for the atomic bomb that would be dropped on Hiroshima, the Indianapolis departed Guam for Leyte in the Philippines. She would not make it to Leyte. Two Japanese torpedoes intercepted the cruiser, and approximately 300 men went down with the ship. The sinking happened so quickly, that the desperate crew did not have time to get off a distress signal.

It is estimated that roughly 880 men went into the water, with a lucky few getting into life rafts. Even though the Indianapolis was expected in Leyte, no word was given that she did not arrive. By the time the Navy learned of the sinking, the sailors and Marines had been in the water for over three days. A PV-1 Ventura, flying an enemy sub patrol, spotted the oil slick, and then the men bobbing in the water. This was August 2, and by then over half of the men who entered the water had died. They had no food or water, unless they were lucky enough to find something floating among the debris. Hypothermia started to set in, flesh was rotting from the immersion in the water, some men suffered delirium and hallucinations, other drank the salt water. And there were the sharks. Most sharks fed on men that had already died, or that had floated away solo, but there is no doubt, that many men died from the shark attacks directly.

Lt. Adrian Marks commanded a PBY Catalina seaplane to the location. Upon seeing all of the sharks among the floating men, he set the plane onto the water, and taxied around picking up survivors. Marks later said that he made “…heart-breaking decisions”, as the crew singled out survivors that were floating alone or away from groups. “I decided that the men in groups stood the best chance of survival. They could look after one another, could splash and scare away the sharks and could lend one another moral support and encouragement.” In all, Marks and his crew would somehow manage to pull 56 men from the water, even strapping some to the plane’s wings.

The USS Indianapolis had a crew of 1196. 880 survived the torpedoes, of those only 321 came out of the water alive, with four later dying from their injuries after being rescued.

The Captain of the Indianapolis, Charles McVay, would face a court-martial. He was found guilty of “hazarding his ship by failing to zigzag”. The Japanese commander of I-58 testified that zigzagging would not have saved the ship. In fact, the Navy’s orders to McVay, were to “zigzag at his discretion, weather permitting”. Charles McVay would retire from the U.S. Navy in 1949 as a rear admiral. He took his own life in 1968 with his Navy service revolver.

The USS Indianapolis had been awarded 10 Battle Stars for its actions during WWII.

USS_Indianapolis-survivors_on_Guam
Survivors of the sinking of the USS Indianapolis, in Guam – August 1945

Photo credit: United States Navy


Typhoon Nuri

Typhoon Nuri

The remnant of Typhoon Nuri is leaving the coast of Japan and is now heading towards the Aleutian Islands. The intense storm is surpassing the strength of Superstorm Sandy of 2012. Hurricane force winds and waves of 50 feet are expected. The forecast then calls for the storm to weaken in the Bering Sea where it will join the jet stream and drop temperatures across the Great Lake states.

Interior Alaska is expected to continue to see rather mild temperatures.

Sweet.

Photo courtesy of NASA


Rat Island

Aerial of the Island Formerly Known as Rat

A Japanese shipwreck in 1780 led to the introduction of rats to this island on the Aleutian Chain. The rats thrived, and by 1827 when Russian Captain Fyodor Litke visited the Aleutian Islands, the rats had so overwhelmed the island that he gave it the rather obvious name of “Rat”.
With no trees, the ground nesting birds had no chance, and the island became barren and silent. Even sea urchins who came upon shore were devoured, and the rats ended up going cannibalistic to survive.

In 2008, several conservation groups teamed up with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to eradicate the rats. The island was bombarded with 46 metric tonnes of rodenticide. By 2010, the island had been declared rat free.

Puffin on Hawadax

The sea birds quickly returned, and now they are once again thriving 233 years after the rats took over the island.

The island has officially been renamed Hawadax Island, using the Aleut word for “entry” and “welcome”.

Red-Faced Cormorants

Hawadax Island, which is unpopulated and covers just over 10 square miles of surface area, lies within the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge. There are currently 16 other islands in the Aleutain Chain with invasive rat populations.

There were casualities other than the rats. 46 bald eagles were found dead on the island after the poison drop. Of the eagles tested, 75% had lethal levels of the rodenticide brodifacoum. Also found were 320 seagull carcasses and 54 carcasses representing 25 different species of birds.

Rats are not native to Alaska, and the 1780 shipwreck is the first known introduction of the species to the state. The State of Alaska has very aggressive anti-rat policies in an effort to limit the invasion of the species. In the city of Anchorage, which is still believed to be rat-free, it is illegal to possess any kind of rat, outside of research facilities which have to apply for a permit.

Photos courtesy of Island Conservation