3-4 June 1942:
On this date, 75 years ago, the Japanese launched two aircraft carrier raids on the remote Alaskan community of Dutch Harbor.
The Japanese had three reasons for attacking the Aleutian Chain*:
The first is that the Aleutians were thought to be a possible route for the U.S. to launch an attack on the main islands of Japan. As General Billy Mitchell said to Congress in 1935: ” “I believe that in the future, whoever holds Alaska will hold the world. I think it is the most important strategic place in the world.”
The second is that the Japanese wanted to have a north-south patrol line with Kiska, Alaska as its northern anchor. This was especially important after the Doolittle raid on Tokyo in April of 1942.
And thirdly, and probably most vital, the attacks on the Aleutian Islands was suppose to draw units and ships away from the looming Battle near Midway.
Fort Mears at Dutch Harbor
Because of the U.S. Navy code breakers, the Americans knew about both Midway and the attack on Dutch Harbor on the 21 May. With limited resources and unpredictable weather, the Americans were as prepared as they could be.
At 0258 hours June 3, 1942, the Japanese launched 12 Zero fighters, 10 Kate high level bombers, and 12 Val dive bombers towards Dutch Harbor. At 0407 the first planes appeared over the harbor. Anti-aircraft flak was heavy as the planes came in low enough for men on the ground to clearly see the pilots faces. 17 men of the 37th Infantry and 8 from the 151st Engineers died when a bomb exploded on a barracks at Fort Mears. Half of the Japanese planes did not reach their target. Some got lost in the fog, returning to their carriers, and some simply crashed into the rough seas.
The beached barracks ship Northwestern burning.
The Japanese once again launched attacks on June 4th. More targets were hit, but there were fewer casualties. Oil storage tanks were hit, as well as more barracks, a wing of the hospital and two merchant ships in port. The Northwestern was also hit. The transport ship had been grounded and used as a barracks. After the battle, the hull was saved, and the ship’s power plant continued to bring steam and electricity to the shore installations.
At this time, an amphibious attack on the island of Adak was launched, which was 480 miles to the west of Dutch Harbor. The Japanese would find that Adak was not occupied by any U.S. force.
78 American soldiers died in the battle. 14 U.S. planes were damaged. Ten Japanese died in the attack, and five were captured. Eight aircraft were destroyed.
* From “The Battle of the Komandorski Islands”, by John Lorelli