(The following text appears on one of four interpretive panels on the Campbell Tract trail system to acquaint visitors with the area's history.)
“A handful of Japanese parachutists could capture Alaska.” --Ernest Gruening, Governor of Alaska Territory, 1939-1953
The Territorial Governor’s anxious prediction never came true, but on June 3 and 4, 1942, Japanese planes bombed and strafed Dutch Harbor on Unalaska Island. Foreign attackers struck the American homeland for the first time since the British invasion during the War of 1812. Next, Japan occupied two Aleutian Islands, Attu and Kiska.
Capturing the Aleutians was an attempt to protect Japan from long-distance bombing after the daring Doolittle Raid on Tokyo, and to distract from a Japanese attack on the Island of Midway in the middle of the Pacific. The ruse didn’t work, and the Battle of Midway became crucial to Japan’s defeat.
The Japanese troops on Attu were destroyed when a combined American and Canadian force recaptured it on May 29, 1943. Later, Japanese troops on Kiska escaped by ship three weeks before the Allies attacked.
These battles catapulted Alaska into the minds of strategic thinkers, linking it to the continental United States forever. Without World War II, Alaska would have remained a remote territory of gold mines, sawmills and salmon canneries.
- Photo captions and credits:
- The Allies’ Aleutian Campaign June 3, 1942 - August 24, 1943 - American and Canadian aircraft harassed the Japanese invaders as they fortified the islands of Attu and Kiska for over a year. The Aleutians’ notorious weather and mountainous terrain created some of the war’s most difficult flying conditions. (Alaska State Library, U.S. Army Signal Corps)
- In May 1943, a combined United States and Canadian force recaptured Attu. Japanese banzai charges shredded the attacking Allies, but bitter Aleutian weather and poor equipment caused the majority of Allied casualties. (Anchorage Museum of History and Art)
- The Allies attacked Kiska in August 1943, unaware that three weeks earlier the Japanese had escaped by sea. Tragically, fog and friendly fire killed and wounded a number of the liberators attacking the deserted island. (Anchorage Museum of History and Art)
- Only 28 Japanese soldiers lived to surrender on Attu, after officers ordered deadly banzai charges. (Anchorage Museum of History and Art)
- Aircraft identification silhouettes used to identify Japanese planes
- The Japanese bombing of Dutch Harbor on June 3-4, 1942, killed 25 civilians and started numerous fires. (Anchorage Museum of History and Art)
Download 11x17" version of panel in JPEG format (1.93 MB)
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