Fewer than two months after Alaska Highway builders began their task, Japan launched an assault on Dutch Harbor in Alaska's Aleutian Islands. Japanese forces would occupy the American territory for over a year.

To win back the strategic ground, U.S. forces launched operations in May 1943. Against the larger struggle in the Pacific theater, the fighting on Attu Island may have seemed minor, but its costs were hardly trivial: of 15,000 U.S. troops, 550 were killed, 1,500 were wounded in battle, and another 1,200 casualties were caused by inadequate clothing and boots for the cold weather. It was an enormous defeat for the enemy: only 29 Japanese out of about 2,500 survived.

Read front-page news of the Japanese attack on Alaska, from the June 4, 1942 San Francisco Examiner.

 

Alaska Bombed by Japs Twice in 6 Hrs.

Planes Raid Dutch Harbor Naval Base
Light First Attack Seen as Feint for Second Blow; West Coast on Alert
Warehouses Hit

Washington, June 3 -- (AP) -- Two Japanese air raids were launched at Dutch Harbor, United States Naval base in Alaska, within six hours today, setting off intensified precautions against any Japanese thrust along the vast Pacific frontier.

Four bombers with an escort of about fifteen fighter planes carried out the first attack at 6 a.m. (Dutch Harbor time or 9 a.m. San Francisco time), setting warehouses ablaze and causing a few casualties but inflicting "no serious damage," according to an official Navy communique...

Governor Ernest Gruening of Alaska warned all civilian defense units throughout the territory to 'remain on the alert'...

Army authorities in the Panama Canal Zone announced at Balboa that the alert status there had been intensified and the leaves and passes of all soldiers and sailors cancelled. (Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego civilian defense forces were all on 'special alert.')...

Little Cause for Alarm Seen

...Officials had long expected an assault in the Alaskan area principally as a face-saving device after Brig. Gen. Jimmy Doolittle's raid on Tokio and other Japanese cities, and the station was described as prepared to meet it...

But whether it was merely a nuisance raid or the start of an offensive designed to knock out the North Pacific bases from which American planes may strike at the Japanese mainland could not be determined from officials here pending the release of further information...

Within Range of Jap Bombers

Dutch Harbor, on Unalaska Island, one of the Aleutian chain, is within easy bombing distance of long-range planes operating from Japan's Kurile Islands. The western tip of the 1,000 mile Aleutian chain extends within 750 miles of the Kuriles. Since the mid-1940s those enemy islands have been closed to outsiders but it is considered certain that the Japs have established plane and naval facilities there.

The nature of America's own installations at Dutch Harbor likewise is little-known, work there in recent months having been carried out under considerable secrecy. Last December, Delegate Dimond of Alaska said that an air and submarine base were being constructed at Dutch Harbor.

Unalaska and other Alaskan islands, if taken by the Japanese as the result of an all-out offensive against them, might serve as bases from which to conduct operations against the American mainland. However, the first reaction of authorities here to today's attack was that, if it was more than a nuisance raid, it was probably in terms of grand strategy, a defensive action...

Brief Alert in S.F.; Radio Silenced

On trigger-edge after the Dutch Harbor bombing, San Francisco went through a nine-minute alert last night and remained on an emergency basis even after the all-clear.

A "precautionary" radio silence was maintained from 9:22 p.m. on through the night at the command of the Army. It extended along the coast from Canada to Mexico...

The feeling of an impending event was so strong in the control center that many officials remained long after the all-clear...

The same feeling gripped people everywhere on the coast, and the night was charged with more tension than any since the first nights after the Pearl Harbor bombing...

Mayor Rossi said the civilian defense machinery in its entirety is ready -- seasoned by six months of preparation and practice....

News of the attack on Alaska took all the make-believe out of a mobilization test carried on last night in Battalions Nine, Ten, and Eleven. Thousands of air raid wardens, auxiliary firemen, rescue squads and others went through the test with the businesslike attitude that this might be the last rehearsal...

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