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black and white aerial photo of islands and water with handwritten annotations
Aerial view, Amaknak and Unalaska Islands, ca. 1942.

Courtesy National Archives, Pacific Alaska Region.

World War II on the Aleutian Front

In 1940, anticipating the spread of the war in Europe to the Pacific Theater, the U.S. military began construction of forward-operating bases in the Aleutian Islands of Alaska. By 1943, American troops were stationed throughout this remote, 1,200-mile-long archipelago. From airfields at Adak, Dutch Harbor, and Fort Glenn, U.S. pilots flew patrol bombers, fighter-bombers, and observation aircraft on combat and reconnaissance missions over the Aleutians.

On June 3 and 4, 1942, six months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Japanese pilots bombed Fort Mears and the Dutch Harbor Naval Operating Base on Amaknak Island. Three days later, Japanese soldiers invaded Kiska Island, 600 miles west of Dutch Harbor, and Attu Island, 800 miles west of Dutch Harbor. American forces recaptured Attu in June of 1943, at the price of many American and Japanese lives, and the Japanese army abandoned Kiska one month later. U.S. troops remained in the Aleutians until the end of the war in 1945.

In 1985 and 1986, the federal government designated Adak Naval Operating Base, Dutch Harbor Naval Operating Base and Fort Mears, Fort Glenn, and the battlefields on Attu and Kiska islands as National Historic Landmarks in recognition of their significant contributions to the defense of the nation during World War II.

 

Places

From Japan, along the Aleutian chain, to Southeast Alaska, the Aleutian theater of war spanned thousands of miles. Dive into a sequence of maps illustrating this remote part of the world or explore the National Historic Landmarks associated with the war effort in the Aleutians.

 

Collections

Here you will find a collection of snapshots of the past. Saved newspaper clippings illustrating the triumphs and tragedies of World War II as felt by its participants; diaries and journals, of Americans and Japanese servicemen recording their feelings and experiences; donated works of non-fiction looking at the details of the Forgotten War in the Aleutians; and more.

 

People

The 1943 Battle of Attu reclaimed the island; however, its residents would never reclaim their homeland. Captured by the Japanese and held prisoners of war for three years, the Attuans survived horrific conditions. The Unangax̂ from nine other villages were relocated to substandard cannery and mining buildings in Southeast Alaska by the federal government, their homes and villages vandalized by U.S. troops, their beloved churches neglected, and their archeological sites looted for recreation. Of the 880 Unangax̂ who were removed or captured, nearly 100 died. Learn more about the Unangax̂ and the service-members of the Aleutians theater.

 
Black and white photo of people standing at boat railing.

Unangax̂ (Aleut) Experience

During and after the war the Unangax̂ faced new challenges including imprisonment, relocation, and loss of their ancestral villages.

Large boat at dock

Aleutian Servicemen

The pilots, sailors, and soldiers of the Aleutian Campaign went out into the treacherous Aleutian waters and skies. Discover their stories.

 

Stories

Known to historians as the "Forgotten War," the Aleutian Campaign began on June 3rd, 1942 when Japanese planes bombed Unalaska and Amaknak Islands. Tens of thousands of troops mobilized to the Aleutians to defend the backdoor to the United States as the Japanese Northern Garrison occupied the western islands of Attu and Kiska.

 
People in a grassy field with a Russian cross

The Lost Villages

Biorka, Kashega, and Makushin, three villages surviving centuries of change only to disappear during World War II.

Plane flying over battleship with things exploding

The Aleutian Campaign

The Aleutian Campaign claimed thousands of lives and culminated in a particularly bloody battle.

 

Military History

  • men standing on a crashed japanese fighter plane

    World War II in Alaska

    Discover how war came to Alaska, and use our primary and secondary resources to help your students learn to conduct independent research.

  • Plane flying over battleship with things exploding

    The Aleutian Campaign

    The Aleutian Campaign claimed thousands of lives and culminated in a particularly bloody battle.

  • Black and white photo of B25 airplane and jeep with man in it.

    Battle of Attu: 60 Years Later

    Lasting 18 days, the Battle of Attu was one of the deadliest battles of World War II, but it remains one of the least well-known.

  • Black and white photo of a town with burning buildings and billowing smoke.

    Bombing of Dutch Harbor

    Six months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Japanese aircraft struck at U.S. Army and Navy installations at Dutch Harbor on Amaknak Island.

  • Black and white photo of three planes flying over ocean and mountains

    The Invasion of Kiska

    On June 7, 1942, the Japanese invaded the Aleutian island of Kiska. At its height of occupation 6,800 Japanese personnel were on the island.

 

Publications

  • Sepia-toned cover with four children. Text: Aleutian Voices: Forced to Leave

    Aleutian Voices: Forced to Leave

    The [Unangax] were...the first and only people in Alaska to be assaulted by our own government and an enemy foreign power in WWII. (pdf)

  • Book cover with sepia-toned photo of large ship

    Aleutian Voices: S.S. Northwestern

    Sailing Sheltered Seas: illustrated history based on the writings of Michael Burwell with supplemental material by Francis Broderick. (pdf)

  • Sepia-toned cover with boy on soldier's back. Text: Attu Boy, Nick Golodoff.

    Attu Boy

    The wartime experiences of Nick Golodoff, a six-year-old Attuan boy who was taken prisoner by the Japanese in World War II. (pdf)

  • Black and white cover of a book, with soldiers on it.

    Attu: The Forgotten Battle

    History of the island of Attu with a focus on World War II era efforts, a play by play of the battle of Attu, and post-war history. (pdf)

  • Book cover with people walking through grass and blue sky.

    Lost Villages of the Eastern Aleutians

    Perhaps the most profound impacts of World War II were on three small traditional Unangax̂ villages: Biorka, Kashega, and Makushin. (pdf)

  • Green book cover with black and white photo of people on boat.

    World War II Aleut Relocation Camps

    This series focuses on the places, using archival material and oral history to supplement onsite observation and photography at each site.

  • Cover of book with grass, sky, and decaying building.

    Fort Schwatka: Self-Guided Tour

    The fort was constructed in 1940 to protect the Dutch Harbor Naval Operating Base from a seaborne invasion fleet. (pdf)

  • Cover of small blue booklet

    Battle of the Aleutians

    A graphic history written in the 1940s by the Intelligence Section of general headquarters on Adak, AK. (pdf)

  • Black and white photo of man seated at typewriter, wearing radio headset, in an office.

    NEW EDITION: Williwaw Newsletter

    The Medical Issue of the Aleutian WWII National Historic Area's quarterly newsletter.

 
 
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    Last updated: September 30, 2020

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