History and Culture

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 image of seven children family with children gathered in a group

Unangax̂ (Aleut) Evacuation & Internment

In a tragic and shameful episode, the U.S. government forcibly removed nearly 900 Unangax̂ (Aleut) people from their homes in 1942.

Men play a game on the ground near an airplane

Stories of the Aleutians

Learn what life was like in the Aleutian Islands during World War II through interviews, photos, and more.

 

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.

Last updated: February 22, 2019

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