807th Battalion History, part: Adak Island

Black and white photo of small tents and buildings with snowy mountain in background.
Houses line up in rows before the mountain at Adak Army Base and Naval Operating Base.

Photo courtesy of James Robert Weatherstone

Adak Island

1. Movement. The race for bases between Kiska Island, 650 miles west, where the Japanese were entrenched in force, and Umnak Island was on. The three months old battalion, less Company 'B" and Headquarters Company Detatchment which was on a mission at Port Heiden, was designated as the only engineer troops to accompany the task force on the initial landing on Adak, some 400 miles westward. Chernofski Harbor was the rendezvous point for the Engineer convoy which was to proceed ahead of the task force due to its slower speed. Early in August one company of the unit proceeded to Chernofski Harbor to prepare tugs and other floating plant for the voyage. Modern amphibious equipment for engineers such as LSTs were unknown. Small and medium open fish scows obtained from Alaskan Canneries, some now open deck barges of larger capacity from the Pacific Coast, an old waterlogged seagoing barge of unknown vintage, a four masted codfishing schooner without auxiliary power, and a few small harbor tug boats comprised the engineer fleet.

Defense against air attack required assembly, training of crew, and mounting of 20 mm weapons on tugs and barges. Steel landing mat, much of it bent and damaged in shipment, was inspected sheet by sheet and loaded. Vehicles, tractors, motor fuel and oil, lumber, coal, and all odds and ends of engineer supplies and equipment were somehow stowed and lashed down on the open barges. The hold of the codfish schooner was fitted with wooden bunks for troops but all efforts failed to remove the ingrained odors of codfish from the saturated inner hull of the vessel. Life rafts were constructed from empty oil drums since immersion in the Arctic waters for more than 20 to 30 minutes meant certain death from freezing.

Preparations were completed on 26 August 1942 and the unorthodox engineer fleet sailed at sundown into the Bering Sea, in the teeth of a rising gale and at the magnificent top speed of three knots. White spray soon obscured the towed barges from view. The five man gun crews assigned to them fought to save their meager shelters and supplies of food and water from washing overboard. The more fortunate who had vehicles aboard found the drivers cab a haven for living and sleeping during most of the 5 day voyage.

A circuitous route, well up into the Bering Sea was taken to avoid enemy aircraft and submarines lurking along the Aleutian Chain. During the night, some tows would become separated and lost and the five destroyer escort had a busy time locating and bringing back the wanderers. Finally on 31 August land was sighted. The convoy headed into Kuluk Bay, Adak Island, only to have heavy fog close in just as the entrance was gained. Careful herding by destroyers delivered the fleet to sheltered waters. One barge load of steel landing mat and aviation gas was lost at sea in a storm which sprung its seams and flooded it.
Black and white photo of a crane in the mud

Photo courtesy of Clint Goodwin

2. Landing. When the Engineer convoy reached Adak, an attempt was made to unload in Kuluk Bay, just south of the Palisades. Barges were beached and several tractors and a light crane were unloaded. Unloading operations proceeded slowly with increasing bad weather and heavy surf. At midnight of August 21, half the gear of one company was on the beach when the storm prevented further activities. Meanwhile, reconnaissance had revealed a more sheltered beach in Sweeper Cove, at the extreme head of Kuluk Bay, and beach operations were shifted to that point on 1 September. The few tractors which had been unloaded at Kuluk Bay proceeded overland to meet the incoming barges in Sweeper Cove and to build sand ramps to the scows. Two of these scows were beached in tandem and sunk by filling with water to provide a ramp for a larger ocean going barge which was moored to these scows to act as a floating dock. Light power cranes were then placed on the floating barge. Equipment and supplies began rolling off in a steady stream with Engineers, Infantry, Artillery, and all other branches working feverishly on the shore to move supplies back onto the sand dunes and beaches.
Black and white photo of men rolling barrels up an incline

Photo courtesy of Clint Goodwin

3. Construction.
a. Living Area and Early Facilities:
No attempt was made by any organization to provide anything except the most meager housing and mess facilities. Temporary equipment maintenance shops were dug into sand dunes and covered with tarps. Pyramidal tents, dug in between dunes, provided covered mess houses but the men ate in the open. Personnel lived largely in pup tents for the first few days.

b. Beach Area and Operations: Engineer Officers and men were detailed to handle the beach until quartermaster troops took over. Engineers continued to provide equipment and operators as necessary.

c. Roads: An important early phase was the construction of temporary roads to permit dispersion of units and supplies. A hasty road was dozed from Sweeper Cove northward along the sand dunes on the east edge of Sweeper Valley to Davis Lake vicinity, a distance of 3 miles to reach Post Headquarters. This permitted access for Air Force Units along the edge of lower Sweeper Valley to where the advance landing strip was contemplated and gun batteries along the route. Aside from this early main artery, only short access roads to the airfield site were levelled in the vicinity of the beach head for storing supplies. Drums of aviation gas, diesel fuel, bombs, and other supplies were dispersed all along the beaches of Sweeper Cove from its mouth to Sand Hill, a distance of approximately one mile.
Black and white photo of men unloading wire mats from a truck with an earth bank behind them.
d. Advance Landing Field: The need for a hasty landing strip was of utmost importance to ward off any enemy bombing and strafing attacks from the enemy held base at Kiska. An enemy raid at this stage would have offered remunerative targets on the beaches and sand dunes of Sweeper Cove with its congestion of supplies, gasoline, and bombs. It was observed that the lower valley of Sweeper Creek was a sand covered flat, bare at low tide, and of sufficient length to provide a landing field of approximately 4500 foot length. The sand dunes east of Sweeper Valley offered a favorable site for an airfield but involved a great deal of earth movement which could not be undertaken with the limited amount of construction equipment available on the orignal landing. It was decided to attempt diking off this lower sand covered valley from the action of tidal flooding. Bulldozers immediately were assigned to the task of throwing up a lower temporary dike around the north and west sides of the tidal lagoon. To the south and just below the lagoon, Sweeper Creek enters a narrow gap several hundred feet wide with rock on one side and sand dunes on the other. It was through this channel that the tidal waters entered the lagoon, and by dozing a sand dam across the narrow valley, tidal waters were shut off. While this kept the tide out, Sweeper Creek threatened to fill the lagoon and overflow the dikes from within when the dam was closed during high tide. It was discovered that at a point 2.5 miles up Sweeper Valley, the main flow of Sweeper Creek could be diverted in Kuluk Bay by dozing through a low gap in the sand dunes bordering that bay and by constructing 1400 feet of dike to divert the stream. This was accomplished and the main flow of water down Sweeper Creek valley eliminated. Numerous rocks on the surface of the valley floor at the landing strip site were picked up by hand, loaded into trucks, and hauled away. On September 10, the area was dragged with 12 x 12 timbers behind a tractor to provided a smooth strip and the first plane, a B-18 bomber, landed without difficulty on that day. Before fighter aircraft and other bombers could effectively operate from this field it was considered necessary to lay 3000 feet by 100 feet of Marston pierced plank steel landing mat on the south end of the lagoon, which was not as firm as the north end. This was started on the 10th of September, 8:15 PM, and completed on the 13th of September, at 3:00 AM, in 55 hours. On the 11th of September, P-38 fighter planes landed, followed by P-40 fighters, B-24 Liberators, and B-17 Flying Fortresses, on September 12th and 13th. First offensive action against the enemy on Kiska from this advanced landing field was made on the 14th of September. A number of vessels and warships in Kiska Harbor were caught in this surprise attack and considerable damage done to the enemy shipping. Presence of U.S. Forces on Adak was not discovered by the Japanese until 30th September. On the 1st and 2nd of October, single Japanese bombers attacked the island in the early morning hours, dropping bombs, but causing no casualties or damage.

e. Docks: The need for dock facilities was apparent, especially the immediate need for a barge dock in connection with lightering operations from the ocean going freighters in the harbor. Construction was started on a barge dock 15th of October and completed on the 31st, permitting 4 scows or power barges to unload at one time. This was a pier type dock with a 40' x 165' head and 305' of 20' approach. Following completion of the barge dock, construction was started 7 November 1942 on a larger dock to accomodate the ocean going vessels. The site selected required 535' of 22' approach with 45' x 420' of "L" type wharf. Work progressed until November 25th, with one driver, when the 807th Engineer forces were augmented by the 813th Engineers, which organization had arrived in the meantime, with a second driver. The dock was placed in operation 20 November before completion and was used continuously from that time on. Wharf was later widened to 71 feet. Final completion date - 4 April 1943.
Black and white photo of men laying metal mat on snowy area

Photo courtesy of Clint Goodwin

f. Runways: Permanent dikes of a more substantial nature were laid out and construction started and pressed with all available equipment. Box type culverts with gates were installed in the dam to eliminate daily opening and closing with bulldozers. Pumps capable of dewatering the low runway area at a rate of 15,000 gallons per minute were ordered, but due to procurement difficulties and shortage of transportation, did not arrive until November 1942 and the first pump was placed in operation in late November 1942. Meanwhile dozers kept breaking open the dikes daily during low tide to allow accumulated water to escape. On several occasions, notably on 20-21 October 1942 and 20 November 1942, heavy rain fell during high tides when the dikes were necessarily closed, the accumulated interior water flooded the runways making them unusable. Shallow flooding was ignored by Air Forces, and planes would take off and land in a cloud of spray. (Color film, "Story of the Aleutians.") The short 4500 foot original landing strip was hazardous for take-offs with heavy loads and also during landings and several B-24 bombers overshot and received extensive damage. To attain greater length, a second runway ("A" runway) was started to the west and parallel to the original landing strip. Filling on the south end commenced 30 September 1942 and first steel was laid at 1:00 PM, 12 October 1942. On the morning of the 15th of October, a runway 5800 feet long was opened with 3000 feet of steel and 2800 feet of compacted sand as a landing surface. B-26 marauder medium bombers, carrying torpedoes, then arrived at the base. This "A" runway has been in operation in its original state to the present time [year not stated]. Four pumps with a total capacity of 14,000 gallons per minute have effectively prevented any further flooding. During dry weather the sand is kept moist and stable by controlled pumping.

A small amount of work on stripping overburden from sand dunes had been started previously to provide clean sand for a second runway further up the valley. On 8 October 1942, the bulk of the heavy equipment was diverted to the "B" runway and the base fill, 6000 feet long by 200 feet wide, placed over the tundra in the valley floor, was ready for steel runway mat on 31 October 1942. Important bombing missions prevented laying steel until 16 November since the uncovered field was kept open for emergency landings in strong cross winds in case of necessity. The steel mat, 6000 feet long by 100 feet wide, was in place 21 November 1942.

Taxiways, the full length of the valley, from the upper end of "B" runway to the sourth end of "A," were next constructed along the east edge of the valley, a distance of slightly over 2 miles. Thirty-eight revetted hardstandings had been completed and opened for use by 15 March 1943. All standings, 100 feet square, and taxiways 45 feet wide, were surfaced with steel landing mat as a temporary expedient.

During the period 12 October 1942 and 15 April 1943, a heavy earth and sand dike, 3.1 miles long, with a two way road on top, was constructed along the west side of Sweeper Creek Valley from the dam at the south end of "A" runway to Kuluk Bay at the northeast end of "B" runway. All work was performed with dozers, draglines, and carryall scrapers in the absence of heavy, long-haul vehicles.

During the period 19 August 1943 and 11 September 1943, steel on "B" runway, which had been laid longitudinally with the runway, was taken up due to curling and rough condition. Base fills were widened to 250 feet and the runway lengthened to 7800 feet. Steel was relaid transversely to a width of 150 feet over the entire distance. To attain the additional length, a bridge 220 feet wide by 22 feet long, was required under the runway on the extension to permit underpassing a small stream which carries a large amount of water during storms.

An additional 18 hardstandings were constructed west of "A" runway during the spring and summer of 1943 and, together with connecting taxiways, covered with steel landing mat. Connections were made to both "A" and "B" runways from this group of standings.
Black and white photo of a large snow plow in a snow bank

Photo courtesy of Clint Goodwin

g. Gasoline Storage: Three bolted steel tanks, of 210,000 gallon capacity each, were erected to store aviation gas for the airdrome. Connecting pipe line to the dock, and airfield, approximately 3000 feet long, was laid during the fall and winter of 1942-43.

h. Docks: Even before the first dock to accomodate ocean going vessels had been completed, a second one of the pier type was started in Sweeper Cove. A large part of the force destined to establish a base on Amchitka was staged at this station and the need for additional berths for loading out ships required rapid construction of this structure. Work commenced on 23 December 1942 and the first vessel docked 17 days later. Completion followed concurrently with use as materials became available.

i. Air Base Facilities: Construction of port facilities, roads, taxiways, dispersed hardstandings, and most urgent post facilities taxed the energies of the engineers to the fullest to provide these necessary tasks in the face of oncoming winter. Air Force personnel were obliged through necessity to provide themselves with their own temporary facilities in the early operation of the field airdrome until engineer strength could be increased. Construction of Kodiak type T-Hangars, capable of taking one heavy bomber or five to six fighters, was initiated 27 January 1943 by engineers released from dock construction. All through the autumn and winter Air Corps mechanics had maintained their aircraft under severe conditions of exposure to the elements. The first hangar of this type was completed April 23, 1943. By October 1943, four were in operation and a fifth started, when this work was interrupted by changes brought about by the start of Alaska Reserve Depot. Erection was resumed in February 1944 on this fifth hangar and completed 15 April 1944. Enlargement of runways and improvements of adjacent areas in preparation for paving required the removal of the fourth hangar at the south end of "A" runway and the re-erection on the west side of the airdrome. This work was in progress at the end of the period.
The following facilities were constructed up to 30 April 1944:
No.
Bldgs
Description Type Size
1 Light Maintenance Ordnance Vehicle T/O 20' x 100'
1 Link Trainer Building T/O 20' x 26'
1 Parachute Drying Tower T/O 18' x 18'
1 Photo Lab T/O 20' x 112' - 24' x 20' T
1 Shop, Machine T/O 20' x 100'
1 Signal Property T/O 20' x 100'
1 Bombsight Repair T/O 22' x 26'
11 Warehouses T/O 20' x 100'
1 Warehouse, CWS, w/ concrete floor T/O 20' x 100'
1 Utilities Shop T/O 20' x 100'
2 Magazine Bomb Fuse Frame 5' x 10'
12 Rovotmont Huts Frame 8' x 16'
2 Physiotherapy Frame 30' x 60'
1 Operations Building Frame 20' x 80'
1 Parts Warehouse Frame 40' x 100'
1 Bartow Low Visibility Lighting PowerHouse Frame 20' x 24'
1 Engine Preparation Building Frame 20' x 20'
1 Shop, Aero Repair Cowin 36' x 60'
1 Shop, Machine, Welding and Propeller Cowin 36' x 60'
1 Shop, Propeller Cowin 36' x 60'
2 Shop, Sheet Metal and Carpenter Cowin 36' x 60'
1 Warehouse, CWS, w/ concrete floor T/O 36' x 60'
3 Warehouse, (unlined) Cowin 36' x 60'
1 Shop, Parachute Q.H. 16' x 36'
2 Photo Lab Q.H. 16' x 36'
1 Ordinance Property SH-A-T 20' x 100'
1 Storage, Bombsight Concrete 11' x 19'
6 Warehouse, Wright Field Steel 40' x 80'
1 Warehouse, Carpenter Shop Loctwall 40' x 80'
35 Storage, Ammunition EL, Shelter 10' x 30'
1 Air mail Pick-up Station Frame 12' x 20'
1 Air Freight Dock T/O 20' x 100'
1 Air Terminal Building T/O 44' x 155'
1 Bomber Trainer Building T/O 30' x 75'
1 Control Tower Frame 12' x 12'
1 Control Tower (Present) Frame 16' x 16'
1 Crash Truck & Fire Station T/O 32' x 48 - 56' x 20' T
1 Dental Clinic T/O 20' x 70'
5 Kodiak Type T-Hangars Frame 130' x 47 - 40.5' x 55' T
Black and white photo of men posing in front of a quonset hut

Photo courtesy of Clint Goodwin

j. Housing: Air Base housing, including the huts required for operation of the Air Base, was erected by Air Base personnel and ground crews during the fall and winter of 1942-43. Engineers erected their own housing during off duty hours. Pyramidal tents, winterized when damage[sic] was available, were the most common housing during this first winter. Quonset huts, as they arrived, were issued to organizations on a pro-rata share and first ones erected were used for mess halls, administration and supply. T/O type mess halls of lumber construction followed during the spring and summer of 1943.

Last updated: November 2, 2017