Harrel Chancellor Remembers the Attack on Dutch Harbor

They hit barracks, warehouses, oil storage tanks, planes on the ground, ships in the harbor, and ammunition dumps. Harrel Chancellor

White smoke billows from a developed harbor area
White smoke rising from burning Dutch Harbor.

Photo courtesy of Robert and Shirley Johnson

My outfit arrived at Dutch Harbor about midnight on June 2. We were quartered in a barracks about a half mile inland from ‘Navy town’ on the harbor. I got my platoon up at 3:30 the next morning (June 3) to go to the dock to unload our equipment. The Japanese attacked at daylight while we were aboard the USS President Fillmore. Japanese planes were bombing and strafing Fort Mears and the Naval Air Station for about two or three hours. I saw one fighter plane cripple the PBY mail plane as it was taking off across the harbor.

I worked my platoon back to our barracks at Fort Mears after taking cover under the Navy theater for thirty minutes. We took cover in foxholes and hillsides near our barracks. The enemy planes were bombing Fort Mears. They hit just about every other building. Luckily my barracks was skipped, but the engineering barracks on one side, and the Officers Club on the other were struck. We had a lot of dead and injured. My platoon was covered in their foxholes. I lost only one man who was cut by shrapnel. He was not deep enough in the foxhole.

The bombing and strafing attack caused quite a lot of damage. The Japanese didn’t seem to have any specific targets. They hit barracks, warehouses, oil storage tanks, planes on the ground, ships in the harbor, and ammunition dumps.

We had a few hours of calm, but they attacked us again the next evening (June 4). This attack was much the same as the day before with one exception. Most of the troops had disperse from the Fort Mears area to the hills and shoreline at Captain’s Bay where they dug in. Some of the enemy fighter planes strafed the hills and the shoreline.

My company was dug in on Hill 400, where I had machine guns on the rim of a 50 foot cliff. One made two passes by our position, spraying sand over myself and four of my men. We waited for more attacks, but none came.

In addition to my unit, one battalion of the 4th Infantry was at Dutch Harbor as well as an artillery unit. In fact, the artillery fired one round in front of our ship and one behind it as we entered the harbor. Years later, when I had a drug store, I was filling a prescription for a man named Tom Kirkland when one of us mentioned the Aleutians.

In the conversation, I mentioned the firing on us and he said “I know I was the one pulling the lanyard on the gun that fired on you.” He said they were on alert of a possibly Jap attack and the Command had changed the pass word and hadn’t notified our ship. He said we identified just before he was about to fire a third round right in the middle of our ship. I’m glad they didn’t.

Wreckage of a building
Building damaged during the attack by the Japanese on Dutch Harbor. Dr. Robert Boon believes this to be the base hospital at Fort Mears.

Photo courtesy of Robert and Shirley Johnson

Last updated: October 26, 2021