Last updated: October 26, 2021
North American Coastal Defense & World War II
Sitka Naval Operating Base was the U.S. Navy's first air station in Alaska, playing a key role in the defense of North America at the outset of World War II. When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 the base at Sitka was the only major military base on the west coast, north of Puget Sound, Washington.
Beginning as a U.S. Navy coaling station in 1902, on Japonski Island across from Sitka, the base was expanded up through World War II when it underwent its greatest period of growth. In 1942, the base was designated a Naval Operating Base to reflect its expanded World War II mission. To defend the base, a U.S. Army Coastal Defense network was established, which included construction of three forts in Sitka Sound. An 8,100-foot causeway was constructed from Japonski Island through seven islands to Fort Rousseau on Makhnati Island, which became the Army’s headquarters in Sitka when it was completed in 1943. Fort Peirce was located 18 miles southwest of Sitka on Biorka Island and Fort Babcock was located 12 miles west of Sitka on the southern tip of Kruzof Island.
After the attack on Pearl Harbor, when it was not known where the enemy might strike next, planes from Sitka Naval Operating Base patrolled all of southeast Alaska and far out into the Gulf of Alaska. With the establishment of naval air stations farther west, at Kodiak and Dutch Harbor, Sitka became an intermediate point between them and Navy Yard Puget Sound, the primary repair yard for battle-damaged ships of the Pacific Fleet during World War II. When the Japanese Imperial Fleet sailed east, attacked Dutch Harbor and entrenched in the Aleutians in June 1942, the Sitka base was on high alert for a potential attack on the Alaskan mainland. It is one of eight National Historic Landmarks in Alaska that was designated to commemorate the World War II in Alaska.
Learn More About World War II in Alaska
World War II had a major impact on Alaska. At the height of the War more than 100,000 American and Canadian soldiers were stationed in Alaska. Alaska's infrastructure grew immensely as a result. Roads, ports, and airfields were improved or constructed to facilitate the transportation of troops and supplies. An impact that many people are unaware of is the forced evacuation of the Native population of the Aleutian Islands by Japanese and American forces.
The Sitka Naval Operating Base and U.S. Army Coastal Defenses NHL is in good condition. Since 2000 a number of preservation and rehabilitation efforts have begun or been completed that have significantly improved the condition of the NHL. In 2001, the Sitka Maritime Heritage Society began rehabilitation of the NHL's Boathouse, with the objective of turning it into an interpretive center. Infrasture and utility upgrades, new construction, and building rehabilitation in 2005 and 2006 by the Alaska Department of Transportation, Alaska Department of Education, U.S. Coast Guard were all completed without compromising the Landmark's historic design or setting.
In 2005, Sitka Trail Works began the process of cleaning up, documenting Fort Russeau, the U.S. Army Coastal Defenses portion of the NHL, with plans to develop a hiking trail. In the 2007, with encouragement from Sitka Trail Works, the State of Alaska designated Fort Russeau a State Historical Park.