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Aleutians Islands

During World War II, the Aleutian Islands of Alaska was the scene of several major important events that helped put an end to Japan’s dream of Pacific-wide dominance. The sites are now included in the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument, which includes the USS Arizona Memorial and other sites throughout the Pacific.

Attu Battlefield: Attu Island is the site of the only World War II land battle in North America. The island was subsequently used as a launching site for American bombing missions to Japan’s home islands. Many American combat aircraft were lost during the Aleutian Campaign, both to enemy action and to fierce weather conditions. Today, evidence of the desperate battle is found on its eastern end: thousands of shell and bomb craters in the tundra, Japanese trenches, foxholes and gun encampments, American ammunition magazines and dumps, and spent cartridges, shrapnel and shells are located at the scenes of heavy fighting.

The Japanese occupation of Attu, coordinated with the June 1942 attack on Midway, marked the peak of Japan’s military expansion in the Pacific. The occupation of this remote part of the North American continent created great alarm among Americans, however briefly, that it was the beginning of an invasion of the United States through Alaska. The American recapture of the island, following a very intense and bloody battle, was a morale boost for the nation.

Japanese Occupation Site on Kiska Island: During the Battle of Midway, two aircraft carriers attacked Dutch Harbor in the Aleutians. On June 7, 1942 Japanese troops on Kiska and Attu. The Kiska Blitz, June 11th through 13th saw brand new B-24 bombers attempt to dislodge the Japanese. One of these planes eventually crashed on Atka Island.

The U.S. counterattacked at Attu in May 1943, the Army’s first amphibious landing of the war. After two weeks, the Japanese were trapped. Colonel Yamasaki, with only 800 men, led a desperate Banzai charge on May 29. They overran Engineer Hill where medics, engineers, and service personnel held their ground in desperate hand-to-hand combat. The attack failed and the remaining Japanese committed suicide.

Kiska was next. Naval bombardment joined aerial bombing to prepare for landing in July. When American naval forces were drawn away by mysterious radar signals, Japanese ships entered Kiska Harbor, evacuated 5,138 men, and escaped. Three weeks later, American and Canadian troops landed unopposed.

B-24 Crash Site on Atka Island: The Atka B-24D Liberator bomber, located at its crash site in Atka Island, Alaska, played a highly significant role in World War II. In the Aleutian Campaign against the Imperial Japanese forces from 1942 to 1943 -the only battles fought in North America during the war -it was a superb weapon. This aircraft flew in at least 18 combat missions before finally succumbing to bad weather rather than enemy action.

Manufactured in 1941, it was the 19th of only 20 B-24Ds produced and is now only one of two B-24Ds known to exist in the world. Designed and built by Consolidated Aircraft, the original appearance of Serial #40-2367 was that of a four-engine bomber with twin tail fins. It weighed approximately 36,000 pounds, had a wingspan of 110 feet and was 67 feet long. It carried a crew of 9 men and was primarily used for bombing. This B-24D airplane came to Alaska in March 1942 and served exclusively in the Aleutian Campaign, but had been taken from combat duty and was being used as a weather observation plane. Had it crashed during combat, the usual pattern of explosion, fire or total loss at sea, would have destroyed it.

However, on December 9, 1942 it was crash-landed in Atka, Alaska, in an emergency landing which saved several lives. The tail broke off in the characteristic B-24 manner, but the tail section is intact, minus the vertical tail fins, which are in the vicinity of the aircraft.