Battle of Dutch Harbor

Last updated
Battle of Dutch Harbor
Part of the American Theater and the Pacific Theater of World War II
Japanese Attack at Dutch Harbor.jpg
Buildings burning after the first Japanese air attack on Dutch Harbor, 3 June 1942.
DateJune 3–4, 1942
Location
53°53′15″N166°32′32″W / 53.88750°N 166.54222°W / 53.88750; -166.54222 Coordinates: 53°53′15″N166°32′32″W / 53.88750°N 166.54222°W / 53.88750; -166.54222
Result Japanese tactical victory
Belligerents
Flag of the United States (1912-1959).svg  United States Merchant flag of Japan (1870).svg  Japan
Commanders and leaders
Robert Alfred Theobald
Simon Bolivar Buckner, Jr.
Archibald V. Arnold
Kakuji Kakuta
Strength
37th Infantry Regiment
206th Coast Artillery (AA)
1 search light battery
6 anti-aircraft batteries
U.S. Marines
30 fighters
2 aircraft carriers
3 cruisers
5 destroyers
40 fighters
21 torpedo bombers
21 dive bombers
4 reconnaissance aircraft
Casualties and losses
43 dead
50 wounded
14 aircraft destroyed
Fort Mears moderately damaged
Dutch Harbor moderately damaged
1 barracks ship destroyed
10 dead
unknown wounded
5 captured
8 aircraft destroyed [1]

The Battle of Dutch Harbor took place on June 3–4, 1942, when the Imperial Japanese Navy launched two aircraft carrier raids on the Dutch Harbor Naval Operating Base and U.S. Army Fort Mears at Dutch Harbor on Amaknak Island, during the Aleutian Islands Campaign of World War II. It was the first time in history a foreign power attacked the continental United States soil with severe casualties and property damage in time of war since the Thornton Affair in the Mexican–American War.

Imperial Japanese Navy Naval branch of the Empire of Japan

The Imperial Japanese Navy was the navy of the Empire of Japan from 1868 until 1945, when it was dissolved following Japan's surrender in World War II. The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) was formed after the dissolution of the IJN.

Aircraft carrier Warship that serves as a seagoing airbase

An aircraft carrier is a warship that serves as a seagoing airbase, equipped with a full-length flight deck and facilities for carrying, arming, deploying, and recovering aircraft. Typically, it is the capital ship of a fleet, as it allows a naval force to project air power worldwide without depending on local bases for staging aircraft operations. Carriers have evolved since their inception in the early twentieth century from wooden vessels used to deploy balloons to nuclear-powered warships that carry numerous fighters, strike aircraft, helicopters, and other types of aircraft. While heavier aircraft such as fixed-wing gunships and bombers have been launched from aircraft carriers, it is currently not possible to land them. By its diplomatic and tactical power, its mobility, its autonomy and the variety of its means, the aircraft carrier is often the centerpiece of modern combat fleets. Tactically or even strategically, it replaced the battleship in the role of flagship of a fleet. One of its great advantages is that, by sailing in international waters, it does not interfere with any territorial sovereignty and thus obviates the need for overflight authorizations from third party countries, reduce the times and transit distances of aircraft and therefore significantly increase the time of availability on the combat zone.

Raid (military) military tactic or operational warfare mission which has a specific purpose

Raiding, also known as depredation, is a military tactic or operational warfare mission which has a specific purpose and is not normally intended to capture and hold a location but instead finish with the raiding force quickly retreating to a previous defended position prior to enemy forces being able to respond in a coordinated manner or formulate a counter-attack. A raiding group may consist of combatants specially trained in this tactic, such as commandos, or as a special mission assigned to any general troops. Raids are often a standard tactic in irregular warfare, employed by warriors, guerrilla fighters or other irregular military forces. Some raids are large, for example the Sullivan Expedition.

Contents

Overview

In this battle, a Japanese aircraft carrier strike force under Kakuji Kakuta launched air attacks over two days against the Dutch Harbor Naval Base and Fort Mears [2] in Dutch Harbor, Alaska. The attacks inflicted moderate damage on the U.S. base. Shortly thereafter, Japanese naval forces under Boshiro Hosogaya invaded and occupied Attu and Kiska islands in the Aleutians.

Kakuji Kakuta Japanese admiral

Kakuji Kakuta, was an admiral in the Imperial Japanese Navy during World War II. He is noted for his role in commanding Japanese naval aviation units in the Pacific War.

Dutch Harbor Naval Operating Base and Fort Mears, U.S. Army

The Dutch Harbor Naval Operating Base and Fort Mears were the two military installations built next to each other in Dutch Harbor, on Amaknak Island of the Aleutian Islands in Alaska, by the United States in response to the growing war threat with Imperial Japan. In 1938 the Navy Board recommended the construction which began in July 1940. The first army troops arrived in June 1941 and the navy air base was finished in September 1941. At the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor, these were the only military installations in the Aleutian Islands.

Alaska State of the United States of America

Alaska is a U.S. state in the northwest extremity of North America, just across the Bering Strait from Asia. The Canadian province of British Columbia and territory of Yukon border the state to the east and southeast, its most extreme western part is Attu Island, and it has a maritime border with Russia to the west across the Bering Strait. To the north are the Chukchi and Beaufort seas—southern parts of the Arctic Ocean. The Pacific Ocean lies to the south and southwest. It is the largest U.S. state by area and the seventh largest subnational division in the world. In addition, it is the 3rd least populous and the most sparsely populated of the 50 United States; nevertheless, it is by far the most populous territory located mostly north of the 60th parallel in North America: its population—estimated at 738,432 by the United States Census Bureau in 2015— is more than quadruple the combined populations of Northern Canada and Greenland. Approximately half of Alaska's residents live within the Anchorage metropolitan area. Alaska's economy is dominated by the fishing, natural gas, and oil industries, resources which it has in abundance. Military bases and tourism are also a significant part of the economy.

Background

Dutch Harbor was ringed with anti aircraft artillery batteries from the 206th Coast Artillery (Anti Aircraft), Arkansas National Guard, and was one of key targets protected by the Eleventh Air Force based out of mainland Alaska. [3] The 206th CA (AA) was deployed to Dutch Harbor in the Aleutian Islands, Alaska, in August 1941 and had been on station for approximately four months when the Japanese Navy attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7. The 206th CA was equipped with the 3-inch Gun M1918 (an older model with a vertical range of 26,902 ft (8,200 m)), .50in (12.7mm) M2 Browning machine guns, and 60 in (150 cm) Sperry searchlights. The 206th had one radar in position at Dutch Harbor at the time of the attack.

Arkansas National Guard Component of the US National Guard of the state of Arkansas

The Arkansas National Guard comprises both the Arkansas Army National Guard and Arkansas Air National Guard. The state functions of the National Guard range from limited actions during non-emergency situations to full scale law enforcement of martial law when local law enforcement officials can no longer maintain civil control. The National Guard may be called into federal service by the President.

Eleventh Air Force Numbered air force of the United States Air Force responsible for the Alaskan region

The Eleventh Air Force (11 AF) is a Numbered Air Force of the United States Air Force Pacific Air Forces (PACAF). It is headquartered at Joint Base Elmendorf–Richardson, Alaska.

Attack on Pearl Harbor Surprise attack by the Imperial Japanese Navy on the U.S. Pacific Fleet in Pearl Harbor in Hawaii

The Attack on Pearl Harbor was a surprise military strike by the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service against the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii Territory, on Sunday morning, December 7, 1941. The attack, also known as the Battle of Pearl Harbor, led to the United States' formal entry into World War II. The Japanese military leadership referred to the attack as the Hawaii Operation and Operation AI, and as Operation Z during its planning.

Battle

On June 3, 1942, a Japanese carrier strike force, under the command of Rear Admiral Kakuji Kakuta, comprising the carriers Ryūjō and Jun'yō, plus escort ships, sailed to 180  mi (160  nmi ; 290  km ) southwest of Dutch Harbor to launch air strikes at the United States Army and United States Navy facility to support a Japanese offensive in the Aleutians and in the central Pacific at Midway. The Japanese planned to occupy islands in the Aleutians in order to extend their defensive perimeter in the North Pacific to make it more difficult for the U.S. to attack Japan from that area.

Japanese aircraft carrier <i>Ryūjō</i> ship

Ryūjō was a light aircraft carrier built for the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) during the early 1930s. Small and lightly built in an attempt to exploit a loophole in the Washington Naval Treaty of 1922, she proved to be top-heavy and only marginally stable and was back in the shipyard for modifications to address those issues within a year of completion. With her stability improved, Ryūjō returned to service and was employed in operations during the Second Sino-Japanese War. During World War II, she provided air support for operations in the Philippines, Malaya, and the Dutch East Indies, where her aircraft participated in the Second Battle of the Java Sea. During the Indian Ocean raid in April 1942, the carrier attacked British merchant shipping with both her guns and her aircraft. Ryūjō next participated in the Battle of the Aleutian Islands in June. She was sunk by American carrier aircraft at the Battle of the Eastern Solomons on 24 August 1942.

Japanese aircraft carrier <i>Junyō</i> aircraft carrier of the Imperial Japanese Navy

Jun'yō was a Hiyō-class aircraft carrier of the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN). She was laid down as the passenger liner Kashiwara Maru (橿原丸), but was purchased by the IJN in 1941 while still under construction and converted into an aircraft carrier. Completed in May 1942, the ship participated in the Aleutian Islands Campaign the following month and in several battles during the Guadalcanal Campaign later in the year. Her aircraft were used from land bases during several battles in the New Guinea and Solomon Islands Campaigns.

Mile Unit of length

The mile is an English unit of length of linear measure equal to 5,280 feet, or 1,760 yards, and standardised as exactly 1,609.344 metres by international agreement in 1959.

U.S. Marines observing the battle from trench positions, June 3, 1942 Japanese attack on Dutch Harbor, June 3, 1942. Group of Marines on the "alert" between attacks. Smoke from burning... - NARA - 520589.tif
U.S. Marines observing the battle from trench positions, June 3, 1942

Shortly before dawn at 02:58, given the geographic latitude and longitude, Admiral Kakuta ordered his aircraft carriers to launch their strike which was made up of 12 A6M Zero fighters, 10 B5N Kate high-level bombers, and 12 D3A Val dive bombers which took off from the two small carriers in the freezing weather to strike at Dutch Harbor. One B5N was lost on takeoff from Ryujo.

Latitude The angle between zenith at a point and the plane of the equator

In geography, latitude is a geographic coordinate that specifies the north–south position of a point on the Earth's surface. Latitude is an angle which ranges from 0° at the Equator to 90° at the poles. Lines of constant latitude, or parallels, run east–west as circles parallel to the equator. Latitude is used together with longitude to specify the precise location of features on the surface of the Earth. On its own, the term latitude should be taken to be the geodetic latitude as defined below. Briefly, geodetic latitude at a point is the angle formed by the vector perpendicular to the ellipsoidal surface from that point, and the equatorial plane. Also defined are six auxiliary latitudes which are used in special applications.

Longitude A geographic coordinate that specifies the east-west position of a point on the Earths surface

Longitude, is a geographic coordinate that specifies the east–west position of a point on the Earth's surface, or the surface of a celestial body. It is an angular measurement, usually expressed in degrees and denoted by the Greek letter lambda (λ). Meridians connect points with the same longitude. By convention, one of these, the Prime Meridian, which passes through the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, England, was allocated the position of 0° longitude. The longitude of other places is measured as the angle east or west from the Prime Meridian, ranging from 0° at the Prime Meridian to +180° eastward and −180° westward. Specifically, it is the angle between a plane through the Prime Meridian and a plane through both poles and the location in question.

Mitsubishi A6M Zero carrier-based fighter aircraft family

The Mitsubishi A6M "Zero" is a long-range fighter aircraft formerly manufactured by Mitsubishi Aircraft Company, a part of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, and operated by the Imperial Japanese Navy from 1940 to 1945. The A6M was designated as the Mitsubishi Navy Type 0 carrier fighter, or the Mitsubishi A6M Rei-sen. The A6M was usually referred to by its pilots as the Reisen, "0" being the last digit of the imperial year 2600 (1940) when it entered service with the Imperial Navy. The official Allied reporting name was "Zeke", although the use of the name "Zero" was used colloquially by the Allies as well.

The planes arrived over the harbor at 04:07, and attacked the town's radio station and oil storage tanks causing some damage. Many members of the 206th were awakened on June 3 by the sound of bombs and gunfire. While the unit had been on alert for an attack for many days, there was no specific warning of the attack before the Japanese planes arrived over Dutch Harbor. With no clear direction from headquarters, gun crews from every battery quickly realized the danger, ran to their guns stationed around the harbor and began to return fire. In addition to their 3 in (76 mm) guns, 37 mm (1.46 in) guns and .50 in (12.7 mm) machine guns, members of the unit fired their rifles and one even claimed to have hurled a wrench at a low-flying enemy plane. Several members reported being able to clearly see the faces of the Japanese aviators as they made repeated runs over the island. [4] The highest casualties on the first day occurred when bombs struck barracks 864 and 866 in Fort Mears, killing 17 men of the 37th Infantry and eight from the 151st Engineers. [5]

When all the Japanese planes were recovered, there were erroneous reports of enemy ships in the vicinity, but search planes found no ships within the area. During the search, four Nakajima E8N2 "Dave" two-seat reconnaissance planes—launched from the heavy cruisers Takao and Maya—encountered U.S. fighters searching for the departing Japanese squadron.

Barracks ship Northwestern engulfed by flames in Dutch Harbor after the second Japanese airstrike, June 4, 1942 NorthwesternInFlames-2.jpg
Barracks ship Northwestern engulfed by flames in Dutch Harbor after the second Japanese airstrike, June 4, 1942

The 206th CA spent much of the night of June 3/4 moving guns down off the mountain tops surrounding the harbor down into the city of Unalaska and into harbor facilities themselves. This was partially as a deception and partially to defend against an expected land invasion. Civilian contractors offered to help and were put to work filling sandbags to protect the new gun positions.

On June 4, the Japanese carriers steamed to less than 100 mi (87 nmi; 160 km) south of Dutch Harbor to launch a second attack. At 16:00, a second airstrike of nine fighters, 11 dive bombers, and six level bombers took off and attacked the U.S. facilities at Dutch Harbor again less than an hour later. More targets were damaged including some grounded aircraft, an army barracks, oil storage tanks, aircraft hangar, and a few merchant ships in the port. When the Japanese returned on 4 June, the Zero fighters concentrated on strafing the gun positions while their bombers destroyed the fuel tanks located at the harbor. One wing of the military hospital at the base was destroyed. [6] After hitting the fuel tanks, the enemy dive-bombers and high-level bombers concentrated on the ships in the harbor, Fillmore and Gillis. Driven away from these two targets by intense anti-aircraft fire, they finally succeeded in destroying the station ship Northwestern which, because of its large size, they mistakenly believed was a warship. Northwestern was actually a transport ship which had been beached and used as a barracks for civilian workers. Although in flames and badly damaged, firefighters managed to save the hull. Its power plant was thereafter used to produce steam and electricity for the shore installations. [7] [8] An anti-aircraft gun was blown up by a bomb and four U.S. Navy servicemen were killed. [6]

Two Japanese dive bombers and one fighter, damaged by anti-aircraft fire, failed to return to their carriers. On the way back, the Japanese planes encountered an air patrol of six Curtiss P-40 fighters over Otter Point. A short aerial battle ensued which resulted in the loss of one Japanese fighter and two level bombers. Two out of the six U.S. fighters were lost as well.

Aftermath

Front page of the June 3, 1942 Anchorage Daily Times featuring the attack Anchorage Daily Times June 3, 1942.JPG
Front page of the June 3, 1942 Anchorage Daily Times featuring the attack

As a result of the enemy actions, the Eleventh Air Force lost four B-17s, two Martin B-26 Marauders, and two P-40, while the Navy suffered the most with six PBY Catalinas destroyed. [9] 43 Americans were killed: 33 soldiers, eight sailors, a Marine, and a civilian. Another 50 were injured in the attack. [10]

None of the Japanese ships were harmed, but one above-mentioned Mitsubishi A6M2 Zero was damaged by ground fire and crash-landed on Akutan Island, about 20 mi (17 nmi; 32 km) northeast of Dutch Harbor. Although the pilot was killed, the plane was not seriously damaged. This Zero—known as the "Akutan Zero"—was recovered by American forces, inspected, and repaired. The recovery was an important technical intelligence gain for U.S., as it showed the strengths and weaknesses of the Zero′s design. [11]

The following day, Admiral Kakuta received orders to break off further attacks and head for the central Pacific to support the Combined Fleet which was retreating after being defeated at Midway. Two days later, a small Japanese invasion force landed and occupied two of the Aleutian islands, Attu and Kiska, without further incident.

Notes

  1. Alaska at War, 1941–1945: The Forgotten War Remembered, p. 394
  2. NPS Aviation History Archived 2008-06-11 at the Wayback Machine
  3. WILLIWAW WAR: The Arkansas National Guard in the Aleutians in World War II by Donald Goldstein and Katherine V. Dillon, March 1992, University of Arkansas Press, See Also, NEVER GIVE UP! A HISTORY OF THE 206TH COAST ARTILLERY (ANTI-AIRCRAFT) REGIMENT OF THE ARKANSAS NATIONAL GUARD IN THE SECOND WORLD WAR by William E. Maxwell, Jr. March 1992
  4. WILLIWAW WAR: The Arkansas National Guard in the Aleutians in World War II by Donald Goldstein and Katherine V. Dillon, March 1992, University of Arkansas Press, page 151
  5. WILLIWAW WAR: The Arkansas National Guard in the Aleutians in World War II by Donald Goldstein and Katherine V. Dillon, March 1992, University of Arkansas Press, page 152
  6. 1 2 Garfield, p. 49
  7. Garfield, pp. 48–49
  8. WILLIWAW WAR: The Arkansas National Guard in the Aleutians in World War II by Donald Goldstein and Katherine V. Dillon, March 1992, University of Arkansas Press, page 176
  9. Alaska at War, 1941–1945: The Forgotten War Remembered, p. 394
  10. Page 63/183
  11. O'Leary, Michael. United States Naval Fighters of World War II in Action. Poole, Dorset, UK: Blandford Press, 1980, pp 67–74. ISBN   0-7137-0956-1.

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References

Further reading