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Raids on Aleutian Harbor Remain Little-Known Part of World War II : History: Veterans say they were prepared for the attack by Japanese forces, but the result was a gruesome comedy of errors.


"Our P-40s knocked down four Vals (dive bombers). As the P-40s were finishing up that job, in came the Zeros and knocked down two P-40s."

And there were instances of bravery. Ted Johnson, 83, of Pensacola, Fla., was one of several PBY pilots patrolling southwest of Dutch Harbor, looking for the Japanese carrier force.

"I was letting down through the soup and I broke out at 900 feet," Johnson said. "On my right side was a carrier going away from us at right angles. Not an airplane was in sight, so I reached up and rammed the throttles full bore on both engines. We were trying to duck back into the clouds."

It wasn't long after that that one of the PBY's engines began heating up and had to be shut down. Johnson said he jettisoned the torpedoes to maintain altitude, and then set course toward Dutch Harbor.

"I flew it 180 miles home. I was very, very busy flying that airplane--too busy to get scared. One lousy . . . bullet had cut the oil line."

PBYs were two-engine patrol bombers that were slow, lightly armed and armored, but had high endurance and range.

"That was what you were there for. Find the enemy, tell the folks back home and then take your lumps," he said. "We didn't have any escorts."

Their Dutch Harbor mission completed, the Japanese carrier group headed for the western Aleutians. On June 5, they landed troops unopposed at Attu; two days later, they occupied Kiska.

It would be 13 months before the Japanese were dislodged, and then at a terrible price.

What had they gained?

Many of the islands are volcanic, all are treeless and wind-swept, and most plunge from mountains as high as 9,000 feet directly into a churning sea.

"Look at them on a map and they look like a natural invasion route to Japan or to the United States," Cloe said. "Get on the ground and it's something altogether different.

"They're completely unsuitable for large-scale military warfare. There are few places to build airfields and only a half-dozen anchorages. Few occur in combination. The weather is lousy."

The region is called the "cradle of storms" because warm waters of the Japanese current collide with polar air from the north. That produces an unhealthy mix of fog, rain and winds.

Neither side fully appreciated the Aleutian climate as the campaign began. Both later would record more weather-related casualties than casualties caused by fighting.

The Dutch Harbor raids did little physical damage, said retired Brig. Gen. Ben Talley, 89, who was responsible for military construction in Alaska.

"While they attacked at Dutch Harbor, their battle at Midway was a great loss--the turning point in the war. Japan was never the same after that," said Talley, who lives at Anchor Point.

"But the raids did have a tremendous morale effect on the civilian population in Alaska," he said. "There were a lot of invasion jitters at the time and, eventually, politics from that led to the big military buildup here and finally the decision to throw the Japanese out of the Aleutians."

Target: Dutch Harbor The forelorn American outpost of Dutch Harbor in the Aleutian Islands was the unlikely target of a Japanese air attack in 1942.

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