The Garrisoning of Alaska,


The Japanese occupation of the Aleutian Islands of Kiska and Attu in June 1942 made Alaska the one theater or area in the Western Hemisphere in which Army ground and air forces met with a sizable battle test during World War II. Yet in prewar years the likelihood of military action in or near Alaska had appeared so remote that the Army had taken little more than an academic interest in America's huge northern continental territory and its island appendages extending far out into the Pacific. In fact, the only Army tactical force in Alaska in September 1939, when the German attack on Poland precipitated a new world war, was a garrison of 400 men-two rifle companies-at Chilkoot Barracks near Skagway, a relic of the Gold Rush days. Neither the size nor the location of this token force made it particularly useful for carrying out the Army's responsibility for defending the Alaskan mainland and the Aleutians as far westward as Unalaska Island.1

The Navy had likewise ignored Alaska, to all intents and purposes. In 1939 it maintained a small seaplane base at Sitka and direction finder stations at Soapstone Point (Cross Sound) and at Cape Hinchinbrook (Prince William Sound). The only military establishments in the Aleutians were a naval radio station and a small Coast Guard base at Dutch Harbor on Unalaska Island. The Navy had based its Alaska policy on the belief that Alaskan waters were secure as long as the Japanese abided by the Washington Naval Treaty of 1922, which restricted the size of Japan's fleet and prohibited the fortification of its islands in the North Pacific. Despite the serious concern caused by Japan's announced withdrawal from the treaty in 1934 and its subsequent plunge into a desperate race for Pacific naval supremacy, this policy remained unchanged until the Hepburn Board, appointed by the Navy to investigate and to report on the need for additional naval bases in the Uni-


ted States and its outlying territories, recommended in December 1938 that Congress appropriate nineteen million dollars for the construction of air, submarine, and destroyer bases in Alaska and the Aleutian Islands. The board proposed that this sum be used to enlarge the seaplane base at Sitka and to establish seaplane and submarine bases at Kodiak, the large island east of the Alaskan Peninsula, and at Dutch Harbor. Civilian contractors began construction of the naval bases at Sitka and Kodiak in September 1939. In July 1940 the contract was enlarged to include the development of the projected naval air station and adjacent Army defense facilities at Dutch Harbor. 2

Initial Army Plans and Preparations

In the meantime the revision of the ORANGE plan for a Japanese war in early 1938, coupled with the adoption of a new policy of hemisphere defense toward the end of the same year, had led to new Army defense plans for Alaska that took shape during 1939. Three new elements helped to stimulate a keener War Department interest in the area. In the first place the improvement of the airplane, particularly of the long-range bomber, gave new significance to Alaska's strategic position by making it more vulnerable to air attack from Asia and by increasing the danger of air strikes against the west coast if an enemy secured bases in Alaska. In the second place the growing strain in relations between the United States and Japan caused mounting concern for the protection of national interests in the northern Pacific. Lastly, the Navy's plans to build new air and submarine bases in Alaska increased the Army's task since the Army was responsible for the local protection of naval installations.

After the outbreak of war in Europe, General Staff planning for the defense of Alaska accelerated. By early 1940 the War Department had agreed on a long-range program having five major objectives: to augment the Alaska garrison; to establish a major base for Army operations near Anchorage; to develop a network of air bases and operating fields within Alaska; to garrison the airfields with combat forces; and to provide troops to protect the naval installations at Sitka, Kodiak, and Dutch Harbor.

The actual build-up of Army defenses in Alaska made slow progress until mid-1941. A variety of factors both in Washington and in Alaska itself was


responsible. The War Department, laboring to produce a balanced program for the overseas garrisons, could not suddenly expand the defenses of Alaska. Furthermore, in the delicate task of equitably adjusting pressing needs to limited resources, Army planners found it hard to shake their long-held conviction that Alaska was not a critical area. Finally, the Alaskan environment conspired to retard a rapid expansion of Army installations.

Geography posed tremendous barriers to military construction and operations in Alaska. Nearly one-fifth as large as the main land mass of the continental United States, Alaska is not a homogeneous geographical entity but a series of separate natural regions, each having its own distinctive physical characteristics.3  The major obstacles to be overcome were isolation and the lack of a well-developed internal transportation system. Until November 1942, when the Alaska Highway was opened for traffic, the only direct connection between the continental United States and Alaska was by sea or air. To all intents and purposes Alaska was an island, not a peninsula. Almost all food and supplies for the military garrisons as well as for the civilian population had to be imported by sea, a situation not changed by the opening of the highway. Not only was access to the territory restricted, but movement within Alaska itself was also difficult, for the rivers and mountains are so located as to offer few paths into the vast interior. In general, the larger topographic features correspond to those of the western continental United States. Along the coast lies the Pacific mountain system, succeeded inland by a great plateau, then a Rocky Mountain system, and finally, in the extreme north, a great plains region sloping to the Arctic Ocean. The mountain barrier which skirts the long southern shore line along the Pacific is bisected by only a few passes utilized by the main railroad and highway systems. For hundreds of miles, with the exception of these passes, there are no feasible routes inland on the ground.

Defense requirements dramatically emphasized Alaska's remoteness and the urgent need for better communications within the territory. In 1940 only two railroads were in regular operation. One was the narrow-gauge White Pass and Yukon Railroad, which ran from Skagway to Whitehorse in Canada's Yukon Territory. The other was the government-owned Alaska Railroad, operated by the Department of the Interior. It extended approximately 470 miles from Seward to Fairbanks, by way of Anchorage, and reached out over short branch lines to the Matanuska Valley and the Eska and Suntrana coal regions. It was the only all-year surface route from the


coast into central Alaska, and the principal means of transportation to the large Army bases that were to be established at Anchorage and Fairbanks. This line, which had been in operation since 1923, had undergone little improvement, and both the track and rolling stock were in poor condition when the defense development in Alaska began.

The southern end of the Alaska Railroad from Seward to Anchorage posed the most serious problem. This section ran through extremely mountainous country, and operation was made difficult by heavy snow and steep grades. Fifty miles north of Seward the railroad went through a tunnel and then ran over a wooden loop trestle which was highly susceptible to damage by sabotage or bombing. The vulnerability of the southern end of the road was a matter of great concern to the Army's Alaskan commander. In 1940 the War Plans Division welcomed and approved a proposal made by the Department of the Interior to provide a new southern terminal of the road. A year later work was begun on a 12-mile cut-off from Portage to the port of Whittier at the head of Passage Canal, which would eliminate military dependence on the treacherous mountain section south of Portage and shorten the rail distance to Anchorage and points north by fifty-two miles, but difficulties in construction prevented its opening until 1 June 1943.4

Rivers, airways, and a few roads supplemented the very limited railroad facilities. The principal Alaskan road net was the Richardson Highway which ran from Valdez to Fairbanks, and the connecting Steeze Highway from Fairbanks to Circle. No east-west road system existed. Although river transportation was used to a limited extent in the central plain area, only the Yukon and Kuskokwim Rivers had scheduled carriers, and they are open to navigation only four or five months each year. A rapid growth of airways in Alaska during the 1930's had helped to solve its transportation problems. By 1940 plane service linked together many communities which formerly had been almost completely isolated, and in that year Pan American Airways inaugurated regular scheduled flights between Seattle and Ketchikan and Juneau. The success of commercial aviation presaged the important role military aviation would play in Alaska's defense. But air transportation alone could handle only a small fraction of the military supplies that would be needed.

The principal communication facility in Alaska before the war was the radio network of the Alaska Communication System operated by the Army Signal Corps. Established in 1900 to build and operate cable and telegraph


lines to and within Alaska, this system by 1934 had abandoned all its wire facilities and operated exclusively by radio. The only remaining wire communication within Alaska after 1934 was the telephone line along the Alaska Railroad. Military traffic accounted for only a very small fraction of the business handled by the Army's radio network until 1940; and for this reason the War Department in the 1930's had favored either selling the system or turning it over to the Department of the Interior. With the expansion of Alaskan defenses the Army quickly changed its mind; and, after the alert of July 1941 disclosed the inadequacies of existing Army communication facilities, the War Department approved a rehabilitation and expansion of the Alaska Communication System and the repair of the disused cable between Seattle and Seward in order to provide a secure means of military communication with the continental United States. At the same time the War Department decided to use the existing system instead of establishing a new and separate tactical command radio network, and to operate it henceforth in such a manner that it could be used exclusively for military needs if necessary.5

Geographical factors were basic to the assumptions on which Army plans for Alaska were built, although Army planners sometimes forgot that the obstacles posed by geography and climate were as formidable to any would-be invader as they were to defenders. They did recognize that the Alaskan terrain precluded a major ground invasion. They assumed that the most likely forms of attack would be small-scale air or ground raids made by an enemy who would strike without warning. By 1940 they assumed it would be necessary to station troops in Alaska before the outbreak of hostilities. The key to Alaskan defense, according to a consensus of those responsible for its security, lay in denying to an enemy actual or potential bases from which air or naval operations could be conducted.6  The strategic problem was to work out a system that could cope with the transportation difficulties without unduly dispersing the forces. At the outset the planners formulated two possible solutions to the problem. One proposed that a strong mobile force be stationed in the Anchorage area. In the event of an attack, this force


would be moved as quickly as possible to the threatened area to repel the enemy. As the alternate solution, they proposed that the Army maintain virtually autonomous garrisons of air-ground teams at strategic positions along the southern coast and in the Aleutian Islands. These garrisons should be sufficiently strong to be able to act alone in defending the local area. The former plan was attractive in theory; the latter was possible in practice. It was adopted and guided the subsequent expansion of garrisons throughout the territory and into the Aleutian chain during the war.7

A defense system made up of a series of isolated semiautonomous garrisons could be a practicable one only to the extent that military aviation was provided in the territory. For many years the Air Corps had urged the War Department to develop airfields and air power in Alaska, but it was not until the general reassessment of air needs for hemisphere defense in 1939 that the Army began to plan for the deployment of tactical planes to the territory. As of May 1939 the Army proposed to garrison Alaska with one composite group comprising 8 long-range bombers, 17 medium-range attack bombers, and 27 pursuit planes, together with suitable auxiliary aircraft.8  In June the Army Air Board concluded that a main air base should be established in the Anchorage-Fairbanks area, and that operating airdromes should be built in the Anchorage-Kodiak, Juneau-Sitka, and Dutch Harbor regions.9  In revised estimates of airplane needs after the outbreak of war in Europe, the Army proposed that Alaska be garrisoned eventually with 80 pursuit, 26 bombardment, and 4 amphibian planes.10

During the 1939 planning it had been hoped at first that both tactical requirements for air defense and technical needs for experimental cold weather flying could be met in the same major air base. The choice for such a base site lay between Fairbanks and Anchorage, each location presenting both assets and liabilities.11  Initially, Fairbanks was the more favored site. Its tactical advantages included a central location on the Alaskan mainland and a network of railroad, highway, river, and air connections. The wide range of temperature at Fairbanks - 90 F. in summer to -60 F. in winter - made it ideally suited for experimental cold weather flying. But the disadvantages of Fairbanks as a site for the principal air garrison were manifold. Most troops and supplies would have to be transported overland nearly


500 miles from Seward, the main port of entry. It was remote from the Navy's projected bases at Sitka and on Kodiak and Unalaska. The climatic conditions, while ideal for experimental flying, would make tactical air operations extremely difficult. The planners therefore reluctantly concluded that a single station combining both tactical and technical needs would not be feasible, and chose Anchorage as the site for the main tactical air base as well as for the principal ground garrison. It could be supplied much more readily, it was surrounded by extensive level ground for the encampment of troops or the construction of buildings, and it was strategically located to protect the vital southern Alaskan coast. A more equable climate than that of Fairbanks reduced the risks involved in air operations. By the latter part of 1939 all agencies responsible for Alaskan defense planning had agreed that both a major tactical air base and a cold weather experimental station were necessary, and that the former should be located near Anchorage and the latter near Fairbanks.12

In the 1939 planning it had also been agreed that, if the Army were to fulfill its air mission of assisting in the defense of the new military establishments to be developed along the southern Alaskan coast and of supporting the Navy in resisting hostile attempts to gain lodgment in Alaskan territory, the Army Air Corps must be able to conduct operations as far west as Kiska and as far south as Ketchikan. Accordingly, plans were made to build a series of staging fields north from Puget Sound and out to the Aleutians that would tie in with the new Anchorage base and with the Navy's fields (which the Army proposed to use also) at Sitka, Kodiak, and Unalaska. The Army proposed to build these staging fields at Metlakatla (near Ketchikan), Yakutat, and Cordova, and at Naknek, Port Heiden, and Sand Point on or near the Alaska Peninsula. The Army also planned to develop subsidiary operating and emergency fields in interior and western Alaska near Tanana Crossing, Bethel, and Nome.13  By 1939, also, the Civil Aeronautics Authority had begun to build additional airports and airway facilities in Alaska; and, at the request of the Army, these airports were planned to conform to military standards. By February 1940 the Army and the Civil Aeronautics Authority had effectively co-ordinated their construction programs.14


The Alaska Defense Command

The Army took the first step toward implementing its long-range defense program for Alaska in August 1939 when construction began on the air base at Fairbanks, to be known as Ladd Field. Four months earlier President Roosevelt by Executive order had set aside land near Anchorage for a projected ground base.15  The Army had hoped construction of ground and air installations near Anchorage could begin in the spring of 1940, but initially the House Subcommittee on Military Appropriations eliminated the request for funds for the Anchorage development from the 1941 budget. Ultimately the entire amount asked for was appropriated, but it was German conquest of the Low Countries and France and the threatened invasion of England rather than Army pleas that moved Congress to prepare hastily a revised appropriations bill which included funds for the Anchorage project.

Without waiting for final legislative action, General Marshall approved a policy to govern the expansion of Alaskan defenses which provided for a permanent ground garrison of about 2,000 men and a temporary emergency garrison of about 3,100 men. The temporary garrison was to consist of one regiment of infantry, one composite battalion of field artillery, one regiment of antiaircraft artillery, and essential service elements (at peacetime strengths) ; and Anchorage was also to have a permanent air garrison of one composite group. General Marshall directed that the first increment of these forces -one battalion of infantry and one battalion of field artillery- be sent to Anchorage not later than 30 June 1940. He recommended that this force be followed as soon as possible by elements of the 28th Composite Group (Air Corps) and the remainder of the temporary ground garrison. Temporary construction of the mobilization type, designed to fit in with the permanent facilities to be built later, was to be completed as rapidly as possible.16

Congress in the meantime tentatively approved the establishment of Fort Richardson at Anchorage as the principal Army headquarters, and construction of ground and air facilities began on 8 June 1940. The first increment of combat troops, 21 officers and 732 enlisted men under the command of Lt. Col. Earl Landreth, arrived at Anchorage on 27 June.17  On 19 September


1940 construction of the Metlakatla (subsequently known as Annette Island airfield began, and a month later construction of Yakutat airfield was started.18

Until July 1940 the Army's Alaskan posts were directly under the Ninth Corps Area, commanded by General DeWitt. As a result of the extensive construction then planned, the projected expansion of both air and ground garrisons, and the development of naval facilities, General DeWitt, with the support of the War Plans Division, recommended that a special commander for troops in Alaska be appointed to supervise directly the expansion of Alaskan defenses. The War Department accepted his proposal, and on 9 July 1940, Col. Simon B. Buckner, Jr., was appointed commander of United States troops in Alaska.19  Two weeks later the new Army garrison was redesignated the Alaska Defense Force, and on 1 September 1940 its commander was promoted to brigadier general. Further evidence of the expansion of defense activities in Alaska during 1940 was the establishment by the Navy in mid-summer of the Alaskan Sector as a subordinate command within the Thirteenth Naval District.20  The Fourth Army, also commanded by General DeWitt, assumed the Ninth Corps Area's tactical responsibilities in October 1940. In February 1941 the War Department created the Alaska Defense Command. Like its predecessor, the Alaska Defense Command was a subordinate command of the Fourth Army, and it also came under the newly established Western Defense Command.21

In April 1941 the General Staff raised the question of whether it would be desirable to make Alaska a separate overseas department, because of the greatly increased size of the garrison, its distance from the continental United States, and the mission of the forces stationed there.22  Two sharply divergent views were expressed in response to this inquiry. This difference of opinion stemmed as much from disagreement over who was to command the air defense as it did from the intrinsic merits of establishing Alaska as an independent command. General DeWitt objected strongly to separating Alaska from the Western Defense Command. He argued that if Alaska were made a separate department it would make the Army defense of the Pacific coast including Alaska more difficult. He recommended that all


air and ground units in the Alaska Defense Command and the Western Defense Command be integrated under him. To facilitate this integration, he proposed that an air force command with headquarters adjacent to the headquarters of the Western Defense Command and operating under his authority be established to control all air forces on the Pacific coast.23  Brig. Gen. Carl Spaatz, Chief of the Air Staff, opposed General DeWitt and favored the creation of an Alaskan Department. He argued that it was as illogical to have Alaska under the Western Defense Command as it would be to have Hawaii under General DeWitt's authority. He recommended instead that the War Department divide the north Pacific triangle into three sections-the Pacific coast of the United States, Alaska, and Hawaii-and make each section a separate theater of operations. He thought that since it was impossible to integrate the ground defense plans for the three areas, each theater commander should have complete responsibility for the ground defense of his section. But, he argued, since it was not only possible but necessary to co-ordinate air plans for operations from the three areas, air defense of all three theaters should be placed under a single commander responsible to the Army Air Forces and independent of the theater commanders.24  In mid-August the War Plans Division and GHQ, both initially in favor of a separate Alaskan department, swung over to General DeWitt's point of view.25  Alaska was not to become a separate Army command until late 1943.26

Making Ready To Defend the Navy's Bases

As the Navy launched its construction of air and submarine bases at Sitka, Kodiak Island, and Dutch Harbor, the Army embarked on preliminary planning for the defense of these bases. Since the problems involved were essentially interservice ones and not the province of the Army alone, the joint Board referred the subject to the joint Planning Committee in February 1940 and instructed it to study the problems of construction, financing, site selection, and garrisoning at the naval bases as a part of the whole Alaskan defense problem. While waiting for the joint Planning Committee to act the Army grew increasingly concerned over the security of the naval bases, for without adequate protection from ground troops they would


Photo: VIEW OF DUTCH HARBOR, with typical overcast.

VIEW OF DUTCH HARBOR, with typical overcast.

become tempting prizes for an enemy.27  In May 1940 General DeWitt proposed that the force about to depart for Anchorage should be ready at all times to dispatch combat teams for the protection of Dutch Harbor and Kodiak in an emergency.28  This proposal, reflecting the lingering notion that a reserve force in the Anchorage area could be rushed to the defense of a threatened outlying base, found some support in the War Department; but difficulties of transportation and lack of shipping made it unworkable. After an inspection trip to Alaska in June, General DeWitt abandoned the idea of a mobile force, proposing instead that a garrison be sent to Kodiak as soon as housing was ready.29

In August 1940 the joint Planning Committee finally completed and submitted to the joint Board a basic directive for the defense of naval bases in Alaska. The Joint Planners recognized the possibility of "surprise aggression against Alaska by either Japan or Russia," but assumed that major land


operations in the Alaskan area were unlikely. They concluded that control of the important strategic locations of Anchorage, Fairbanks, Kodiak, Sitka, and Dutch Harbor would meet the principal requirements for the defense of Alaska as a whole. The Joint Board placed responsibility for the defense of the naval bases squarely on the Army, emphasizing that the "local defense of Kodiak, Sitka, and Unalaska is but an element of the defense of Alaska as a whole, which is a responsibility of the Army." It approved the establishment of Army garrisons at each of the naval bases, and proposed that these consist of an infantry battalion with artillery attachments at Kodiak and Dutch Harbor, and of an infantry company with similar artillery support at Sitka. The Board recommended that marines be used to guard the naval installations until Army facilities could be completed and troops moved to their stations. It further recommended that, in addition to ground troops, the Army eventually should provide defensive pursuit aviation at Kodiak and possibly at Dutch Harbor. The joint Board's action, approved on 15 August, provided that details were to be worked out by the Commanding Officer, Alaska Defense Force, in direct collaboration with the Commander, Alaskan Sector, Thirteenth Naval District.30

During the following six months, Army and Navy officers worked together on the common problems of locating the sites for the Army garrisons, constructing facilities for the Army's use, and financing the projects. They soon decided that both services should use the same facilities as much as possible. They further agreed that if additional construction were needed for the Army, it should follow the Navy's pattern and be done by Navy contractors with funds provided by the War Department. Ultimately all Army construction at Sitka, Kodiak, and Dutch Harbor was performed under contracts let by the Navy Department. A naval officer was directly in charge of each project, but General DeWitt exercised supervisory control.31  Although the Army and Navy quickly agreed on these general matters, they found that it took much longer to thresh out the specific problems involved in selecting sites for Army posts. Each location presented special problems requiring independent study, and conflicts between Army and Navy plans had to be adjusted before construction could begin.

The Army program for defending the Alaskan naval bases gave priority to Kodiak Island because of its strategic position, but disagreement between


the services delayed the start of Army construction there for several months. In June 1940 General DeWitt had disapproved of the site initially proposed by the Navy for the Army post, north of the Buskin River, because it contained swampy ground which would require a great deal of filling and grading before it could be used and because it was too far removed from the Navy's installations for economical construction. His recommendation that the Army garrison be located on a site south of the Buskin River, one-half mile from its mouth, was opposed by the Navy since an Army post south of the river would interfere with the construction of a naval airfield on which work had already begun.32  Finally, at a conference held on 19 November, General DeWitt and Rear Adm. Charles S. Freeman, the commandant of the Thirteenth Naval District, agreed that the Navy's contractors should undertake new surveys for an Army post north of the Buskin River. Construction of the Army's Fort Greeley, with facilities adequate to accommodate 236 officers and 5,592 enlisted men, was at last begun on 1 February 1941. 33

At Sitka, the most southeasterly of the naval stations, there was no room for an Army post on Japonski Island in Sitka Sound where the Navy was building its installations. After surveying the Sitka area, General Buckner recommended in October that the shoals connecting Japonski Island with three smaller islands adjacent to it -Charcoal, Alice, and Harbor- be filled in and the Army garrison built on Charcoal Island and the surrounding filled-in land. His recommendation received the approval of the commander of the Alaskan Sector, General DeWitt, and Admiral Freeman. In November the War Department authorized Navy contractors to survey Charcoal Island. Congress appropriated $625,000 for the fill, and construction was started on 9 January 1941. 34

Within a month the Sitka project was subjected to a complete re-examination. The crowding of the Army garrison on two tiny islands -one, 200 by 100 yards, and the other still smaller- aroused sharp criticism. General DeWitt returned from an inspection of Sitka in May 1941 convinced that


construction of housing on the fill would result in dangerous congestion. He sought authorization to abandon the fill project and to substitute instead the construction of an 8,100-foot causeway connecting the southernmost tip of Japonski Island and Makhnati Island by way of eight intermediate islands. He argued that the causeway could be completed sooner than the fill, that it would facilitate communications, permit the dispersion of housing and of tactical units, provide all-weather accessibility to gun batteries and searchlight positions, and generally give greater elasticity to the defense. Bidding for Navy support for the change, he added that the causeway would make Whiting Harbor secure and thus permit the establishment of a section base for naval patrol craft nearby. His recommendation received naval support and was approved by the Chief of Staff. On 7 June 1941 the War Department directed the Chief of Engineers to proceed with the causeway project utilizing funds available for the previously authorized fill. Although the principal Army post at Sitka, Fort Ray, remained on Charcoal Island, the congestion and crowding in the Japonski Island area was relieved by housing the additional elements of the garrison on the small islands between Japonski and Makhnati.35

At Dutch Harbor, where the Navy began construction of a combined air and submarine station in 1940, the Navy's original plans left no room for an Army post on Amaknak Island where naval construction was concentrated. The Army rejected proposals to place its garrison on a nearby island since reconnaissance of the area revealed that the only feasible location for a ground garrison was on Amaknak. After many months of discussion, the Navy agreed in November 1940 to survey land on an adjacent area near Margaret Bay on Amaknak for an Army installation. The result was the construction of the Army's Fort Mears at Dutch Harbor, begun on 25 January 1941. There, as at Sitka and Kodiak, the Army post was placed as close to Navy facilities as possible without being immediately adjacent to or combined with naval construction.36

The Army's responsibility for the local air defense of the Navy's new bases was a more difficult problem to solve. Local air protection for Sitka was provided by building a concrete runway similar to the deck of an aircraft


carrier and with the same devices for arresting planes. This was used by carrier and not Army planes. After protracted debate the Navy agreed to extend the runways of its fields at Kodiak to 6,000 feet in order to permit the operation of Army bombardment as well as pursuit aviation in the area. 37  A solution of the even more complex problem of the air defense of the naval station at Dutch Harbor was not found until November 1941. 38

Although plans for sending troops to Sitka, Kodiak, and Unalaska had been drafted before construction started-indeed, before the joint Board had issued its directive-the War Department as well as General DeWitt and General Buckner had agreed that no troops should be sent until housing at the naval bases was ready. The Navy estimated that this housing would not be ready until midsummer 1941. Nevertheless,. in early 1941 the War Department, responding to the increasing tension in American-Japanese relations, partially reversed its policy and directed General DeWitt to arrange for the immediate, but piecemeal, deployment of troops to the naval bases.39  Naval authorities concurred in the decision, and General DeWitt acted promptly. In March 1941 he had forces for Kodiak, Sitka, and Dutch Harbor concentrated on the west coast, and at the end of the month these troops began moving toward Alaska. By June elements of the garrisons were at all three stations. Then, on 26 June, G-2 informed the War Plans Division that Japan might well take advantage of the new conflict between the Soviet Union and Germany to move against Alaska and urged the War Department to increase the Alaska Defense Command to its full strength as soon as possible. Washington, convinced that the threat was real, agreed to strengthen the command. Accordingly, throughout the summer troops in great numbers and at an accelerated rate continued to move to the naval bases, to Seward in order to protect the southern terminus of the Alaska Railroad, and to Anchorage, despite the fact that housing was not ready. By the end of July the movement of the authorized emergency garrisons for the Sitka, Kodiak, and Dutch Harbor areas-approximately 70 officers and 1,950 enlisted men for Sitka, 235 officers and 5,600 enlisted men for Kodiak, and 225 officers and 5,200 enlisted men for Dutch Harbor-was nearing completion.40


The rapid increase in the size of the Alaska garrison during the summer of 1941 made it necessary to house several thousand of the newly arrived soldiers in tents at the Kodiak, Anchorage, and Seward bases. This development led to sharp criticism by Senator Ralph Owen Brewster, a member of the Special Committee Investigating Defense Contracts (the Truman Committee) who toured the principal Alaskan bases during August, and subsequently by a number of other congressmen as well. Senator Brewster in his report noted that the Army planned to house a good many troops in tents during the fall and winter months, particularly at Kodiak; and he commented that "this seems in flat contravention of the legislative provision that the soldiers should be adequately housed." 41  Admiral Stark and General Marshall took personal note of this criticism, and the Chief of Staff called upon General DeWitt to give his "immediate and personal attention" to seeing that everything possible was done toward making the troops housed in tent camps comfortable. General DeWitt reported that Army tent camps were being fully winterized and were well heated, and that troops would be removed from them as rapidly as new barracks became available. As the War Department pointed out to Senator Harley M. Kilgore, the word "Alaska" tended to make the situation sound worse than it actually was, since the average winter temperatures on Kodiak, where the largest number of troops were in tents, were approximately the same as those at Wheeling in the Senator's own state of West Virginia.42

The dispatch of protective forces for the naval bases was the principal factor in the threefold increase in the strength of the Alaska Defense Command between the end of June and the end of September 1941-from 7,263 to 21,565. The original authorization of May 1940 for an emergency garrison of 3,100 had grown by July 1941 to one of 24,000 so that (by September) the actual strength in Alaska was not far short of that contemplated as long as the United States remained at peace in the Pacific. The ground combat elements that had been sent were generally well equipped, and included four infantry regiments, three and one-half antiaircraft regiments, a 155-mm. gun mobile coast artillery regiment, and a tank company. In ground defenses Alaska was no longer the exposed and undefended continental salient that it had been in 1939. 43


The Air Defense Problems

In contrast to the rapid increase in Army ground force strength, the Alaska Defense Command's air strength remained notably weak in the fall of 1941. To a certain extent the lack of aircraft controlled Washington's policy toward Alaska. Throughout 1941, but particularly in the three months before Pearl Harbor, increasing tension in many parts of the world, the demands of the lend-lease program, and inadequate plane production forced the War Department to adhere to a rigid system of priorities in allocating the limited number of aircraft at its disposal, and Alaska held a priority for aircraft far below those of Panama, Hawaii, and the Philippines. But the unresolved question of what part Army Air Forces were to play in the total scheme of Alaskan defense also governed the allotment of planes. This question in turn was linked to an even more fundamental controversy within the War Department itself between the initial prewar theory of Alaskan defense and a new concept of the Army's mission in Alaska.

The initial theory had emphasized a defense of the Seward-Anchorage area, supplemented by a joint Army-Navy defense of Kodiak. According to its premises, the Aleutians were primarily a Navy sphere of operations. This theory was adequate so long as a serious attack on Alaska seemed unlikely and the problem was merely one of local defense. By the beginning of 1941 the relative weakening of the American naval position in the Pacific, and the increasingly hostile attitude of Japan, indicated the need for consideration of offensive action. As a result, a new theory of Alaskan defense, based on a concept of an aggressive defense, gradually developed. Since ground force garrisons were virtually tied to their stations, aggressive defense, under Alaskan conditions, would depend on the striking power of ground-based aviation. In view of the possibility of using Alaska as a base for an attack against Japan if it were to go on a rampage in the Pacific, it was now considered vital to keep control of the Aleutians at least as far west as Dutch Harbor, and preferably in their entirety.44  The growing importance of retaining control over the Aleutians was reflected in revised war plans which stated the mission of Army forces in Alaska as follows: "To defend United States military and naval installations in Alaska, including Unalaska, against sea, land and air attacks and against sabotage; to deny use by the enemy of sea and land bases in Alaska and the Aleutian Islands; to support the Navy." 45


The new theory of an aggressive defensive for Alaska had appeared first in an analysis by General Buckner which he submitted to General DeWitt on 3 September 1940. Some facets of this analysis conformed to earlier assessments. General Buckner agreed that an enemy could seriously threaten Alaska only if the United States Fleet lost control of the North Pacific. He agreed, too, that the difficult terrain and lack of overland transportation virtually precluded a major land invasion. He recognized the need for a large measure of local autonomy for the isolated garrisons in the interior and at the widely separate strategic spots along the coast. But, despite these similarities, General Buckner's estimate of the situation differed significantly from previous ones of War Department planners in two respects. First, he gave greater emphasis to the threat which air power posed to the security of the territory, accepting it as axiomatic that an attack against Alaska would probably be launched without warning-a sudden air strike against the vulnerable coastal area. Second, he thought in terms of an aggressive concept of defense under which Alaska would be used as a base for the projection of American military power into the western Pacific. He concluded that not only the successful defense of Alaska but also any value it might have as a staging area for Pacific warfare would depend on superiority in the air, backed by adequate land bases strongly protected by ground troops. In other words General Buckner, although a ground officer, visualized Alaska as an air theater. Consequently, without minimizing the need for strong ground forces, he gave the air arm a place of primary importance and outlined a program which emphasized strengthening the air defenses of the territory. 46

General Buckner's plan called for building advanced operating bases for bomber planes in western Alaska, including the Aleutian chain; constructing auxiliary fields near the existing main bases to prevent the undue massing of aircraft with consequent danger from bombing attack; connecting the United States and Alaska by a chain of landing fields; developing intermediate bases to facilitate the movement of aircraft to and within the territory; establishing an aircraft warning service; and maintaining in the United States a reserve of both combat and transport aircraft equipped for cold weather flying for the prompt reinforcement of Alaska in an emergency. It followed that the remainder of his program was designed primarily to protect and support the air arm. He recommended stationing a balanced defensive garrison at each main base, advanced base, and important link in the chain


of fields from Seattle; storing sufficient supplies at each base to last at least three months; constructing bombproof storage space for all vital supplies and, where possible, planes; bombproofing the installations of the Alaska Communication System and furnishing each station with generators which would make it independent of local power plants; arranging for the movement of ground troops, properly outfitted with cold weather clothing and equipment, to Alaskan garrisons in an emergency; building a military road connecting Anchorage with the Richardson Highway; and constructing the railroad cutoff from Portage to the Passage Canal to eliminate dependence on the most vulnerable portion of the Alaskan Railroad. 47

General Buckner's recommendation in October 1940 that an Army air base be established in the vicinity of Dutch Harbor was the first step toward the projection of Army air power into the Aleutians. In submitting this recommendation, he observed that a limited reconnaissance had not revealed a good site for an Army airfield in the immediate vicinity of the naval base, but that a suitable site for an emergency field for pursuit planes existed at Chernofski Bay on Unalaska. 48  The Navy objected to his proposal, arguing that construction costs would be unduly high because of the rugged terrain; that there would be no economy, since the Army and Navy air bases at Unalaska could not possibly be located close enough to use any of the same facilities or defenses; and that an Army air base on Chernofski Bay would be exposed to the same danger as Dutch Harbor, that is, quick raids from the sea. 49

At the beginning of 1941 the War Plans Division was equally opposed to the Unalaska project, maintaining that "aerial patrol along the Aleutian chain can best be accomplished by tender-based aircraft and that, for the present at least, responsibility for aerial surveillance of that area should remain a Navy function." 50  And three months later the Army Air Corps also agreed that under existing circumstances it was inadvisable to build an air base near Unalaska.51

General Buckner and General DeWitt refused to acknowledge defeat. They clung tenaciously to their position that air power based on Unalaska was necessary for the Army to fulfill its mission. Since surveys revealed that the terrain at Unalaska was not suitable for a landing field for the Army's


heavy bombers, they proposed that an all-purpose Army air base be built at Otter Point on Umnak Island, sixty-five miles west of Dutch Harbor, to be supported by intermediate fields for fighter planes at Port Heiden and Cold Bay on the Alaska Peninsula.52  General DeWitt, who had just returned from an inspection trip to Alaska, informed the Chief of Staff that he felt "if possible, stronger than ever that we must have our air field in the vicinity of Dutch Harbor, and intermediate fields between Dutch Harbor and Kodiak." He continued:

I am sorry that there is unanimity of opinion in the War Department against such action, but I am quite sure that if those opposed would visit the area as I did and visualize the conditions that can easily, and I feel sure will exist in case of war, that they will come to the same conclusion. The recent operations in the Mediterranean area, particularly Crete, involving the use of parachute and airborne troops, would seem to clinch the argument.53

After additional surveys of the area, General Buckner submitted a request for all-purpose air bases at both Otter Point and Cold Bay, with staging fields at Port Heiden and Sand Point.54  General DeWitt indorsed General Buckner's recommendation (except as to the Sand Point field), and in doing so noted: "I look upon this paper as the most important paper I now have to act upon in connection with the defense of Alaska." 55

The urgency of General DeWitt's request arose from an acute concern for the security of Alaska following Germany's attack on the Soviet Union, and the attendant uncertainty of Japan's future moves as an Axis partner. Japan itself appeared to be caught in a vise of conflicting interests and incompatible objectives. On the one hand, a nonaggression pact with the Soviet Union bound Japan to remain neutral under the existing circumstances. On the other hand, the Tripartite Pact might be used by Germany to persuade Japan to furnish active aid to the Axis. And it was not inconceivable that Japan in self-interest would construe the pact as a mandate for launching an attack on its own. Although intelligence reports indicated that Japanese forces were being deployed southward, away from Siberia, the moment might seem propitious to the Japanese for realizing their long-standing ambition to acquire the Russian maritime provinces. G-2 urged the War Plans Division to make provision for a long-range air patrol over the waters north


of the Bering Strait, and also recommended that, if possible, arrangements be made with the Soviet Union for the joint use of naval and air bases at Petropavlovsk, the Komandorski Islands, and Anadyr Bay. 56  Pending a clarification of the new situation as it might affect the Pacific area, General Marshall, after conferences with his principal staff officers, limited immediate War Department action to an alert of the Alaska and Panama commands on 3 July. General DeWitt passed on word to General Buckner to alert all of his garrisons against the "increasing danger of total Russian collapse and subsequent possibility of Axis operations in direction of Alaska"; and, as already noted, the Army built up its ground force strengths as rapidly as it could during the summer.57

One step taken by General Buckner after he received the alert was an offshore patrol by Army planes from Bristol Bay to Point Barrow, and he asked the Navy to perform a similar mission from Ketchikan to Dutch Harbor. When informed that the means for a naval patrol was lacking- at the time the Navy had only three patrol planes in Alaskan waters- General Buckner decided to maintain a patrol himself insofar as his means permitted.58  His actions were contrary to current doctrine for the employment of air power by the services, which delegated the mission of offshore reconnaissance to the Navy. Even though the Navy was unable to fulfill its mission and the local naval commander raised no objections to General Buckner's course of action, it aroused some criticisms in Washington.59  General DeWitt vigorously defended the establishment of an Army offshore patrol as "not only a proper military precautionary measure but a necessary one," and added that "the action demonstrated the pressing need for additional Army air units and modern planes (which have been repeatedly requested) and for adequate Naval forces (which are not now assigned to Alaska) for offshore and inshore patrol." 60

One consequence of the July alert and of General Buckner's decision to patrol the waters north of Bering Strait was the development and garrisoning of an air base on the Seward Peninsula at Nome much earlier than had


previously been planned. The Nome airfield was scheduled to be built by the Civil Aeronautics Authority, but on orders from Washington the Army Engineers moved in and began construction on 23 July. A ground garrison of 9 officers and 221 enlisted men arrived on 3 September to protect the Nome base.61

The July alert exposed the weakness of Alaska's air defenses, and three months later General DeWitt found them in no better shape. The authorized airfields were not ready, none of the units of the approved aircraft warning system was in operation, and not a single modern Army plane had been sent to Alaska. General DeWitt summarized the situation very bluntly when he wrote: "Our mere establishment of Army garrisons in Alaska with no means for them to know what may lie just over the horizon, does not conform to any known principle of strategy, military or naval." 62

In October General Buckner submitted to General DeWitt a general plan for the employment of aviation in Alaska which contained another strong plea for "a chain of advanced air bases, generally south along the coast of Alaska from Nome to Naknek, thence westward on the Alaskan Peninsula to Umnak Island and from Kodiak generally east to Annette Island." 63  The Army Air Forces and the War Department General Staff finally agreed on 21 November to go ahead with the Aleutian airfield project, and on their recommendation, the joint Planning Committee proposed to the joint Board that the Army "proceed with the construction of port facilities, airdromes and defenses at Umnak, Port Heiden, and Cold Bay." The Joint Board approved this recommendation on 26 November, and on 11 December, four days after the Pearl Harbor attack, General DeWitt was directed to build the Umnak field and related facilities as quickly as possible.64

Airfields, Radar, and the Construction Program

While the question of extending Army airfields into the Aleutian Islands was under consideration, the remainder of the airfield construction program went forward as planned, though more slowly than anticipated. The Army


was concerned during 1941 over progress at the supplementary airfields being constructed by the Civil Aeronautics Administration. This organization shared responsibility for the military development of these airfields with the Army, and this division of responsibility did not work out entirely satisfactorily. As a result, the Corps of Engineers was asked to investigate the possibility of taking over the supplementary airfield construction program.65

In conjunction with the investigation Mr. Marshall Hoppin, the administration's local superintendent of airways, stated that contracts had been let for Boundary, Big Delta, Cordova, Juneau, Ruby, and Nome and that completion of these fields was expected prior to 1 January 1942. Plans and specifications had been prepared for Bethel, Gulkana, McGrath, and Naknek. He anticipated that these fields would be well along toward completion by 1 January 1942, if fiscal year 1942 funds were made available immediately. He added that single runways 300 by 3,500 feet were under construction, or would be under construction shortly, at Farewell, Kenai, Lake Minchumina, Seward, Homer, Nenana, and one or two other locations. He believed that all of these runways, except Homer, would be completed by the fall of 1941. Engineer officers who were studying the merits of the proposed change concluded that, since all Army first priority fields were either under construction or would soon be under contract, sufficiently good progress had been made to warrant continuing civilian control of the program.66

The Army had intended to develop an aircraft warning system in Alaska as soon as it could. Signal Corps and Engineer officers began planning for such a system during the summer of 1940. Well aware of the fact that both equipment and funds were limited, the planners proposed that it be completed in two stages. They recommended that initially detector stations be established to warn of the approach of hostile planes toward the naval bases at Sitka, Kodiak, and Dutch Harbor and either by land or sea toward Anchorage. They suggested that at a later date the War Department provide means for the protection of Fairbanks and to detect the approach of hostile planes over Norton Sound and up the Yukon and the Kuskokwim River valleys.67

The initial aircraft warning plan called for the construction of 8 detector stations and one information center in Alaska at locations to be proposed by General DeWitt, and on 2 August General Marshall approved the over-


all project.68  Only 3 of the 8 specific locations for detectors originally proposed proved acceptable, and additional surveys had to be made to determine the best location for the other 5 stations.69  In the course of this study, it became evident that 8 stations would not provide adequate coverage for Alaska, since the original recommendation had been based on an overoptimistic estimate of the capacity of the early radar sets which experience did not substantiate. General DeWitt accordingly submitted a revised aircraft warning project to the Chief of Staff which called for at least 10 and preferably 14 detector stations. On 28 January 1941 the Secretary of War approved a project for the establishment of 12 such stations in Alaska, all south of Cape Prince of Wales.70  Subsequently, in October, the Alaskan commander recommended and the War Department approved an enlargement of this project 20 stations. None of them was complete or in operation before the outbreak of war, principally because of equipment shortages and construction difficulties.71

There was widespread criticism during 1941 of the whole military construction program in Alaska. This criticism was only partially justified. While it is true that a number of projects were not completed on schedule, unusually difficult and highly complex problems were involved. The undeveloped state of Alaskan resources, the small civilian labor force, and the poor interior transportation system meant that almost all supplies and most workmen had to be brought in from the United States. The job of transporting material from the ports to inland construction projects was prodigious. The Alaska Defense Command also suffered from a chronic lack of strategic materials and construction equipment. The priorities system established by the War Department early in 1941: benefited Alaska little since it held a very low priority until September 1941. Furthermore, in many places construction had to be confined to the short summer season. Varying and harsh weather lessened the efficiency of both men and machines.

A cumbersome and unwieldy administrative system also hampered construction. Design and procurement were carried on thousands of miles from the site of the work. Local commanders lacked the authority to make changes in these plans, and all field requests for modifications had to be referred to headquarters for approval. Initially the area engineer and the Alaskan com-


mander at Anchorage, the district engineer at Seattle, and the Ninth Corps Area commander at San Francisco had to approve all plans. In an effort to simplify this procedure, the War Department in December 1940 placed all Alaskan military construction directly under the supervision of General DeWitt.72  Nevertheless, the construction program remained bogged down in administrative red tape. On 28 November 1941 General Buckner, replying to an inquiry from the Chief of Staff as to how best the War Department could facilitate construction in Alaska, wrote as follows:

The most effective measure of assistance which you can render us in our building program is a greater degree of decentralization. In many cases it takes a great deal longer to get a construction measure approved after the appropriations are made than it does to do the actual building. Our Area Engineer here put it very aptly when he said that quick-drying cement did him very little good in speeding up construction unless some quick-drying ink was used on the approval of his plans.73

General Marshall referred General Buckner's comment to G-4 for study and review. War gave new urgency to the construction program, and in late December the Chief of Staff informed the Alaskan commander that "both the Commanding General, Western Defense Command, and the Chief of Engineers have been instructed to take such steps as may be necessary to decentralize control of all construction matters to the greatest possible extent." The Chief of Staff added that "construction directives are also specifying [that the] greatest possible latitude should be given to local commanders in the matter of layouts and type of structure, compatible with procurement and shipping dictates." 74

Reinforcing the Air Defenses

Alaska was the last of the overseas departments to receive Army combat planes. As late as August 1940 General Arnold said that there was no prospect of sending any planes at all to Alaska during that year. Subsequently, Generals Buckner and DeWitt argued vehemently for deployment of some defensive air power to Alaska. On 5 September General Arnold agreed to send one pursuit squadron, one bombardment squadron, and one-half of the base group of the 28th Composite Group to Alaska. This force was scheduled to arrive at Elmendorf Field about 15 November.75  The day after


General Arnold made this decision he was obliged to announce that, because the planes he proposed to send were not ready, "he had arranged with the GHQ Air Force to send two groups from the GHQ Air Forces, and the Alaska squadrons, when ready, would be assigned to the GHQ Air Forces." 76

Actually, no Army combat planes reached Alaska until after the decision by President Roosevelt in January 1941 to stand on the defensive in the Pacific with the fleet based on Hawaii.77  In February Secretary Stimson publicly announced some of the measures being taken by the United States to strengthen the Panama-Hawaii-Alaska defense line, and stressed preparations under way to send three new units of Army aircraft to Alaska. And, Mr. Stimson added, "from my knowledge of what is going on in Japan, I think this reinforcement of the northwest frontier will be of interest to the Japs." 78

As a result the Alaska Defense Command received its first combat aircraft. At the end of February the 23d Air Base Group, the 18th Pursuit Squadron equipped with 20 P-36's, and the headquarters squadron of the 28th Composite Group reached Elmendorf Field. This force was followed in March by the 73d Bombardment Squadron, Medium, and the 36th Bombardment Squadron, Heavy, equipped with a total of 12 B-18A's. On 29 May the Air Field Forces, Alaska Defense Command, was formed from these units.79  This was a token force, wholly inadequate to perform its assigned mission, a fact duly noted at the time of the July alert. The entire Army air force in Alaska then consisted of 38 planes, and all of its combat planes were obsolescent or obsolete.80

During the July emergency General Buckner argued vehemently, but unsuccessfully, for air reinforcements, writing:

My immediate concern is to build up an air force sufficiently strong to make any hostile expedition against Alaskan shores so hazardous a venture as to remove it from the realm of probability. This accomplished, our Navy can be released from the task of furnishing us with constant protection and will be free to operate elsewhere.

At the present time, all of our coastal stations can be taken one by one by hostile expeditions outnumbering them, since there is no way of reinforcing them during an attack except by air. Our air strength is at present negligible and the prospects for prompt reinforcement somewhat scant. I am informed that we are soon to be reinforced by ground troops but that Air Corps reinforcements are not contemplated in the near future. Under present conditions, I would rather have an additional heavy bombardment


squadron than a division of ground troops. The time to strike hostile expeditions is when their troops are crowded in transports and their planes on the decks of carriers. I have communicated this desire to General DeWitt and he is of similar opinion.81

Although General Buckner's request received the sympathetic approval of the Air Staff, the War Department, for a variety of reasons, was unable to take action. The continuously expanding Army air program was making heavy demands on existing forces for training purposes. Army air units stationed in Newfoundland and Iceland competed with the Alaskan air force for the few winterized planes on hand. Neither the Air Staff nor the other sections of the War Department considered the threat to Alaskan security in July 1941 sufficiently acute to deploy air units earmarked for other overseas outposts to the Alaska Defense Command. The War Department's point of view was expressed in a letter from General Marshall to General Buckner in which the Chief of Staff said:

The War Department is appreciative of the importance of your problem and is doing everything, consistent with the general situation, to meet your needs. Your command has been given a high priority for aircraft and we are trying to find ways and means to meet your needs in this respect. Deliveries to Alaska have been delayed because of more pressing demands in the Philippines, which, due to the critical situation in the Orient, have been placed in a higher priority than Alaska. I am advised today of the following proposed schedule of deliveries of aircraft to Alaska:

Bombardment (M) B-26 Series

Sep 1941-18
Mar :1942-3
May 1942-5

Bombardment (H) B-17 Series

Feb 1942-8
Jun 1942-5
Oct 1942-3

Pursuit Interceptor P-40 Series

Sep 1941-4
Oct 1941-21

I am sorry that existing circumstances prohibit some expeditious actions on your requests.82

Nor were the planes scheduled for delivery in 1941 actually sent before the war began.

In the fall of 1941, the Navy's air power in the Alaskan area was even more meager than the Army's. At the end of October 1941 General DeWitt reported that "there is an OS2U-2 plane at Sitka, a J2F at Kodiak, and an


OS2U-1 awaiting transportation to Dutch Harbor. From time to time a squadron of five or six patrol planes have been based in Alaska for training purposes, but these are not permanent . . . ." 83  Capt. Ralph C. Parker, commander of the Alaskan Sector, appealed to the Navy Department for dive bombers to reinforce his air component. Since the Army could not secure air reinforcements, General Buckner endorsed the request with the admission "We swallow our pride . . . and like it." 84 . The Navy Department, as short of planes as the Army, had to reject Captain Parker's request. Throughout 1941 naval air forces in Alaska remained wholly inadequate to perform their mission of long-range offshore patrol.

As the prospect of war between the United States and Japan increased in November 1941, all agencies responsible for Alaskan defense stepped up their request for air reinforcements, but the War Department was unable to take any action. As General Arnold said: ". . . we are doing everything possible we can to increase the number of trained squadrons and groups available for these missions. At the present time we have just about hit bottom." 85

On the Alert

The Joint Board's decision on the extension of Army air power into the Aleutians came on the very eve of the War Department's warning that Japan was likely to begin hostilities soon. General DeWitt promptly ordered General Buckner to put the Alaska Defense Command on a full alert.86

Thanks to what had been done in the preceding year and a half, General Buckner now had available a sizable ground force of approximately 20,000 men. Fort Richardson, the main Army base, had been completed. The four major airfields in southeastern and central Alaska-Annette Island (Metlakatla), Yakutat, Elmendorf, and Ladd- were in operation. Army posts had been established for the protection of the naval installations at Sitka, Kodiak, and Dutch Harbor. There were garrisons at Seward and Nome, and a small force still remained at Chilkoot Barracks near Skagway. A beginning, at least, had been made in improving communications both within and to Alaska. Improvements to the Alaska Railroad were being pushed. The Can-




adian Government, as part of its collaboration in the defense of North America, had undertaken to provide aircraft staging facilities between Alaska and the continental United States; by December 1941 five airfields along this Northwest Staging Route, as it was called, were usable under optimum conditions.87

The most serious weakness of the Alaskan defenses was the lack of air power. Alaska still had only the 12 B-18 bombers and 20 P-36 pursuit planes provided in the spring of 1941, and only 6 of these planes were ready for combat action on 7 December 1941.88  The aircraft warning system, also, was far from complete. Although the program had been under way for almost a year, the original goal had been too optimistic. No one had realized what a tremendous job it would be to install and maintain detector sets in the rugged, isolated locations which had been selected for most of them.89 Other major flaws in the defenses, noted by two representatives of War Plans Divi-


sion only three days before the Pearl Harbor raid, were the vulnerability of housing to aerial bombing, the inadequacy of antiaircraft artillery, insufficient access roads, shortages of certain types of ammunition, and the lack of adequate local storage facilities. The War Plans Division inspectors recommended that the War Department review Alaskan defense projects with a view toward remedying these deficiencies as soon as possible.90

When the assault on Pearl Harbor brought war to the United States, the Alaska Defense Command was ready for a minor enemy attack, though not for a surprise raid. It would have been unable to resist a major enemy assault, but a major assault was not to be expected.


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