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Often overshadowed by the Battle of Midway, American forces in the Aleutian Islands in Alaska were attacked just one day before the attack on Midway. Just over 800 miles to the west of Anchorage lay Amaknak island and two military bases; Naval Air Station Dutch Harbor and the U.S. Army's Fort Mears. These two bases were the main defensive strongpoint of the Aleutian islands and the first line of defense for Alaska. The attack on these facilities was not a diversion as is often thought, but was run concurrently in an effort to provide greater protection for Japan and to sever supply routes between the US and Russia.
Two carriers of Rear Admiral Kakuta's Second Carrier Strinking Force launched the attack shortly before 0300 the morning of June 3rd, 1942. Ryujo, a veteran of the conquest of the Philippine Islands and Java, was serving as flag ship with B5N Kate bombers and A6M Zero fighers, while recently-commissioned Junyo filled out the rest of the strike force with D3A Val dive bombers and her own complement of A6M Zeros.
The Japanese were operating on old information (the maps their pilots used were copied from charts over 30 years old) and in bad weather, thus the strikes weren't as effective as originally hoped. Army barracks at Fort Mears were bombed and a PBY Catalina was strafed in the harbor, but one Zero from Ryujo was damaged by anti-aircraft fire on June 3rd and made a forced landing on the island of Akutan. The aircraft flipped over in the landing, killing its pilot, and was discovered five weeks later by a Navy patrol airplane. This aircraft was one of the first opportunities US forces had to examine the infamous "Zero" fighter.
Strikes run the next day fared better, even though delayed by bad weather. Critical fuel-oil tanks were hit and destroyed and the ship that was temporarily supplying power to the air base while a power plant was built was set afire to such an extent that it took three days to extinguish. Despite this, once again the Japanese lost aircraft, this time five off of Junyo.
The main goal of covering the invasion of Kiska and Attu was generally supported, although the US did not determine that landings had actually taken place until the 11th of June. Dutch Harbor has the distinction as one of only two areas in North America attack by Japanese aircraft during World War Two. The following report and photographs detail the damage done during the attack and helps bring to life this often-overlooked battle.
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