Thesis: Termed the Forgotten Battle

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[. . .] Chapter Two: Literature Review

Background and Overview

In reality, it is not surprising that it required some time for the United States to recognize the strategic significance of the Aleutians. At the time, Alaska was not even a state and its geographic distance from the contiguous United States further distanced the region from the minds of American policymakers. For instance, according to Hodas-Walsh (1997, pp. 3-4), "Not only was Alaska and the Aleutians a secondary theater of war during World War II, the United States had always considered it of secondary importance." By the fin de siecle, though, the United States had in fact begun to take some interest in the archipelago but the interest was only modest and fleeting. In this regard, Hodas-Walsh (1997, p. 4) points out that, "In 1904 the Navy established a naval reservation on Kiska Island but, never developed it any further. The arms limitation efforts in the form of the Washington Conference Treaty, signed in 1922, limited United States development of the Aleutians."

Historians point out that the Washington Conference Treaty failed to include Russia in its terms, and Miller and Wich (2011, p. 13) emphasize that, "The Washington treaty system was also weak because it lacked effective mechanisms for enforcement. The four-power treaty called upon its signatories only to consult in the event of a dispute among the powers in the region." Indeed, even when this Treaty of abrogated by the Japanese, American military leaders paid scant attention. For example, Hodas-Walsh (1997, p. 4) emphasizes that, "In 1934, Japan, a signer of that agreement renounced it. Neither the U.S. government or the military took any action."

Although the U.S. And Japan had been at odds for some time concerning issues sucha fishing rights off the coast of the Aleutians, there was little other indication at the time that this withdrawal of the Japanese from the Treaty represented anything besides its disagreements over these rights. Certainly, there was no indication that there were any serious plans to invade the islands at the time. This is not to say that the strategic significance of the Aleutians had escaped the notice of all American military leaders at time. Most particularly, in 1935, General "Billy" Mitchell cited the importance of mounting an Alaskan defense and even went so far as to suggest that Alaska was the "...most important strategic place in the world" (quoted in Cohen 1981, p. 189).

Despite this warning, though, the United States failed to take any substantive action to strengthen the Alaskan frontier against foreign incursions and it was not until 1939 that any real steps were taken for this purpose. According to the U.S. Department of Interior (Alaska) (World War II in Alaska 2000, p. 5), "In 1939 Congress established a Panama-Hawaii-Alaska defense triangle to protect America's vulnerable western coast. Alaska, the largest and least fortified of the three, soon saw the construction of naval bases at Sitka, Dutch Harbor, and Kodiak." These initiatives would soon prove to be too little, too late for American military forces in the Northern Pacific. In this regard, the U.S. Department of Interior (Alaska) (World War II in Alaska 2000, p. 5) adds that, "When Japanese Zeros struck Pearl Harbor in 1941, military and civilian workers in Alaska were still scrambling to fortify the vast territory."

Not only were military and civilians workers "scrambling," they were doing so with insufficient, inadequate and frequently obsolete equipment. For instance, in 1940, the Alaskan Defense Force was formed, headed by Lieutenant General Buckner; however, General Buckner had less than 10,000 troops and just a few outdated aircraft to defend the Aleutians (Hodas-Walsh 1997). Moreover, the naval forces assigned to the theater were also grossly inadequate for their defense (Hodas-Walsh 1997). According to Hodas-Walsh (1997, p. 6), "By 1940, the Japanese had slowly expanded their empire south, east and west. Only the northern flank still needed protection." Another military historian reports that at the time, it was thought that, "Japan had no plan to invade Alaska, and American strategists had ruled out invading Japan via this short but rugged route" (Morison 1951, p. 4).

In sharp contrast to the prevailing thinking by American leaders, Japanese military leaders recognized that the Aleutians were poorly defended; they also realized that the Aleutians were a viable approach for mounting an invasion of the United States (Hodas-Walsh 1997). Moreover, the Japanese High Command viewed the Aleutians as a potential buffer for protecting their homeland from invasion by the United States (Hodas-Walsh 1997). In fact, the Japanese High Command had good reason to view the Aleutians in this context. In the research that follows, it will be demonstrated that the Japanese believed that Lieutenant Colonel Doolittle's raid against Tokyo most likely originated in the Aleutians since they could not fathom the reality of the innovative tactics that were used. In this regard, Hodas-Walsh (1997, p. 4) advises that, "In fact the bombers had flown off U.S.S. Hornet 700 miles off the Japanese coast [and] this raid inflicted minor damage but, demonstrated that Japan was vulnerable to attack." Therefore, from the Japanese High Command's perspective, securing Kiska and Attu Kiska Islands would provide them with a buffer against American attacks on Japan's Kuril Islands (Hodas-Walsh 1997).

The commander of the Japanese Northern Army, Lieutenant General Higuda, expressed a triple goal for the Aleutians: "They wanted to break up any offensive action the Americans might contemplate against Japan by way of the Aleutians, to set up a barrier between the United States and Russia in the event that Russia determined to join the United States in its war against Japan, and to make preparations through the construction of advance air bases for future offensive action" (The Capture of Attu 1944, p.2).

Prior to the onset of World War II, the continental territory of Alaska and the Aleutian Islands is characterized by Friedl (1994, p. 2) as "neglect caused by false assumptions about the security of this territory and its waters. The Washington Naval Treaty of 1922 provided the basis for these false assumptions." In sum, the Washington Naval Treaty was intended to limit the size of the Japanese naval fleet and outlawed any build-up of military fortifications of the Japanese islands in the North Pacific (Friedl 1994). As the research will also show, even when Japan flagrantly abrogated this treaty, American policymakers and military leaders failed to recognize the threat. According to Friedl (1994, p. 2), "Limited funding and domestic priorities in the depression trodden years of the thirties made an easy case for ignoring the fact that Japan had withdrawn from the Treaty in 1934 and was aggressively pursuing her vision of the greater east Asia co-prosperity sphere."

In fact, in was not until 1926 that the U.S. Navy had even conducted aerial surveys of the Aleutians and the surrounding regions; however, by 1934, the U.S. Navy had dispatched three expeditions north in order to reconnoiter the islands (Werrell 2011). The first mission dispatched to the Aleutians was comprised of two tenders and six fleet submarines that surveyed various Alaskan ports as far west as Dutch Harbor (Werrell 2011). In addition, two naval aviation missions were conducted in 1934; the first was in April and was comprised of six float planes from San Diego and the second was conducted during the summer months that patrol bombers (e.g., flying boats) (Werrell 2011). According to Werrell (2011, p. 29), "This expedition was seen, at least by some, to compete with a contemporary Army Air Corps flight to Alaska." Beyond these modest missions, though, the Aleutians remained out of sight and out of mind for military planners and policymakers in Washington, D.C. until the campaign in the Aleutians began in earnest in 1942. Some of the reasons for this lack of interest and oversight can be discerned from the background and history of the Aleutians Islands which are discussed further below.

Background and History of the Aleutian Islands

The Aleutian Islands are comprised of a series of islands of volcanic origin that form a 1,200-mile curve west from the tip of the Alaska Peninsula and nearing Russia's Komandorski Islands (Aleutians Islands 2012). According to Morgan (1947, p. 33), "Between seventy and a hundred and fifty islands make up the Aleutian Chain, depending on where you draw the line between an island and a rock." The islands separate the Bering Sea from the Pacific Ocean and consist of four main groups as follows:

1. Fox Islands (nearest to the mainland); these include Unimak, Unalaska, Umnak, and Akutan;

2. Andreanof Islands; these include Amlia, Atka, Adak, Kanaga, and Tanaga;

3. Rat Islands; these include Amchitka and Kiska; and,

4. Near Islands; these are the smallest and the most western group and include Agattu and Attu (Aleutian Islands 2013).

Rugged and desolate in many places, the Aleutians comprise part of a larger series of land masses of volcanic origin. For instance, according to Morgan (1947, p. 25), "The… [END OF PREVIEW]

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APA Format

Termed the Forgotten Battle.  (2013, May 31).  Retrieved March 22, 2019, from

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"Termed the Forgotten Battle."  31 May 2013.  Web.  22 March 2019. <>.

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"Termed the Forgotten Battle."  May 31, 2013.  Accessed March 22, 2019.