Alaska's Hidden Wars: Secret Campaigns on the North Pacific Rim


On the eve of World War II, the national interests of Japan, the United States, and the Soviet Union collided in the North Pacific.

Alaska's Hidden Wars tells the story of the war in the North Pacific, a story of savage weather, isolation, and sacrifice.

Two island chains, the Aleutians and the Kuriles, became the focus of a series of major campaigns that pitted the Americans against the Japanese. Alaska's Hidden Wars chronicles the role of ...

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On the eve of World War II, the national interests of Japan, the United States, and the Soviet Union collided in the North Pacific.

Alaska's Hidden Wars tells the story of the war in the North Pacific, a story of savage weather, isolation, and sacrifice.

Two island chains, the Aleutians and the Kuriles, became the focus of a series of major campaigns that pitted the Americans against the Japanese. Alaska's Hidden Wars chronicles the role of Japanese-American intelligence specialists and reveals a Japanese eyewitness account of the defense of Attu. Two virtually unknown aspects of the North Pacific war are also exposed: the brutal North Pacific weather and the imprisonment of American airmen in Kamchatka.

In 1942, the Japanese raided Dutch Harbor in the Aleutian Islands and occupied the islands of Kiska and Attu. The Americans mounted a vigorous campaign, and the Japanese retreated to the Kuriles. For the next two years, the Americans launched air raids and fleet bombardments, while American soldiers maintained lonely outposts along Aleutian coasts. But in 1945, when Japan finally surrendered, the Kuriles were taken, not by the waiting Americans, but by the Soviets.

Alaska's Hidden Wars is a fast-moving history that brings declassified archival sources to light and draws the reader into the lonely, bitter war fought in the North Pacific.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781889963648
  • Publisher: University of Alaska Press
  • Publication date: 8/28/2004
  • Pages: 182
  • Sales rank: 1,489,527
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Otis Hays, Jr. served in Alaska as an intelligence staff officer during World War II. Later, while a professor of journalism at the University of Tulsa, Oklahoma, he was recalled to active military service in 1951 and served as psychological warfare officer in the Far East and the Pentagon until 1965. He was director of Indo-China Affairs for the U.S. Information Agency during the Vietnam War from 1966 through 1972. Mr. Hays is the author of Home from Siberia: The Secret Odysseys of Interned American Airmen in World War II and The Alaska-Siberia Connection: The World War II Air Route.

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Read an Excerpt

Alaska's Hidden Wars

Secret Campaigns on the North Pacific Rim
By Otis Hays, Jr.


Copyright © 2004 University of Alaska Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-889963-63-1

Chapter One

Lowering the Security Curtain

ON DECEMBER 16, President Roosevelt anticipated that Congress would quickly approve legislation authorizing him to create, among other things, an Office of Censorship. He pointed out that "all Americans abhor censorship, just as they abhor war. But the experience of this and all other nations has demonstrated that some censorship is essential in wartime." Since the United States was now at war, he added, "it is necessary to the national security that military information which might be of aid to the enemy be scrupulously withheld at the source."

Two days later, on December 18, Congress passed the First War Powers Act. The President wasted no time. On the following day he issued an executive order creating the Office of Censorship. He named Byron Price, a nationally known newsman, as its director. Price realized that, although he was responsible solely to the White House, he was undertaking a thankless and distasteful task.

Under Price's direction, a network of censorship examination stations was located on the nation's coastlines and borders. Here international mail, cable, radio, and telephone communications were monitored for content. If the content warranted, the communications were interrupted or seized.

No attempt was made to censor America's domestic print and broadcast media. Instead, at the request of the President Price enlisted and obtained the cooperation of editors and publishers to censor themselves. On January 15, 1942, Price issued the guidelines for a Code of Wartime Practices for the American Press. In it, the press was cautioned against publishing material of interest and benefit to the enemy, such as information about shipping, aircraft, troops, fortifications, war production, and armaments, especially secret weapons. At the same time, a similar code was issued for American radio broadcasters. The major difference between the two codes was the omission or use of weather information. Radio broadcasters were asked not to mention weather conditions and forecasts because the enemy could intercept the information. On the other hand, publishers were permitted limited use of official weather reports.

Adherence to the voluntary codes did not always produce desirable results. Nevertheless, publishers and radio station managers became aware that the nation's wartime security was also their patriotic business.

Although not identified as direct censorship, the official bureaucratic practice of delaying the release of war news stories accomplished the same goal. Details of major battles, especially the disclosure of American losses, were postponed until the Army and Navy were convinced that the knowledge would not benefit the enemy.

The Army and Navy, not the Office of Censorship, were responsible for censoring the mail to and from their forces overseas—which included the military forces in the Territory of Alaska.

The Territory of Alaska was promptly designated a military combat area in which General Buckner's Alaska Defense Command had the authority and responsibility to commence military postal censorship. Army officers in unit command positions read and cleared the letters written by their men. Officers themselves certified by signature that their own letters did not violate censorship rules. However, censors at specified bases spot-checked the mail of men and officers. The Navy had a similar censorship system.

To be effective, censorship was also applied to the mail of Alaskan civilians. The Office of Censorship's postal examination stations at Seattle and later at Minneapolis monitored the flow of civilian correspondence.

At the request of the Office of Censorship, the Army and Navy agreed to be responsible for the interception and examination of cable, radiotelegraph, and landline telephone communications to and from Alaska.

The military censors were loaded down with regulations that covered not only questions of security but also broad matters of military policy. Lacking the flexibility and experience to cope with the extraordinary wartime conditions, overzealous censors were faced with an upset Governor Gruening and furious independent-minded Alaskans, who commenced a storm of protest. The first year of the war would pass, however, before 150 trained military censors would arrive to oversee the censorship program.

Alaskan newspaper editors and radio station managers agreed to abide by the Office of Censorship's two codes of wartime practices. Although the media's intentions were honest, their willingness to self-censor was rarely applicable because their access to military information was limited. Since Alaska was a designated military combat area, news items of military importance were rigidly controlled by military public relations officers.

The Code of Wartime Practices did not apply to war correspondents. Instead, overseas military commanders, including General Buckner, allowed officially accredited correspondents to accompany combat units if the newsmen agreed to submit their reports and photographs to military public relations officers for clearance.

* * *

ONE OF THE EARLY SECURITY CURTAIN RESTRICTIONS in Alaska was aimed at resident Japanese-Americans. Special attention was immediately directed to Harry Sotaro Kawabe, a successful and well-known Seward businessman. The war was only hours old when military authorities ordered his detention.

At the end of the nineteenth century, the continental West Coast's predominantly Caucasian population had yet fully to accept the presence of immigrant Japanese issei (first generation). American-born nisei (second generation), even though they were American citizens, also faced social and economic discrimination because of their Japanese parentage.

Only a handful of Japanese issei were Alaskan residents. Harry Kawabe was one of them. An ambitious immigrant, Kawabe arrived in Seattle in 1906. Learning of the opportunities and higher wages in Alaska, he moved there and eventually settled in Seward. Strategically located at the head of Resurrection Bay, Seward was the ocean terminal for the Alaska Railroad and the port of entry for supplies bound for the Alaska mainland. Having arrived via ship at Seward, the cargoes were moved by the railroad into interior Alaska as far as Fairbanks. Seward's maritime-railroad connection with the West Coast was considered critical to the early defense of Alaska.

After establishing himself at Seward in 1915, Kawabe quickly gained prosperity and prominence. He invested in and expanded numerous real estate and business enterprises, including the Seward Laundry. He soon was considered not only an outstanding businessman but the foremost Japanese-American in Alaska as well. Although he was active in community affairs and generously supported children's education, Kawabe attracted the attention of suspicious governmental and military investigators. Among other items, the investigators reported that (1) officers of the Imperial Japanese Navy had contacted Kawabe in 1935, (2) over a period of years he helped numerous Japanese nationals visit Alaska, and (3) he had been instrumental in arranging the shipment of scrap iron from Alaska to Japan. Later, documents found in his possession were alleged to have been issued by Japanese military and naval officers.

Reacting immediately to Japan's raid on Pearl Harbor, the Alaska Defense Command ordered Kawabe to be detained on the evening of December 7. Kawabe was waiting with his wife in their apartment on the upper floor of his laundry building. Because of the hysterical anti-Japanese rumors that already were spreading through town, Kawabe was moved quickly to the railroad station and smuggled under escort in a railroad freight train caboose to Anchorage. Two days later, Kawabe's four Japanese-American laundry employees who resided with their families in Kawabe-owned apartments were likewise smuggled to Anchorage for temporary detention. A month later, Kawabe's wife, Tomo, and the wives and children of Kawabe's employees joined the men.

On the West Coast, the public outcries against resident Japanese-Americans quickly reached Washington. The cries were so great that President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942. The order authorized General DeWitt to relocate the 120,000 Japanese-Americans, issei and nisei alike, from his West Coast military zone to isolated inland camps. In the wake of General DeWitt's action, General Buckner also relocated Alaska's resident Japanese-Americans. On April 7, he ordered "all males of the Japanese race over nineteen years of age of half-blood" to report to the nearest military post by April 20 for relocation camps in the continental United States.

Of the 263 Japanese-Americans who were relocated from Alaska, only eighty-eight were issei. Harry Kawabe became the Alaskan exiles' spokesman. In 1944 and 1945, some of them made petitions for release and return to their Alaskan homes. Some of the petitions were approved, but Kawabe, who petitioned twice, was denied.

In addition, Buckner also ordered the evacuation of all military dependents from the Alaskan military combat area. Needless civilians in Alaska, he argued, would only complicate the maintenance and effectiveness of the security curtain.

With official high-level support, Buckner continued to ignore the resounding public protests, led by most of the Alaskan editors and Governor Gruening himself, against censorship and the mounting military restrictions. He soon would reaffirm and strengthen his security curtain policies to reduce the private and public flow of unauthorized or classified information from Alaska.

It was essential that the enemy not learn how vulnerable were the North Pacific defenses, especially at Dutch Harbor. Preparations were being made to cope with a Japanese attack of unknown size at an unknown time. In haste, the Army, with the cooperation of the Civil Aviation Administration, secretly built two emergency airfields, one on Umnak Island and the other at Cold Bay on the flanks of Dutch Harbor. The Navy concentrated its air and surface forces at Kodiak and Dutch Harbor. The only American outpost in the western Aleutians was a weather station on Kiska that the Navy was in the process of establishing (see Chapter 2).

Chapter Two

Confrontation in the Aleutians

Fog, rain, wind, even snow and ice—the inhospitable Aleutian weather was a continuing challenge to any military activity across the North Pacific. The success of any future defense or offense would be dependent on reasonable knowledge of what to expect from the changing Aleutian atmospherics.

Immediately after the Pearl Harbor disaster, the Navy took emergency action to begin an assessment of current Aleutian weather conditions. On December 26, 1941, the Navy rushed a four-man cadre to Kiska Island with equipment and supplies to establish a weather station. Accompanying the men was their mascot, a black mongrel dog named Explosion.

Five months later, on May 19, 1942, six more men were sent to Kiska to reinforce the weather station complement. Aerographers Mate 1st Class W. C. House was in charge of the detachment.

Later in May, the Commander-in-Chief, Pacific (CINCPAC) warned that a Japanese carrier force with troop transports was approaching the fog-bound Aleutians. On June 3 and 4, bombers from two enemy carriers twice found and pounded Dutch Harbor and its Unalaska environs. The persistent dismal weather and the surprising resistance by Navy and Army aircraft from the nearby secret bases convinced the carrier force to withdraw. However, the standby Japanese transports then prepared to land occupation troops on unprotected Attu and Kiska.

Among the American Dutch Harbor casualties were three Navy PBY airmen who became the first American prisoners of war in the North Pacific. They were captured from a life raft by the crew of the Japanese cruiser Takao after Japanese fighters shot down their Navy flying boat. Ensign Wylie M. Hunt, Seaman 1st Class Joseph R. Brown, and AOM 3rd Class Carl Creamer successfully resisted interrogation. They were later delivered to a prisoner-of-war camp in Japan.

Aerographers Mate House on Kiska, informed by radio of the Dutch Harbor raid, correctly foresaw that the Japanese would soon arrive. He and his men began hiding vital food supplies in Kiska's nearby ravines. Early on June 7, gunshots from a Japanese landing party awakened the weather detachment.

Aerographers Mate Winfrey, suffering a leg wound, was the only casualty. However, he was able to flee with the other men through the fog into Kiska's interior. In a matter of days, the Japanese located nine of the ten weathermen and the hidden supplies. Only House evaded capture by hiding in the hills and caves. At first, House believed that the Japanese would destroy the weather station and then depart. He waited week after week. But instead of leaving, the Japanese landed more troops and prepared to remain indefinitely on the American island. Meanwhile, assuming that House was dead, the Japanese sent the nine captured weathermen by ship to Japan.

At the same time on June 7 that the Japanese troops were scattering the Navy weathermen on Kiska, other troops came ashore on Attu. The island's only inhabitants were forty-two Aleuts and two Caucasian employees of the Alaska Native Service, Etta Jones (teacher) and her husband, Foster Jones (radio operator), all residing in Chichagof village. Foster Jones was the sole invasion casualty who, it was believed, may have chosen suicide rather than submission to the enemy. Etta Jones was placed aboard a ship on June 15 and sent to Japan, where she joined a group of interned Australian nurses for the war's duration. On the same day, John Artumonoff's death of unknown cause reduced the number of Attu's Aleuts to forty-one.

After Japanese troops landed on Attu and captured the villagers, American authorities feared that the Pribilof Islands of St. Paul and St. George and the Aleutian Island of Atka could be the enemy's next targets. As a result, Aleut villagers, carrying personal possessions, were evacuated from the vulnerable islands in mid-June. Later, Aleuts on Akutan, Umnak, and Unalaska were also evacuated. The Aleuts were relocated to remote camps in southeastern Alaska until the end of hostilities.

Meanwhile, on Kiska, House managed to evade the enemy occupation forces for seven weeks by eating earthworms and vegetation. Finally, weakened and starving, he surrendered on July 26.

The Japanese at home were urged to celebrate the seizure of the American territory in the Aleutians as a major victory. The Japanese news agency Domei ordered its correspondent on Kiska, Mikizo Fukazawa, to interview House following his surrender.

Fukazawa quoted House as saying, "I am grateful to the Japanese army for their kindness. I should have surrendered sooner." Fukazawa wrote, "I felt sorry for him. As I listened to the man, I learned a lesson in the difference between Japanese and Americans." 5 It was unthinkable, Fukazawa wrote, for a Japanese soldier to be captured alive because such an act would bring eternal disgrace to himself and his family. Fukazawa himself was not a soldier, but he was alluding to the traditional samurai military code of bushido ("the way of the warrior"). Victory or death was the choice given to Japanese men being indoctrinated for battle.

In August, the Japanese decided to abandon Attu in order to reinforce Kiska. Both the Japanese garrison and the Attu natives, bound for Kiska, evacuated Attu on September 17. During the short voyage, another Aleut, Anecia Prokopioff, died. On September 20, Navy weatherman W. Q. House joined the remaining forty Aleuts aboard the Nagata Maru and sailed for Japan.


Excerpted from Alaska's Hidden Wars by Otis Hays, Jr. Copyright © 2004 by University of Alaska Press. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF ALASKA PRESS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

The Aleutian Islands, 1941-1943
Ch. 1 Lowering the security curtain 3
Ch. 2 Confrontation in the Aleutians 9
Ch. 3 The secret Nisei in the Aleutian campaign 15
Ch. 4 Nisei support at Attu and Kiska 19
Ch. 5 The Tatsuguchi diary 31
The Kurile Islands, 1943-1945
Ch. 6 Looking beyond the Aleutians 43
Ch. 7 American prisoners in the Kuriles 47
Ch. 8 Whither the North Pacific weather? 55
Ch. 9 American deception and Japanese reaction 67
Ch. 10 The waiting period in the North Pacific 81
Ch. 11 Soviet presence in the North Pacific 109
Ch. 12 Lifting the security curtain 119
Conclusion 123
Postscript 125
App. A Nisei MIS roster 129
App. B Propaganda leaflets 131
App. C Tatsuguchi diary translation 135
App. D Signal intelligence operations 143
Endnotes 151
Bibliography 169
Index 175
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