Dutch Harbor, Unalaska, Aleutian Islands, Alaska
Last Updated: 04/26/2017 06:08
First Published: 07/07/2005
The island of Unalaska, part of the Fox Island grouping of islands along the Aleutian chain, consists of 111
square miles of land and 101 square miles of water. The highest elevation of 5,691 feet can be found on the
island at the top of Makushin Volcano, which is not visible from the town of Unalaska. The Port of Dutch
Harbor, which is part of the City of Unalaska, is located on Amaknak Island which is connected to Unalaska
by a bridge. Unalaska’s population was 4,376 according to the 2010 U. S. Census. The population triples
between August and May due to the arrival of commercial fisherman. Unalaska is approximately 792 miles
by air south and west of Anchorage.
The Unangan peoples (Aleuts) have occupied the chain of Aleutian Islands for over 9,000 years and were the
first to inhabit the island known today as “Unalaska,” or as they originally named the island in their native
language: “Ounalashka.” When Russian fur traders arrived In 1759 the Unalaska and Amaknak Islands
contained 24 settlements populated with more than 1,000 Unangan natives.
On the 18th of October, 1867, the United States purchased Alaska, and with that purchase Unalaska
became an American territory. Up until the mid-1900’s the Unangan natives, along with descendants of
those original Russian fur traders, comprised most of the community’s population.
Epidemics of measles, chicken-pox, and whooping-cough experienced between the years 1836 and 1840
reduced the island’s population such that at the end of the decade only 200-400 Aleuts remained living in
Unalaska. In 1900 and then again in 1919 the Spanish Flu reached the islands, thus contributing to a further
decrease in Unalaska’s population.
In 1940 the United States began fortifying Dutch Harbor…the winds of war were in the air. The Dutch
Harbor Naval Operating base and the Army’s Fort Mears were established and populated.
December 7th, 1941 was proclaimed to be a day that would live in infamy by then President of the United
States, Franklin D. Roosevelt, as a result of the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Hawaii of
course isn't connected to nor is it physically part of the contiguous 48 States. The attack on Pearl Harbor
thus presented itself to Americans living on the "mainland" as an event that took place in a somewhat
detached and remote location, given that Hawaii is located some 2,400 miles to the west of San Francisco by
On the 3rd and 4th of June, 1942, six months after the attack by the Japanese on Pearl Harbor, they
attacked and bombed the port of Dutch Harbor. Now, Dutch Harbor, being around 792 miles from
Anchorage, AK, is a little closer to home. You'd think that the mainland Americans would be outraged,
concerned to the maximum extent...but given that American soil was attacked directly by the Japanese,
and that this was seen as a demoralizing factor, the military clamped down on any news reporting of this
event. Little was known at the time in the lower 48 about this attack on Dutch Harbor.
According to Admiral James S. Russell, USN (ret.), Commander, VP-42, Dutch Harbor, these attacks were but
small parts of a large overall plan to take the Central Pacific island of Midway (located 1,300 miles
northwest of Honolulu), draw the U.S. Pacific Fleet into a decisive battle at sea, and to occupy the outer
islands of the Aleutian Chain. Almost concurrently with attacks on Dutch Harbor, the western-most
Aleutian Islands of Attu and Kiska were captured and occupied by Japanese forces on the 6th and 7th of
June of 1942.
Dutch Harbor, fall of 1944. Back row (L-R): Lt. Furgeson 1st Pilot, Lt. Juliana PPC, Ens
Gonska Navigator. Front Row (L to R) Robert Siebels ARM, Shafer AMM, W.D.
Glendinning AMM, Ken Claypool AOM, Brookover ARM. Crew placed on inshore
patrol duty at Dutch Harbor after flying patrols out of Attu for five months straight.
(Courtesy Ken Claypool)
For a comprehensive read regarding the events as they unfolded at Dutch Harbor, be sure to check Norman Rourke's book, "War
Comes To Alaska...The Dutch Harbor Attack, June 3-4, 1942." Also, additional reading material can be found on our Bibliography