The Battle of Dutch Harbor has generally occupied little more than a postscript in the affairs of the Second World War. It’s pretty much an “oh-by-the-way” engagement when weighed against what was building around Midway. And truth be told, it is a relatively minor encounter as they go.
Begun in the early morning of June 3, 1942, it involved a small Imperial Japanese fleet with a couple of light carriers (Ryujo and Junyo) and a handful of cruisers and destroyers…a pittance compared to the massive Midway armada. Their job was to shoot stuff and blow stuff up and create enough havoc to cover for the invasion force that was making for Attu and Kiska, a pair islands farther down the Aleutian chain.
Facing the Japanese was an amalgamation of forces, including an Army regiment, some anti-aircraft batteries, and a handful of aircraft. Of course, U.S. intelligence was aware that an attack might be coming, but no one was sure of exactly when or where it would fall. So while the men had been on alert, the sounds of bombs falling and explosions at 4:30 in the morning was still a bit of a surprise.
The Japanese attacks were kind of on-again, off-again affairs throughout the day, but usually involved strafing runs at very low altitude, low enough that some soldiers claimed they could see the faces of the pilots at whom they were shooting. Japanese fighters succeded in not doing much damage, though they did manage to bomb the barracks at Fort Mears, killing 25 servicemen. As defenders, U.S. forces managed to keep the Japanese dodging enough that it prevented any serious damage, other than the attack at Fort Mears, and U.S. planes dispatched a couple of reconnaissance planes that got a little too close to the action.
So the first day of the battle saw a flurry of activity and a whole bunch of ammunition expended for not a ton of results. But the Japanese were doing their job…keeping the American forces occupied as an invasion force made its way north.
Like I said, the Battle of Dutch Harbor sounds kind of ho-hum. But it was very important for what happened on June 4th. That action would provide the most memorable results and a huge windfall to American Navy pilots.