In the early twentieth century US relations with Japan began to fall apart. Military planers began to realize how important Alaska would be if there was a war in the Pacific. Alaska was within flying distance of Japan and the rest United States. Survival would depend on keeping it under our control.
The military has been present in Sitka for almost 100 years. In 1902, the Navy constructed a coaling station on Japonski island.
In 1937 the Navy established the its first seaplane base in the Territory of Alaska on Japonski island in Sitka. With Japan fighting in Asia, the plans were made to expand the military presence in Alaska. On October 1st, 1939 the seaplane base formally became a Naval Air Station. It was the first of only three defending Alaska. The others were at Kodiak and Dutch Harbor. The Air station in Sitka was upgraded to Naval Operating Base on July 20th, 1942 Because of the importance of the stations, the army was put in charge to defend them along with other important ports and cities across the country.
In Sitka, the Army planned three 6-inch gun batteries, two 90mm Anti Motor-Torpedo Boat batteries, one 2-gun 155mm GPF battery, numerous fire control stations, a big searchlight system, radar stations, and other things. It would take the Army a few years to construct all the necessary defenses so in 1942 the hurriedly constructed the 155mm battery on Makhnati Island, and emplaced two 6-inch Naval guns given to the army at shoals Point, which became operational in March/April 1942. The Army then constructed a two-mile-long causeway connecting eight islands to Japonski Island and worked on the other defenses. Japonski Island was also connected to two smaller islands named Alice and Charcoal. These islands and the causeway are where Fort Ray was established. Fort Ray was the support camp for all the Army service men and batteries used in the Harbor Defenses of Sitka.
Army construction around town began to speed up when in 1942 the USA found that Japan was planning to attack Alaska. The construction costs in Sitka exceeded 30 million dollars. There were at one time 10,000 people stationed in Sitka. (The current population is about 8,000).
The only batteries completed by the halt of construction in late 1944 were 6-inch Battery 292, Fort Rousseau, on Makhnati Island; the 90mm batteries, on Whale Island, and at Watson Point; and the 155mm battery on Makhnati. (See the map above for general locations) The two other 6-inch batteries were both almost completed. Battery 291, Fort Peirce, on Biorka Island was 98 percent completed when abandoned. Battery 290, Fort Babcock at Shoals Point was abandoned when 88 percent complete. Both batteries had many fire control stations and large support camps abandoned with them.
Lots of the WWII construction around town remains. There are foundations and concrete bunkers scattered around. If you go on Japonski Island its hard to miss them.
The remains on the causeway and surrounding islands are virtually all there. There has been erosion and some vandalism but the structures are standing. Iíve been to the causeway numerous times and Biorka once. Iíve also been to a fire control station on Kayak Island, and another Fire control and radar site on Abalone Island.
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Gun#2 at Fort Rousseau on Makhnati Island Photos of WWII Sites Today : Click Here
Alaska Defense Command patches and flag (click for enlarged pictures)
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If YOU Were Stationed Here in Sitka and Have Any Information or especially pictures, please E-mail me. The Sitka Historical Society Will Want to Contact You.
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