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This Week in Arkansas Military History - 206th Arkansas Army National Guard and The Bombing of Dutch Harbor.

The Aleutian Islands sat halfway between Asia and North America. Their proximity to both continents made the chain a critical checkpoint for transpacific communications during WWII, leading Japan to attempt to seize control of the islands as part of a larger offensive centered on Guadalcanal and Midway. Dewitt MacKenzie, a world war analyst for the Northwest Arkansas Times, explained the importance of places like Midway and Dutch Harbor in a column he wrote on June 8, 1942. He stated, "Dutch Harbor, set down amidst the fogs and violent storms of the Far North, bars the northwest route to Alaska. In other words, it is the guardian of the northwest's approach to this continent." The Japanese realized that to win the war in the Pacific, they would have to force the U.S. fleet into combat. The Japanese planned to use the island chain to divert American forces away from Midway. The plan, founded on inaccurate military intelligence about the Allied forces in the Aleutian Islands, would have been complex even if their information had been accurate. The climate of the chain of Islands off the Alaskan coast, with foggy and cold summers and freezing winters, was not conducive for military operations or bases even though America had already established bases throughout the Aleutian Islands, anticipating Japanese invasion. 

Among the service members ordered to guard the Aleutian chain bases were two Arkansas National Guard units, the 206th Coast Artillery and 153rd Infantry Regiments. The Arkansas National Guard had been sent to the Aleutian islands in 1941 to aid the Alaskan troops. On June 3, 1942, Japanese naval air forces, consisting of Mitsubishi Zero fighter planes and various bombers, bombed Dutch Harbor,  coinciding with the attack on Midway. An eyewitness recounted his experience at Dutch Harbor in The Northwest Arkansas Times, "the Japanese air attack at 5:45 am June 3 caught civilians by surprise and how the gunners on their shipland ashore laid a deadly screen of anti-aircraft fire about the raiding planes. While the army and navy men manned the anti-aircraft guns, some of the ship's crew snatched up rifles and blazed away at the dive bombers." 

Although the American forces were surprised, the 206th quickly went into action and inflicted heavy damage on the Japanese, including bringing down a Zero fighter that was later used to help Allied intelligence better understand the plane's strengths and weaknesses. They continued to attack throughout June 3 and into June 4 and only ceased fire when the weather got worse, forcing the Japanese to return to their bases. 

According to reports, the attack on the third lasted about 15 minutes; when the skies cleared and Japanese bombers had left, Dutch Harbor still stood, bloodied and damaged, but still in operation. A corporal said, "The damage was high- considering that no matter how long you've been warned and have been expecting a raid, there's bound to be some surprise when they finally do come over in force." By the end of the bombing on the second day, 43 Americans were killed, and another 50 were wounded. The attack by the Japanese on Dutch Harbor would be known as the Williwaw War, which was named after the violent winds and abysmal rain, snow, and fog common on the Aleutian Islands. The 206th continued to serve in Alaska until they were deployed to Europe in 1944 before returning to Arkansas, where they still exist today as the Arkansas Army National Guard's 206th Artillery Regiment.

Works Cited

Brown, Kevin . "The National Guard's WWII Aleutian Islands Campaign Service." National Guard Educational Foundation. National Guard Memorial Museum, February 23, 2024.

Christ, Mark . "Encyclopedia of Arkansas Minute: The Williwaw War." NPR. KUAR, January 16, 2020.

Cochran, Robert B. "Williwaw War." Arkansas National Guard Museum. Encyclopedia of Arkansas, February 23, 2024.

"Defense of the Aleutians." National Guard. Defense Media Activity, February 23, 2024.

Greene, Roger D. "Japs Met Violent Anti-Aircraft Fire in Raid Upon Dutch Harbor." Northwest Arkansas Times (Fayetteville, Arkansas), June 25, 1942.

MacKenzie, DeWitt. "Behind the News: The War Today." Northwest Arkansas Times (Fayetteville, Arkansas), June 8, 1942.

Press, Associated . "4 Bombers, 15 Fighters Raid Alaska Base." Hope Star (Hope, Arkansas), June 3, 1942.

Press, Associated . "Where Is Dutch Harbor." Hope Star (Hope, Arkansas), June 5, 1942.

Screws, Raymond D. "The Roots." Arkansas National Guard Museum. Arkansas National Guard, January 1, 2024.


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