Newly Documented WWII Japanese Occupation Sites on Kiska Island

Author: Caroline Funk PHD, PI of the Rat Islands Research Project 

We discovered previously undocumented World War II Japanese military trenches, road remnants, caves, and telephone lines during the Summer 2014 Rat Islands Research Project field season in Vega Bay, Kiska Island. We were there to learn about the deep Unangan/Aleut and environmental past and we were working in an area far from the usual research camp locations – several miles from the famously known Kiska Harbor WWII activity area. (For more details, see the USFWS Foundation Statement for the Alaska Unit of the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument).

Our new finds were a little bit unexpected, although we were suspicious when we saw dozens of bomb craters lining the valley walls around our beachfront campsite. At first we assumed that these were more or less accidental, the result of bad visibility and difficult navigation conditions during the 1942-1943 bombing runs made by the United States Air Force and Navy. But with each passing day of archaeological survey, we identified more remnants of the 14-month Japanese occupation of Kiska. We opened our field copy of Stan Cohen’s “The Forgotten War: Volume 4” and learned that we were in fact camped within territory defended by the Japanese military, probably the 301st and 302nd Independent Infantry Battalions occupying Gertrude Cove from October 1942 to July 1943. We saw that Cohen reported that there were more than 40 gun positions along the Vega Bay shore.

As we looked closer at the landscape, we saw roads, camps, emplacements, entrenchments, communications technology, and secret hideaways. We found suspiciously flattened small terraces built into seaward facing hillsides. A secluded waterfall had an underwater wall of rocks surrounding the base, forming what looked like a small cistern or bathing pool filled with crystal clear but very cold water. We’ll share some of the images of these places with you here – we’ll tell the full story in an article in the coming year.

I labeled 4 craters in this image of an interior valley off Vega Bay. More than 20 others are easily visible.

I labeled 4 craters in this image of an interior valley off Vega Bay. More than 20 others are easily visible. Click on the image to enlarge.

Site KIS-070 includes several trenches like this one placed on a seaward facing terrace. Nearby telephone poles mark the communication network.

Site KIS-070 includes several trenches like this one placed on a seaward facing terrace. Nearby telephone poles mark the communication network.

This is one of the trenches associated with the larger camp at KIS-061. A few of these outliers extended beyond the main trenchline.

This is one of the trenches associated with the larger camp at KIS-061. A few of these outliers extended beyond the main trenchline.

The larger WWII Japanese encampment (KIS-061).

A WWII Japanese encampment (KIS-061).

The larger WWII Japanese encampment (KIS-061).

A WWII Japanese encampment with trenches, emplacements, and roads labeled (KIS-061).

One of a line of North and East bearing telephone poles (KIS-064).

One of a North and East bearing line of telephone poles (KIS-064).

Close up of the porcelain insulator (KIS-064).

Close up of the porcelain insulator (KIS-064).

KIS-062 is a complex of small caves and exterior buildings and it seems to be the center point of at least three telephone lines.

KIS-062 is a complex of small caves and exterior buildings and it seems to be the center point of at least three telephone lines. (Photo by B. Hoffman.)

Inside Cave 1 of KIS-062. Notice the porcelain insulator.

Inside Cave 1 of KIS-062. Notice the porcelain insulator. (Photo by B. Hoffman.)

The pool at the base of the waterfall is lined with a suspiciously orderly smooth rock wall and floor (near KIS-066).

The pool at the base of the waterfall is lined with a suspiciously orderly smooth rock wall and floor (near KIS-061 and KIS-066).

Cohen, Stan. 1981. The Forgotten War: Volume 4 – A Pictorial History of World War II in Alaska and Northwestern Canada. Pictorial Histories Publishing Company, Inc. Missoula, MT.

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