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.
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.