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"How Did Alaska’s Terrain Affect US Troops During WWII?" Topic


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618 hits since 5 Aug 2018
©1994-2018 Bill Armintrout
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Cacique Caribe06 Aug 2018 3:49 p.m. PST

First …

How did US troops manage the movement of troops and men over the permafrost tundra terrain, and the setting up of camps and defenses? Got any links to references and/or photos of that period?

Also …

A) Have any of you gamers of that period ever played an Alaska scenario?
B) If so, how did you simulate the tundra terrain conditions?
C) And what did your table look like for those scenarios? What terrain features did you have on the table?

Thanks

Dan
TMP link

Winston Smith Supporting Member of TMP06 Aug 2018 5:07 p.m. PST

The only land battle in Alaska was at Attu.
link
It was the only land battle on United States territory, and the only one fought in arctic conditions.
More on Attu Island.
link
Note it's location, at the very end of the Aleutians.
According to one of those sites, the only trees were planted by GIs as part of a chapel, after the battle.

If you mean hypothetical battles in Alaska proper, can't help you.

FoxtrotPapaRomeo06 Aug 2018 6:20 p.m. PST

There is lots of free stuff from US DOD/National Parks/Alaskan Parks and Tourist areas on the US Army and bases in Alaska.

The Aleutians campaign is probably what you are thinking of (heck, I am). There is a series on National Geographic on the Aleutian campaign that is worth a look – I think it was Adak airstrip that was constructed on a bay and was underwater (a foot or so) for a lot of its time. Navy has a booklet link . A photo of hauling Supplies to Attu – vehicles couldn't get there but privates could

picture
. I have a few books on the actual campaign.

Series The United States Army in World War Two includes a book on the Corps of Engineers (1966, Karl Dod) with a chapter VII on the Far North, including the Alcan Highway. Navy Seabees and civilian contractors were also involved (according to a couple of small Alaskan History pamphletts).

Lots of stuff on US Army and later Air Force air bases in Alaska – Ladd Field (The WWII Heritage of Ladd Field, Fairbanks – hub for LendLease shipments to USSR and included Soviet pilots and technical staff as well as testing cold weather kit) , Elmendorf, Anchorage).


Also, look at the Cold War resources – lots of great stuff on building and manning Nike batteries and air bases. I got some free at the Visitor Information Centre in Fairbanks but lots more available for free online.

Don't forget to lookup the Alaska Army National Guard and the earlier Alaska Territorial Guard, and the Scout Battalions for small units in the middle of nowhere.

In respect of your questions,

A) No, but I have some card models of RCN, CCGS and RCAF units that got me thinking – I am planning on using 1980s Canadian forces (repurposed Australin units with the Lynx replacing the MRV and T50 turreted M113) to stage a Cold War reconquest of Churchill, Manitoba. Sort of similar terrain though not as much hills and mountains. Why choose Manitoba? – I have a son and daughter in law there.

B) … flat with rocks, small clumps of pine, lots of swamps and bogs, like the scenery deep into Denali National Park below the snowline.

C) …

Cacique Caribe06 Aug 2018 6:38 p.m. PST

FoxtrotPapaRomeo

Wow, that booklet on the campaign is amazing. Thanks for that link.

1) So how did we get most of those troops, equipment and vehicles to mainland Alaska to begin with? Most by land through Canada?

2) Were many of them already stationed at bases up there before the war, and thus their transfer had happened gradually over the years? Or did it happen in massive waves right after WWII was declared?

3) When were the best and worst months to move heavy equipment and vehicles over most of that tundra terrain, to bring finally them down to the Aleutians, where they were needed?

Thanks so much.

Dan
PS. Also … did the Soviets help us in any way in the northern Pacific, before or during the Aleutian campaign? Or were they too preoccupied with the Germans out West to assist?

picture

picture

Tundra terrain on Attu:
link
picture

Tundra terrain on Kiska:
picture

link

Winston Smith Supporting Member of TMP06 Aug 2018 7:04 p.m. PST

As for US USSR "cooperation", it was ….. complicated.
link
Neither Russia nor Japan were willing to have anything but a stiff formal neutrality. Thus US Lend Lease goods, non military, flowed freely to Vladivostok, but only in Soviet flagged ships.
Thus, no other military cooperation.

Weddier06 Aug 2018 7:05 p.m. PST

Garfield's "The Thousand Mile War" is a good account. Pics included.

Cacique Caribe06 Aug 2018 7:06 p.m. PST

Winston

So the USSR never declared war on Japan, at any point?

Dan

dragon606 Aug 2018 7:09 p.m. PST

Just a guess but most of the troops and equipment came by sea.

No the Soviets did not help.

The Soviets declared war on Japan August 8th 1945

FoxtrotPapaRomeo06 Aug 2018 7:36 p.m. PST

Dan,

1) So how did we get most of those troops, equipment and vehicles to mainland Alaska to begin with? Most by land through Canada? ==> Sea for heavy lifting and Alaska even then had great port facilities. Air was still expensive. Railroads in Alaska but no connections down to the other states. Oil pipeline from Canada. And the Alcan highway.

2) Were many of them already stationed at bases up there before the war, and thus their transfer had happened gradually over the years? Or did it happen in massive waves right after WWII was declared? ==> Strategy relating to Alaska in WW2 PDF link

3) When were the best and worst months to move heavy equipment and vehicles over most of that ground, to bring finally them down to the Aleutians, where they were needed? ==> If shipped by sea, usable vehicles would be there pretty quickly and with minimal wear and tear

4) … did the Soviets help us in any way in the northern Pacific, before or during the Aleutian campaign? Or were they too preoccupied with the Germans out West to assist? ==> I don't believe they did. Though in all honesty, their Pacific Fleet/Army/Airforce were probably challenged with the massive distances involved in the eastern USSR let alone extending into Alaska. And this was only 35 years after the Japanese Navy had decisively destroyed a couple of Russian Fleets. And they had already fought Japan in Manchuria and Mongolia in 1938-1939, so they wouldn't have wanted to divert their forces (Victor Sorge had said the Japanese wouldn't attack but you might not want to bt your country on it).

As I said, there are lots of free resources. And don't forget Wikipedia. Here are some more:


Army booklet on the Aleutian Campaign (I have a PDF version but can't find it on the web at present) link

USN document PDF link

Alaskan pamphlet on the Aleutian Campaign PDF link

NPS – PDF link

Winston Smith Supporting Member of TMP06 Aug 2018 8:16 p.m. PST

Dan. The USSR declared war on Japan on August 8, 1845.
Hiroshima was August 6. Nagasaki was August 9.
Do the math.

Glengarry506 Aug 2018 8:37 p.m. PST

If you can wait 226 days there's this from Osprey:

link

Winston Smith Supporting Member of TMP06 Aug 2018 8:41 p.m. PST

After Germany was beaten, that was plenty of time to settle things with Japan.
Imagine T-34 vs the famously crappy Japanese tanks. Until Japan surrendered, the Russians basically were slowed down only by how fast their tanks could go.
Russia took Manchuria, Sakhalin Island, etc.

ScottWashburn Sponsoring Member of TMP07 Aug 2018 3:14 a.m. PST

Probably the toughest 'battle' of the whole campaign was building the Alcan highway. An amazing feat.

Major Mike07 Aug 2018 4:49 a.m. PST

A friends father was in the Marines and posted to Attu late in the war to train Russians on how to fight the Japanese. He had interesting stories about being there and the fact that they did not retake the whole island. They had their perimeter and there were Japanese out in the hinterland living in caves. Some felt sorry and left blankets and food out on the fringe. Much of that benevolence ended when a sentry was killed.

Aethelflaeda was framed07 Aug 2018 7:29 a.m. PST

I went to the US army northern warfare school as a cadet. Northern warfare is 100% logistics. Just getting to the fight wherever it might be is the whole battle. The actual fighting probably won't be in a remote spot meeting out in the tundra, but at a pass, or choke point or on the rivers, but it has to be suppliable. Nobody will be up to resupply maintain a fighting force of significant size for extended periods out in the wastes. Motorized vehicles become a liability due to fuel needs. Foot and small boats might be all you can manage.

Cacique Caribe07 Aug 2018 9:32 a.m. PST

Aethelflaeda: "Foot and small boats might be all you can manage."

After reading most of the links above, I'm starting to agree with you about that.

Dan

Legion 407 Aug 2018 2:41 p.m. PST

Yes, Kiska and Attu were really tough battles as the terrain & weather were very alien to many of the troops there. And in some cases as big a threat as the IJFs.

Having spent 2 Winters in the ROK, '84-'85. Prior planning and Logistics are very important. With Wind Chill 30 and 40 degrees below 0 at times. You really had to be prepared. I had to run more than one emergency resupply convoy in the cold, ice and snow of a ROK winter … snowflake

I've run ops '79-'90 in the jungle and the desert as well as the "artic" conditions of the ROK. The only good thing I can say about extreme cold weather … there are no bugs … evil grin


Imagine T-34 vs the famously crappy Japanese tanks. Until Japan surrendered, the Russians basically were slowed down only by how fast their tanks could go.
Russia took Manchuria, Sakhalin Island, etc.
Yes, very true, in Manchuria the USSR did a number of para drops and even horse cav to try to get behind, etc. of IJFs. They were being rolled up and retreating as far as they could.

However, when invading an island or two North of the Japanese home islands. The USSR having little real experience with Amphib ops. They took some losses to the Japanese dug in and dying in place. Like the US ran into a number of times in the PTO.

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