After our Aleutian Campaign Warbirds In Review Session at Oshkosh this summer, I had many people asking me about how they could be part a Aleutian Island WWII Historical Expedition. And actually, the tour company who handles all the details of our tour was too wrapped with their D-Day events that we did not have a tour scheduled for 2019. Not anymore.... Alaska Marine Expeditions and I decided this would be a great opportunity to create a special aviation themed history expedition through the Aleutians!
The site of this 1942 B-24D crash site sits on the northwest part of the historic island of Atka along the Aleutian Island chain. The small mountainous island is situated just 90 miles east of Adak and has a long history dating back 2,000 years with Unangax^ as its occupants. Around 1747 the Russians discovered Atka Island and made it a primary trade site while forcing the Aleut people to hunt and process the skins of seals and sea otters only to benefit the wealth and position of the Russians. The townsite of Atka was officially settled in 1860.
As with the other Aleut villages along the chain of islands the arrival of the U.S. military meant the evacuation of its people to relocation camps in the Southeast Alaska - sent to dwell in dilapidated fish canneries in a temperate rain forest and an environment completely unfamiliar to its new inhabitants. Meanwhile Atka was burned to the ground to prevent Japanese from gaining any benefit. Nonetheless, Atka residents fared slightly better than most as the US Navy reconstructed their village after the war and residents were able to return along with other Unangax^ from villages deemed too remote or unsustainable by the powers that be - sadly including those from battle filled Attu. The war had significantly changed the lives of the Aleuts forever. Today, sixty-one people call Atka Island their home with most living on the southeast side of the island.
CRASH of B-24D- 40-2367
It was early morning December 9, 1942, when two pilots, Captains John Andrews and Louis Blau from the 404th Bombardment Squadron who were assigned to take high ranking officials, Brigadier General William Lynch and General Arnold's Inspector General on a weather patrol. They wanted to see and experience for themselves what the pilots of the 11th Air Force were having to deal with - and experience the elements they did. Departing from Adak they flew to Attu to conduct reconnaissance on the Japanese occupation forces - and at the request of the generals extended their mission a bit too long. On the return, the once visible Adak airstrip had become completely covered in fog including the surrounding alternative island landing sites. With no improvement in conditions and running out of fuel the pilot radioed for the latest weather report and learned Atka Island offered a small window of opportunity for emergency landing by visual approach. As the Atka runway was not operational yet the options were narrowed to either bail out or crash land on the tundra. After circling the island they found a level valley on the Northwestern side to glide the B-24D into. After 150 rough and painfully noisy yards it came to a halt. They all jumped out unharmed expect the bruised ego and broken collar bone of the General who had insisted on lingering over Attu.
Although this plane sits on part of the federally protected Aleutian Island World War II National Historic Area sites, it has been scrapped over the years with people helping themselves to whatever parts they wanted to needed. Even so, it is still in great shape and has survived the harsh climate well. As we approach and the fog envelops the steep slopes surrounding the valley where it sits, it acts as yet another example of the dangers that Aleutian Campaign pilots faced every day.
With all of the exciting 'stuff' going on, it occurred to me when creating a Facebook post on what the significance of today was for my family (WWII life saving crash day), that I failed to write a blog post about this SUPER exciting find at the Smithsonian! So here it is, better late than never... A few years ago, thanks to Ron Walker of Canada's West Coast, and his diligent work of data basing Canadian Military Aircraft, I was made aware that a plane my grandfather flew while in the Aleutians was now hanging proudly at the entrance to the Smithsonian's Udvar Hazy Center in Chantilly, VA. With very little RCAF history noted on their website, naturally, I contacted their curators to fill them in on the role of the plane during WWII.
With the generosity of a dear client of mine, my daughter and I flew up there, with log books in tow, to meet with Russ Lee, Chair of the Aeronautics department. Upon greeting me, he mentioned that in his thirty years there, he can count on two hands the number of times someone had come forward with a personal connection to one of their aircraft. Needless to say, they were as thrilled as I was to be in contact. This was a special moment. During our meeting, we laid
out five future objectives on how to update the exhibit to reflect the
new information. Currently though, the Air and Space
Museum is neck deep in a total remodel of their facility therefore some
of the goals we laid out are sitting idle until the renovation is
P-40E Hope's Lope or as we know it, AK875 in the Udvar- Hazy Center.
It is particularly interesting to me that this Kittyhawk (P-40E) AK875, is one of the aircraft to actually survive and be on display in one of the most prestigious aviation museums in the world. For my family, this has always been a special angel plane because it was in this very P-40 that my grandfather had his life saving ground loop at a refueling stop while en route to Umnak Island. This crash put the plane out of service and him on a transport. The rest of the formation would fly on with a majority of them fatally crashing into a mountain side when they got disoriented in the ever so dense and unforgiving Aleutian fog.
AK875 presumably crashed in Naknek due to my grandfather's ground loop. DND Photo
His log book entry of that day and the events that followed. P/O Lynch collection.
For me, this plane lives on so that the stories of those it flew with could also. It
reminds me of my purpose and that is
to tell the stories of those who flew and served in the forgotten
Read more about it in an article that the Air and Space Museum posted this spring. And the next time you are at the Udvar-Hazy Center, say a silent "Hi" to those airmen that flew it. To date, here is list of those known to have flown Hope's Lope in 111(F) Squadron, RCAF:
P/O Robert Lynch, AM- survived the war P/O Johnny Ingalls- survived the war P/O John Eskil, was killed in Europe, 1944 P/O Frank Crowley, was killed in Europe, 1944 P/O Nick Stusiak, killed in Europe, 1944 P/O Ed Merkley, killed in Europe, 1943 P/O Al Watkins, DFC- survived the war F/L Bo Middleton, DFC- survived the war S/L Kenneth Boomer, DFC, AM- killed in Europe, 1944
Last Sunday, on Canada Day nonetheless, I was blessed with the opportunity to fly out of the very same airfield as my grandfather did 76 years prior, Elmendorf Field, (Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson). It was 1942 and the RCAF had just arrived in Anchorage to commencejoint operations with the U.S. Army Air Corps. Here is what their day looked like.
“A six plane scramble today to intercept Bolingbroke aircraft.The scramble was not successful as the wrong vector was given.The second scramble at lunch time- Bolingbroke aircraft intercepted and identified as Bolingbroke.Section formation carried out for an hour.”
Elmendorf Air Field in 1941 roughly six months prior to the arrival of the RCAF.
Elmendorf Air Field 2018, looking westward.
westward take off out of what is now Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson
using the same WWII runways that my grandfather and his squadron would
have used. Look closely and you will see the U.S. Air Force
Thunderbirds lined up. They were there as part of the weekend's Arctic
Thunder Air Show. Incidentally, "Thunderbird" was also the name of my
grandfather's squadron; 111(F) Thunderbird Squadron, RCAF. Neat!
RCAF P-40's flying over an Alaskan range. Photo courtesy of Maj. Fred Paradie.
A surreal moment. Allies then and allies now.
A humongous thank you to the Commemorative Air Force- Alaska Wing. Such a great group of people. If you have an interest in WWII aviation or WWII in Alaska then I strongly encourage you to join the squadron and support their efforts in keeping the legacies of these warbirds and those who flew them alive. It was the best thing I have ever done!
Lt. Col (RET) Robert (Bob) Brocklehurst, is one of the last remaining WWll Aleutian Island pilots at nearly 98 years young. I met Bob a few years ago when his barber (my client) connected us. He has not been able to get rid of me since! What a blessing Bob has been to me and to my daughter. Most of my life I grew up with people blessed in years and I learned the most valuable lessons from them. My daughter gets to experience that in Bob. He is an inspiration and we are so proud to call him our friend.
“Bob” Brocklehurst began his 28 years of military service months before the
United States entered World War II. Interested in becoming a pilot, he became a
cadet in the Army Air Corps in February 1941 and completed his training in the
fall of that year. In the weeks following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor,
Brocklehurst and 23 other pilots and their P-40s were deployed north to Alaska.
Brocklehurst, was attached to the 11th Fighter Squadron and lead by Col. John
“Jack” Chennault , son of infamous Claire Chennault, in their P-40’s when they landed in Fairbanks, March of 1942.He was soon transferred to the 18th Fighter
Squadron, which also flew P-36s. The squadron eventually moved west to Kodiak
in defense of US Naval Base.
In addition to worrying about a Japanese attack, the pilots also had to contend
with Williwaws; blizzards with hurricane force winds, zero visibility, sketchy navigational aids and
Brocklehurst flew out to Umnak to reinforce the island in June of 1942, just
before the Japanese struck Dutch Harbor, Alaska from the air on two consecutive days. Within a week the Japanese then landed and occupied the American island of Attu,
killing one and taking over 40 civilian prisoners, and Kiska, where they
captured the 12 man crew of a small US weather reporting station.
After the attack
Brocklehurst was ordered back to Anchorage to form a new unit, the 344th
Fighter Squadron, flying P-40’s and was appointed squadron commander after
successfully leading a formation of 12 Warhawks through horrendous weather
to land safely on Adak. He took his new squadron all600 miles west along the Aleutian chain where
he earned the distinction of being the first fighter pilot to land on the
island of Attu just days after it was liberated in June of 1943.
This May, Bob returned to Anchorage with several of his fellow veterans of
the Aleutian Campaign to commemorate the 75th Anniversary of the Battle of Attu
and the end of the war in Alaska. And this July, Bob will join us in a 2018 EAA Oshkosh Warbird in Review segment featuring the fliers of WWll's Aleutian Campaign.
Bob’s Air Force career had him flying eighteen
different aircraft including: P-36, P-38, P-39, P-40, P-47, P-51, F-86 and a T-33
with stints in Alaska- twice, Okinawa, Camp Springs Army Airfield (Andrews)
twice, Steward Air Force Base and lastly the Pentagon
In 2016 Bob got the chance to fly one of his old Warbirds again, thanks to the Collings Foundation and Brian Norris. The flight ended up making national news but more importantly ignited a ripple of memories he is still riding. As the newscaster says, this may be the best thing you watch all day. Thank you Bob for your service then and for your friendship now.
And just like that another year has zipped along right before my eyes only proving once again the old cliche 'Where does the time go?' is actually still a valid question. It seems like it was only a few months ago that I was aboard the Puk Uk rubbing my tired throbbing feet after having just returned from one of our long tundra hikes through some of the most forgotten about battle sites in all of WWll; the Aleutian Islands.
This year has been busy with different Aleutian related projects: WWll Visitor Center remodel in Dutch Harbor, Canada wide RCAF in the Aleutians museum exhibit, EAA Oshkosh Airshow Warbirds In Review Aleutian Campaign segment, RCAF commemorative hike in Unalaska, CAF- Alaska Wing and their RCAF Goldilocks revival, and the big event of the year- 75th Anniversary of the Battle of Attu held just two weeks ago in Anchorage (more on that, on a later day...) No wonder I have not had time to write!!
Nine Aleutian Island Veterans made the trip to Anchorage to Commemorate Attu75.
In preparation for this year's trip beginning THIS Saturday, yikes, I thought I would post this teaser. It is just a minuscule fraction of what we see while hiking on Kiska Island where the Japanese Imperial Navy had their largest garrison during WWll's Aleutian Campaign at roughly 5000 soldiers, all of which, under a veil of the oh so common- Aleutian fog, quietly boarded a Japanese troop carrier that had secretly made it's way into the Harbor right under the noses of US Navy. The ship safely made it's way back to Japan leaving the island with nothing but bad memories. This evacuation was not officially discovered until a combined Canadian/US force of 35,000 troops, code named Operation Cottage, landed on the Island on August 15th, 1943 and found nothing but empty gun positions and well build Japanese bunkers. Even then, on a now unoccupied island, over 300 Allied soldiers died either by confused in the fog friendly fire or booby traps left by the Japanese.
In the video, we were walking around the North Head of the island where the Japanese big guns are located, four 120cm dual purpose guns all guarding the west side of Kiska Harbor which really is the perfect vantage point for any one trying defend Kiska Harbor against a land invasion.
It is such a privilege and honor to be able to co-lead this expedition and share with people the uniqueness of this campaign and the stories of those who served. Our next trip is scheduled for 2020! Make sure you are on it!