World War II
Prior to World War II, Kodiak remained relatively unchanged from the days of Russian settlement. A small community of people lived close to the ocean. They lit their homes with kerosene lamps, cooked on oil stoves and hauled water from streams. Outhouses were a common backyard fixture.
The War brought dramatic and swift changes to Kodiak. Nearly overnight modern buildings popped up like mushrooms. Roads that were previously used for walking became populated with military vehicles and automobiles. Businesses opened to support the increasing population; the face of Kodiak was forever changed. The population of the tiny village soared to more than 25,000 in the early 1940s. The island’s location provided a perfect view of the vast North Pacific Ocean. Ships, war planes and submarines could respond quickly in the event of conflict. A large naval base was constructed in the 1930s and by 1939 there were runways, offices, stores, docks and housing for 10,000 people.
An army outpost was also established near the Buskin River; bunkers and gun emplacements were built at Chiniak, Long Island, and Fort Abercrombie. On June 3, Dutch Harbor was bombed and residents of Attu taken as prisoners. With the Aleutian Islands under attack, Kodiak troops were poised to retaliate. Fortunately, Japanese forces were turned back by American and Canadian forces and Kodiak never became a battleground. In December 1944, most Kodiak installations were placed in caretaker status. To prevent the possibility of the guns falling into hostile hands, demolitions experts blew up the gun batteries by packing them with explosives. According to veteran heavy artillery mechanic, George W. Reynolds, “If my memory is correct, it seems to me that they destroyed the eight inch guns at Miller Point sometime just before Thanksgiving of 1948.” Fragments were blown some distance and the barrels ended up over the cliffs. Restoration efforts in the early 1980s salvaged the barrels and placed them on display next to the remains of their mounting carriages. A concrete ready ammunition bunker constructed at Miller Point in Fort Abercrombie in 1943 now houses the Kodiak Military History Museum.
To learn more about World War II history in the Kodiak Island Archipelago, visit www.kadiak.org.