18 March 2018 | Anchorage, Alaska, USA. Yesterday the discovery of the wreck of USS Juneau (CL-52), a light cruiser sponsored by the wife of the mayor of the city of Juneau, Alaska, was located. Juneau was commissioned on 14 February 1942 and sunk the following November by an Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) submarine in the waters near Guadalcanal. No less importantly or noteworthy, last July picturesque Dutch Harbor, Alaska, the locale of a Japanese attack on American territory in June 1942, was disturbed by the loud and distinctive roar of Pratt & Whitney aero engines as an immaculate yellow training airplane and an accompanying amphibian, both vestiges of yesteryear, slowly cruised above the busy port toward a landing at a nearby airport.
For years the aeroplane (N421QB) adorned with Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) markings has flown the skies of Alaska, all the while passing over the state’s majestic snow covered mountains, pristine lakes, ice fields, and saltwater seas. Today, being a possession of the Commemorative Air Force’s Alaska Wing, she proudly flies as a symbol with the aim of educating admirers about the World War II veterans that countered the tyranny and oppression of Nazism, fascism, and imperialism.
Less widely known is that N421QB serves also as a tangible tribute to the thousands of Americans who joined the Canadian and British militaries during the Second World War. Many of these valiant men and women volunteered prior to the United States’ official entry into the conflict in December 1941.
Indeed, the Harvard Mk. IV is a visible reminder to all of the aforementioned and a Wing webpage therefore declares the following: “Prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor, many Americans volunteered to fight under the flags of the Commonwealth nations, including Canada, and Britain, some going on to serve in the famed [Royal Air Force] Eagle Squadrons.”*
Unfortunately, many individuals remain unaware of the fact that some of the airmen who were posted to bases in Alaska and fought in Aleutian skies were Americans (aka “Yanks”) voluntarily serving in the RCAF.
The lack of knowledge about RCAF-Americans was also present during the fight in Alaska and the Aleutians, as evidenced by the following caption contained within RCAF Flying Officer D.W. Griffin’s 1944 book First Steps to Tokyo: The Royal Canadian Air Force in the Aleutians. Griffith noted that, “Some of the Americans in the Aleutians were mystified by the appearance of U.S. citizens as members of the R.C.A.F.” The foregoing description is applied to a photograph of an RCAF-American Flight Sergeant strapping on a parachute beside his Curtiss Kittyhawk fighter prior to a sortie.
The Alaska Wing’s single-engine advanced trainer is a Harvard Mk. IV, a postwar version of the North American Aviation T-6 Texan. In her early career the warbird undertook the vital missions of educating future RCAF pilots and promoting the Canadian air force at air shows. In a latter employment the Harvard became one of the famous “Goldilocks” aerobatic team airplanes.
Burke Mees, of the Alaska Wing, commented that last July “we had an opportunity to take our Harvard to Dutch Harbor Campaign on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the Japanese bombing there and to simultaneously commemorate Canada’s contributions to the defense of the Aleutians and Alaska.”
Unalaska and Dutch Harbor are situated in the Aleutian Chain, within the Bering Sea, some 900 miles southwest of Anchorage, Alaska. Dutch Harbor is now, according to the Unalaska Convention and Visitors Bureau, the “number one commercial fishing port in the nation” and “the busiest port in North America.”
However, in mid 1942 Dutch Harbor was for a time a center of concern for combatants because on 3 and 4 June 1942 an IJN striking force led by the small aircraft carriers Ryūjō and Jun’yō launched air attacks on Dutch Harbor Naval Base and Fort Mears.
The Japanese raids inflicted moderate damage on American facilities and ships, and Japanese forces subsequently invaded and occupied the Aleutian islands of Attu and Kiska with the object of expanding Japan’s defensive perimeter to the northern Pacific region.
Thus the unwitting and expansionist-minded Japanese had chosen a most unwelcoming and unpleasant battleground. As Brian Garfield stated in the “Author’s Note” at the beginning of his 1969 book The Thousand-Mile War: World War II in Alaska and the Aleutians, “It is about a thousand miles from Dutch Harbor, near the Alaska Peninsula, to Attu at the far western tip of the Aleutian Island Chain. They are the most brutal thousand miles in the Pacific Ocean” and there “for fifteen months in 1942-1943, was fought one of the toughest campaigns of World War II.”
The area’s climate was not overly conducive to air operations. Burke Mees commented about the Aleutians’ “impressively severe winter storms” and related that “the southern latitudes’ (such as where Dutch Harbor is situated) enjoy nine hours of daylight on the shortest day of the year as measured by Civil Twilight and daytime temperatures are typically above 0 degrees [-17.7 degrees Celsius] Fahrenheit.”
But Mr. Mees confirmed that in some areas to the north, from which lend-lease pilots flew, the more severe conditions that Brian Garfield described in his book are definitely accurate. The latter wrote (page 74) that at Ladd Army Airfield in Fairbanks “ground crews had only approximately four hours a day of daylight for work and at nighttime, when floodlights were necessary, temperatures could easily plunge to a negative 40 degrees [−40 °F = −40 °C] Fahrenheit.” As Garfield additionally pointed out on page 74, in such cold each “piece of equipment, even coal to fuel the stoves, had to be thawed before use.”
Previously (on page 21) Garfield recorded that because of frequently dangerous atmospheric conditions American and Canadian “planes had to make their way into Umnak through steel-colored fog and icy rain that fell sideways and sometimes upside-down, driven by freak gale-force air currents called williwaws that swept through and around the volcanic gorges of the Aleutian Islands. Thick damp air plugged up carburetors; ice coated wings; engines became so sluggish that pilots complained about ‘airplanes that can do everything but fly.'”
Furthermore, depending upon the season or time of day, mist, drizzle, falling snow, and/or mud were constant and unwelcome companions.
Despite the severe climatic challenges and often abysmal weather, hundreds of U.S. Army Air Forces, U.S. Navy, and RCAF pilots, operating a virtual menagerie of both modern and obsolescent aircraft, called Alaska and the Aleutians home for several critical years.
To supplement the U.S. military’s thinly deployed and initially insufficient American aerial inventory, a pair of RCAF squadrons (No. 14 and No. 111), equipped with Curtiss P-40 Warhawk (designated as “Kittyhawks” by the RCAF, RAF, and other British Commonwealth air forces) fighter planes, staged through Alaska to bases in the Aleutians.
Additionally the RCAF established “X Wing Headquarters” at Anchorage to oversee operations of the Canadian squadrons, which included No. 115 Squadron at Annette Island, Alaska, No. 8 Squadron, flying Bolingbrokes (the Canadian-built version of the Bristol Blenheim light bomber), and No. 14 Squadron and No. 111 Squadron with Kittyhawks. A dozen of 14 and 11 squadrons’ Kittyhawks, on a rotational basis, flew from an advanced base on Amchitka Island.
Also while based in the Aleutians, the RCAF obtained 12 P-40Ks directly from the USAAF and flew them against the Japanese invaders.
Notably, a few of the RCAF pilots had previously seen action in European skies. One RCAF aviator, Squadron Leader Ken Boomer, shot down a Japanese Nakajima A6M2-N Rufe floatplane during his tour of duty in the Aleutians and in so doing became the only Canadian who had downed enemy aircraft from of all three (Germany, Italy, and Japan) of the major Axis countries.
Representative of the many other Canadian and American airmen were Kittyhawk pilot Flight Lieutenant Robert W. Lynch, RCAF, and Louis Houston Earls, U.S. Navy, who, according to an obituary in The Dayton Daily News, logged “hundreds of flying hours in PV-1 Vega Ventura patrol bombers over the Aleutian Islands. . .” From Aleutian airfields the Venturas flew strikes against Japanese bases on Paramushiro and Shimushu islands in the Kurile chain.
Both non-governmental and government-sponsored efforts, initiatives not connected to the Alaska Wing’s continuing missions, are currently underway in the United States and Canada to officially recognize and honor the valiant RCAF-Americans, RAF-Americans, and others. In the U.S. House of Representatives, Congressman Tim Ryan introduced H.R. 1553 in 2017, which is a Congressional Gold Medal bill endorsed by the Commemorative Air Force, and some months later forwarded a request for the issuance of a related Presidential Proclamation to the White House.
In October 2017 Major-General Christopher Coates, director of operations for the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), at the behest of Lieutenant-General Michael J. Hood, Commander of the RCAF, attended a Colorado Aviation Hall of Fame banquet during which Coloradans who migrated to Canada and joined the RCAF and Royal Air Force were inducted. Stéphane Lessard, Consul General of Canada in Denver, joined the general to express Canada’s appreciation for the Americans’ critical service.
Previously, in 2013, Canadian Senator Anne C. Cools attended a memorial event at the Virginia War Memorial with Karl Kjarsgaard of Bomber Command Museum of Canada.
Most recently, in February 2018, as reported by Mr. Kjarsgaard, during a conference attended by museum representatives and military personnel at Canadian Forces Base Trenton Lieutenant-General Hood reiterated his desire to see RCAF history preserved at each installation. The RCAF’s proud and distinguished record, of course, includes the contributions of the RCAF-Americans who served throughout the Canada at British Commonwealth Air Training Plan facilities and overseas with Canadian and British military and paramilitary air transport, aircraft ferry units, and associated support factions.
Bomber Command Museum of Canada and the organization’s patrons throughout Canada and the United States continue to identify and honor the American volunteers, many of whom transferred to the U.S. Army Air Forces after Imperial Japan’s December 1941 attack on U.S. military installations at and in the vicinity of Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii. Karl Kjarsgaard insists that, “These lads and lassies must finally and belatedly receive their due.”
To date, ceremonies have been held in Virginia, Florida, and, as mentioned above, in Colorado. Another RCAF-Coloradan (Leading Aircraftman Ralph Morris Hendricks, who later joined the U.S. Navy Reserve and died as a TBM-3 Avenger torpedo bomber pilot with VT-84 aboard USS Bunker Hill in May 1945), discovered by Mr. Kjarsgaard only two days before the 2017 ceremony, will be inducted into the Colorado Aviation Hall of Fame on 13 October 2018. Ironically, the Commemorative Air Force’s Rocky Mountain Wing maintains and operates a former Royal Canadian Navy TBM-3 Avenger that is painted as a VT-84 aircraft.
Meanwhile as research continues on the RCAF and RAF-Americans, Harvard N421QB is receiving a new “old” livery. However, Karen Able emphasized that the symbolic missions of the Harvard will not change.
Explaining the reasoning for the transformation in appearance, Mr. Mees said, “This particular Harvard was the lead airplane for the Canadian Goldilocks demonstration team and the new paint job will bring it back to those exact colors.”
The “Goldilocks” were from No. 1 Flying Instructors School at RCAF Station Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. The aerobatic team, purportedly formed to chide the pilots of the RCAF’s premier Canadair Sabre-equipped “Golden Hawks” group, began flying demonstrations in 1962. They thrilled audiences across Canada until the retirement of Harvards from the RCAF inventory in 1964. The station’s history book, titled Best In The West, states (pages 122-123) that the “display was to become a crowd favourite and the trademark of the team, which had chosen its name as a joke due to its similarity with Golden Hawks.”
The Alaska Wing’s Harvard was manufactured in 1952 by Canadian Car & Foundry (CC&F) in Fort William (which is now known as “Thunder Bay”), Ontario. The iconic trainer is powered by a Pratt & Whitney R1340 series radial engine rated at a maximum of 600 horsepower. The Mk. IV is in fact similar to the T-6G Texan that was utilized by the U.S. Air Force. In total the U.S. Air Force purchased 285 CC&F Harvards under the auspices of the Mutual Defense Assistance Act and designated them as the “T-6J.” They were intended to be supplied to America’s NATO allies. The RCAF placed Mk. IV Harvards into service during 1951.
The Alaska Wing of the Commemorative Air Force is based at Anchorage, and donations are always needed to keep the Harvard Mk IV airworthy. Contributions may be made through the Wing’s website “Join Us” page.
*Undoubtedly, some Americans in the Aleutians theater of operations were wearing the uniforms of the Canadian Army and Royal Canadian Navy and should also not be forgotten.
The author (John T. Stemple) thanks Karen Able, Spencer K. Wilson (Wing Leader, CAF Alaska Wing), Burke Mees, Soren Sieberts of 6 Axis Aerial, Marc Magee, and Bill Eull of http://www.RCAF111fSquadron.com for providing images and information. Also, Jeff Robinson in British Columbia deserves a note of thanks for assistance with a photographic research request. Last but not least, Karl Kjarsgaard of Bomber Command Museum of Canada is deserving of a special mention for his contributions.
For The Love Of Flying- ALASKA
DVD: Roaring Glory Warbirds: Curtiss P-40 Warhawk. Digital Software Services, Inc. Teleteam. 2007.
Sources and Suggested Readings
Aleutian WWII: Stories
Battle for the Aleutians
Battle of Dutch Harbor
Biography: Lieutenant-General Michael J. Hood, CD
CAF Alaska Wing “Join Us” page
Canadian Car and Foundry
Colorado Aviation Historical Society
Commemorative Air Force
Curtiss P-40E Warhawk (Kittyhawk IA)
Flight Lieutenant Robert W. Lynch
Florida Beaches to the Bering Sea. . .
Garfield, Brian, The Thousand-Mile War: World War II in Alaska and the Aleutians. New York: Doubleday, 1969.
Griffin, D.F. (Author) and Sgt Donald Anderson RCAF (Illustrator), First Steps to Tokyo: The Royal Canadian Air Force in the Aleutians, 2nd Ed., J. M. Dent & Sons (Canada) Ltd., 1944.
Harvard Mk. IV
Japanese aircraft carrier Jun’yō
Japanese aircraft carrier Ryūjō
Louis Houston Earls
MARCSART Things I like on Canvas
Mutual Defense Assistance Act
No. 8 Squadron RCAF
No. 111 (f) Squadron, RCAF
No. 115 Squadron RCAF
NORAD operations director lauds 552nd
North American Aerospace Defense Command
North American AT-6
RCAF 128 (F) Squadron
RCAF war dead from Virginia commemorated
Royal Canadian Navy
Soren Sieberts – 6 AXIS AERIAL
The Americans who died for Canada in WWII finally get their due: ‘These men are my heroes’
The Golden Years (1950-1964)
The Unknown History of the Curtiss P-40E Lope’s Hope
Unalaska Plane Wrecks – Mission of Honor
Unalaska: Port of Dutch Harbor
USS Juneau (CL-52)
Wreck of the USS Juneau, famous for the deaths of the 5 Sullivan brothers, discovered in Pacific