Canada in the Second World War

Arms & Weapons

The Kiska Air Battle

The men of the Home War Establishment (HWE) did not expect they would ever fight beyond Canada’s borders. Yet, this happened in 1942: the Pacific crisis was then at its peak; the U.S. fearing an attack on the northernmost point of the Pacific coast enlisted Canada’s help in agreement with the mutual assistance treaty ratified by the Canada-U.S. Permanent Joint Board on Defence. The RCAF, well aware of its weaknesses in the Prince-Rupert area, agreed to post No 115 (Fighter) Squadron to the U.S. air base on Annette Island, Alaska, some 100 km north of Prince Rupert.

111 (Fighter) Squadron’s Kittyhawks at Kodiak, Alaska.

111 (Fighter) Squadron’s Kittyhawks at Kodiak, Alaska.
National Defence Image Library, PMR 80-197.

The Allies’ fears materialized on May 5th, 1942, when U.S. intelligence intercepted wireless communications revealing that a Japanese naval attack against Midway was imminent, to be coupled with an assault on the Aleutian Islands in Alaska. Despite its defeat at Midway on June 4th, Japan went on with the Aleutian operation on June 6th and 7th, 1942, and Vice-Admiral Boshiro Hosogaya captured Kiska and Attu islands.

At that time, two additional RCAF squadrons, No 8 (Bomber-Reconnaissance) and No 111 (Fighter) were already on their way to support the U.S. Air Force. Transiting by Annette Island, then by Juneau and Yukutat, they landed at Fort Richardson near Anchorage, on June 8th.. Meanwhile No 118 (Fighter) Squadron left Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, and flying clear across North America reached Annette Island. Canadians soon realized how dangerous flying such long distances between air bases could be, and how unpredictable was the foggy and stormy weather under those latitudes.

Inside an air force barrack on Umnak Island, Alaska, 1943

Inside an air force barrack on Umnak Island, Alaska, 1943
National Defence Image Library, PMR 79-538.

In August the Bolingbrokes of No 8 Squadron and the P-40k Kittyhawks of No 111 Squadron were transferred to Nome and Umnak islands. On September 25th, the U.S. and Canadian air forces attacked, Squadron Leader K.A. Boomer commanding No 111 Squadron. They bombed the Japanese installations on Kiska and strafed the fleet. The Japanese had only two fighter planes in flying condition, Rufe fighters (Zero’s converted into hydroplanes). Both took part in the response and, during the skirmish that ensued, Boomer shot down one of the Rufe: the only WWII kill ascribed to the HWE.

Despite those raids, Kiska and Attu remained under Japanese control. On account of the bad and increasingly cold weather, no attempts to retake the islands were made before the following year. The Canadian squadrons, therefore, had to remain on those remote Alaskan bases to take part in patrols and defence operations. On May 11th, 1943, the 7th Division (U.S.) finally drove the Japanese from Attu. A joint task force made up of the 7th Division (U.S.) and the 13th Infantry Brigade (Canadian) launched an attack on Kiska on August 13th. They found a deserted island: the enemy having already fled under cover of the fog.