RCAF “Umingmak” at Yakutat 1942-1943

Updated 26 November 2020


Error on the very last page with Brenda the balancing seal by Disney. She first appeared in LIFE magazine on 26 May 1941.

Clarence Simonsen

Research by Clarence Simonsen


In 1867, the United States purchased Alaska from Russia for $7.2 million, Sitka became the first seat of government in this new possession and first sight for a military base. In the late 1800s, many forts were constructed to provide law and order, and these Army units were also busy conducting geographic expeditions, communications, and a limited zig-zag rail and road network. Control of Alaska remained with the U.S. Army until 1877, then the U.S. Treasury Department assumed control and the U.S. Navy took over in 1884. During the Klondike Gold Rush, the U.S. Army returned for a short time and by 1912, [Alaska became a U.S. Territory] they were mostly gone and would not return for twenty-eight more years. In 1922, several nations signed the Washington Conference Treaty which limited the production of armaments by these countries, including Japan. In 1934, Japan suddenly renounced the treaty and this created no political reaction from the United States Government or more surprisingly no American military response. The following year, General William [Billy] Mitchell, an outspoken critic of military preparedness, spoke to an American Congressional hearing, and told them Alaska was the keystone to American peace and that Alaska was the most central place in the world for American aircraft.

 “Japan is our dangerous enemy in the Pacific” but the American Congress was in no mood to listen or appropriate funds for military construction in Alaska. Five years later, Congress allotted 48 million to start construction of the first new airfields in Alaska, and that marked the beginning of U.S. Yakutat Army Air Base, [Landing Field] Alaska.

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RCAF – Yakutat Army Air Base (PDF version)

Text version without images

RCAF “Umingmak” at Yakutat 1942-1943

In 1867, the United States purchased Alaska from Russia for $7.2 million, Sitka became the first seat of government in this new possession and first sight for a military base. In the late 1800s, many forts were constructed to provide law and order, and these Army units were also busy conducting geographic expeditions, communications, and a limited zig-zag rail and road network. Control of Alaska remained with the U.S. Army until 1877, then the U.S. Treasury Department assumed control and the U.S. Navy took over in 1884. During the Klondike Gold Rush, the U.S. Army returned for a short time and by 1912, [Alaska became a U.S. Territory] they were mostly gone and would not return for twenty-eight more years. In 1922, several nations signed the Washington Conference Treaty which limited the production of armaments by these countries, including Japan. In 1934, Japan suddenly renounced the treaty and this created no political reaction from the United States Government or more surprisingly no American military response. The following year, General William [Billy] Mitchell, an outspoken critic of military preparedness, spoke to an American Congressional hearing, and told them Alaska was the keystone to American peace and that Alaska was the most central place in the world for American aircraft.

“Japan is our dangerous enemy in the Pacific” but the American Congress was in no mood to listen or appropriate funds for military construction in Alaska. Five years later, Congress allotted 48 million to start construction of the first new airfields in Alaska, and that marked the beginning of U.S. Yakutat Army Air Base, [Landing Field] Alaska.

There are a variety of Indigenous Nations living in the Northwest coast of both Canada and the Alaskan panhandle of the U.S.A. They do not have any strict boundaries and live in areas which occupy territories in British Columbia, Yukon, Canada, and Alaska, USA. Their earliest settlement occupation is now known to be around 13,000 years ago, during the end of the last ice age. Archeological investigations discovered the Tlingit [pronounced “klink it”] lived around the village of Yakutat for the past 8,600 years and their oral history can be traced back to the eruption of Mount Edgecumbe, 4,500 years ago. That’s a First Nation heritage to be very proud of, and I know they are.

Their long peaceful occupation at Yakutat was first altered in 1780 with the arrival of the Russians, who came in search of riches, and lusted for Tlingit lands and their beautiful daughters. In 1790, the Russians established a fort and a prison next to the village of Yakutat, murder and rape followed thanks to the white man. This published story was obtained by Jack Spalding from Indian source Peter Lawrence who lived at Yakutat village in 1940. After the fort and prison were constructed, some visiting Russian Navy Officers abducted and carried off to their ship some of the female teenage girls and transported them to northern Alaska. To obtain revenge, the village males made plans and when the Russians went on a hunting expedition, leaving the fort unprotected, the Indians attacked, killed all on site and set fire to the fort. The returning hunting party were then attacked and all were killed. The native members of the Bear and Crow families, carved an image of a Bear on a large rock, in belief they would be protected from the returning Russians. When the Russian Navy returned in 1804, a short battle took place until the Tlingit ran out of gunpowder, and were forced to escape to Chatham Strait. The Russians then built Novo Arkhangelsk [Sitka] on the site of the Tlingit original winter village site, and this became their colonial capital and Russian Headquarters. After the purchase of Alaska from the Russians in 1867, the military policy of the United States did very little until the creation of Yakutat Bay Naval Reservation, which was constructed in summer of 1930. On 25 April 1939, Congress passed a Navy bill for the construction of air stations at Sitka, Kodiak, and a radio station at Dutch Harbor. In 1940, the very rapid escalation of the war with Hitler in Europe, and the increasing war-like Japanese activity in Asia, forced Congress to pass the Third Supplemental Defense Appropriation Act money [1.7 Billion] for construction of air bases at Anchorage, [Headquarters] Kodiak, Yakutat, and Annette Island in southeastern Alaskan panhandle. In July 1940, Lt. General Simon Bolivar Buckner Jr. was assigned commander of the newly created [17 June 1940] Alaska Defense Force, which was in fact a non-existent force, one which he would have to build from the ground up. The first ground troops of the Alaska Defense Force arrived on 27 June 1940, 780 officers and their troops in the 4th Infantry Regiment. The first Air Corps personnel arrived at Merrill Field, [Anchorage’s municipal airport] on 9 August 1940, flying old Martin B-10 Bombers. Major Everett S. Davis became the Chief of Aviation for the new Alaska Air Defense Force, [17 June 1940] and the first Commanding Officer of the future 11th Army Air Force. The new Alaskan Air Force was constituted on 28 December 1941, and activated on 15 January 1942. They officially became the Eleventh Air Force on 17 February 1942, and participated in the offensive that drove the Japanese from the Aleutians. The Aleutian Islands Campaign took place 3 June 1942 until 24 August 1943, and also involved RCAF No. 8 Squadron, “X” Wing, [Anchorage, Kodiak, Nome and Yakutat], No. 14 Squadron, “X” Wing, [Umnak Island, Kiska, Adak Island, and Amchitka], No. 111 Squadron, “X” Wing, Anchorage, Kodiac, Chiniak Point, and Umnak Island], No. 115 Squadron, “Y” Wing, [Annette Island], and No. 118 Squadron, “Y” Wing, [Annette Island].

Gen. Buckner Jr. fully understood the importance of a unit badge or military insignia for his new force and turned to the artist’s at Walt Disney Studios for his “unofficial mascot” insignia.

Created by Walt Disney artist Hank Porter in May 1940, the new Alaska Defense Force Mascot was named “Brenda” and she balanced the letter “D” on her nose. On 4 February 1941, the War Department re-designated the title Alaska Defense Force and they became the “Alaska Defense Command” which caused the original Disney insignia to be changed. The Brenda seal appeared with a white chest on some [not correct] with letters ADC, and this insignia can be found for sale on the internet, in many different colors. The rare collector insignia is the one on the left, designed by Disney artist H. Porter and used for only eight months in Alaska, featuring the letters A-D-F “Alaska Defense Force.

In July 1940, the Quartermaster Corps began construction on the largest military establishment in Alaska at Anchorage, [Fort Richardson]. Fort Richardson was named for Brig. General Wilds P. Richardson, an Alaska pioneer, soldier, explorer and engineer. Next door construction had started on Elmendorf Army Air Field, which was located four miles Northeast of Anchorage, Alaska. The base would have two concrete runways, East-West was #5-#23, 7,500 ft. by 200 ft. and the North-South #15-#33 was 5,000 ft. by 150 ft. The airfield would have three permanent hangars 300 ft. by 275 ft., one small temporary building, with revetments for forty bombers and eighty fighters. The base would also have extensive barracks and messing for all. Elmendorf Field was named for Captain Hugh M. Elmendorf who was killed in a plane crash at Wright Field, Ohio, in 1933. The U.S. War Department would spend $12 million on these two projects.

By late July 1940, the U.S. War Department had acquired 46,083 acres of bush and rock covered muskeg for the establishment of an “Auxiliary Landing Field and Aircraft Staging Area” called Yakutat Army Air Base. In early September 1940, Lieutenant Robert W. Knox, Captain of the U.S. Navy coast and geodetic survey ship “USS Surveyor” dropped anchor in Yakutat Bay, and a construction layout survey plan was measured and marked for the construction of the new air base.

The initial Alaska Defence Force plans in July 1940, had Annette Island and Yakutat Air Bases being constructed by the Civil Aeronautics Authority, however these two airfields had now become a top air force military priority, and the Defense Force [Lt. Gen. De Witt] thought the CAA would take too long to construct. On 20 July 1940, the War Department reassigned the airfield construction at Annette Island and Yakutat to Major George J. Nold, Commander of the 28th Engineer Aviation Regiment, in order to give his new unit training in building airfields in Alaska. On 6 August 1940, the U.S. Department of the Interior was granted temporary [lease] use of the Metlakatla Indian land and now the construction of Annette Island could begin. On 20 August Major Nold, two battalions of the 28th Engineers, two companies of the Civilian Conservation Corps and thirty-five civilian technicians sailed from Seattle, arriving at Annette Island three days later. Construction of a work camp and a dock for ships began immediately, and fifty Metlakatla Indians were hired as laborers as part of the original agreement. The Indians lived in their own camp constructed some distance from the soldiers and this satisfied both sides and caused no friction during construction. The U.S. Coast Guard ship USS Surveyor completed her layout plan work at Yakutat on 9 October 1940 and now the second air base construction could begin, directed from Annette Island Headquarters.

The home base “Mud Turtle” construction camp of the 28th Aviation Engineers Regiment, built on Annette Island beginning 23 August 1940. This became the H.Q. of Major Nold and also served as the main equipment base during the construction of Yakutat Landing Field and Navy Seaplane Base. The insignia became the shared Aviation Engineers badge and served with American units building bases around the world during WWII. A ferocious looking “Winged” red bulldozer holds a piece of pierced steel airfield runway planking, while the helmeted U.S. Engineer has his machine gun ready to fire and wears a shovel on his back. This insignia remained until 1960.

On 23 October 1940, Capt. Benjamin B. Talley of the 28th Engineer Aviation Regiment, departed for Yakutat Navy station dock. This was the off-season for fish canning and many of his engineer troops were housed in the Yakutat Bay canneries buildings. By using U.S. aviation engineers the air force had gotten a head start on these two most important airfields in the Alaskan panhandle. This later proved to be a major part of Alaskan aviation history during the build-up for Aleutian war against Japan. The long subarctic winter had prevented much work from being done other than clearing the small bushes which covered the construction site. In March 1941, the tempo of work at Yakutat quickened, and additional money in amount of $1 million dollars were allotted for installation of aviation fuel tanks at Annette Island and Yakutat Army Air Bases.

In May 1941, General Buckner continued his battle to build up Alaskan strengths for the war he suspected was coming to the United States. At the same time, General De Witt [Commander 4th Army and Western Defense Command] received a report that little progress was being made on the airfields in Alaska and decided to see for himself, accompanied by General Buckner and Colonel Park. Their first stop was at Fort Richardson and Elmendorf Air Base where they found the construction was most advanced. The three officers arrived at Annette Island on 12 May 1941, and found only one emergency landing strip in use and on the whole the construction was not as advanced as that on Yakutat Army Air Base. Annette Island had many muskeg areas with holes eighteen feet deep and this had to be scooped out by the engineers before the large stone fill could be dumped by Army trucks. General De Witt hoped that at least one runway would be in operation at both Annette Island and Yakuata Army Air Base by December 1941. In June 1941, the 28th Engineer Aviation Regiment was disbanded and divided, becoming the 802nd Engineer Aviation Battalion and the 807th Engineer Aviation Company. General Buckner still had a tiny Air Force and a mere 18,000 troops spread along the Alaskan panhandle and the interior of the Aleutians. Alaska’s defences had one glaring weakness, there were no fully operational airfields on the Alaskan Peninsula or in the Aleutians. The construction of Annette Island [802nd Engineer Aviation Battalion] and Yakutat Army Air Base [807th Engineer Aviation “B” Company] were half completed when Japanese bombs fell on Pearl Harbor, 7 December 1941. On 29 December 1941, sixty-two men and two officers from the 807th Aviation Company were transferred from Yakutat Landing Field to begin priority construction at Umnak, Alaska. The forgotten war in Alaska was beginning along with the forgotten history of the Royal Canadian Air Force Bolingbroke bombers in Alaska, which began 5 May 1942.

For American readers to understand the RCAF Bolingbroke aircraft which served in Alaska, you must first learn the Royal Canadian Air Force was formed on the organization of the Royal Air Force in United Kingdom. The Canadian government then decided it was best to buy or build British designed aircraft and equipment which fit in much better [they believed] than American built aircraft and equipment. In 1935, the RCAF began to purchase Westland Wapiti bombers and Blackburn Sharks from Great Britain. These were WWI era open-cockpit aircraft which lumbered off the ground and struggled to get into to the air, neither were impressive aircraft to see or fly. The following year Supermarine Stranraer’s were ordered and these would later be constructed in Canada, more obsolete airpower. By 1937, seven modern Bristol Bolingbroke aircraft were purchased from U.K. and these would later go into production in Canada with 676 completed, the greatest proportion being model Mk. IVs.  The Bolingbroke Mk. IV met the RCAF coastal reconnaissance bomber requirements and thirty-one of these bombers came to Alaska beginning on 5 May 1942.

[For a more detailed history please read author Blog – Preserving the Past II, The Bloody Bristol Blenheim].

On 1 March 1938, RCAF Western Air Command was formed under Air Commodore G.M. Croil in Ottawa, who now commanded all RCAF units in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia. He was responsible for all phases of air defence on Western Canadian coast line and waters. After the Munich Crisis in September 1938, A/C Croil began to focus Canadian defence on the Atlantic coast and transfer RCAF units from the west coast of Canada. To cover more than 1,000 miles of west coast shoreline the RCAF had eight serviceable obsolete British designed aircraft. When Canada declared war on Germany, 10 September 1939, the government understood there was a possibly for war with Japan, but assumed the strong and effective American Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor would stand between the Japanese and the small ineffective RCAF aircraft in British Columbia. In mid-September 1939, the RCAF Home War Establishment was formed with two operational air commands, [Eastern and Western Air Command] with seven understrength squadrons flying a wild variety of obsolescent British aircraft.

With the greatest threat being the German surface and U-boats raiders against the Allied shipping in the North Atlantic, top priority was now given to Eastern Air Command, in re-equipping its operational squadrons with modern American Curtiss P-40 Kittyhawk fighters and Douglas Digby long-range patrol aircraft. In October 1940, the Canadian-United States Basic Defence Plan [ABC-Pacific-22] was held [Seattle, Washington] to address a direct attack from Asiatic Powers and mutual support was to be given if needed for defence of British Columbia, Northwestern United States and Alaska. “This first report implied that it would usually be a case of American assistance being given to Canada.” [The Canadian government had planned on this since 1939, saving money which could be spent fighting Hitler] On 5 December 1941, American Lieutenant General John L. De Witt, commanding the Western American Defence Command, suggested a combined meeting be held to draw up a defence plan based on the original 1940 [ABC-Pacific-22] meeting. Both sides agreed and the date was set for the morning of 7 December 1941. Before the meeting could begin, it was announced that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor, and Canada declared war on Japan that night. The original Canada/United States ABC-Pacific-22 plan immediately came into force in the Pacific. The RCAF now rushed reinforcements west to fill the vast personnel and patrol aircraft shortages. No. 111 [F] Squadron [with new RCAF purchased American Curtiss P-40 Kittyhawks] were transferred from Rockcliffe, Ontario, to Sea Island [Vancouver] B.C. No. 8 [B.R.] Squadron [Bolingbroke] joined No. 111 Squadron after a coast to coast flight [with no cockpit heat] from Sydney, Nova Scotia, to Sea Island, B.C. Prince Rupert. B.C. now became the major port for the movement of American reinforcements to main land Alaska, as it had an excellent harbour and the most northerly railway in the north-west of Canada. Under the ABC-Pacific-22 agreement, the Canadian government gave full permission and on 5 April 1940, Prince Rupert, B.C., officially became an American sub-embarkation port. Senior Canadian RCAF and American west coast service commanders had discussed the air protection of Prince Rupert in Seattle, Washington, on 6 March 1942, but nothing was agreed upon.

Lt. General De Witt suggested an RCAF Squadron be placed on Yakutat Army Air Base where construction was over half finished, however the RCAF preferred the Army Air Base being constructed on Annette Island. In early April 1942, both sides came to an agreement that one RCAF [B.R.] Squadron and one RCAF fighter Squadron would be placed on Annette Island and they would provide close air cover for the major shipping port at Prince Rupert, B.C., and fly coastal patrols as far north-west as Yakutat Army Air Base. The Canadian aircraft would remain overnight at Yakutat or as long as the weather grounded the aircraft. Juneau Civil Airport, which opened on 1 July 1941, would be used only as a refueling stop. The new unit would be called RCAF “Y” Wing, Annette Island Army Air Base, Alaska, commanded by a Battle of Britain veteran, Wing Commander Arthur Deane Nesbitt, DFC, #C1327.

This RCAF image [PA140638] was taken at Patricia Bay, B.C., on 28 January 1942, showing the Bolingbroke Mk. IV [fighter] aircraft of No. 115 Squadron. These British designed aircraft were in fact obsolete when they were manufactured at Longueuil, Quebec, in 1941, but that’s the best Canada had against Japanese submarine coastal protection. The Bolingbroke Mk. IV aircraft were in fact twin-engine fighters, equipped with a modified belly-pack of four .303 cal. forward firing machine guns, which can be seen in this above image. RCAF Western Air Command recognized these old fighters were useless against submarines but they felt the Bolingbroke was more suitable for the rough airfield conditions on Annette Island which was still under construction. The true fact is Canada had nothing else to send and were not really prepared to defend her own west coast let alone Alaska. On 11 April 1942, orders were received at No. 115 Squadron to prepare for the move to Annette Island, and under command of Squadron Leader E. Reyno, fourteen RCAF Bristol Bolingbroke [fighter] aircraft landed on Annett Island, 5 May 1942. They enjoyed the special distinction of being the first Canadian force ever based in United States territory to directly assist with the defence of American homeland security.

As the RCAF squadron was settling into her new duties, Imperial General Headquarters in Japan had ordered a new surprise bombing attack on the Aleutians, and yes, the old RCAF Bristol Bolingbroke were going to war in Alaska.

The arrival of No. 115 [Fighter] Squadron Bolingbroke Mk. IV aircraft on Annette Island, 18:00 hrs., 5 May 1942. Below control tower not constructed until 26 July 1942.

The Bristol Bolingbroke Mk. IV aircraft markings used on Annette Island, Alaska.

I’m sure the Americans were puzzled to see a twin-engine RCAF fighter aircraft with four machine guns in her belly, but for modeller’s this is in fact a rare aircraft that only flew in Alaska until 22 June 1942. This Bolingbroke MK. IV fighter also carried a number of rare markings under Alaska Command, and I have published my work sheet in case anyone cares to built this forgotten model, which you won’t find in British or American aviation magazines.

No. 115 Squadron is another forgotten part of RCAF history which all began as No. 15 [Fighter] Squadron “Auxiliary” on 1 September 1934, at Montreal, Quebec. It was re-numbered No. 115 Squadron on 15 November 1937, and trained many pilots who went on to serve Canada during WWII. One of these pilots was Arthur Deanne Nesbitt, born in Montreal, 16 November 1910. He learned to fly at the Montreal Light Aeroplane Club in 1933, and was judged the most competent pilot in the club in 1936, winning the James Lytell Memorial Trophy. He joined No. 115 Squadron on 15 September 1939, and obtained his RCAF Wings at Camp Borden, 11 April 1940. On 26 May 1940, all of the personnel of No. 115 Squadron were absorbed into No. 1 [Fighter] Squadron and sent overseas, joining the Battle of Britain in August 1940.

On 4 September, Nesbitt shot down a German Bf110 and a Bf109, then on 15 September he was shot down, wounded, but managed to bail out. He returned to action 9 October, but his Hurricane was shot up by a Bf109 and he bailed out again, uninjured. In March 1941, he took over command of his squadron [renumbered No. 401] and returned to Ottawa, Canada, 18 September 1941, having earned a DFC in combat, awarded 23 September 1941. On 1 November 1941, S/L Nesbitt commanded No. 14 Squadron, then on 15 December 1941, took over No. 111 [fighter] Squadron who received their new American Curtiss P-40 Kittyhawks on 3 November.  After the Japanese attack on 7 December 1941, No. 111 Squadron was moved to Sea Island, [Vancouver] on 14 December 1941, and they became operational for combat on 12 March 1942. On 17 March 1942, the West Coast Saanich Indians adopted the squadron and presented them with a 16” wooden carved Thunderbird Totem. This became the squadron nickname “Thunderbird” and the totem appeared as nose art on a few of their P-40 fighters.

On 15 June 1942, Nesbitt was promoted to Wing Commander and placed in charge of RCAF “Y” Wing, Annette Island, now in control of No. 115, the same squadron he joined as a young rookie pilot on 15 September 1939. His RCAF historical narrative of Annette Island follows:

RCAF “Y” Wing, No. 115 [B.R.] Squadron facilities showing the location of buildings which were shared with No. 118 [fighter] Squadron who arrived 20 June 1942.  U.S. Army Corps of Engineers drawing. The No. 111 Squadron Thunderbird Totem sat in the RCAF administration building office of W/C Nesbitt, DFC.

Each Canadian anti-aircraft unit were housed in their own camp area, shown on main map.

On 5 August 1942, the two RCAF Squadrons moved into this new location where prefab huts were being constructed. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers map of new RCAF quarters, marked as area “C” on main map. The 65 tent area is clearly marked on this map.

On 10 October 1942, W/C Nesbitt was transferred to RCAF Station Boundary Bay, B.C. He retired from the RCAF on 27 November 1945. On 4 February 1978, he hit a tree while skiing in Montreal, and was left paralysed, unable to eat he died 22 Feb. 1978.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers map in July 1943.

The No. 111 [fighter] Squadron “Thunderbird” totem carving became the identity of the squadron and many pilots had their photo taken with “their” Totem. When W/C Nesbitt left for command of RCAF Annette Island, Alaska, [12 June 1942] he took the Totem with him, and it was proudly displayed on his H.Q. desk. Presented to Nesbitt by the Saanich Indians, [17 March 1942] for protecting their coastal homeland from Japanese attack, the Thunderbird now protected the coastal lands of the Metlakatla [Annette Island] and the Tlingit [Yakutat] Alaska. It’s possible this original Totem survives today with the Nesbitt family somewhere in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

On 22 June 1942, the fourteen Bolingbroke Mk. IV aircraft in No. 115 Squadron were converted from a fighter to a bomber reconnaissance aircraft, and equipped with four American anti-submarine 250 lb. depth-charge bombs.

On 1 July 1942, the fourteen RCAF Bolingbroke [B.R.] aircraft began flying eight submarine patrol sections between RCAF Prince Rupert, B.C., and Yakutat Army Air Base, Alaska. The civilian airport at Juneau opened on 1 July 1941, and this was only used as a refueling point if required. Just before noon [11:58 hrs] 7 July 1942, a U.S. Steamship sighted a submarine periscope at reported position 55.5 North – 134 West. Due to bad weather conditions the RCAF aircraft could not take off until 14:17 hrs when Bolingbroke #9125 made a general search, negative sighting. At 16:56 Hrs. Bolingbroke #9118 took off to search assigned areas U-4 and U-2, and at 17:59 hrs pilot F/Sgt. Thomas, P/O Shebeski, and observer Sgt. Le Landais sighted a submerged submarine which was over 100 feet in length and proceeding submerged some twenty feet deep in the water. At a height of 40 ft. while the periscope was still showing, RCAF Bolingbroke #9118 dropped all four depth-charges and two were observed to make a direct hit above the conning tower, within a lethal distance. Five minutes later a large scum of yellow oil appeared on the surface covering approximately 50 feet in diameter. The RCAF action was reported to the U.S. Coast Guard at Ketchikan and two ships were dispatched, cutter WMEC-146 McLane and U.S. Navy vessel YP-251 Foremost.

The Coast Guard cutter WMEC-146 McLane which arrived on scene and conducted an 18-hour search and attack on the damaged submarine. It’s reported the submarine came to the surface once and also fired a torpedo at the Coast Guard cutter which dropped many depth charges and claimed sighting flotsam resembling Rockwool. The RCAF aircrew were mentioned in dispatches and credited with damaging the submarine and sharing in the kill by the cutter McLane. The American Navy reported the sinking as being Japan’s RO.32 but postwar records show no Japanese submarine lost around that date and the RO.32 survived the war. In 1967, the U.S. Navy confirmed the submarine R0-32 was being used as a trainer in 1945, and that seemed to be the end of the history. On 18 August 2008, Vancouver Sun Newspaper reporter Brendon Coyle published a new story [its online] on the sinking and had a photo to back up his claim. Mr. Jim Johnson was an RCAF Photo Tech. stationed on Annette Island and he saved a photo taken by the aircrew of Bolingbroke #9118, showing the enemy submarine with a detonation forward of the conning tower painted with a large number “8”. Dr. Robert Ballard [Titanic fame] works for the U.S. Navy as a Naval intelligence commander, and part of his secret work involves finding lost submarines. He has mapped the ocean floor of both the Canadian and American west coast and taken millions of images of hundreds of lost wrecks. I’m positive he has seen the mystery submarine located near the southern tip of Noyes Island, Alaska, and knows it is Russian. Why not release this information to clear up what submarine was attacked on 7 July 1942 and sunk by the cutter McLane three days later? Please!

In 2015, the world class Pima Air and Space Museum located at Tucson, Arizona, repainted their RCAF Bristol Bolingbroke in the correct markings of #9118, which flew anti-submarine patrols between RCAF Landing Ground Yakutat Army Air Base and their home base RCAF Annette Island, Alaska. Their information data in part reads – “This Bolingbroke has been restored from parts of several aircraft and painted to recreate the RCAF markings on serial #9118, which flew with No. 115 Squadron on Annette Island, Alaska. Bolingbroke #9118 was credited with assisting in the destruction of one Japanese submarine RO-32 on 7 July 1942, sunk by two U.S. Coast Guard cutters. In 1945, the very intact RO-32 was captured in Japan and the credit for the July 1942 sinking was rescinded. In 2008, a photo taken by the aircrew of Bolingbroke #9118 was discovered, which tends to prove they did in fact attack a submarine which appears to be Soviet. Both the Japanese and Soviet navies purchased a large number of submarines from the British-Vickers Engineering Co. between WWI and 1933. The Soviet submarine Shch-138 was reported missing 10 July 1942, and the Russians reported it destroyed by her own torpedo malfunction 18 July 1942. During WWII Soviet submarines were known to have conducted espionage operations along the coast of Canada and the United States. It is unlikely the Soviet government would ever admit that one of their submarines was caught spying and sunk by the U.S. Coast Guard. I feel it is very safe to say, on 7 July 1942, a British designed Bristol Bolingbroke, built in Quebec, Canada, and flown by the RCAF in defences of United States coastal waters, damaged a British designed submarine crewed by the Soviet Navy, while spying on the United States in Alaska. I also believe the Pima Air and Space Museum researchers and Dr. Robert Ballard can tell the free world a whole lot more?

Yakutat Army Air Base – June 1942

On 20 May 1942, U.S. Intelligence intercepted and decoded enough of a Japanese message to learn a mobile task force was about to strike in the Aleutians, followed a day later with an attack on Midway.  General De Witt was concerned about the defence of the Alaskan panhandle most of all the Army Air Base under construction at Yakutat, but he did not have any American combat units to defend it. Special joint meetings were held on 27-28 May and General Buckner request that RCAF No. 8 and No. 111 Squadrons be sent at once to Yakutat Landing Field, Army Air Base, and in addition Buckner wanted authority to move the Canadian RCAF units to Kodiak, Anchorage, or Cold Bay if necessary. [Smart U.S. Officer, planning well ahead] After discussing the possible effects of the move, [The RCAF barely had enough aircraft strength to protect the B.C. coastline] the Canadian chiefs of staff agreed with the American request, and within hours RCAF Squadrons were ordered to Yakutat. Alaska. On 2 June 1942, twelve Bristol Bolingbroke Mk. IV aircraft took off from Sea Island, B.C. for Yakutat Army Air Base, Alaska.

No. 8 Squadron was formed as a General Purpose Squadron at Winnipeg, Manitoba, on 14 February 1936. They moved to Rockcliffe, [Ottawa] Ontario, on 1 February 1937, as a photographic unit, but for some reason never designated as such. In preparation for war hostilities they were transferred to a coastal war station at Sydney, Nova Scotia, 26 August 1939. The new squadron official badge [Musk-Ox head] was approved by the King on 21 June 1941, arrived with the squadron in Nova Scotia [below] 10 September 1941. They had been flying anti-submarine German U-boat patrols for one year.

The Musk-Ox is a hoofed mammal which lives in the Canadian Arctic, Yukon, and Alaska, USA. When the badge was chosen, the RCAF members were based in Nova Scotia, and had no idea they would be flying in the Arctic regions of Alaska, which the Musk-Ox called “home.” On 23 December 1941, after Japan entered the war, No. 8 Squadron was transferred to Western Air Command at Sea Island, [Vancouver] B.C., for Japanese anti-submarine patrols.

No. 1 Flight departed Nova Scotia at 09:30 hrs followed by No. 2 Flight at 14:30 hrs. for Ottawa.  The Bolingbroke Mk. IV aircraft serial numbers were: #9001, #9003 to #9015, #9025 to #9028, #9030 to #9032, #9038, #9040, #9041, #9044, #9047, and #9048. Bolingbroke #9028 crashed at Callendar, Ontario, in a snow storm on 6 January 1942, and #9027 crash landed at Lethbridge, Alberta, 9 January 42.

No. 8 [B.R.] Squadron RCAF image taken at Kapuskasing, Ontario, [528 miles north-west of Ottawa] 26 December 1941. All aircraft arrived at Sea Island, B.C. by 13 January 1942, and sixteen remained on strength. [Below] No. 8 aircrew playing volleyball Sea Island, B.C., March 1942, Star Weekly Newspaper.

On 1 June 1942, No. 8 [B.R.] Squadron has twelve aircraft ready for transit to Yakutat Army Air Base, with fuel stops at RCAF Annette Island and civil airport Juneau, Alaska.

On 2 June the twelve Bolingbroke’s depart Sea Island for Yakutat followed by two Stranraers carrying twenty-three ground crew and essential spare parts and tools. The RCAF had no air navigation maps or charts of the terrain north of Prince Rupert, B.C., and flew the last leg to Annette Island with the route traced on a Canadian Navy depth chart maps.

No. 8 [BR] arrive Annette Island [paved runways] 19:00 hrs 2 June 1942. RCAF PMP79-780.

3 June 1942, No. 8 [BR] ten Bolingbroke’s and two Stranraer flying boats carrying ground crew and essential spare parts arrive at Yakutat Landing Field, Army Air Base, Alaska. [Concrete runway] L to R – Air Gunner F/Sgt. G.A. Anderson, pilot P/O J.M. McArthur, pilot F/O W.J. Smith, and air gunner F/Sgt. F.W. Johnston. Each Bolingbroke proudly carried the RCAF squadron official badge [Musk-Ox] on the nose section. RCAF PMP79-781.

RCAF air photo, looking south. W/C G.R. McGregor in Command of RCAF personnel.

As the Canadians settled into their new home on Yakutat Army Air Base, and all ten Bolingbroke Mk. IV aircraft were armed with bombs, a Japanese enemy task force had already launched air strikes on Dutch Harbor, Alaska, from carrier based aircraft.

The Japanese air attacks on 3 and 4 June 1942, changed all of the defence plans made by American General Buckner, who commanded all the Alaska air combat units, which in fact was comprised of one fourth being Royal Canadian Air Force aircraft. On 5 June, General Buckner ordered No. 8 [B.R.] Squadron to fly at once to Elmendorf Field, [Fort Richardson] outside of Anchorage, Alaska.

Neither No. 8 Squadron nor the American ground staff on Yakutat had maps of the route north to Elmendorf Field or more importantly knew the correct recognition signals when they arrived. In quick response to W/C McGregor’s urgent request, both arrived on the 6 June, and the Ten Bolingbroke’s arrived at Elmendorf Filed on the 7th, ordered to be held in readiness twenty-four hours a day. RCAF Wing Commander McGregor established “X” Wing RCAF Headquarters which became the direct contact point between RCAF and Alaska Defence Command. The Canadians were going to war in a British designed Bolingbroke twin-engine aircraft that was obsolete when it was constructed in 1941. The Daily Diary of “X” Wing RCAF Alaska would fill a large book, however they also published a short edition, and I will now publish three pages, recording the movement of RCAF aircraft to Elmendorf Field, Alaska.

The “Bearded One” is coming home to Alaska

The Musk-Ox is noted for its thick coat and for the strong ‘musk’ odor used to attract females during mating season. The musk-ox never runs from battle, they form a circle protecting their young in the middle and face their attacker. They also cover great distances in search of food and primarily live in Greenland, and the cold arctic regions of Northwest Canada. Their populations have been re-introduced in Siberia, Russia, Scandinavian Peninsula, Yukon, Canada, and Alaska, USA. In Inuktitut they are called ‘umingmak’ which translates to “the bearded one.” The RCAF “Bearded Ones” landed at Anchorage, Alaska, on 7 June 1942, and prepared to defend the coastal Gulf of Alaska from Japanese attack. RCAF “X” Wing Headquarters were based at Anchorage under U.S. Alaskan Command, and their fourteen Bolingbroke Mk. IV were based at Nome, [five to ten] Kodiak, [three aircraft], Cordova, [one] and Yukutat, [one bomber]. They would remain in Alaska until 26 February 1943, then returned to Sea Island, [Vancouver] B.C. on 4 March 1943.

On 4 July 1942, the Canadian minister of defence for air, Hon. C.G. Power, and chief of the air staff, Air Marshall L.S. Breadner, visited Anchorage and met with American commanders. Both sides agreed that “Canadian Squadrons will only find themselves in a location to see enemy action, if some unforeseen enemy attack takes place.”

When No. 8 [BR] Squadron arrived at Elmendorf Field, Alaska, the strength of General Buckner’s total Alaska Defence Command American bomber force was sixty-eight aircraft.

The first RCAF Alaska assigned anti-submarine patrol [“A” on map] began 13 June 1942, Bolingbroke # 9026, three Bolingbroke’s were later based on Kodiak, 15 November 1942.

The Second assigned coastal route [“B” on map] began on 13 July 1942, Elmendorf Field, to Seward and ending at Cordova, flown by Bolingbroke #9056. On 9 September 1942, one Bolingbroke #9111 was based at Yukutat and flew west [“C” on map] to Cordova, Alaska, weather permitting.

Twelve RCAF Bolingbroke Mk. IV bombers were on strength with “X” Wing at Elmendorf Field on 31 July 1942.

No. 8 [BR] began Northern patrol from Nome in early July with three Bolingbroke aircraft, [serial #9040, #9044, and #9032] joining the USAAF 404th Bomb squadron B-24 bombers. On 21 August 1942, the 404th were withdrawn from Nome for new operations in the Aleutian chain, and the Canadians took over their coastal patrols, Southern and St. Lawrence Island, Alaska. These three patrols show as #1, #2, and #3 on Alaska map. Ten Bolingbroke aircraft were now based at Nome, Alaska, and rotated from Elmendorf Field, new additions were Bolingbroke #9056 and #9111 flown by F/O J.B. Morgo, which arrived from Sea Island, 24 July 1942.

Navy artist Clayton Knight drawing of 404th Bomb Squadron at Nome, Alaska. [Free domain]

Nome, Alaska, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers map October 1943.

The three new Nome Alaska Command assigned RCAF patrol areas came into effect on 22 August 1942, and continued until 5 December 1942. The St. Lawrence Island patrol were the most dangerous, as any aircraft forced landing was sure death in the freezing Arctic waters.

On 15 November 1942, U.S. Eleventh Air Force orders doubled RCAF No. 8 [BR] Squadron coastal patrols. Three Bolingbroke bombers were now stationed on Kodiak.

15 November 1942 new patrols for Kodiak, three aircraft.

A single No. 8 [Musk-Ox] Squadron Bolingbroke Mk. IV at Nome, Alaska, November 1942.

RCAF photo – PMR79-465.

U.S. Navy drawings by Clayton Knight at Nome, Alaska. [Free domain]

Yakutat Army Air Base now became a vital refueling staging stop for the large number of civil Lodestar passenger aircraft, C-47 transport aircraft, B-24, B-17 heavy bombers, and U.S. fighters proceeding to Elmendorf Field. On 9 September 1942, No. 8 [BR] squadron based Bolingbroke #9111, pilot F/O Bray, on Yakutat, and weather permitting, he flew daily patrols to Cordova and return. Construction of Cordova began on 19 March 1942, not completed until June 1943.

By June 1942, speed was essential in moving American personnel and supplies to the far north country and two Airlines entered into a contact with the War Department to provide scheduled service. Pan Am [Pan American Airways System] were a pioneer in cold weather aviation and knew the procedures used to fly in the extreme cold air and stay alive in these remote parts of the world. Pan Am would carry over three-million pounds of cargo and transported 77,000 military personnel from Seattle, Washington to Nome, Alaska, during WWII. The two yellow lines on the map show the civil aviation coastal route and display the importance of Yukutat Army Air Base for signals, emergency landings, and fuel. Yukutat was also the dividing point for RCAF “Y” and “X” Wing coastal patrol areas.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers map for 1 July 1943. The area marked 1200 contained over three hundred living quarter tents, barracks, mess hall for 2,000 enlisted men, mess hall for 125 officers, and officer’s quarters. Elephant shelter area 700, were concrete curved arches covered with five feet of earth, bombing protection for each aircraft.

All the points around Yakutat Landing Field were manned by 155 mm [above] or 75 mm heavy gun crews and these Aviation Engineers images show the gun at Point Carrow, North-west Navy Seaplane base, and the connecting beach front winding roadway. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers construction photos taken 15 July 1943.

Life magazine 2 June 1941, author collection.

United Airlines Lockheed Lodestar aircraft flew the same route and came under military contract of USAAF Air Command from Seattle, Washington to Anchorage, Alaska, 1,541 miles.

Hundreds of U. S. Military C-47 transport aircraft flew this Pacific coastal route and a number just disappeared, and have never been found. Others were found.

Seattle to Annette Island 563 miles, 431 miles to Yakutat Landing Field.

In September 1942, Lt. Gen. Simon Buckner Jr. ordered one RCAF Bolingbroke aircraft to be based at Yakutat Army Air Base and fly daily [when weather permitted] patrols to Cordova and return. These patrols began on 9 September 1942, and I believe the No. 8 [BR] Squadron Bolingbroke was serial #9111. This serial number first appears in Daily Diary 20 October 1942.

This RCAF photo captures No. 8 Squadron Bolingbroke #9048, one of ten which flew patrols from Elmendorf Field to Kodiak, Cordova, Alaska, and return. The last No. 8 Squadron patrol from Yakutat Air Base was Bolingbroke #9111 on 2 November 1942.

Yakutat Army Landing Field [official title] construction was completed on 15 June 1943, with two 7,500 ft. concrete runways, operation buildings, storage for aviation gasoline, oil serving pits, facilities for radio communications, and one steel hangar, 118,316 square feet for repairs or storage. The living quarters consisted of over three-hundred buildings, and a mess hall for feeding 2,000 personnel. Designed originally in 1940 as an advanced Army Air Field for supporting pursuit and heavy bombers against the Japanese invasion of the Aleutians, it cost ten million to construct and was never needed. For one year, June 1942 until June 1943, Yakutat Army Landing Field was a vital auxiliary airfield for refueling, repairs, and staging area, for hundreds of American and RCAF aircraft bound for Elmendorf Field, Alaska. For the RCAF, Yakutat became home, the only refueling base, and rest area for “Y” and “X” Wing Bolingbroke’s that flew six to ten hour patrols protecting the coast of the Gulf of Alaska, U.S.A.

This image taken in April 1944, shows the massive number of tents, and buildings which were constructed in area marked on map as 1200, never used, and most were just given to the Tlingit natives in 1948.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers photo looking north-west to seaplane base 1943.

Construction images taken by 807th Engineers Aviation Company showing their seaplane ramps at Annette Island, [above] and Yakutat Navy base in Yakutat Bay, Alaska, June and July 1943.

No. 8 [BR] Squadron Bolingbroke #9048 flew patrols from Elmendorf Field, Kodiak, and Cordova, Alaska. The outer yellow RCAF roundel ring was ordered painted black by Major Gen. Norman Sillin on 12 June 1942, and clearly shows in this image. The squadron two code letters “YO” were removed on 22 October 1942. The first Bolingbroke to fly a patrol from Elmendorf Field, Alaska, became #9026 on 13 June 1942. Bolingbroke #9048 flew her first patrol on 15 June, as follows:

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers photo of Kodiak, Alaska, the main refueling point for RCAF Bolingbroke aircraft flying patrols from Elmendorf Field, June to November 1942. For some reason, the RCAF Daily Dairy for “X” Wing at Elmendorf Field never recorded the aircraft serial numbers for each patrol, and it can only be estimated Bolingbroke #9048 flew at least forty to sixty patrols from 15 June to 16 November 1942.

A Brief history of RCAF #9048 before it is gone forever and forgotten

Taken on strength by RCAF at Longueuil, Quebec, 8 October 1941. Flown to No. 11 Technical Detachment, Montreal, Quebec, and modified for Reconnaissance patrols. 26 October 1941, flown by pilot’s S/L C.A. Willis, F/Lt. J.K. MacDonald, and P/O H.H.C. Russell from Montreal to Sydney, Nova Scotia, taken on strength by No. 8 [BR] Squadron the eighteenth Bolingbroke. Flew anti-submarine [German U-boats] patrols until No. 8 Squadron ordered to Sea Island [Vancouver] B.C. with advance party leaving 19 December 1942. Aircraft departed Nova Scotia on 23 December and all had arrived at Sea Island by 13 January 1942. Bolingbroke #9048 arrived Sea Island, B.C., 2 January and flew her first anti-submarine [Japanese] patrol the following day, four hours. Seven more patrols were completed – 17 March 42, 20 April, 2,7,12,21 and 24 May 1942. The under surface of #9048 was never painted black like the other squadron aircraft, and it appears it was the aircraft flown by Flight Commander, S/L Russell. On 2 June 1942, departed Sea Island for Annette Island, Alaska, arrived 19:00 hrs. One of ten Bolingbroke’s which flew to Yakutat Army Air Base on 3 June 1942. Arrived at Elmendorf Field, Alaska, one of seven landed 7 June 1942. First anti-submarine patrol flown 15 June 1942, “A” on map, Anchorage [Elmendorf Field] to Portage Passage, to Gore Point, to Kodiak, and return. Continued to fly patrols in “A”- “B”- and “C” [Cordova Staging Field – below] sections on map of Gulf of Alaska, until 16 November 1942.

Beginning 16 November 1942, Bolingbroke #9048 began flying two patrols a day, [Red and Blue] detailed in orders, 200-mile radius from Anchorage.

With the Japanese being expelled from Alaska, No. 8 [BR] Squadron Bolingbroke aircraft returned south to Yukutat for fuel, then home to RCAF Sea Island, B.C., 4 March 1943. Last flight of #9048 was 3 June 1943, escort a flight of P-40 fighters from Sea Island to Annette Island, Alaska. Sent to No. 3 Bombing and Gunnery School at MacDonald, Manitoba, she joined 46 other Bolingbroke trainers until it closed 17 February 1945. Struck off charge by RCAF on 21 August 1946, she went to War Assets for disposal. Sold to a Canadian farmer and sat outdoors for twenty-five years, then sold to an American collector in California, and another thirty years in the heat, and finally gifted to Bristol Aero Collection in 2006. Today she is being restored as a Bristol Blenheim and her RCAF war history in Alaska will be forgotten and lost. You can go online and see her wearing RCAF yellow and the outline of her serial number. I know the British will take good care of her and possibly [I hope] mention a bit of her past glory days in Alaska, protecting the USA coastline wearing her badge of a “Bearded One.”

The last RCAF Bolingbroke aircraft to fly at Yakutat Landing Field came from No. 115 [B.R.] Squadron.

The last flight to Yakutat Landing Field by RCAF No. 115 [BR] Squadron took place on 7-8 June 1943, Bolingbroke # 9122. No. 115 Squadron returned to Patricia Bay, B.C., 21 August 1943, and the Bolingbroke Mk. IV history at war in Alaska had come to an end.

With the Northwest Staging Route and the Alaska Highway from Edmonton, Alberta to Fairbanks, Alaska, in full operation, Yakutat Landing Field was no longer required and by December 1943, personnel and equipment were being transferred to other American bases in Alaska. The airfield was officially placed on caretaker status in April 1944, and the seaplane base was officially closed on 22 July 1944. Yakutat Landing Field was declared surplus by the Army in December 1945, with the Civil Aeronautics Administration becoming responsible for maintenance and operations of the base area. In June 1948, War Assets Administration began to dispose of the 443 military buildings and only the large hangar remained. Today Yakutat airport still leaves a large “L” imprint on the landscape just like it did during WWII, a most welcome sight to pilots, the same as it was for the returning RCAF aircrews in 1942 and 43.

Brenda the balancing seal draft drawing was created by Walt Disney artist Hank Porter in late April 1940, and can be found on file at Walt Disney Archives, Burbank, California. The insignia color art was completed by artist Roy Williams, Van Kaufman, George Goepperm, or Edward Parks, and appeared in the 2 May 1940 issue of LIFE magazine as Alaska Defence Force, left. On 4 February 1941, the War Department changed the title to Alaska Defence Command and the Walt Disney original colors remained the same as shown on right. The Brenda Seal “A-D-C” insignia which flew with RCAF in Alaska under U.S. Command in “Y” and “X” Wings for one full year. Three different American styles and colors of the A.D.C. insignia appear on the internet, including one with a white seal chest, which possibly could be fake.

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