This fort dates back to WWII, commemorating one of the few sites attacked by the enemy
In 1939 the U.S. military began fortifying Dutch Harbor/Unalaska for a possible attack by the Japanese; that attack came on June 3-4, 1942.
The two-day air attack not only heavily destroyed this Aleutian Island seaport but made it one of the few places in the country to be bombed during World War II. The Japanese continued the campaign by invading and occupying two western Aleutian Islands that year and when the Americans re-took them in 1943 the bloody clash was the first battle on American soil since the War of 1812. This little-known chapter of War World II history eventually became known as the "Forgotten War" and in 1996 the 134-acre Aleutian World War II National Historic Area was established so nobody ever would forget.
The Aleutian World War II National Historic Area encompasses the historic footprint of the U.S. Army base Fort Schwatka. Located on Amaknak Island in the Aleutian Archipelago of Alaska, the fort was one of four coastal defense posts built to protect Dutch Harbor (the back door to the United States) during World War II. The fort is also the highest coastal battery ever constructed in the United States at 897 feet.
The Park is located on Amaknak Island in the Aleutian Island chain, 800 miles west of Anchorage, the nearest urban center. It can be reached by air through commercial and charter flights from Anchorage, or by ocean through the Alaska Marine Highway System.
The Aleutian Islands are known for fast changing weather, so it is advisable to be prepared. Rain, fog, and high winds are typical conditions during the summer months. Winter months are characterized by wet, snowy, and cold conditions. People visiting the islands will want to bring warm clothing and good rain gear.
The Aleutian World War II Visitor Center is located at the Unalaska airport. The center is approximately 0.7 miles from the cruise ship docks, and 1.1 miles from the Grand Aleutian Hotel.
Time has taken its toll on the features of Fort Schwatka, and visitors should be aware of the hazards that exist within the National Historic Area. This site preserves bunkers that are still in excellent condition; however, many tunnel entrances leading into the bunkers are unstable or have collapsed. Many of the floors were constructed of wood that has rotted over the years. There is no electricity on Ulakta Head and the underground buildings and tunnels are dark. Visitors are advised to enter into these tunnels and bunkers at their own risk. Cliff edges and collapsed tunnels may be hidden by dense fog.
Soldiers deployed anti-personnel stakes throughout the area during World War II, and some of these still remain in the ground hidden underneath vegetation. Stepping or falling on these stakes could lead to serious injuries. Visitors are advised to remain on the roads and trails to prevent unnecessary injuries, as well as to closely supervise children and pets while in the park.
The original air control tower the military built near the airport in 1942 is now the Aleutian World War II Visitor Center, the logical first stop for most visitors to the park. Downstairs is a theater where documentaries about the war effort in Alaska are shown and exhibits that relive the Aleutian campaign, including the bombing of Dutch Harbor by the Japanese and the Battle of Attu and upstairs is the re-created air control tower as it looked in the 1940s.
Most of the park preserves Fort Schwatka on Mt Ballyhoo. Looming nearly 1000 feet above the storm-tossed waters of the Bering Sea, the Army fort was the highest coastal battery ever constructed in the U.S and was built to withstand earthquakes and 100 mph winds. Today the gun mounts are still among the best preserved in the country and include tunnels and bunkers that allowed gunners to cart ammunition from one side of the mountain to the other.
Also part of the national historic area is Bunker Hill, another coastal battery that was fortified with 155 mm guns, ammunition magazines, 22 Quonset huts and a concrete command post at the top, much of which can still be seen today. In a picturesque hillside graveyard along the bay is the USS Northwestern Memorial that includes the ship's propeller. The freight ship was repaired by the military in 1940 and was serving as a floating bunkhouse when it was bombed during the attack on Dutch Harbor and burned for five days.
The Aleutian World War II National Historic Area is unique because the Alaska Native Ounalashka Corporation, not the National Park Service, owns and manages it. A Land Use Permit is needed to visit the park and can be purchased in Unalaska/Dutch Harbor at the Aleutian World War II Visitor Center (907-581-9944) or at the Ounalashka Corporation Office (907-581-1276; www.ounalashka.com).
The Aleutian World War II National Historic Area (www.nps.gov/aleu) is located in Unalaska/Dutch Harbor on Amaknak and Unalaska Islands in the Aleutian Islands. The cities are accessible by scheduled daily air service from Anchorage and once-a-month Alaska Marine Highway ferry service from May through September.
Fort Schwatka on Mt Ballyhoo is behind the airport and can be reached on foot or by vehicle via Ulakta Road, a half mile north of the ferry terminal along Ballyhoo Rd. Bunker Hill is accessed from a gravel road reached just after crossing the bridge to Amaknak Island. For more travel information or a Fort Schwatka Self-Guided Tour brochure contact the Unalaska/Port of Dutch Harbor Convention and Visitors Bureau (877-581-2612; www.unalaska.info).