Naval Air Facility Adak (1942-1997)
Adak Army Airfield was established on 30 August 1942 as a forward base to attack the Japanese on Kiska Island and take control of the Aleutian Islands. Although British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Admiral Chester Nimitz believed sending forces to attack the Japanese would be a diversion from their operations the commanders in Alaska disagreed and construction on the site started September 2, 1942. The site began taking in flights September 10, 1942. on August 15, 1943, U.S. forces landed unopposed on the island of Kiska and on the 24th the Aleutian Campaign was complete. Adak remained in operation as a military airfield until its closure in 1997 but was reopened as Adak Airport.
Backstory and Context
The Aleutian campaign was not considered a priority by the Joint Chiefs of Staff in late 1942. British Prime Minister Churchill and Admiral Chester Nimitz saw it as a diversion from their operations. Commanders in Alaska, however, believed the Japanese presence in the Aleutians a threat to North America and once the islands were again in United States hands, forward bases could be established to attack Japan from there.
The establishment of Adak Army Airfield on 30 August 1942 gave the Air Force a forward base to attack the Japanese forces on Kiska Island. The island had not been properly surveyed to find a suitable site to build the airfield. A quick survey of the coast located a tidal marsh which underneath was a firm foundation of sand and gravel. Work began on 2 September, by 10 September enough construction had been completed that a 73d Bomb Squadron B-18 Bolo successfully landed on the runway. By 13 September, enough construction had been completed at Adak to justify movement of operations from Fort Glenn AAF on Umnak to the new airfield which was 400 miles closer to the Japanese forces. The 250-mile distance from Adak allowed multiple combat sorties to be carried out each day.
The first major combat mission of the Aleutian Campaign from Adak occurred on 14 September 1942 when thirteen B-24 Liberators and one B-17 Flying Fortress supported by fourteen P-38s, fourteen P-40 Warhawks, and seven P-39 Air Cobras attacked Kiska harbor. This raid essentially ended the ability of the Japanese to send out offensive strikes from Kiska and so effectively crippled the facility that the Japanese began withdrawing their shipping from the harbor. By the end of October, the Japanese had decided to pull out most of its garrison to Attu, which they believed was worth retaining. On 12 January 1943, American forces made an unopposed landing on Amchitka Island, 50 miles from Kiska and 260 miles from Attu. The Army began establishing a forward combat airfield (A-3) on the island. With the second combat airfield becoming operational and within striking range of the Japanese garrison on Attu, the Japanese forces on Kiska were put into an untenable situation. On 15 August 1943, United States forces landed unopposed on Kiska. On 24 August 1943, the Aleutian Islands campaign was successfully completed.
On 1 July 1950, the Air Force transferred Davis AFB to the United States Navy who established an anti-submarine warfare base there. With the fall of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, NAS Adak's viability as a front-line military installation began to wane, and in the mid-1990s a decision was made by the federal government to cease military flight operations there under the military's Base Realignment and Closure Program. On 31 March 1997, the Navy closed Adak Naval Air Facility. Navy left behind a contingent of 30 Navy personnel and 200 civilian contractors to maintain facilities, keep the runway open and begin an environmental cleanup. The station was designated a National Historic Landmark and listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1987 for its role in the Second World War.