Saturday, May 23, 2015

George Island WWII Gun

Trail Head, George Island
One of the largest remaining pieces of World War II armament in Alaska is located on tiny George Island about 2 miles outside the village of Elfin Cove.  Residents of Elfin Cove and Pelican have known about the big gun on George Island since it was put there in 1942.  We learned about the site when we visited the small museum at Elfin Cove and both of us immediately commented “we have to go see this!”  The Forest Service recently redeveloped the historic trail to the gun site.  Because the steel gun was so big, 36,000 pounds, the Navy actually had to build a road for the half-mile haul to the emplacement site.  
Exiting Elfin Cove by Dinghy
We headed for George Island in our dinghy through patchy fog, navigating with the dinghy’s onboard tracking device so we would be able to find our way back should fog conditions worsen.    
Heading for George Island
Dinghy Anchored at George Island
We anchored the dinghy off shore in the same protected bay previously used by the Navy and hiked the Forest Service trail to the site.  We were surprised that this remote trail is so well maintained. 
A Steep Pitch along the Trail
At one point the trail goes along a cliff that drops off a couple hundred feet to the sea below. 

There are a few places where the beach can be accessed, including the location of an impressive Sea Stack that towers over a rocky shore.  The trail was a little eerie what with the fog and collapsed remains of Quonset huts in the forest.  
Fresh Bear Scat
The bear scat, however, was more unnerving; the scat appeared fresh so we made lots of noise as we walked along the trail.  When we came over the crest of a hill, the impressive, fully intact gun stood in the trees above the sea.  
Six-inch Gun Site, George Island
The gun is tilted down but if it were tilted up in its normal position, the gun would be pointed right at Cape Spencer Lighthouse on the north end of Cross Sound.  After
Gun and Ammunition Box
he gun was placed in position, it was fired a few times and then was covered with a tarp.  The Navy Base didn’t have a lot of extra people to go to George Island and life on the Island was difficult – living in Quonset huts with very little water that would freeze in the winter.  In order to fire the gun, people from Port Althorp on Chichagof Island located south of Elfin Cove were brought over, including the gunnery officer.  They set up a target and went through the drill, including oiling the springs that go inside the tubes.  On the fourth shot the brass gun mount underneath, sheared with a crack and the gun jumped back a few inches.  The gun was out of commission for the rest of the war and the site dwindled to a couple of men.  
Trail from the Beach, Cannery Ruins
The 1941 bases at Port Althorp and Ketchikan were the first Naval Section Bases selected in the Sitka Subsector command.  Officers requisitioned the assets of the P.E. Harris Cannery at Port Althorp and also scouted positions for 6-inch gun sites to be used for base defense.  Cannery operations had also been present on George Island, of which remains lie in the forest near the shore of the protected cove.  On June 3rd, 1942, the Japanese attacked the Naval Air Station at Dutch Harbor and all military bases in Alaska went on full alert.  It was determined a few days later that the Japanese had occupied the Aleutian Islands of Attu and Kiska near the end of the Island Chain.  As we walked back down the trail to retrieve our dinghy, we stopped to look at some of the cannery ruins spread through the forest floor, and came upon a log foundation for one of the buildings.  George Island is a fascinating place to visit.
Log Foundation for a Building

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