Shemya Island, is also referred to as the Black Pearl of the North Pacific Ocean, because of it’s black sandy beaches. This is a result of millions of years of volcanic activity. Shemya is located at the far western edge of the aleutian chain of islands and is part of what is known as the ring of fire. An area of active seismic/volcanic area that stretches from South America northward to California into Alaska and along the Pacific Rim of asia. My time spent on this tiny 2 miles by 4 miles was a weatherman’s dream. The daily climate was harsh with few exceptions. Annual temperatures are moderate for that far north of a latitude. Winter storms were violent, frequently accompanied by gale to hurricane force winds. It was difficult to measure snow because high winds would constantly blow it horizontally.
Late spring to early fall was a constant pea soup fog. And the sun was a rarity. On a few clear winter nights, we were treated to the Aurora Borealis. If your interested in reading on, below you will find more information on this tiny little island called SHEMYA. Historical temperatures as well as climate data can be found Climatic Data Center.
The following excerpt is a historical account from the army air corp during world war 2. The Alaskan Air Force was activated on Elmendorf Field 15 January 1942 to manage the buildup of the Army Air Forces in Alaska. It was redesignated the Eleventh Air Force on 5 February 1942.
Following the Japanese bombing of Dutch Harbor in the eastern Aleutian Islands and the occupation of Attu and Kiska in the western Aleutians in early June 1942, the Eleventh Air Force launched an air offensive against the Japanese on the two islands.
Missions were flown initially from Cape Field on Umnak Island in the eastern Aleutians and later from fields built on Adak and Amchitka. Headquarters Eleventh Air Force was moved to Davis Field, Adak in early 1943. Attu was retaken in May 1943, and the Japanese withdrew their garrison from Kiska in late July.
The Aleutian Campaign ended with the reoccupation of Kiska on 15 August 1943. Primarily an air war, it was the only World War II campaign fought on North American soil. The Eleventh Air Force flew 297 missions and dropped 3,662.00 tons of bombs. One hundred and fourteen men were killed in action, another forty-two were reported missing in action and forty-six died as a result of accidents.
Thirty-five aircraft were lost to combat and another 150 to operational accidents. It was the highest American combat-to-operational loss ratio of the war. Weather was the prime culprit, especially the Winter Climate.
The Eleventh Air Force accounted for approximately 60 Japanese aircraft, one destroyer, one submarine and seven transport ships destroyed by air operations.
Following the occupation of Kiska, the Eleventh Air Force declined from peak strength of 16,526 in August 1943 to 6,849 by the end of the war. For the remainder of the war, it flew bombing and reconnaissance missions against Japanese military installations in the northern Kurile Islands from Attu and Shemya Islands. The first land based bombing mission of the World War II against the Japanese home islands was launched from Attu on 10 July 1943.
The Eleventh Air Force was redesignated the Alaskan Air Command on 18 December 1945, and its headquarters was moved from Adak to Elmendorf AFB on 1 October 1946 to better manage Alaska’s emerging air defense system.
Alaska’s air defenses were greatly expanded during 1945-1955 period. An extensive aircraft control and warning (AC&W) system was constructed along Alaska’s coast and interior. The Alaskan segment of the DEW Line was built, and later the DEW Line was extended to the eastern Aleutian Islands.
By 1957, AAC had reached the height of its strength with over 200 fighter interceptors assigned to six squadrons. Early warning and fighter direction were provided by 18 aircraft control and warning and 12 DEW (defense early warning)Line sites tied together by the White Alice Communications System. Its assigned strength was 20,687. The forces were organized into two air divisions providing “Top Cover for America.”
The late 1950s and the 1960s saw a major reduction in AAC’s forces as Air Force air defense doctrine began changing, and emphasis shifted to a defense against a mixed threat of missile and bomber attacks. The number of fighter interceptor squadrons shrunk to one, the air divisions were inactivated, and the aircraft control and warning sites reduced to 13. The assigned strength dropped to 9,987 by 1969. The Aleutian DEW Line segment was dismantled. Emphasis shifted towards supporting other commands.
The manpower intensive, 1950s era aircraft control and warning system radars were replaced with minimum attended AN/FPS-117 minimally attended, long range radars. The system achieved its operational capability in October 1985. The outdated, semi-automated Alaskan NORAD Control Center was replaced with the fully automated Regional Operations Control Center.
Further improvements were made to the force structure with the arrival of F-15As in 1982, upgraded to “C” models during 1987-86. On 1 July 1986, the 962nd Airborne Warning and Control System Squadron was activated at Elmendorf AFB to operate two E-3 Sentry aircraft on rotational duty to Alaska. (The aircraft were later assigned to the squadron.) A second F-15C squadron was added the next year. The modern radar system, the F-15s and the E-3 resulted in a greater capability to protect the air sovereignty of North America. The number of Soviet aircraft intercepts increased dramatically from an average of ten a year during the first half of the 1980s to a record of 31 in 1987, after which the numbers began to decline dramatically following the breakup of the Soviet Union. Four Russian aircraft were intercepted in 1993.
One of the most singular events affecting AAC was the disestablishment of the Alaskan Command on 1 July 1975. The Commander, AAC assumed the additional responsibility of Commander, Joint Task Force-Alaska, a provisional joint command that could be activated in the event of an emergency, such as the Exxon Valdez oil spill in March 1989.
The Alaskan Command was reestablished on 7 July 1989, as a subordinate unified command under the U.S. Pacific Command in recognition of Alaska’s strategic importance to the defense of the Pacific.
With the activation of the Alaskan Command, the next logical step was to place its air component (AAC) under the Pacific Air Forces. On 9 August 1990, the Alaskan Air Command was redesignated the Eleventh Air Force. Finally, in keeping with Air Force Chief of Staff guidance to retain the most illustrious units, the 343rd Wing, a veteran of the Aleutian Campaign, was inactivated in August 1993. The 354th Fighter Wing was activated in its place.
The mission of the Eleventh Air Force shifted during the early 1990s from defending Alaska against the Soviet Union bomber threat to committing its forces to worldwide deployment and providing training opportunities for others.