Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Ferrying Aircraft to the U.S.S.R. : The Northwest Staging Route and Alaska-Siberia Air Road (ALSIB)

 From 1942 to 1945, over 8,000 aircraft such as the Bell Bell P-63 Kingcobra were ferried from the U.S. to the U.S.S.R.through Canada and the Alaska-Siberia Air Road. 


 In 1941, the United States began supplying Great Britain matériel to help them in their war efforts against Germany. Since U.S. law prevented the Government from extending credit to Great Britain and only permitted cash sales of war matériel, the supplies were on "loan" (1941 Lend Lease Act).

The Lend-Lease act allowed the U.S. to supply items needed for national defence to Great Britain and almost forty other countries including the U.S.S.R. whose defence was crucial to the United States. The program cost nearly $51 billion from 1941 to 1946 with most aid going to the British Empire ($31 billion) and the Soviet Union ($11 billion).

USA-USSR Lend-Lease Agreement

In October, 1941, the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. entered into a Lend-Lease agreement  American Lend-lease deliveries to the Soviet Union included aircraft, trucks, tanks, motorcycles, locomotives and railway cars, anti-aircraft cannons and machine-guns, submachine guns, explosives, field radios, radar systems, as well as foodstuff, steel, other metals, chemicals, and oil and gasoline.

Lend-Lease Routes to the U.S.S.R.:
1. North Atlantic Arctic Convoys : to  Murmansk and Arkhangelsk in northern Russia
2. Persian Corridor : through Iran into Soviet Azerbaijan
3. Pacific Route : to Vladivostok by Soviet ships
4. Alaska- Siberia  Air Route
This post deals with the delivery of aircraft across the 6,000 mile Alaska-Siberia air route.

The Northwest Staging Route and Alaska-Siberia Air Road (ALSIB)

From 1942 to 1945, the United States sent over 8,000 military aircraft to the U.S.S.R. through Alaska. The aircraft were ferried from factories in California, the U.S. Midwest and northeast  to Edmonton, then flown along the Northwest Staging Route to Fairbanks where Soviet pilots took possession of the planes and flew them over the Bering Strait to Krasnoyarsk [the Alaska-Siberian air road (ALSIB)] and then to the battle fronts. 

Northwest Staging Route and Alaska-Siberian Air Road

a) The Northwest Staging Route : 1942 -1945

The Northwest Staging Route consisted of airfields  built or upgraded about every 150 km (100 miles)  from Edmonton, to Fairbanks, Alaska. The airfields were connected by the the Alaska Highway.

Northwest Staging Route

 U.S. Alaskan Wing, Air Transport Command : RCAF Station Edmonton

The Edmonton station became the headquarters of the U.S. Alaskan Wing, Air Transport Command. Two routes from the United States met in Edmonton.  One route originated at Great Falls Army Air Base, Montana, where aircraft bound for Russia were ferried from their manufacturing plants in Southern California.  In late 1943, a second route originating at Minneapolis, Minnesota for aircraft manufactured in the Midwest and northeastern United States was inaugurated.

 U.S. Army Post Office (#462) located at the Edmonton base handled the mail for the American servicemen and personnel stationed at Air Transport Command. The covers below were mailed from Edmonton.

 U.S. Army Postal Service No. 462, Edmonton to Harrisburg, Pa., March 17, 1944

Although U.S. Army Post Office (A.P.O.) no. 462 was located at the RCAF Edmonton base, the actual locations of the APOs was not given in the return address.

U.S. Army Post Office #462, Edmonton, March 17, 1944
Free surface mail to the United States

The second cover was from the Office of Field Director, The American Red Cross to New Haven, October 18, 1944. Free mail service had not been extended to the Red Cross.

U.S. Army Post Office #462 to New haven, Conn., October 18, 1944
3 cents surface letter rate to the United States

b) Alaska- Siberia Air Road

The aircraft flown by American crews to Fairbanks, Alaska, were handed over to the Soviets  and ferried to Krasnoyarsk in Siberia by specially selected Soviet pilots of  the Ferry Aviation Divi­sion.

 The Ferry Aviation Division consisted of five ferry regiments (PAP), each of which was responsible for a certain part of the route:
1 PAP - Fairbanks-Uelkal (1.500 km),
2 PAP - Uelkal-Seimchan (1.450 km),
3 PAP - Seichan-Yakutsk (1.167 kin),
4 PAP - Yakutsk-Kirensk (1.331 km),
5 PAP - Kirensk-Krasnoyarsk (965 km).
 In Krasnoyarsk "ordinary" pilots took over, flying the newly arrived aircraft westwards via Omsk, Sverdlovsk and Kazan to Moscow for further distribution to frontline units. ALSIB-ferry crews were returned to Fairbanks by the Yakutsk­-based regiment. 

Aircraft Types Ferried

Three main types of combat aircraft were ferried to the Soviet Union under Lend-Lease:
  • Fighter aircraft - Bell P-39 Airacobas and Bell P-63 Kingcobras
  • Bombers - Douglas A-20 Havocs and North American B-25 Mitchells
  • Transport Aircraft - Douglas C-47 Skytrains

Russian crews in Nome gather under the wing of a U.S. bomber destined for the Russian-German battlefront.

2006 Lend-Lease Monument : Fairbanks, Alaska

 In August, 2006, U.S. Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld and his Russian counterpart Minister of Defence Sergei Ivanov were among the many international political, military, and diplomatic officials who participated in the opening of the Lend-Lease Memorial in Fairbanks.