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Determining the Facts

Reading 3: Soviet-American Relations

The number of Soviet soldiers at Ladd Field sometimes took people by surprise. Major General Deane, the head of the U.S. military mission in Moscow, wrote about his trip to Fairbanks: "In the first place, we found that our air base at Fairbanks was at least half under Russian control. Officers' quarters, office space, hangars and shops had been turned over to the Red Air Force. Russian and American officers ate at a central mess hall. There were no restrictions whatsoever on Russian soldiers. They were free to use all the facilities of the station and to travel at will."

About 300 Soviets served at Ladd Field at the height of operations. Many more flight crews arrived on a regular basis from Siberia to pick up planes. The red star became a familiar sight in the sky over Fairbanks when the Soviets left in groups. "There was lots of activity on the field, a tremendous roaring of motors as a large convoy was getting ready to take off," wrote Henry Varnum Poor, a soldier and artist. Cold Weather Test Detachment pilot Randy Acord said the normal procedure was for a flight of thirteen airplanes to leave as a group. The bombers and pursuit planes would take off one after another, circling the field until all were ready to go. "Together they moved into a tight formation and disappeared over the western hills," Poor wrote.

Some of the planes were too small to fit an American soldier and a Soviet soldier. As a result, the American soldiers had to give instructions on the ground and watch the Soviets fly. The language barrier between the Americans and Soviets reportedly caused some problems when they were trying to do this. The Ladd Field newspaper tried to help the language differences. The newspaper included helpful Russian phrases and the base offered classes in Russian. However, the language barrier was such that sign language was often used when interpreters were not handy.

Americans complained that the Soviets were too picky about accepting planes with minor mechanical problems. David Chavchavadze, an American translator, said there was a good reason for their attitude. The North American part of the Lend-Lease route was difficult, but the Soviet segments were worse because landing fields were farther apart and more primitive. "The Americans were irritated because they did not realize that if a plane developed mechanical trouble on its way to the front or crashed, the Russian mechanic who had signed for it was held responsible."

The Soviets also became famous in Fairbanks for buying large quantities of consumer goods that were difficult to find back in the Soviet Union. One American officer remembered a time when a Soviet soldier asked to buy shoes. "What kind?" the clerk asked. "All kinds," the Russian said. "What size?" the clerk asked. "All sizes," the Russian said. The clerk sold him all the previous year's styles the store held in stock. Fairbanks was not forced to ration goods so it was a "buyer's paradise" for the Soviets.

Questions for Reading 3

1. What were some of the difficulties faced by the Soviets and Americans as they worked together? Why was it important for Soviet and American soldiers to work together?

2. How did the soldiers communicate to each other?

3. What effect do you think American and Soviet soldiers living and working together at Ladd Field had on the overall Lend-Lease mission?

4. Would it be surprising today to see soldiers from different countries on an American military base during a war?

Reading 3 was compiled from Cold Missions: The U.S. Army Air Forces and Ladd Field in WWII and the National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, Ladd Field, Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, 1984.

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