TwHP Lessons

Ladd Field and the Lend-Lease Mission: Defending Alaska in WWII

Ladd Field's Lend-Lease Planes
(National Park Service)


magine yourself a military man in Alaska, living in a plywood hut that offers little comfort in the winter months. You watch one of your bunkmates trying to clean the quarters, but before he can mop up the water he's used to scrub the floor, it freezes. Fortunately, you can sleep tonight, as it's not your turn to stay up to keep the fire going. But the coal used for the fire is dirty and poor ventilation traps the fumes inside, making everyone feel sick. This would have been your life had you been assigned to work at Ladd Field when it first opened near the town of Fairbanks, Alaska, as a Cold Weather Testing Station on the eve of World War II.

Ladd Field broke ground in 1939, just a few days before World War II began in Europe. Once the United States entered the war, the facility became a transfer point for American aircraft bound for the Soviet Union. The airfield's evolving mission from a Cold Weather Test Station to a key player in the Lend-Lease program reflects the significant role the most remote part of our country played in the war. Ladd Field served as the meeting point for the Soviets and the Americans to exchange planes manufactured under the Lend-Lease Act. The Lend-Lease Act was designed to provide allies with aircraft and supplies for the war in Europe. As such, Ladd Field came to represent not only a political and economic exchange, but a cultural one as well.

Despite the economic and human resource issues Ladd Field faced, its "raw wind and incredible temperatures" could not stop the soldiers or the people who lived and worked there from protecting Alaska, the United States, and the world.

1 Price, Kathy. The World War II Heritage of Ladd Field, Fairbanks, Alaska. Center for Environmental Management of Military Lands, 2004.


About This Lesson

Getting Started: Inquiry Question

Setting the Stage: Historical Context

Locating the Site: Maps
  1. Map 1: Alaska WWII Major Military Sites
  2. Map 2: Ladd Field’s Proximity to Fairbanks

Determining the Facts: Readings

  1. Reading 1: Ladd Field and Cold Weather Testing
  2. Reading 2: Lend-Lease Program and the Alaska-Siberia Route
  3. Reading 3: Soviet-American Relations

Visual Evidence: Images
  1. Photos 1-3: Ladd Field before and after WWII
  2. Map 3: Map of the ALSIB Route
  3. Photo 4: White Star, Red Star
  4. Photos 5-6: Lend-Lease Planes

Putting It All Together: Activities
  1. Wartime Cooperation
  2. Lend-Lease: Success or Failure
  3. Veterans of War

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This lesson is based on the historic Ladd Field/Fort Wainwright near Fairbanks, Alaska. It is among the thousands of properties listed in the National Register of Historic Places.


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