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Reading 2: The Lend-Lease Program and the Alaska-Siberia Route
Before World War II, the Soviet Union and Germany agreed not to fight each other if war came. This pact continued during the beginning of the war, but ended in 1941 when Hitler sent an army to attack the Soviet Union. The Germans beat the Soviet Union's unprepared Red Army in 1941 and destroyed many of its aircraft.
President Franklin Roosevelt's administration decided that the United States should help the Soviet Union. Roosevelt and his advisers believed such help was needed to help the Soviet Union defend itself. Congress had passed the Lend-Lease Act in 1941, in part in response to a request from Great Britain for aid. At first, this Act allowed the United States to provide assistance while preserving its neutrality. When Germany attacked the Soviet Union in 1941, the U.S. formally offered aid to the Soviets. This strategy to defeat Germany had support at high levels.
The Lend-Lease Act sent materials and supplies to American allies. Under the Lend-Lease Act, based on records from the 1940s, the United States provided 50 billion dollars worth of war material to 32 allies. Approximately 11 billion dollars of this went to the Soviet Union. The supplies sent to the Soviet Union included 427,000 trucks, 13,000 combat vehicles, and nearly 15,000 combat planes. It also included other items, from diesel engines to shoes.
After the decision to help the Soviet Union, the transfer of aircraft via the ALSIB became a priority. In August 1941, the United States and the Soviet Union reached an agreement on a plan to deliver Lend-Lease supplies. Two routes were selected to get supplies to the Soviet Union. One began in Florida, stopped in North Africa, then Iraq, and ended in Moscow. This route was 13,000 miles.
The second route began in Great Falls, Montana, and went through western Canada to Ladd Field, then continued to Siberia, and finally to Moscow. This route totaled 7,900 miles. Other routes by sea and air were used to supply Lend-Lease equipment, but going through Alaska was shorter and less dangerous than routes by sea. The routes by sea were longer and also dangerous due to German submarines. Since the route through Ladd Field was safer and shorter, the transferred planes made it to the European front within days instead of weeks or months. This route became known as the Alaska-Siberia Route (ALSIB). The United States constructed seven airfields in central Alaska, one at Northway, Tanancross, Big Delta, Ladd Field (Fairbanks), Galena, Moses Point, and Nome. Canada was already building six airfields between Edmonton and Whitehorse. This completed the Alaska-Siberia Route for the delivery of aircraft to the Soviets.
At first, the United States wanted to turn over the planes to Soviet aircrews in Siberia. However, Soviet Leader Josef Stalin did not want United States military forces flying into Soviet airfields, he insisted that Soviet pilots should accept the planes in Alaska. The U.S. and the Soviet Union agreed that Ladd Field in Fairbanks would be the delivery point, due to its strategic location and the fact that, of the routes available, it was the safest and quickest. Since the Soviets officially took ownership of the aircraft at Ladd Field, the planes were inspected and painted with a red star to denote that the aircraft were now the property of the Soviet Union. The Soviets would land at Nome for refueling and repairs before crossing the Bering Strait.
The first Lend-Lease planes flown between Great Falls and Fairbanks arrived on September 3, 1942. Five A-20 bombers made the first two-day flight. Every plane arrived with a white star on the fuselage (body of the plane). The Soviet pilots painted over the white star with the red star, the emblem of the Soviet Union, before leaving for the Soviet Union. The next day, Soviet officers flew in from Siberia. Finally, a group of Soviet pilots landed at Ladd Field on September 24 to begin five days of training before flying the new planes home.
Wartime censorship meant that the ALSIB route and the Soviet soldiers stationed at Ladd Field were not publicly discussed until the summer of 1944. However, in towns along the way, the operation was common knowledge. The Soviet pilots stayed at Ladd Field until the end of WWII. In that time, the United States delivered almost 8,000 planes to the Soviet Union.
Questions for Reading 2
2. What routes were proposed to get supplies to the Soviet Union? Which one was selected and why? How did the selection of this route impact Alaska?
3. How much money and materials were sent to the United State's allies under the Lend-Lease Act?
4. Do you think that the Lend-Lease program contributed to the Allies winning WWII? Why or why not?Reading 2 was compiled from Cold Missions: The U.S. Army Air Forces and Ladd Field in WWII and the National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form, Ladd Field, Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, 1984.