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Hays jr, Otis. The Alaska-Siberia Connection: The World War II Air Route. College Station, TX: Texas A & M University Press, 1996.
184 pages ISBN 0-89096-711-3
Preface; maps; photos; Postscript; Notes; Bibliography; index.
Appendices: Aircraft Deliveries via ALSIB; Soviet Personnel in Alaska
Shortly after the Wehrmacht launched Operation Barbarossa in June 1941, Washington and Moscow began making arrangements to extend Lend-Lease to the hard-pressed Soviets. Supplies and military equipment began flowing from the "arsenal of democracy" in ever-increasing amounts.
Some of the tonnage travelled by the well-known Murmansk convoys. Other aid flowed via the "Persian Corridor". In 1945 small quantities of freight were shipped directly into liberated Soviet Black Sea ports. Given that the USSR and Japan maintained an uneasy peace treaty until August 1945, substantial amounts of material were also shipped in Soviet-flagged freighters and tankers from the US across the North Pacific to Vladivostok and thence by train on the Trans-Siberian railroad. (Of these Vladivostok sailings, at least nine vessels were sunk by the "neutral" Japanese.)
Of all Lend-Lease routes to the Soviet Union, however, the main path for aircraft was by ASLIB: the Alaska-Siberian Air Ferry Route. "Fifty-six percent of the Lend-Lease aircraft that reached the Soviet war front flew over the ALSIB route in 1942-45."
Otis Hays, also author of Home from Siberia: The Secret Odysseys of Interned American Airmen in World War II, served on the Alaska Defense Command's military intelligence staff and supervised foreign liaison operations in 1943-44. In this concise and factual volume, he chronicles the story of the air ferry route from its shaky beginnings to its close in November 1945.
Given the residual suspicion and mistrust between the two new allies, and the primitive, unprepared state of air facilities on both the American and Asian sides of the ferry route, planning and implementation of ASLIB was very much a stop-and-go proposition. Diplomats in both capital cities and military teams surveying the airfields wasted a great deal of time posturing and haggling before details were settled. It was finally agreed that American pilots would ferry the aircraft from the Great Falls, Montana assembly point along the intermediate Canadian fields to Fairbanks. From there only Soviet aircrews would fly the machines to Nome and then across the Bering Strait, along the chain of newly created airfields (supplied in part by Lend-Lease material shipped into the Arctic Ocean and then up the Kolyma, Lena, and, Yenisei rivers), and onward to the ASLIB terminus at Krasnoyarsk. For this endeavor the Soviets assigned the 1st Ferrying Aviation Division with five air regiments. Due to various delays, including weather conditions, the first Lend-Lease aircraft wearing the red star did not cross from Nome into Siberia until October, 1942.
As Hays goes on to describe, 7924 aircraft (C-46, C-47, P-39, P-40, P-47, P-63, A-20, B-25, and AT6-F) were accepted by the Soviet staff at Ladd Field and flown to the USSR. The last handful of planes flew across the Bering Strait in September 1945. In October the last Soviet personnel withdrew from the American side of the ferry route. In November, operational control of the Alaskan ferry airfields was transferred to the Eleventh Air Force and they eventually served as part of the US air defense system during the Cold War.
A very informative work on this little-known part of the war, fully documented from wartime documents as well as contributions from American and Soviet personnel involved in the operation.
Available from mail order booksellers, at local bookshops, or directly from Texas A & M University Press for $35.
Thanks to Texas A & M University Press for providing this review copy.
Reviewed 30 December 1996
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