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The Alaska-Siberia air route (ALSIB) was a secret program to transport nearly 8,000 military aircraft from Great Falls, Montana, through Canada and Alaska, and across the Bering Strait to Siberia. It was part of the massive U.S. Lend-Lease Act of 1941, a program that provided U.S. allies, including the Soviet Union, with military aircraft and other supplies to defeat the Nazis, which Congress passed before the U.S. officially entered the war after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

The ALSIB route is approximately 6,000 miles long from Great Falls, Montana, across the Bering Strait, and on to Krasnoyarsk, Russia [Via]

The ALSIB route became the fastest and most productive means of moving combat aircraft to the Russian–German front. Aircraft manufactured in the United States were flown over this route for World War II combat service on the Eastern Front. Additionally, although it was primitive and dangerous, it established a direct and time-saving artery between Moscow and Washington, and it was heavily used by diplomats, politicians, and countless military officials, both Soviet and American.

Winter ground temperatures of -50 degrees Fahrenheit, the threat of being forced down in remote wilderness, hazardous flying weather, Spartan living conditions and a lack of sufficient hangar space, which sometimes forced mechanics to work outside under cruel winter conditions, made life difficult for personnel assigned to duty along the ALSIB route. 

As part of this effort, airfields needed to be built and supplied every few hundred miles along the route, from Great Falls to Krasnoyarsk . This was the catalyst for the Alaska Highway in Canada, one of the most challenging and brutal transportation projects of its time. Gore Field in Great Falls, MT was the staging area for the ALSIB program. Ladd Field in Fairbanks, AK was the airfield served as the official transfer point where American aircraft were turned over to the Soviet military. 

The aircrafts delivery process was as follow:

  1. US Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP), and men from the Air Transport Command (ATC) delivered new warplanes from factories in the continental United States to Great Falls, Montana.
  2. US 7th Ferrying Squadron pilots delivered the new warplanes from Great Falls, Montana to Fairbanks, Alaska.
  3. When Soviet inspectors accepted the aircrafts, Soviet Ferrying Group pilots delivered the new warplanes from Fairbanks, Alaska to Krasnoyarsk, Russia and on to the battle fronts.

USAAF and Soviet pilots at Ladd Field, Alaska in front of a Bell P-63 Kingcobra [Via, photo source: US Air Force]

Soviet airmen stand on a street corner in Alaska, likely in Fairbanks  [Via, U.S. Air Force photo]

Allied aircrews pose for a picture somewhere in the wilds of Alaska  [Via, U.S. Air Force photo]

The total distance of the ALSIB route from the city of Fairbanks, Alaska to Krasnoyarsk was 6,400 kilometers (3,976 miles). Taking into account the American segment of the route was 4,800 kilometers (3,000 miles) up through Canada, plus the many thousands of kilometers to the frontline airfields, the entire distance was about 14,000 kilometers (8,700 miles). Thousands of pilots, navigators, radio operators, and engineers worked in the unbearable conditions of the Far North, flying over the most dangerous areas of the globe, including the permafrost zone.

Lend-lease B-25s and P-39s on the runway at Ladd Field, Alaska, prior to testing by the Soviet Purchasing Commission, September 1942 [Via, U.S. Air Force photo]

Russian personnel inspect a Lend-Lease Douglas A-20 Havoc prior to its flight to Russia along the ALSIB (Alaska/Siberia) route [Via]

From 1942 – 1945 the United States and Soviet Union secretly ferried nearly 8,000 warplanes from Great Falls, Montana to Krasnoyarsk, Russia, including:

  • Bell P-39 Airacobra: 2,618 units
  • Bell P-63 Kingcobra: 2,397 units
  • Curtiss C-46 Commando: 01 units
  • Curtiss P-40 Warhawk: 48 units
  • Douglas A-20 Boston/Havoc: 1,363 units
  • Douglas C-47 Skytrain: 710 units
  • North American AT-6 Texan: 54 units
  • North American B-25 Mitchell: 732 units
  • Republic P-47 Thunderbolt: 03 units

A processed P-63 Kingcobra undergoes a tire and brake inspection in the final processing hanger at Great Falls Army Air Base June 1945 during the Lend-Lease program [Via]

Between 1942 – 1945, the number of WASPs, or Women’s Air Service Pilots, who flew the planes from manufacturers to Great Falls was 1,070. They had 38 casualties. The number of fatal crashes among the ferrying pilots was 177. The Lend-Lease fighters and bombers that were funneled through this route eventually made up 12 percent of the Red Air Force and devastated Hitler's legions.

To commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, online game developer and publisher Wargaming, in partnership with BRAVO 369 Flight Foundation (USA)  and Rusavia (Russia), will retrace the historic Alaska to Siberia (ALSIB) route

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