In 2015, the BRAVO 369 flight team successfully retraced the Alaska-Siberia air route (ALSIB), flying the entire 6,000 mile distance route from Great Falls, Montana to Krasnoyarsk, Russia.
Great Falls to Fairbanks
Phase I: 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.
Phase II: US 7th Ferrying Squadron pilots delivered the new warplanes from Great Falls, Montana to Fairbanks, Alaska.
Phase III: Soviet Ferrying Group pilots delivered the new warplanes from Fairbanks, Alaska to Krasnoyarsk, Russia and on to the battle fronts.
As part of the Lend-Lease Act of 1941, under the direction of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, ALSIB was created. This required the construction of airfields every few hundred miles from Great Falls to Krasnoyarsk and was the catalyst for the Alaska Highway. Spanning Canada and Alaska, it was one of the most challenging and brutal transportation projects of its time.
After Alaska, the ALSIB route was divided into five segments:
- The first segment of the route is 1,493 km long (928 miles) and goes from Fairbanks, Alaska to Uelkal. It extends its way through Alaska over the dense forests of the Yukon River Valley to the town of Nome on the coast, and then over the Bering Strait and the desolate tundra of eastern Chukotka.
- The second segment is 1,450 km long (900 miles) and goes from Uelkal to Seimchan, extending its way through a deserted central Chukotka and Kolyma mountains.
- The third segment, which is 1,878 km long (1,167 miles), runs from Seimchan to Yakutsk, which was the most difficult. It extends through the “cold pole” where temperatures reach -60 °C (-76 °F). Pilots had to wear oxygen masks to fly at high altitudes over this vast mountainous area with the Verkhoyansk and Cherskii ranges.
- The fourth segment, which is 1,330 kilometers long (826 miles), goes from Yakutsk to Kirensk above the taiga.
- The fifth and final segment of the route was the shortest, running 960 kilometers (596 miles) from Kirensk to Krasnoyarsk. It also passed over the solid taiga, partly near the Lena River.
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).
On September 29, 1942 P. Nedosekin, Lieutenant Colonel, led the first 12 A-20 “Boston” bombers from the Ladd Field in Fairbanks, over the Bering Strait, which landed at Markovoi Uelkal airfield. On October 7, 1942 the first group of fighters flew to Uelkal which included 20 P-40 “Warhawks.” The lead aircraft was a B-25 bomber piloted by Ilya Pavlovich Mazuruk, chief of the air ferry route and Hero of the Soviet Union. It took 33 days to get to Krasnoyarsk.
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. Using primitive and inaccurate maps, they often flew in poor visibility, not knowing what waited ahead. It was difficult to receive meteorological reports due to magnetic storms. Radio operators shifted from “voice” to more reliable spark “Morse code.” The winter of 1942/1943 was unusually harsh in Alaska – temperatures exceed -60 °C (-76 °F). Cloud layers were several kilometers thick. The mercury hardened in thermometers and the oil and fuel in the aircraft thickened, forcing emergency landings in the North Pole regions. There were many amputations of frostbitten fingers along the route, fillings fell out of teeth, and frostbitten lungs were common. During a single day, eleven people died along the ALSIB route due to the extreme cold. In an excerpt from the diary of American B-24 bomber pilot Thomas Watson, who flew the ALSIB route, “In case of any emergency landing, the person has no chance to survive if he suffers an accident over this zone. He is too far from anywhere, and it’s too cold to survive.”