A Brief History of Lend-Lease and the Alaska-Siberia Air Route (ALSIB)


From the onset of Nazi Germany’s blitz across Eastern Europe and the brutal attack on the Soviet Union in June 1941, the United States began steadfast and strategic partnerships with its key Allies that included Great Britain, China, and the former Soviet Union.  These Allied partnerships not only forged one of the most intense and massive industrial military war efforts in history, it also brought together these nations working as one, striving for victory, peace, and a greater good in the world.  

  • Lend-Lease program was approved by the United States Congress in January 1941, and signed into law by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt
  • In an  extremely short period of time, the United States had to convert its all-but stagnant domestic mass production system, led by Ford and General Motors in Detroit, Michigan, to a war production machine second to none in order to overtake the highly advanced technology of Germany and Japan
  • Six full months before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Germany unleashed  nearly four million highly-trained Nazi troops on the Soviet Union. Known as Operation Barbarossa, the sneak attack was the largest invasion force in the history of warfare spanning a 1,800 mile (2,900 kilometer) front
  • War materiel destined to the Soviet Union started being shipped across the Atlantic and Pacific oceans to Vladivostok, Murmansk, and others ports; however, German warships, submarines, and aircraft, took a tremendous toll.  One convoy destined for Murmansk lost 21 out of 34 ships       
  • Four Lend-Lease air routes were proposed and established to augment the shipping lanes.  The creation of the ALSIB required an effort second only in difficulty to the creation of the Panama Canal.  To support this effort, roadways including the ALCAN (Alaska) Highway and numerous airfields had to be quickly built and a supply chain put in place to directly link the United States to the Soviet Union via nothing but wilderness

The ALSIB program was a great relay race:  

  • Aircraft were coming off of the American assembly lines approximately one per hour
  • The majority of male pilots were involved directly in the war and there were not enough pilots to ferry the aircraft from the factories to the embarkation points throughout the United States
  • As part of the ALSIB program, American Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP), along with men from Air Transport Command, flew brand new military aircraft from the U.S. manufacturers to the staging area in Great Falls, Montana  
  • Men of the U.S. 7th Ferrying Group flew the aircraft up the Northwest Staging Route through Western Canada to Fairbanks, Alaska.  WASP were not allowed to fly outside of the lower 48 states
  • As soon as aircraft arrived in Fairbanks, they were inspected and handed off to the Soviet pilots who flew them on a 3,000 mile trek across Siberia to Krasnoyarsk, Russia and the fighting fronts  
  • These flights were carried out year-round in all kinds of weather – in all there were 177 fatal accidents along the route
  • More Soviet kills were recorded in the U.S. made P-39 and P-63 than any Soviet aircraft. The top 10 Russian aces scored 294 Nazi kills in the Bell Airacobras


In the words of Sergey Kislyak, former Russian Ambassador in Washington, DC in a statement to the Great Falls Tribune Newspaper in July 2015 “(I) never realized that Great Falls was the staging area for the ALSIB program and that it was a very significant contribution to our ability to fight the war – we are still thankful for that.”

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Air Ferry Route to Siberia