Juneau writer sheds light on Alaska's role in World War II

Alaska-Siberia lend-lease flew in billions of dollars of goods during 31-month run

Posted: Thursday, August 09, 2007

During World War II, Soviet Army officer Boris Dolitsky was stationed in southern Siberia and couldn't help but notice the influx of American goods and supplies pouring into the country.

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But he was like many of the Soviet people, who knew little about the scope of the four-year Alaska-Siberia Lend-Lease Program. The project shuttled almost 8,000 aircraft and billions of dollars' worth of goods during its 31-month run from 1942 to 1945. Much of that was the raw material that enabled the Soviet military's mobility during the war.

"This chapter of history was sort of forgotten," said Alexander Dolitsky, Boris' son, and the author of "Allies in Wartime: The Alaska-Siberia Airway During World War II."

"If you take the U.S. textbooks today, and I took 11 of those, there are only two or three paragraphs in each book dedicated to the lend-lease," he said. "And nothing about the Alaska-Siberia airway. But we have to keep in mind that lend-lease was the largest project of the 20th century: $50 billion that in today's money is about $800 billion."


What: "Allies in Wartime: The Alaska-Siberia Airway During World War II," by Alexander Dolitsky.

Available: at Hearthside Books, Rainy Day Books, the University of Alaska Bookstore, and the Alaska State Museum.

Dolitsky, born and raised in Kiev and an Alaska resident since 1985, has been researching the Alaska-Siberia arm of the lend-lease program since 1993. The director of the Alaska-Siberia Research Center (www.aksrc.org) since 1990, he was the project manager of the WWII Alaska-Siberia Lend Lease Memorial, erected in 2006 in Fairbanks.

He began compiling "Allies" in August 2006. It includes 19 contributors besides Dolitsky, a section on the importance of the lend-lease, and a section with comments from the memorial's 2005 groundbreaking and 2006 unveiling.

"We give an award and reward to people who are on the battlefield," Dolitsky said. "My mother worked in a bomb factory 10 hours a day, seven days a week. She didn't come back from the war with a medal. Most of the 55 million who died during the war died as civilians in the homefront. We don't give enough recognition to our homefront efforts."

About 2,618 Bell P-39 Airacobras and 2,397 Bell P-63 Kingcobras were flown from Buffalo, N.Y., to Great Falls, Mont., and on to Alaska and Siberia between Oct. 1942 and Sept. 1945, according to the book. That's a difference of 16 time zones in an era in which radio contact was primitive.

A few books were written on the lend-lease in the 1960s and early 1970s, but most of the research relied on archival information, Dolitsky said. There was a lot of information on how much material was delivered and on how many pilots flew.

"But not so much on people like (late Juneau resident) Bill Schoeppe, who was a mechanic, or on people who were nurses or secretaries that contributed to the war effort," Dolitsky said.

Dolitsky's interviews started in 1993, with Schoeppe, who was stationed in Fairbanks, Nome and the Aleutians from 1942 to 1945. He saw the planes as they made their way from Great Falls to Whitehorse to Fairbanks to Nome. From there, they continued across the Bering Sea to Uelkal, Seymchan, Krasnoyarsk and eventually the battlefront.

"We had no idea of the number of aircraft that were lost along the ferry route from Edmonton to Whitehorse and Fairbanks due to heavy smoke from forest and muskeg fires, which went wild during the war," Schoeppe wrote, on Page 14. "Zero visibility was common day after day."

"Allies" is available at Hearthside Books, the Alaska State Museum, the University of Alaska Bookstore and Rainy Day Books. Book signings may be held in September.

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