Lend-Lease: Aircraft to the Soviet Union

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North and South Atlantic Routes
During World War II, the Soviet Union received almost 15,000 U.S.-built aircraft under the lend-lease program. About half of these were delivered by sea via the North Atlantic or were flown across the South Atlantic Ocean to the USSR via North Africa. Each method was difficult.

The North Atlantic route was subject to attack by German submarines and aircraft, and the African route suffered from exposure to desert sand, which reduced the life of engines and other aircraft components. Eventually aircraft deliveries shifted to a more direct course via Alaska to Siberia, the ALSIB route.

Almost 8,000 aircraft were ferried over the ALSIB route, usually by Air Transport Command pilots, through Great Falls, Mont., to Fairbanks, Alaska. There, Soviet pilots took over and flew the aircraft to Nome, Alaska, and then to Siberia.

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.

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