Alaskan Highway – Home Front

An example of some of the obstacles needed to be overcome for the highway.

An example of some of the obstacles needed to be overcome for the highway.

The Alaska Road Commission had built thousands of miles of trails throughout interior and Northern Alaska, and many short roads from communities to the nearest water transportation access. It had not-except for the Valdez to Fairbanks road-undertaken to link communities by overland routes. That came only with the military requirements of World War II.

One of the first of those requirements was for a highway connecting air bases at Fairbanks and Anchorage. To make this connection, in 1941 the Alaska Road Commission began a road from the Richardson Highway, near today’s Glennallen, to Anchorage. When completed, it would be possible for the first time to drive from Anchorage to Fairbanks using a portion of the Richardson Highway and the newly-named Glenn Highway.

A highway from the rest of the United States through Canada to Alaska had been talked about as early as 1930. Congressional committees had recommended such a road in 1935 and 1939, but it was not until February of 1942, three months after the United States became an active participant in World War II, that a presidential committee recommended a highway link to supplement air and sea supply routes.

A point completed and used for rest and refreshment.

A point completed and used for rest and refreshment.

Work on the new Canadian-U.S. project began at once from Dawson Creek, British Columbia, to Big Delta, Alaska. Seven U.S. Army engineer regiments ( ~ 10,000 soldiers) and 47 civilian contracting companies ( ~ 6,000 workers) finished the work in nine months and six days. They bridged some 200 streams and rivers and completed an average of 8 miles per day.

The first “Fairbanks Freight” rolled up the highway in November of 1942. Work went on in 50-degree-below-zero weather as finished grading followed rough leveling. By December of 1943 the original bulldozed pioneer road had been upgraded to a permanent road 26 feet wide, gravel surfaced over 20 to 22 feet, with grades reduced to no more than 10 per cent and narrow bridges replaced by new two-lane structures. At the peak of construction in September of 1943 the Alaska Highway required over 1,100 pieces of heavy equipment. The total cost of the pioneer road exceeded $19 million.

Part of the highway created through virgin forest.

Part of the highway created through virgin forest.

While the highway turned out not to be of much use in the military campaigns of World War II, for the first time people could travel to and from Alaska by other than sea or air. In 1944, the Alaska Road Commission assumed maintenance of the Alaska Highway between the Canadian border and Big Delta and also maintenance of the Tok to Slana spur of the highway

Click on images to enlarge.

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Current WWII News – 

Memphis Belle & the returned control panel

Memphis Belle & the returned control panel

The control panel of the Memphis Belle is back in the famous bomber!  Read the story!!

Co-pilot Dick Cole

Co-pilot Dick Cole

Doolittle’s co-pilot celebrates his 100th birthday at the Flight Museum!    Read the story Here!

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Military ‘Cold’ Humor – 

Is this really worth it, Joe?

Is this really worth it, Joe?

truth-military-humor-snow-airforce-military-funny-1397219925

And you thought shoveling your driveway was hard?

 

 

 

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Farewell Salutes – 

Harold Blampied – Auckland, NZ; RNZ Air Force # 133320, WWII, Artillery

Norman Farberow – Pittsburgh, PA; US Army Air Corps, WWII

Rex Fisher – Fairbanks, AK; US Army, Koreamilitary

Horace Garton – Benton, AR; US Army Air Corps, WWII, PTO, 188th/11th Airborne

Eugene Jackson – No.Marshfield, MA; US Army Air Corps, WWII, Tuskegee airman

Christopher Mulalley – Eurecka, CA; US Army, Afghanistan, Sgt.

Edward B. Ridley – Oxon Hill, MD; US Air Force, Vietnam, Technical Sergeant

Michael Sarni – Stamford, CT; USMC, Korea

Robert Tilden – Pittsboro, NC; US Army Air Corps, WWII, PTO, 187th Medical

Anthony Verdesca – Haworth, NJ; US Navy, WWII, Ensign

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About GP Cox

Everett Smith served with the Headquarters Company, 187th Regiment, 11th A/B Division during WWII. This site is in tribute to my father, "Smitty." GPCox is a member of the 11th Airborne Association. Member # 4511 and extremely proud of that fact!

Posted on October 1, 2015, in Home Front, WWII and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 63 Comments.

  1. That construction was one monumental feat, the amount of personnel involved, including the civilian contractors was extraordinary and the heavy machinery required, a logistical masterpiece. Considering the time frame and climate, it would have to have been one great masterful plan.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. That was really interesting!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I am amazed that it was done in 9 months. I suppose they had no choice but to work as quickly as possible.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I guess that’s what it boiled down to, Ann. When I saw the pictures for this road, I had to check up on the story behind it – an outstanding accomplishment and example of what can be done when people work together.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Very interesting article about the Alaska Highway. My son was stationed in Alaska many years ago, at Anchorage , I visited him, we traveled the highway to the coast and also up to Denali. Beautiful highway, we had a great time. I liked the story about the Memphis Bell. The picture of blowing snow brought back memories. I was married a long time ago to an Air Force man. At one point we were stationed somewhere overseas that required us to take a plane that stopped at Newfoundland. It was the middle of the winter, when we walked from the plane to the waiting room, we walked through what looked like a snow tunnel. the snow banks had to have been at least 10′ high or higher. It was amazing.

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  5. Fascinating account. What a can do generation of people. It makes your proud. :o)

    Liked by 1 person

  6. “While the highway turned out not to be of much use in the military campaigns of World War II, for the first time people could travel to and from Alaska by other than sea or air.” I always thought that the main reason for building the highway was to help the Soviets with American military hardware in their fight against Nazi Germany. It just goes to show how long a wrong historical fact will linger on in one’s memory. Thanks for the enlightening post on the Alaska Highway!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Actually that was one of the many reasons for the idea, don’t know why I left it out, so your memory is not wrong Peter; it just wasn’t the sole reason. Thanks you for stopping by.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Until I read this post I hadn’t realized how early the Alaskan Highway was built. I think that much of the interstate highway system within the US was built in the 1950s and 60s.

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    • Correct Sheryl. The Interstate Highway System started with Eisenhower in ’56 and took 35 years to complete. But the Alaskan Highway had many other reasons behind its conception. Thanks for coming by.

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  8. Years ago I worked with a man who worked on this project. His stories gave me frostbite. He said it was the most miserable experience he ever had.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I’ve been up and down the Alaska Highway several times GP. There are a number of museums and overlooks that feature the work involved along the way. It was an incredible feat of engineering, one of the world’s greatest. –Curt

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  10. The determination, cleverness and strength it took in those days to tackle such rugged and dangerous terrains with inadequate and often perilous equipment make one stand in sheer respect and awe.

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  11. You ‘re “like” button isn’t working for me today. I Enjoy your airplane pictures.

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  12. Something to keep in mind, that not only were they working in frigid and blizzard conditions but their equipment didn’t have heated cabs like the machines today.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, quite a generation! What they accomplished back then is remarkable!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I should have added a note saying that as soon as the road was usable (a debatable term by today’s standards) truckers were hauling material and goods over it. I knew a fellow in the trucking business who made several trips and he told some rather hair-raising stories about driving in white-out conditions and blizzards that blew so much snow in on the engine that it caused the engine to stall. Once, he nearly drove into the rear of another truck because the outline of it appeared to be a bridge some distance ahead. There were no rescue vehicles out there and, if you became stalled, you were on your own because it could be a day or two before before anyone else came along.

        Liked by 2 people

  13. How interesting to learn about those first roads in Alaska. I can’t imagine building a road at -50 degrees, can’t even imagine being outside!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Very interesting article. Can’t imagine working in -50F weather but also see the need for it. Smiling at the cartoon with the snowblower. We just purchased one this week. Have a great day!!

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Always good to be reminded of the essential and often difficult work that had to be done on the home front. Nice one, GP.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Threee great stories. Thanks. M 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Interesting stuff!

    Also, to add to your current WWII news, there’s a Kickstarter campaign to help get the B-29 named Doc back in the skies again.

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  18. Human ingenuity is amazing when put to the test! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Relatively speaking there are still not too many big highways in Alaska,so what immense feats these two highways had to be. 10,000 workers and 6,000 contractors says it all, and in such a frigid environment. Interesting post, GP, I enjoyed it.

    Liked by 2 people

  20. Interesting! Like Eisenhower’s interstate highways, a positive byproduct of war seems to be roads civilians will use thereafter.

    Liked by 2 people

  21. I really enjoyed reading this. “8 miles a day” – we can’t make that kind of progress on roadwork today. Of course we don’t have 16,000 people on the job, but still. They are milling and repaving I-91 and they make about 2 miles a day at best.

    These projects were so much larger than life that it’s really hard to even imagine how much work was involved. Thanks for this one.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m really excited that you enjoyed it, Dan. Yes, this was one a huge project, especially for those days. The book I retrieved the pictures from called it “The American Burma Road.”

      Liked by 1 person

  22. What a great story about a truly iconic aircraft. I’m so glad to see the missing part is back in place.

    Liked by 1 person

  1. Pingback: My Article Read (10-1-2015) | My Daily Musing

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