Honoring Fort Wainwright's Heritage
May 9, 2013
FORT WAINWRIGHT, Alaska - As a society, it is our responsibility to protect, preserve and honor our nation's history. Every May, during Historic Preservation Month, communities across the nation commemorate the important physical remnants of their history: historic buildings, structures and sites. Historic preservation utilizes these physical remnants of the past to ensure that local, state, and national history will be remembered. This year to celebrate Historic Preservation Month, the Cultural Resources department would like to share the rich and unique history of Fort Wainwright's Ladd Field National Historic Landmark.
Situated within Fort Wainwright's main cantonment, around and north of the airfield, the buildings and runways that make up the Ladd Field National Historic Landmark served a variety of unique missions that supported cold-weather testing, military supply transport and Lend-Lease aircraft transfers to the Soviet Union during World War II. These missions played a critical role in winning the war against Nazi Germany.
In 1939, Fort Wainwright was originally established as Ladd Field and was strategically located within Interior Alaska. Ladd Field was designed as a small, self-contained installation with considerable planning and design, which can be seen in the layout of the buildings on the north side of the runway. Buildings were arranged radiating outward in a horseshoe pattern with the parade ground in the center.
The geo-politics of the day, in addition to the war looming in Europe, created the need for aircraft that could function at almost all temperatures. Ladd Field would be the new home of the Cold Weather Test Detachment. The primary purpose of the detachment was to field-test aircraft maintenance and operation and survival equipment in the harsh Alaskan weather conditions. The team of test pilots worked continuously to ensure all Army Air Corps aircraft would function at -60°F and the team quickly became known as the "Cold Nose Boys." A small operation that was frequently hampered by primitive facilities, the Cold Nose Boys faced a number of challenges and logistical issues. However, their work was successful and critical to the function of military aircraft during the War. They continued to remain an important part of Ladd Field's mission throughout
World War II.
As the United States entered the War, the role of Ladd Field grew and changed with the introduction of a new mission critical to the war effort. The United States agreed to provide supplies and equipment to the Allies and Ladd Field's location was ideal for getting warplanes to the Soviet Union via the most direct route, the Alaska-Siberia route. Newly manufactured aircraft from across the nation were flown to Great Falls, Mont., then through Canada to Ladd Field.
Ladd Field was the official transfer point of aircraft to the Soviets along the Alaska-Siberia route. To facilitate the transfer, approximately 300 Soviet Soldiers were permanently stationed at Ladd Field.
Soviet Soldiers were housed in barracks on Ladd Field and given priority on the airfield. Hangar One
was divided by huge interior doors, allowing for joint use, with the Soviet mechanics using the west half of the hangar and the Cold Weather Test Detachment using the east half. Soviet mechanics would verify the planes were in excellent condition, and would instruct the pilots on navigation and weapons use prior to Soviet fighter pilots ferrying the planes across the rest of Alaska and through Siberia to the frontlines of the war. As an act of international cooperation between the United States, Canada, and the Soviet Union, Lend-Lease Operations were highly successful and contributed greatly to the final outcome of World War II. Over the course of the Lend-Lease operations, nearly 8,000 aircraft and several thousand tons of supplies were transferred through Ladd Field.
Today, Fort Wainwright continues to utilize the historic buildings that were constructed years ago. Despite the passage of time and changes in military mission the horseshoe area in North Post remains intact. These buildings continue to act as the central hub of Fort Wainwright, just as they did during World War II. They provide a tangible connection to our military heritage and honor Fort Wainwright's unique contribution to national history through their designation as a National Historic Landmark. With continued stewardship, Fort Wainwright's Ladd Field National Historic Landmark will continue to celebrate the stories of the Cold Nose Boys who were stationed here and the international cooperation that took place here, both ultimately leading to our success during World War II.