On July 15, when we landed in Uelkala, the air temperature was a little above zero and in two hours all available heat was blown out despite the equipment. Ice hummocks in a dense layer covered not only the water, but also part of the coast.
The total length of the haul turned out to be about 15 thousand km, most of which passed over land. The Soviet section of the Alsib highway – 6306 km. The flight range of most aircraft of that time was not their strongest point. Therefore, airfields were needed every 500–700 km. Which were not – well, not counting Krasnoyarsk and Yakutsk.
There was no time either – things at the front were far from being the best. Nevertheless, by October 1942, five base airfields were created – in Yakutsk, Krasnoyarsk, Kirensk, Seimchan and Uelkal – and five spare ones.
In total, 16 airfields were built and repaired on the territory of the USSR, and 15 on the territory of the USA and Canada. By the end of the second year of the war, the air route, created in the most difficult conditions and in the shortest possible time, began to work. On Soviet territory, the Chukotka sector became the most difficult in all respects. No one took the climate into account, and the weather too.
Everyone who built and who subsequently operated airfields, prepared equipment for flights, understood that it was impossible to change the existing climate paradigm, but it was possible to adapt. It is difficult for us, people living in the 21st century, to understand how, in the conditions of the polar night, extreme sub-zero temperatures, it was possible, in principle, to overtake aviation equipment along this route.
The flight participant, flight radio operator Viktor Glazkov recalled: “In the autumn-winter period, the ferrying of aircraft was complicated by climatic and meteorological conditions. Frosts down to –40–60 ° C were not uncommon, and even with a breeze. “often burst. There were not enough American stoves to heat the engines, they used home-made ones. The engineering and technical staff had no living space left on their hands and faces – everything was frostbitten.”
That’s what could at least somehow be taken into account – this is the landscape and, accordingly, the possibility of importing everything necessary for the construction and subsequent operation of airfields: equipment, tractors, building materials, aircraft tractors, fuel, food. In Chukotka, the main transport arteries were water – the sea and rivers. What is important, with the then technical capabilities of navigation, the rivers still served as visual reference points for pilots.
The first airfield on our side was Uelkal, and this is how Viktor Glazkov recalls it: “At the airfield in Uelkal, preparations were made for the construction of a runway on a wooden base. shores with equipment and machinery for the construction of the runway, residential buildings, a canteen, office space, a club. Self-propelled American military barges delivered them to the shore. Thus, tankers, tractors, bulldozers, engine heating stoves, tools, food and everything were delivered to the shore necessary to maintain aircraft in the harsh conditions of the north. Barrels of gasoline and prefabricated wooden houses were simply thrown into the water, and they were washed ashore by the surf.”
Uelkal is located on a long sandy spit at the entrance to the Gulf of the Cross and is the westernmost settlement in Russia in the western hemisphere and the westernmost Eskimo settlement in the world.
The terrain is relatively flat and breaking through the clouds to land was relatively safe. The commander of our “Eight” Roman P. commented on the local weather situation as follows: “The proximity of large bodies of water and the underlying surface in the form of hills, the heights of which range from 300 to 1700 meters, create turbulent flows and eddies. Thus, clouds of an external nature are formed, which are very difficult to predict – the exact weather forecast in Chukotka for tomorrow, we will know the day after tomorrow”
It is difficult to imagine how this airfield was operated in the conditions of the Chukchi winter, if on July 15, when we landed in Uelkal, the air temperature was slightly above zero and blew out all the available heat in two hours, despite the equipment. Ice hummocks in a dense layer covered not only the water, but also part of the coast. True, the shots turned out to be very epic, especially against the background of the coast, littered with hundreds of meters of whale skeletons.
By the way, until the early 2000s, a tropospheric radio relay station of the Sever communication system and a military unit serving it were located in Uelkala. But with the advent of modern satellite communication systems, such systems were no longer needed and were decommissioned, and the military unit was eliminated. These are the times not of the Second World War, but of another cold war, but still, if you think about it, how much work was invested here!
Now the antenna farms resemble the skeletons of ancient dinosaurs, and on the site of the runway, as in the Darwin Museum, there are whale bones – they are butchered here by local Chukchi and Eskimos. Yes, and bears, of course, drop in – where without them in Russia?
The local runway was built from wooden slats, which have survived to this day. It is not surprising that this airstrip received aircraft in the post-war years. For eight decades, some incredible amount of historical and not very historical iron has accumulated here. Wherever the eye can see, everything is littered with fuel barrels and fragments of aviation equipment from different periods. One of the preserved premises is a diesel power plant. It is an ingenious design in its simplicity – the walls are made of barrels covered with sand and gravel. The “insulation” is tied with wire and steel corrugation, from which the runway coating was made – it has not yet collapsed.
Conditions in the sky were hellish. The Americans said that “crazy people, suicidal people and Russians can fly along this route.” But on earth it was little better.
Victor Glazkov: “In Uelkal we slept on two-tiered wooden bunks. They didn’t have time to put a roof over the hostel in the fall. Therefore, the snow, melting, trickled down onto the bunks. on the street, and the bathhouse was still under construction. The heating of the building consisted of a stove made from an American gasoline barrel. Tunnels were made in the snow from the hostel to the service buildings, the dining room and the toilet … “
No matter how blasphemous it sounds, but under such incredibly difficult conditions of the transfer, the losses turned out to be relatively small: during the three war years, 279 flight accidents occurred on the Soviet site of Alsib, of which 39 were accidents, 49 accidents and 60 forced landings. 114 pilots were killed.
Someone was buried in Yakutsk, like, for example, the crew of Major Fedor Ponomarenko. The crew of Senior Lieutenant Yevgeny Gerasimov was buried in Egvekinot. The crew of Senior Lieutenant Evgeny Spiridonov is buried here. In total, here, on the ocean, there are two dozen graves of the heroes of Alsib, who are looked after by local schoolchildren. But someone has never been found…
To be continued.