Why should we remember the ALSIB? And how, in general, does knowledge of history benefit a modern person?
From the report of the lead scientist of the expedition of the Russian Geographical Society Pavel Filin:
"In 2022, the RGS’s expedition focused on the examination of aircraft that crashed during the ferrying, as well as various equipment supplied under the Lend-Lease program from the USA to the USSR. During the war years, from 7831 to 8094 aircraft were ferried (a total of 22,195 aircraft were delivered by the Allies to the USSR during the war years). Types of ferried equipment: B-25, A-20 bombers; P-40, P-39, P-63, P-47 fighters; C-46, C-47 transport aircraft; AT-6 training aircraft. Of the ferried aircraft, 81 aircraft crashed (about 1%), 115 pilots were killed. The main causes of the accidents were extremely difficult meteorological conditions, insufficient knowledge of the flight conditions along the route and poor weather support, lack of experience piloting foreign equipment. It should be noted that almost all the lost along the route crews and aircraft were found immediately during the war years. Then for many years, due to the fact that the route was secret, people didn’t think about it and did not show much interest in the crashed planes, especially since they were in extremely inaccessible area."
Most readers, after reading the materials about the ALSIB, and subsequently watching the film, will say that yes, this is our heroic past, which we need to know, remember, and learn lessons from. But Pavel Filin believes that the ALSIB is our present and future:
"The only connecting route that unites our country into a single whole, goes along the south – this is the Trans-Siberian Railway; and along the north, this is the Northern Sea Route. This is precisely the genius of the decision to create the ALSIB Air Route: it was necessary to create this corridor, which would connect our country into a single whole along the central part. It was a fantastic infrastructure in its capital investments, but which returned these investments by a thousand percent. During the war, and in the post-war period, and it still works. A lot of what was created then is now expanding, working and, I am sure, is a foundation for our further development."
In that war, the Americans and us were allies. However, we did not always remember this, and the ALSIB Air Route itself was classified even after the war. We remembered this episode of our common history only in the early 70s, when geologists discovered a foreign-made plane with the remains of the crew in the mountains of Chukotka. With Soviet documents, but with American equipment. The relationship between our countries was cool to icy, and the mystery of the death of this crew could not be established for a long time: "The documents and material evidence found were seized by the police and lost."
Years passed, relationships changed – from warming to the next "ice age". And the present times are no exception – now the times have come again when it seems like there is no way to talk about our union in the common struggle against Nazism.
But historical justice requires remembering historical facts regardless of the current geopolitical situation. Otherwise, we are doomed to repeat mistakes and become "repeaters" with unlearned historical lessons.
It seems to me that we Russians, although we may not be perfect (and who is perfect here?), we have a heightened sense of justice. And this justice requires remembering the military supplies that we received from the United States during the war years. True, not for free. But historical gratitude to the American people for the help that our country received during the most tragic period of our history is normal. In the spirit of our national character.
Even if the help was not decisive, but it was timely and saved millions of lives of our compatriots. And the fact that the Russian Geographical Society remembered this by sending our expedition to Chukotka speaks precisely about our historical justice beyond the momentary conjuncture. In this sense, Americans should take an example from us and recall the engraving on the watch sent to us by the ALSIB: "To the Heroic people of the USSR."
During the expedition, Pavel Filin and I often had conversations in the tag #азачемнужнаистория. Why does a modern person need knowledge of history at all, what is its applied significance? As for me, I formulated the answer a long time ago: knowledge of history makes it possible to understand the present and predict the future. This is, let's say, reasonable thinking – from the realm of reason and common sense.
But there is another aspect – physiological. The fact is that people who have lost their memory as a result of trauma remain at the same time in all other aspects quite full-fledged people. They can learn anything, such as driving a car, an airplane, or learn a foreign language. The only thing they can't do is predict their future. Not for a year, much less for life. And the beautiful, little-explaining phrase "there is no future without the past" takes on a very concrete and obvious meaning. And if someone wants to "format" the memory, it means that someone… will profit from it.
The inscription on the monument to the heroes of the ALSIB quoting Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the American city of Fairbanks is still relevant today: "The structure of world peace cannot be the work of one man, or one party, or one nation… it must be a peace that rests on the cooperative effort of the whole world.”
Finally, I will quote Alexander Sergeevich Pushkin: "Pitiful are the people for whom the past does not exist."
The Russian Geographical Society, the film company "Skyfirst", and the editorial board of the documentary series "Russkiy Sled" (eng. “Russian Trace”) thanks the Egvekinot Museum of Local History for the materials provided and the assistance in conducting the expedition.
Special thanks to: Elena Rogozina, Vadim Bereznikov, Evgeny Morgun, Vladimir Sertun, the crews of Mi-26 and Mi-8 helicopters.