Ladd Field near Fairbanks grew rapidly during World War II
Ladd Field, now Fort Wainwright, began as an Army Air Corps cold weather testing facility. Initial operations began in September 1940 even though the only portion of the field completed by then was the runway.
The three-story Hangar No. 1 (shown in the drawing), completed in 1941, was the post’s operational headquarters until the 1950s. The 327-foot by 271-foot hangar was the largest structure in Interior Alaska at the time of construction. A massive aircraft bay ran down the center of the building, and sliding panels could divide the bay in half. Stairwells were located at each corner, and shops and offices lined the bay on its north and south sides. A small third floor office area surmounted by the control tower overlooked the runway.
Even before the hangar was completed Ladd Field was used for cold weather testing. According to the Center for Environmental Management of Military Lands (CEMML) document, “World War II Heritage of Ladd Field,” while work progressed on the hanger during the winter of 1940/41, mechanics gained some respite from frigid temperatures by using movable shelters to work on airplanes.
After the United States entered World War II, the Army became increasingly concerned about protecting Alaska from invasion and began diverting resources at Ladd Field from testing to defensive needs. When Japan attacked Attu and Kiska in the Aleutian Islands in June 1942, the Cold Weather Test Detachment (CWTD) at Ladd field was disbanded. Personnel and equipment were re-deployed to Nome, where attacks were anticipated, and to the Aleutian military campaign. During the Aleutian campaign three Ladd Field pilots and their crews were lost.
By fall 1942, Gen. “Hap” Arnold, chief of the Army Air Corps and a staunch supporter of the cold weather testing program, had reactivated the CWTD at Ladd Field. The CWTD continued using Ladd Field until after World War II.
Cold weather testing was a vital part of Ladd Field’s mission, but another World War II program overshadowed it. In 1942, Ladd Field was selected as a transfer point for aircraft and materials headed to the Soviet Union under a Lend-Lease agreement.
The Lend-Lease program was developed to provide war-time materials to Great Britain. The program was extended to other nations, including the Soviet Union.
During the war, 7,926 aircraft were transferred to the Soviet Union over the Alaska-Siberia (ALSIB) route. Newly manufactured planes were ferried by American pilots from Great Falls, Montana along the Northwest Staging Route (a series of airfields stretching across western Canada and Interior Alaska) to Ladd Field.
At Ladd Field, aircraft were transferred to Soviet personnel, and prepared for ferrying to the Soviet Union via airfields at Galena and Nome and over the Bering Straits. In addition to other airfield facilities used by the Soviets, Hangar No. 1 was partitioned so the Soviets could use half the hanger, with the CWTD occupying the other half.
Soviet pilots flew the aircraft for the remainder of the odyssey. The program required a sizable contingent of Soviet personnel, including translators, mechanics and technicians. At its peak, about 300 Soviets were stationed at Ladd.
From its modest beginnings as a small cold weather testing facility, Ladd Field grew dramatically during WWII. By the war’s end, the post had expanded to several hundred structures. Many of those buildings were temporary and either torn down or repurposed after the war. Some were moved off-post to become housing for Fairbanks’ burgeoning civilian population. (The old Tamarac Inn on Minnie Street was one such re-purposed structure.)
National Park Service documents indicate that there are about 30 structures from the 1940-1945 period still surviving, including two runways, the commander’s quarters, officers’ quarters, Hangar No. 1 and several other hangars, the North Post chapel, and post radio station. In 1985 these WWII-related elements of the post were designated a National Historic Landmark.
- “Ladd Field, National Historic Landmarks Survey.” Rolfe G. Buzzell. National Park Service. 1998
- “Ladd Field, National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form.” Erwin N. Thompson. National Park Service. 1984
- “The World War II Heritage of Ladd Field: Fairbanks, Alaska.” Cathy Price. Center for Environmental Management of Military Lands. 2004