CR4® - The Engineer's Place for News and Discussion®


"On This Day" In Engineering History Blog

"On This Day" In Engineering History

Tune in to find out about significant engineering events that took place "on this day".

Previous in Blog: October 27, 1904: New York’s First Official Subway System   Next in Blog: October 29, 1969: “Lo”: The First Computer-to-Computer Message
Close
Close
Close

October 28, 1942: Finishing the Alaska Highway

Posted October 28, 2006 6:00 AM by Steve Melito

On this day in engineering history, the Army Corps of Engineers completed the Alaska Highway, a 1,523-mile stretch of road that runs from Dawson Creek, British Columbia to Delta Junction, Alaska.

Built during World War II, the highway connected airfields and radio ranging stations along the Northwest Staging Route (NWSR), an air corridor which the U.S. Army used to fortify Alaska and send lend-lease aircraft to the Soviet Union.

Beginning in March 1942, the Army Corps of Engineers deployed 10,000 soldiers and moved 250,000 tons of material to northwest Canada and southeast Alaska. Four Canadian construction and maintenance units (CMU) were also mobilized to support the mission.

Because most of the U.S. Army's engineers were deployed in Europe and the South Pacific, the War Department broke the color barrier and helped change the course of history. Although the units were kept segregated, three African-American engineering regiments joined four all-white regiments of engineers commanded by Colonel M. Hoge, a West Point graduate who later led the special engineering brigade at Omaha Beach.

Work on the Alaska Highway began on April 11, 1942. Instead of starting from one point and in one direction, road builders were positioned in various locations along the route. Teams of surveyors worked 10 miles ahead of battalions of bulldozers that cleared trees in a 50 to 90 foot wide path. When heavy equipment failed to arrive on schedule, the surveyors cut trees by hand. Rain-swollen seas of mud and swamps of decaying vegetation called muskeg slowed the builders' progress, forcing them to "corduroy" the road by layering logs across the muskeg and pouring in fill.

When the Japanese bombed an American military base on the Aleutian Islands on June 3, 1942, only 95 miles of the Alaska Highway had been completed. The weather improved during the summer months, but clouds of dust and swarms of mosquitoes made for difficult working conditions. Road crews finished 400 miles during the month of July, but still had 460 miles to go by the beginning of September.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers soon learned that permafrost was no friend of heavy machinery. The semi-frozen ground near Kluane Lake thawed and turned into mud with temperature changes of just a few degrees. For weeks, construction was halted while teams of engineers tested solutions. Ultimately, they decided upon the time-consuming task of insulating the permafrost with gravel and then corduroying the road with logs.

Although winter came early, the builders finished their mission on October 28, 1942. In less than eight months, the seven American regiments and their Canadian counterparts had finished over 1,500 miles of road. The rough-hewn dirt path that Time magazine called "Alaska's Short Cut to Tokyo" was indeed a task fit for Paul Buynon.

Reply

Interested in this topic? By joining CR4 you can "subscribe" to
this discussion and receive notification when new comments are added.
Power-User

Join Date: Sep 2006
Posts: 119
#1

Re: October 28, 1942: Finishing the Alaska Highway

10/29/2006 12:32 AM

I drove on the Alaska Highway from the Jukon south in 1964. Amazing how it winds like a snake, eg. in some areas it will double back after about 5 miles and you can see across a ravin 200 ft. wide, where you were a few minutes ago. They did not waste time building bridges. All of the cat drivers had a very short life span due to vibrations while operating the cat. Messed up their kidneys. I highly recommend this scenic highwy; absolutely breathtaking. Fishing is great along the way too. I salute the men who had to endure the severe hardships, and had the courage to succeed. My hat is off to them too.

Reply
Reply to Blog Entry
Interested in this topic? By joining CR4 you can "subscribe" to
this discussion and receive notification when new comments are added.

Previous in Blog: October 27, 1904: New York’s First Official Subway System   Next in Blog: October 29, 1969: “Lo”: The First Computer-to-Computer Message

Advertisement