The War Illustrated No 193 Vol 8 November 10th 1944

Lifeline to Russia: Tasks Without Parallel Aid from the Empire and America to Soviet forces has not only resulted in tremendous victories in the field. It has provided one of the greatest stories of supply achievement in the history of war, of feats of engineering, individual effort and courage and ingenuity, of triumph over climatic extremes and vast distances, as told by JOHN FLEETWOOD. Se£ also facing page. T T Then the last bomb falls on Europe V andy the last resisting Nazi bites the dust, it will be found that one o f the sure foundations on which the United Nations built victory was provided by the legions who opened a backdoor into Russia and through it poured over 3,750,000 tons o f vital war supplies. As each great Russian drive bites deeper into the fortress o f Hitler’s tyranny, as each day brings some new story of brilliant Red Army leadership and courage, men far from the battlefront yet fighting blinding sun­shine, grilling heat, dust-storm thirst,s, insect pests, boredom and exhaustion- pause for a moment to pond er: “1, too, had a share in that.” These are omen f the Persia and Iraq Command (Paiforce), Britons, Americans, Indians, Russians, Poles, men at office desks, in lorry cabins, in river craft, perched on telephone poles in blazing sun or huddled for warm thin dugouts high in mountain passes. Arid their task ?Aid to Russia— three words that combine great victories in* the 'field with one of the greatest supply achievements in the history o f war. It started when the Allies faced a grim prospect, when the United States were still neutral, in the summer o f 1941. Russia had taken so many body-b!ows in the German advance on Moscow and the Caucasus that observers began to fear she was beaten. British troops had been driven back from Benghazi. Greece and Crete were lost. In Syria, Vichy was ready to co-operate with the Axis. Iraq ’s Raschid Ali, brave with Nazi gold and promises, had thrown olT the mask the Persian Shah’s attitude was doubtful. To crown the despair o f the civil­ized world, Japan became increasingly hostile. 'T'rue to her treaty obligations and in pro- A tection o f the guaranteed independence o f Iraq, Britain rushed reinforccrnents into Iraq and quelled the Raschid rising, only to be faced with the threat o f a German advance from the north. Thus was Paiforce born. Gradually the menace from the north seceded, but the armies of the Soviet were in desperate need o f tanks, mechanical trans­port, petrol, oil. And so, from Britain, by the Arctic route, ships o f the Merchant Navy battled their throughway the icy seas of U-boat alley to north Russian ports. It was not enough, and soon hard-pressed British armies in North Africa were being denied their urgent needs. British and Indian troops were striking hard from the west and north-west, from the east and south­east, to open the warm -water and overland route to the Soviets, and to keep it open. .Ports, railways and roads inadequate to deal with the situation were replanned and rebuilt to form avast supply route between the Persian Gulf and the Russo-Persian frontier. Since the British Army Arrived Tanks, ammunition, trucks, food, steel and rubber from the British Empire and America began to pour into Persian Gulf port's. While these were being unloaded, engineers worked feverishly to enlarge and improve port, road and rail facilities. It is officially estimated that nearly 50 percent o f the total Aid to Russia provided by Britain, Canada and the U.S. has travelled via the Persia-Iraq Command route, playing a vital part in the sweeping Soviet successes. ¦In his better days the late Shah was an ambitious, energetic, if ruthless autocrat. He set his heart on a railway across Persia from B andarshahpur to B andarshah to link the Persian Gulf with the Caspian Sea— 868 miles. British .engineers surveyed the pror jected line through the towering mountains. By 1937 the system was working, but it handled moreno than a daily average o f 200 tons. Since the British Army arrived the capacity o f the trans-Persia road-rail route has been geared to tackle up to 300,000 tons a month. Consider a few more obstacles. The highest point on the line is 7,205 feet above sea level, the lowest is 85 feet below. Duty has to be done in the Euphrates Valley where summer shade temperatures often rise well above 100 degrees, and in scorched deserts of Persian uplands. There,in the heat of mid-day, when work is halted by the sun, long hours have been lived laboriously through, with worries about the delays o f mail or desperate guessing as to when the war would end. Even when the mail comes through, when an order o f the day records recognition o f the value o f their work, it is still the dogged courage o f these men that saves them from degenerating into the most brow ned-off troops in the world .,Between tiie two climatic extremes this great track to Russia soars and falls on gradients which make fantastic demands on engines, brakes and couplings. During the first summer the sun heated the feed-water in the engine tenders until the injectors were unable to deal with it, immobilizing the trains till special hot-w ater injectors could be flown in from Britain and India. In the high mountains in winter the. other extreme prevailed, and trains were ice-bound. Since the forming o f the American Persian Gulf Comm and, Aid to Russia has been a responsibility divided between Britain and the U.S., and now figures o f astronomical proportions appear in the lists of war supplies sent to Soviet forces. Aviation fuel alone amounted to over 53 million gallons M.T. petrol used in convoying this and other materials to Russia exceeded 80 million gallons. In the more desperate, months the Russians made calls for double and then treble the totals originally promised. Always there has been the menace of thieves and saboteurs— not o f one nation but o f many, out for immediate personal gain orin the pay o f the Nazis. Herein these huge wastes, where all manner o f men can wander at will, thieving is a fine art. The Germans pay well for sabotage and black markeleer- ing is a racket more despicable than anything we know at home. More than £400 has been paid for an urgently needed tire, £40 for a car battery. 'T'o list all the units and services which have thrown their weight into this task would be impossible it has been so vast, this aid to Russia,"so complex in its many ramifications. So many tiny wheels, interlocking^ make the whole mighty machine. Royal Engineers planned and achieved, the Pioneer Corps with their Indian battalions and locally enrolled labour have toiled and sweated, as have the R.A .S.C .and the R.I.A.S.C. Always the telephones and telegraphs have been kept open for this vital line of communication. Often linesmen o f the Royal Signals have had to wear special padding to protect hands from scorching metal or from frost-bite. Famous infantry regiments have patrolled the vast highway, guarded the pipe-line that carries much o f the oil. Army Post Offices have fought along, hard battle to bring mails as often as possible to thousands o f soldier nomads. American convoys laden with war materials for the U.S.S.R. during the critical years 1942-43. As explained in this page, the long line of communi­cation was kept open often in the face of extremely hazardous conditions. Here an Allied convoy has left the snow-covered mountains in the distance, the laden lorries driving on across lonely countryside towards Russia, PAGE 392 Photo. New Ynrk Time.1 Photos
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