Russia's Revenge
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Russia's Revenge

Written by Rick Archer
July 2014

As we all know today, the Alaska Purchase was without a question one of the greatest real estate swindles in history. Shortly after the conclusion of the Civil War in 1867, upon the advice of William Seward, Secretary of State, the United States government acquired this vast northern paradise for the princely sum of 2 cents an acre.

Oddly enough, at the time, most commentators assumed Russia got the better end of the deal.  For example, The New York Tribune's Horace Greely exclaimed:

"Alaska contains nothing of value but furbearing animals, and these animals have been hunted until they are nearly extinct. Except for the Aleutian Islands and a narrow strip of land extending along the southern coast, the land would not even be worth taking as a gift."

And then one day they discovered yellow gold in Alaska.  That changed people's opinions in a hurry.  Then they discovered oil - black gold - in Alaska. 

Now it was obvious that Russia had made an enormous blunder. 

However, Russia got even in a manner of speaking.  Here is a little known story from World War II about Alaska where Russia actually got some payback.  


Round One: Seward's Folly

Rick Archer's Note:  As we stare at the map, just on size alone, one would wonder why so many people would object to the deal. In a word, Alaska is gigantic.  After acquiring Alaska, the USA immediately grew in size by 20%. 

Alaska is so big that is easily twice the size of Texas.   Alaska is so big that it is larger than all but 18 sovereign countries in the world. Alaska is bigger than France, the second largest country in Europe.  And get this - Alaska all by itself has more "coastline" than all the other 49 states put together. 

And get this - even though we robbed Russia blind, U.S. Secretary of State William Seward was severely criticized for his "colossal mistake".   Calling the deal "Seward's Folly", the press practically labeled Seward a complete idiot.  

Seward was right all along, but he had fits getting people to understand his vision.  The sad thing is that he died shortly before the Klondike Gold Rush came along to vindicate his dream.  If you haven't read the story of Seward's Folly, you would find it very fascinating. 

Yes, America robbed Russia blind, but you know what? 

Russia got us back. 

Let's find out how Russia used "Alaska" to get even.


History is Full of Gambles

One of our favorite sayings is that "Hindsight is 20-20". 

History is full of many gambles where things could have easily backfired.  For example, the decision to fly into Pakistani air space on the hunch that Osama Bin Laden was hiding there carried huge risks.  That raid on Bin Laden could have just as easily gone wrong in a million horrible ways.  Then what would have happened? 

There once was a very similar raid.  Operation Eagle Claw in 1980 was an operation ordered by President Jimmy Carter to attempt to end the Iran hostage crisis.  He was attempting to rescue 52 diplomats held captive at the embassy of the United States in Tehran.

The operation encountered many obstacles and was eventually aborted. Eight helicopters were sent to the first staging area, Desert One, but only five arrived in operational condition. One encountered hydraulic problems, another got caught in a cloud of very fine sand, and the last one showed signs of a cracked rotor blade. During planning it was decided that the mission would be aborted if fewer than six helicopters remained, despite only four being absolutely necessary. In a move that is still discussed in military circles, the commanders asked President Carter for permission to abort and Carter granted the request.

As the U.S. force prepared to leave, one of the helicopters crashed into a transport aircraft which contained both servicemen and jet fuel. The resulting fire destroyed both aircraft and killed eight servicemen.

In other words, these gambles don't always work out the way people expect them to.

Today thanks to Iranian belligerence, Iran's nuclear program poses an existential threat to the nearby state of Israel.  The proposed attack on Iran's nuclear program could easily backfire in a million horrible ways.

Fortunately for you and I, American History is mostly full of gambles that worked out.  Otherwise we wouldn't be here today, now would we?   That said, sometimes our gambles have succeeded by the skin of their teeth.  Of course the American Revolution is the best example.  Trying to break away from England seemed like the right thing to do, but we succeeded by the thinnest of margins. 

We nearly lost that war.  In fact, we should have lost that war. 

Another famous gamble was our attempt to land troops on the European continent on D-Day.   One of the favorite jokes about D-Day is that we would all be speaking German today if we had failed in that bold attempt to break through the Atlantic Wall.  

We all know how D-Day turned out, so we have no idea the fear that gripped the Allied Command on that fateful day.  Eisenhower himself was so full of doubt that he wrote a speech ahead of time taking responsibility for the failure. 

In my research on D-Day, I was struck by the fact that there was no guarantee of Allied success as those boats crossed the English Channel.   The invasion was based on a risky strategy that somehow the Germans could be fooled as to the time and location of the attack.  Any leak in security could have easily doomed the entire mission.

Fortunately the Allies were able to fool the Germans and surprise them with their choice of landing point, but even then the fighting did not go well.  The Americans had it the worst.  Indeed, with all its men pinned down by machine gun fire at Omaha Beach, throughout the morning it looked for certain that there was no way the Americans would win that fight.  In fact, General Omar Bradley was so certain this battle was lost he wanted to have the men "retreat".  Unfortunately, with the men stuck on the beach, no recall was possible and there was no way to rescue them.  For about two hours that morning, Bradley was beside himself with misery.  To him, it looked like every man was a goner.

And then suddenly the tide turned.  Do you know how the men turned an almost certain defeat into an amazing come-from-behind victory? 

Well, read my story and find out:  D-Day and Omaha Beach  After what you read, you will be amazed that we ever won that battle.   It took some real ingenuity and courage to turn the tide.

Not everybody in American History was as smart as William Seward or our leaders in World War II.  For every American Visionary like William Seward, over time we have also had men in our government and military who didn't necessarily use a lot of common sense. 

Let's face it - American History has more stories about the gambles that paid off than we do about the gambles that failed.  But we have had our failures too.  Think Korea.  Think Vietnam.  More and more, Iraq seems like a failure as well.  

What we don't read about very often in the annals of America History are the stupid things we do.  Before I share the story of "Russia's Revenge", I would at least like to point out that one of great things about America is that I have the right to write about it.  Other countries aren't so fortunate. 

Thanks to our tradition, here in America we have the chance to learn from our mistakes.  

And now, here is Russia's Revenge in Alaska, a little known story of American ignorance.


Russia On the Verge of Collapse

As was pointed out earlier, people like to say that if D-Day had failed, we might just be speaking "German" here in America today.  Oddly enough, thanks to an incident that took place during World War II, today we could just as easily be speaking Russian as well. 

As background to this story, let's talk about Russia's role in World War II.

In the days preceding World War II, Great Britain's Winston Churchill and American President Franklin Delano Roosevelt had trouble deciding who was the bigger thug... Adolf Hitler or Russia's Joseph Stalin.   Both men were monsters of the highest magnitude.

Churchill and FDR knew that Stalin and Hitler were seriously paranoid about the other.  Both men were strongly suspicious of the other's intentions.   I often wonder if Churchill and FDR ever wondered what would happen if those two monsters teamed up?  

At the outbreak of World War II, Churchill and FDR were in for a nasty surprise.  They discovered the Soviet Union and Germany had signed a non-aggression pact in August 1939.  This took place shortly before the German invasion of Poland that triggered World War II.  Many people are unaware that Germany's invasion of Poland was matched by a Soviet invasion of Poland from the east.

A secret protocol to the pact outlined an agreement between the Third Reich and the Soviet Union on the division of the border states between their respective "spheres of influence".  This willingness to share Poland had to drive a huge stake of fear into both the American and British leaders.

The pact surprised the world because of the parties' previous mutual hostility and their conflicting ideologies.  These two countries were historic enemies, but suddenly they appeared to be cooperating.  This was very bad news.

Unfortunately for Churchill and FDR, the secret pact seemed to be working quite well to the benefit of both countries. The willingness of Hitler to share a bone with Stalin had to be a chilling thought indeed.  Not only had the Soviet Union and Germany split Poland, Germany said it had no objection to further Soviet aggression.  Latvia, Estonia and Finland were defined as falling within the Soviet sphere of influence and Stalin wasted no time exercising his option.  

As a result of the pact, Germany and the Soviet Union had reasonably strong diplomatic relations and an important economic relationship.  It is difficult not to speculate how things would have turned out if the two countries had continued to maintain the truce.

Fortunately for the entire world, Hitler just couldn't resist the temptation to make a move on Russia.

We all know D-Day was a major turning point in World War II, but more likely the greatest turning point of World War II involved Hitler's decision to betray Russia and attack the sleeping giant.  This was probably the greatest mistake Hitler ever made. 

Russia seemed weak.  Their army was poorly organized and lacked weapons.  Joseph Stalin's reputation as a brutal dictator contributed to the Nazis' faith in their likely success.

Stalin was a madman.  Deeply paranoid, he was constantly worried about an overthrow by the military.  He didn't trust anyone.  In the late 1930s, Stalin had ordered many competent and experienced military officers killed in the Great Purge.  In total, some 30,000 Red Army personnel were executed, while more were deported to Siberia and replaced with officers deemed more "politically reliable".  This had left the Red Army with a relatively inexperienced leadership compared to that of their German counterparts.  This military weakness plus Hitler's belief in the inferiority of the Russian people led him to assume it was an easy victory.  If so, why bother honoring the Russia-Germany non-aggression pact?

In a nutshell, Hitler got greedy.  He decided Germany needed "Lebensraum" - room to live.  Hitler dreamed of the vast Russian territory in which the German people could expand into and spread their Aryan bloodlines far and wide.   Besides the huge frontier, the breadbasket of the Ukraine and the mineral wealth of the Soviet Union proved far too inviting to resist.

Hitler's military experts begged him to reconsider.  Germany was winning the war.  Why take such a dangerous gamble?  

No such luck.  Hitler refused to back off.

Hitler disagreed with the strategists and economists about the risks.  He told Hermann Göring, the chief of the Luftwaffe, that "everyone on all sides was always raising economic misgivings against a threatening war with Russia.  From now on he was not going to listen to any more of that kind of talk or he was going to stop up his ears with wax in order to get his peace of mind."

Like Stalin, Hitler was full of madness as well.  Hell or high water. he was determined to attack Russia.

It was a colossal mistake, but no one would have guessed this at the start of conflict.  Germany severely punished Russia with its far superior war machine.  With tanks rolling across the Russian plains against virtually no opposition, Germany actually made it to the outskirts of Moscow.  Now it seemed like victory was almost certain.

And then it all came to a stop.  Can you guess what happened?

The Russian winter kicked in. 

Ironically, Germany had started its campaign one month later than the military experts had suggested.  Now as the snows fell, it turned out the military prediction was totally accurate.  Too late now.  Many of the German soldiers didn't even have winter coats and the equipment was breaking down right and left.

Like Napoleon two hundred years earlier, Hitler had come very close to conquering Russia.  Like Napoleon, Hitler was handed a brutal defeat that came as a total shock.   Surely the frozen ghosts of Napoleon's army, victims of the same cruel Russian winter two centuries earlier, had grim faces lined with ironic smiles.  Doesn't anyone learn anything from history??

Meanwhile Churchill and Roosevelt watched the battle on the Eastern Front with morbid fascination.  Not only were they unsure who would win, they weren't even sure who they wanted to win. 

Churchill and Roosevelt didn't mind one bit seeing the Russian Army and the German Army murder each other.  From their vantage point, Stalin looked every bit as dangerous as Hitler. 

One thing Churchill and Roosevelt completely agreed on was the need to get a foothold in France.  If Germany collapsed, the Red Army would annex as much of the German empire as it possibly could.  Both men knew that Stalin's end game was to create a Russian Empire on the graves of the fallen Third Reich. 

Given what we now know about the ensuing Cold War, Churchill and Roosevelt were completely correct in their predictions.  This explains why Stalin was treated as both an ally and an enemy by the Allies throughout World War II.


Alaska in World War II:

The Battle of Attu, Lend Lease, and the Alaska Highway

The Battle of Attu

When I visited Alaska in June 2014, I was surprised to learn a major conflict between the U.S. and Japan took place on a remote Alaskan island during World War II.  The Battle of Attu was waged over a two week period, May 11–30, 1943.

Attu Island is located roughly halfway between Alaska and Japan.  It is 1,400 miles northeast of Japan and 1,000 miles southwest of Alaska's coast. 

The strategic position of the Aleutian island of Attu meant this location could control the sea lanes across the Northern Pacific Ocean. 

Japanese planners believed control of the Aleutians would therefore prevent any possible U.S. attacks from Alaska.

The Americans agreed. 

U.S. General Billy Mitchell told the U.S. Congress in 1935, "I believe that in the future, whoever holds Alaska will hold the world.
I think it is the most important strategic place in the world.

On 7 June 1942, six months after the United States entered World War II thanks to Pearl Harbor, the Japanese Northern Army landed unopposed on Attu.

The U.S. military was keenly aware of their presence.  They now feared the island could be turned into strategic Japanese airbases from which aerial attacks could be launched against the West Coast of North America. 

Unfortunately, Pearl Harbor had left the military too disorganized to mount an immediate counter-attack.  Attu would have to wait.

One year passed.  In May 1943, units of the U.S. 7th Infantry Division made amphibious landings on Attu to retake the island from Japanese Imperial Army forces led by Colonel Yasuyo Yamasaki.

Despite heavy naval bombardments of Japanese positions, the American troops encountered strong entrenched defenses that made combat conditions tough. Arctic weather conditions and exposure-related injuries also caused numerous casualties among U.S. forces. But the Americans refused to quit.  After two weeks of relentless fighting, American units managed to push the Japanese defenders back to a pocket around Chichagof Harbor.

Encircled and cut off from any hope of rescue, on May 29th Yamasaki led his remaining troops in a banzai charge. The momentum of the surprise attack broke through the American front line positions. Shocked American rear-echelon troops now found themselves fighting hand-to-hand combat with fanatic Japanese soldiers.   The battle continued until almost all of the Japanese were killed.

With the desperate last-ditch charge repulsed, this conflict effectively ended the battle for the island.

In 19 days of battle, 549 soldiers of the 7th Division were killed and more than 1,000 injured. The Japanese lost over 2,850 men. The Japanese had been determined to fight to the last man and they nearly succeeded.  Only 29 prisoners were taken alive.


Alaska Highway

Prior to World War II, the only way to get to Alaska was by plane or boat.  That situation quickly changed when we went to war with Japan. 

We all know that Hawaii maintains an important military presence in the Pacific.  Any visit to Pearl Harbor will strongly reinforce that notion. 

It turns out that Alaska has a powerful military presence as well.  Alaska serves as an important outpost against any aggression coming from an Asian nation. 

In many ways, it was World War II that served to underscore Alaska's importance to our nation.  For example, the intolerable situation on Attu Island reinforced the military's conclusion that Alaska needed to play a major role in America's defense. 

To protect all of North America, Canada and the United States worked as one nation during the war.  The two countries agreed Alaska was a key point in mutual defense.  So construction on the new Alaska Highway was begun for the purpose of connecting the contiguous United States to Alaska by way of Canada. 

Originally named the ALCAN Highway (short for Alaska-Canada), this route was built to help protect both Alaska, America and Canada in case of Japanese attack.

Even before the problems on Attu Island, the military assumed that Alaska would play a major role in the war due to its proximity with Japan as well as Russia.  Since shipping by water was far more risky than shipping by land, the decision to build the highway was very practical. 

With this road, they could rush men, tanks and supplies to the north no matter what the weather conditions were.  Equally important, the new highway would link together a series of vital airbases being built in Alaska and Canada.

Many people are surprised to learn that the majority of the Alaska Highway is actually located in Canada.  This is due to the fact that Alaska has no land link to the Lower 48. 

Alaska is what is known as an "exclave", i.e. a territory that is not directly connected to the Lower 48 States (Hawaii and Puerto Rico are also "exclaves"). 

The Alaska Highway is drawn in red

It is over 500 miles from Seattle, Washington, to Ketchikan, the southernmost point of Alaska.  That's a long way to build a bridge... so they used Canada instead.

Since there was no convenient strip of USA soil to connect Alaska to the rest of the USA, the only way America was able to build this highway was to enlist the cooperation of our Canadian friends to the north. 

The Alaska Highway begins in Dawson Creek, British Columbia.  Dawson Creek was chosen because it is a junction point for several Canadian highways.  From Dawson Creek, the highway runs to Whitehorse in Canada's Yukon province and then on to Delta Junction in Alaska. 

Completed in 1942, the final distance was 1,390 miles long.

After the war, the Alaska Highway was opened to the public in 1948.  Unfortunately, at the time the road was more fit for an army jeep than a family car. 

Legendary for many decades as being a rough, challenging drive, today's modern highway is nicely paved over its entire length.

Today's Alaska Highway is a valuable link to this great state.


The USA-Russia Lend Lease Program

The Lend-Lease Memorial in Fairbanks, Alaska, commemorates the shipment of U.S. aircraft to the Soviet Union along the Northwest Staging Route.  I saw this monument during my June 2014 visit to Fairbanks, but was unaware of its significance at the time.

The fact of the matter is that the Cold War was Russia's doing. 

America did everything possible to help Russia overcome the dangerous German invasion.  America showed friendship and was rewarded with betrayal and constant threats of war.

During World War II, the United States used the proximity of Alaska to aid the Soviet Union against Germany. America had a "Lend-Lease" pact with the USSR. 

Great Britain was on its heels under constant attack by the German Luftwaffe.  America basically kept Great Britain alive thanks to Roosevelt's "lend lease" program.  Tons of food and military supplies were shipped to Great Britain during those terrible months when German bombers raked the countryside.  Without America's help, Great Britain probably could never have withstood Hitler's assault.

Once Germany attacked Russia, America commenced a similar program.  Russia's military lacked arms and its people were starving. Sensing imminent collapse, Roosevelt authorized a similar Lend-Lease policy for the USSR.

Lend-Lease provided vital help for the Soviet Union when the country was in desperate straits.  America made a significant contribution to the final victory. It also strengthened Josef Stalin. This fact did not escape Roosevelt, who saw beyond the Allied victory and looked at Stalin with increasing dread.

Some of the supplies were sent to Murmansk, a Russian port near the northernmost part of Norway.  Other supplies were shipped north from Iran.  However, the most valuable (and safest) route of all proved to be Alaska.

With the outbreak of war, American lines of communication with Alaska by sea were seriously threatened by Japan. Alternative routes had to be opened. Consequently a string of hastily built airports through the lonely tundra and forests of northwest Canada provided an air route to Alaska which was practically invulnerable to attack. 

When the Russian Lend-Lease campaign began, the Alaska Highway had just been started. It seemed to be in the best interests of international defense to open a highway which would at once be a service road for the airports and a means for transporting essential supplies to the Alaskan outposts.

In response to this need, United States Army engaged in the Alaskan Highway project.

American aircraft were a major part of the Lend-Lease program.  That's right, the USA gave Russia airplanes as well. 

Due to the close proximity of Siberia to Alaska, American pilots flew massive transport planes over to Russia.  After the planes landed in Siberia, the frozen eastern part of Russia, the planes were then flown by Russian pilots across the vast expanse of Siberia to distribute food and supplies to Russia's Eastern front.  This is how American supplies were shuttled all the way across the USSR. 

Of course the Russians appreciated the lifeline.  But they wanted something else... Stalin coveted America's new line of long range bombers... the B-29, the Flying Fortress.


The B-29 Flying Fortress

After the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt had a burning desire to retaliate by bombing Japan.

This became an obsession with him, but Japan was out of range.  The only long range bomber in our arsenal was the B-17, but it maxed out at 1,000 miles.  So the idea of reaching Japan became increasingly remote. How were we going to accomplish this seemingly impossible feat?  We needed a Super Bomber, but did not even have one on the drawing board.

Roosevelt turned to General H.H. "Hap" Arnold.  General Arnold was already pushing for a more sophisticated Air Force with long range capability.  Arnold sent a request to all the aircraft companies seeking designs for a Super Bomber. Boeing had been working on such a design and won the contract.

They were to deliver two flying prototypes by 1942. It was to be the fastest, largest, heaviest plane ever mass produced. The U.S. ordered 250 sight unseen. Then Germany attacked Russia. The number was quickly increased to 500 planes.

On September 21, 1942, the Boeing XB flew out of the Seattle plant.  This $3 billion dollar gamble was the largest government commitment ever to a single project, including the Atomic Bomb.  The advances were startling. Never before had so many new ideas been put together so rapidly in a single aircraft.

The first bombers were sent to the CBI area (China, Burma, India).  With a range of 5,000 miles, these lethal aircraft began to bomb Japan into submission. 

Noting the power and effectiveness of these long-range bombers, the USSR repeatedly asked to be given lend-lease American B-29s.  They were always turned down.  No sane person would dream of allowing the Soviets to get their hands on these bombers.

The American pilots were supposed to return to China after bombing Japan.  However, America needed a place for planes to land after bombing Japan if they were badly damaged.  So Roosevelt asked Stalin for permission to land in Siberia.

Stalin evaded answering the request.  Russia had their hands full fighting the Germans.  However, since Russia was not at war with Japan, Stalin did not want to open up another front by aiding the U.S. air force and taking on Japan.  By giving no answer, Stalin stayed neutral.

Roosevelt understood why permission wasn't being granted.  However, Russia was an American ally, yes?  Roosevelt assumed they could not refuse an emergency landing.

The word was passed down.  In an extreme emergency, the crews were given permission to land in Vladivostok, Russia. 

On the morning of July 31, 1944, Capt. Howard Jarrell and his 10-man crew took off from Chengtu, China, on a mission against a Japanese steel mill in Anshan, Manchuria.

Capt. Jarrell's plane made a normal bomb run and may have been hit by a flak burst, but any damage was at most minor. When the pilot started his descent to cruising attitude for the trip back to Chengtu, the inboard right engine "ran away" and could not be feathered (turning the propeller blades parallel to the airflow to minimize aerodynamic drag).

The engine had to be shut down and the increased drag of the unfeathered propeller made it obvious that the plane would not be able to safely get back to Chengtu due to insufficient fuel.

The plane was still over Japanese territory so the crew began destroying all classified material on board including operating manuals, orders and instructions in case they were forced down in enemy territory.

Vladivostok is approximately 500-600 miles northwest of Japan 

Now what to do??

Captain Jarrell decided to follow the emergency orders.  The pilot headed toward the Russian base at Vladivostok to land the damaged plane in what he assumed was Allied territory.

As the bomber approached a Russian airfield, a squadron of Russian fighters was scrambled to "escort" the plane.

The Russian planes fired near the B-29, but it was unclear whether they were trying to hit the plane or force it down. Capt. Jarrell was confused.  Was this threatening gunfire necessary?  Weren't the Americans and the Russians supposed to be allies? 

However, it was too late now to turn around, especially with the hostile Russia escort on either side of his crippled ship.  Jarrell had no choice but to land here.  After a few more minutes of this firing nonsense, a Russian fighter pilot motioned for the plane to land. The B-29 began to head toward a field with a concrete runway, but the fighters started shooting again and indicated the plane should land at the grass fighter strip.

This was a dangerous move that put the plane and its crew at risk.  Although the grass field was too small for a giant B-29, Capt. Jarrell lined up to land since he had no choice. As he lowered the landing gear, all the shredded classified material stored in the nose wheel well streamed out and fluttered down into the waters of Vladivostok Bay. The plane touched down at just above stalling speed and stopped just before running off the end of the runway.  It had been tight, but everyone was safe.

After landing, Capt. Jarrell ordered the crew to stay aboard the B-29 while he left and tried to communicate with the Russian pilots.  Unfortunately, none spoke English.  A few hours later, the crew left the plane and joined Capt. Jarrell on the tarmac.

Eventually the Russians located an interpreter.  Capt. Jarrell asked to be allowed to contact the American Consul in the city, but permission was denied. The Russian "Allies" interrogated the American crew for three days trying to obtain operational details about the plane and its capabilities. The crew refused to divulge secret information, but the Russians were relentless.  Finally, after three days of endless questioning without contact from the American Consul, the crew took a vow of silence.  If they were going to be treated as enemies, they would refuse to speak.  This went on for an entire week.

On the 11th day after landing, the crew was finally allowed to speak with the Consulate located in Vladivostok.  Unfortunately, the crew was not released to the consulate.  They were forced to remain prisoners of the Russians for seven months before being released along with about 100 other U.S. Army and Navy fliers who had also been forced to land in Russian territory during WWII.

Jarrell later said with bitterness that the Soviets had not been even remotely friendly to him or his men.  But he could never forget how overjoyed they were to see the B-29 on their runway.  He spoke enough Russian to understand they referred to the plane as a 'gift'. 

As he watched the Soviets feast their eyes on the majestic Superfortress, Jarrell overheard one Russian general call the plane 'dar Bozhii'... a gift from God.

Jarrell shook his head in frustration.  Jarrell wished he had landed the aircraft in the sea nearby and taken his chances.



Andrei Tupolev

Andrei Tupolev (1888-1972) was a Russian aviation engineer who was nothing short of a genius.  Tupolev had been designing aircraft practically his entire life. During his career, he designed and oversaw the design of more than 100 types of aircraft, some of which set 78 world records.  In 1925, he designed a twin-engine bomber, the TB-1, which was considered one of the most advanced designs of the time.

1937 was the year when the TB-3, an improved version of the TB-1, made a successful landing in extreme weather conditions at the North Pole.  Flown by the celebrated Russian aircraft test pilot Valery Chkalov, not only did the plane make a perfect landing, the plane was later able to take off without a problem as well.

One would assume such a triumph would be rewarded, but instead Tupolev met with a bizarre fate.  Scarcely four months after pilot Chkalov’s flight to the Arctic, Tupolev was caught in the madness of Josef Stalin’s party purges.

On October 21, 1937, Tupolev and several fellow engineers were arrested on trumped up charges of sabotage and espionage.  Records released in 1997 from the KGB archives show that the charges against Tupolev were very serious. 

The documents indicate that Tupolev was found guilty by the Military Collegium of the Soviet Supreme Court.  Not only was Tupolev accused of aiding the Russian Fascist Party, Tupolev was accused of selling Soviet aircraft designs to Germany.

The charges: 

“Comrade Tupolev was guilty of having led a harmful anti-Soviet organization within the Soviet aviation industry and, personally and through his agents, conducted harmful sabotage with the aim of weakening the Soviet Union’s defense capabilities. Additionally, Tupolev was said to have been an agent of French intelligence since 1924 and . . . has turned over Soviet secrets to French intelligence.”

It is unlikely that Tupolev was guilty of any such thing, but that didn't matter to the authorities.  Under torture, Tupolev had confessed to a wide range of “crimes” against the Soviet people. 

Tupolev expected to die like many of his colleagues who had already been executed, but to his surprise, he was spared.  Instead Tupolev was sent to prison.

Two years passed.  Then in 1939, without any warning, Tupolev was taken from his jail cell and shoved into a car.  The secret police moved him from prison to a sharashka for aircraft designers in Bolshevo near Moscow. 

A "sharashka" was the name given to the secret research and development laboratories in the Soviet Gulag labor camp system.  The scientists and engineers at a sharashka were prisoners picked from various camps and prisons and assigned to work on scientific and technological problems for the state.  Living conditions were usually much better than in an average taiga camp, especially bearing in mind the absence of hard labor.

What Tupolev did not know was that Stalin and his secret police chief, Lavrenti Beria, had realized they had made a mistake. War was threatening Europe.  Now without its guiding spirit, Soviet aviation was in chaos.  Tupolev was rescued from Moscow’s Butyrskaya prison and transferred to Bolshevo prison to head a new design bureau controlled by Beria’s secret police, the NKVD.

Tupolev discovered several other aeronautic  engineers had already been sent to work there, but the men he really needed were missing.  Now Tupolev created a Stalinist version of Schindler’s list.  He handed his captors the names of some 150 imprisoned engineers and scientists whom he declared essential to his patriotic work.

Beria dutifully retrieved this elite cadre from throughout the Gulag archipelago, undoubtedly saving the lives of most of them.  The men were grateful to their saving angel.  It didn't take long for the sharashka to be given a new name.  It was dubbed Tupolevka in honor of its most eminent inmate. 

Ironically Russia just couldn't leave the man in peace to do his work.  Tupolev was soon given another trial.  He was tried and convicted again in 1940, this time being handed a ten-year sentence. 

No matter.  Russia was at war and in spite of the bizarre leadership, at heart Tupolev was a patriot.  Tupolev got to work.  While still prisoners, Tupolev and his fellow designers created the Tu-2 bomber, a huge improvement over what the Soviets had been using to date. 

The Soviet supreme court granted Tupolev clemency as the Nazis overran western Russia in July 1941, just in time for him to evacuate his workshop to Omsk, a far superior laboratory safely located in a remote corner of Siberia.  Strangely enough, despite his accomplishments, Tupolev was still constantly treated with suspicion.  Tupolev would not be fully rehabilitated until two years after Joseph Stalin's death in 1953. 

It has to be one of the greatest ironies of history that the man who did as much as any single Russian to save his country from the German invasion did so as a prisoner of the state for sixteen years. 

Tupolev Makes History

In 1944, Russia got its big break when Captain Jarrell was forced to land his bomber on Russian soil.  Stalin could not believe his good fortune.  The USSR had repeatedly asked unsuccessfully for lend-lease B-29s.  Now the prized American bomber was in his possession.  Stalin rubbed his hands with glee.  He quickly ordered his men to confiscate the plane.  Then he contacted Andrei Tupolev. 

Tupolev was assigned to head the major project of reverse engineering the American Boeing B-29 strategic bomber.  Tupolev began to copy the American plane bolt for bolt, wire for wire.

It took him only one year.  In 1945, Tupolev succeeded in creating an exact replica of the original down to the most trivial detail.  To his delight, the "Russian clone" flew perfectly on its first trial.  Ironically, just about the time Tupolev made his breakthrough, the Enola Gay, another B-29, became the world's first nuclear delivery platform when it dropped the atom bomb on Hiroshima.

Now Tupolev got the plane into volume production.  Over the next two years, he made sure that crews were fully trained in time for the 1947 May Day parade.

Western observers watched in shock as a brand new Tupolev TU-4 proudly flew overhead.  At first, they thought the giant plane was the same B-29 that Stalin had stolen from them, but cold chills ran down the spine of these observers once they realized this was not the same plane at all, but something the Soviets had created.  At the time, the Western experts did not know the story behind this plane, but they understood immediately the implications.  For the first time, the Tupolev TU-4 gave the Russians the capability to reach any industrial centers of North America they wished to attack.

This had been a remarkable engineering accomplishment.  Its success spoke volumes about the genius of Tupolev.  Thanks to him, the Russians were able to successfully copy America's top secret bomber.  This act of Cold War piracy landed quite a blow to America's sense of security.  One of our most closely guarded technologies was now in Russian hands.  

At the time, these bombers were the world's first and only nuclear delivery platform.  Thanks in large part to American negligence, the USSR now had a way to bomb the United States using its own weapons against them.  

Slowly but surely the details behind this technological breakthrough leaked out.  American engineers were aghast.  How on earth did the Russians do this?  The U.S. had previously not believed the Russians had the capability to clone the B-29; it seemed totally inconceivable. However, the public debut in the Russian Aviation Day parade in 1947 changed their minds.

The U.S. found itself in a panic situation when they learned the TU-4 was indeed a reality, capable of hitting any target in the U.S.  Now there were reports of missions taken by hundreds of TU-4s practicing for a potential attack on U.S. soil.  The planes would fly to the edge of North America and turn around.  This intolerable situation forced an enormous new round in arms buildup.  The Americans had no choice but to beef up their Radar systems, surface to air missiles, and interceptor jet fighters. 

Thanks to America's "trust" in the Russians, the Russians had been given a huge head start into the Cold War.

Interestingly, the experience of reverse engineering the B-29 would pay even more dividends for Russia.  The MiG-15 (known as "the Mig") was a superior Russian fighter plane of the early 1950's.  This plane was so dangerous that it shot down several American B-29s during the Korean War and forced the entire fleet of planes to be grounded. 

And where did this new plane come from?   The lessons learned from "reverse engineering" the B-29 were transferred to a plane design confiscated from the Germans.  The precision in manufacturing required by the Tupolev project was transferred directly into the MiG program.

There was only one problem... the German plane lacked a superior engine.  No problem.  Someone suggested buying a prototype Rolls Royce engine from Great Britain. 

Everyone laughed.  No one was that stupid.  But the Russians decided to ask anyway.

Keen to thaw Anglo-Soviet relations, British Prime Minister Clement Attlee invited Soviet scientists and engineers to come visit the Rolls-Royce jet facility.  He wanted to show them how the superior British engines were made.  In a show of further good will, Attlee further offered to license production to the USSR.  However, Attlee was no fool.  He cleverly extracted a solemn promise that the engines would be utilized only for non-military purposes.   The Russians promised they wouldn't dream of weaponizing the engine.

The offer stunned the Americans, who protested loudly.  Had the British lost their minds?  Had they forgotten the lessons of the confiscated B-29?

And the Soviets? 

Russian aviation historian and Ukrainian native Ilya Grinberg says, “At the time, Stalin couldn’t believe it. Stalin said, ‘Who in their right mind would sell anything like this to us?’ ”

Grinberg added, “In fact, the project to duplicate the B-29 dragged not only the aviation industry but all of the Soviet industries up to a higher level. Once Tupolev showed what could be done, a sense of pride infused the entire scientific community at what could be accomplished.  It also helped that Stalin stopped killing off his top scientists.”

Those Rolls Royce engines did the trick.  The new MiG first flew on the last day of 1947.  Though the MiG remained inexpensively built and very much spartan, the finished product was rugged and reliable.  And it was fast. 

The Atom Bomb

Nor did it stop there.  The Soviet project to develop an atomic bomb had actually begun shortly after the start of World War II thanks to a clever deduction by one of its scientists.

Soviet physicist Georgy Flyorov had been following the progress made by German, British and American physicists into uranium fission research.  Now at the start of the war, Flyorov noticed scientific journals had mysteriously ceased publishing papers on the topic.

Flyorov correctly deduced that this meant such research had now been classified.  He had a hunch what this meant.  So in April 1942, Flyorov wrote to Stalin.

In his letter, Flyorov pointed out what he suspected was going on.  He went on to cite the lack of response he had himself had encountered while trying to generate Soviet interest in similar research.  Flyorov warned Stalin of the consequences of atomic weapons: "...the results will be so overriding that it won't be necessary to determine who is to blame for the fact that this work has been neglected in our country."

In other words, there would be no one to blame because there would be no one to blame.

Stalin got the message. He turned to his talented spymaster Lavrenti Beria and told him to investigate.  Beria began to recruit scientists abroad.

By September 1942, Beria presented evidence of the Western nuclear programs to Stalin.  Stalin was appalled.  He asked Beria for advice.  Beria suggested Stalin launch a Soviet program to develop an atomic bomb headed by Igor Kurchatov.  Beria added he had ways to "speed up" the research.

What that meant was Beria had been successful in penetrating the security cloak around America's top-secret Manhattan Project.  Thanks to its supposed "ally" status, security was somewhat lax in America where the USSR was concerned.

Beria now made concerted efforts to recruit even more scientists to keep tabs.  Beria knew full well that thanks to his "Atomic Spy Ring", Russia would be able to liberally borrow ideas from the West. 

Indeed, the USSR would benefit enormously from highly successful espionage efforts on the part of the Soviet military intelligence.  Well after the fact it was discovered that several Manhattan Project scientists such as Klaus Fuchs had consistently leaked valuable information of the American nuclear project. 

Furthermore Germany was the gift that just kept giving.  The Soviet atomic project was charged with gathering intelligence on the German nuclear energy project as well as the American nuclear efforts; spymaster Beria was able to infiltrate the German program as well as the American program.  Consequently, after the war, the Soviet Union knew right where to look.  At their first chance, Soviet secret police sent by Beria confiscated all German research facilities and military reactors.  In addition, Russia forcibly removed the German scientists from Germany and put them to work on the Russian project.

Now Russia began to make up the lost ground in a hurry.

On 29 August 1949, in the deserts of Kazakhstan, then a Soviet territory, Russia became the second nation after the United States to detonate a nuclear device.

The RDS-1 was a top-secret Russian R&D project.  While not quite as impressive as America's bomb, it was devastating nonetheless.

It was supposed to be a "secret", but apparently the United States was well aware of what was going on. The U.S. assigned it the code-name 'Joe-1' in sarcastic reference to Joseph Stalin.  The bomb was exploded on 29 August 1949 at 7 am at Semipalatinsk, Kazakh SSR.

Cold War

Surely anyone over 50 will recall the classic 1956 Khrushchev taunt... "We will bury you." 

Once they discovered Russian missiles on Cuban soil, suddenly Khruschev's threat didn't seem quite so idle anymore. 

I for one remember our weekly atom bomb drills at school during that period... as if that would have done any good.

"I remember President Kennedy once stated... that the United States had the nuclear missile capacity to wipe out the Soviet Union two times over, while the Soviet Union had enough atomic weapons to wipe out the Unites States only once... When journalists asked me to comment... I said jokingly, "Yes, I know what Kennedy claims, and he's quite right.

But I'm not complaining... We're satisfied to be able to finish off the United States first time round. Once is quite enough.

What good does it do to annihilate a country twice? We're not a bloodthirsty people."

- Nikita Khrushchev, former Premier of Russia

And there you have it. 

Thanks to American and British generosity and naïveté, the Russians came very close to winning the Cold War using weaponry developed in America and Britain... and Germany as well. 

Ah, Germany.  Russia would have likely succumbed to the German onslaught were it not for American aid. 

And how did the angry Russian bear show its gratitude?

They repaid us with treachery and betrayal.

So much for America's Lend-Lease program.  No good deed goes unpunished. The story of the Soviet confiscation of the B-29 bomber foreshadowed the deterioration of relations with the Soviet Union, our supposed ally during World War II. 

Sometimes we have to wonder about just how smart our leaders really are.  Of course, to be fair, we have the benefit of hindsight.

In retrospect maybe we should have let Germany win and moved in right behind via Italy and Normandy while Germany was preoccupied with Russian occupation.

It would be interesting to know if that possibility was ever considered.


In this world, there are fools everywhere.  To begin with, what Russian fool would dream of selling Alaska to America?   And what American fool said that buying Alaska was "Seward's Folly", a complete waste of money?

And what American fool thought that landing America's most valuable plane in Russia was a good idea?  Get out the parachutes, radio for help, and put the damn plane in the water near the shore.  Then swim.  Or better yet, toss out a life raft too.

And what British fool decided that selling the world's most advanced airplane engine to Russia was a good idea?

Stalin's master plan worked to perfection.  By conveniently filling the vacuum created by the German collapse, he had untold territory and knowledge fall right into his lap.  Using technology gained from the Germans, Russia was able to close the nuclear gap almost as fast as it had closed the gap of America's air superiority.

Thanks to William Seward, America clearly won Round One. 

But thanks to the lack of foresight regarding Russian intentions, Russia clearly won Round Two.  Russia had its revenge. 

Now one has to wonder how Round Three will turn out.

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