Back to How Wars Are MADE | Issues index | Sweet Liberty HOME PAGE

From Major Jordan's Diaries


We Move to Montana

     It was the coldest weather in 25 years when the route was mapped out. First of all, Major General Follette Bradley flew experimentally by way of the old gold-field airstrips of Canada. With the Russians he scratched out a route from Great Falls through Fairbanks, Alaska and across Siberia to Kuibyshev and Moscow. It is the coldest airway in the world across the Yukon to Alaska and through the “Pole of Cold” in Siberia, but it worked.

     Colonel (then Captain) Gardner, our trouble-shooter at Newark, was one of the first to go ahead to Montana. Then Lieutenant Thomas J. Cockrell arrived at Great Falls in charge of an advance cadre to make arrangements for the housing and quartering of troops of the 7th Ferrying Group of the Air Transport Command, which was moving from Seattle.

     Gore Field was at that time known as the Municipal Airport of Great Falls. Although it had been selected as the home of the 7th, actual construction of barracks and accommodations had not been started.

     The Great Falls Civic Center was therefore selected as a temporary home, with headquarters, barracks, mess-hall and other facilities combined under the roof of the huge municipal structure. The Ice Arena was also used as a combination barracks and mess-hall and temporary headquarters were established in the office of Mayor Ed Shields and the offices of other city officials.

     For nearly four months, the Civic Center remained the home of the 7th Ferrying Group, while contractors rushed construction of the barracks, hangars and other buildings which were to make up the post on Gore Field.

     The group completed its move up to Gore Hill early in November, 1942. The 7th Group continued to supervise all stations and operations along the Northwest Route until November 17, 1942, when the Alaskan Wing of the Air Transport Command was established to take over the operations of the route to the north through Canada to Fairbanks, where hundreds of Russian pilots were waiting to take over.

     Major Alexander Cohn arrived from Spokane to establish the 34th Sub-Depot for the Air Service Command. It was this depot that supervised the mountain of air freight that originated from all over the United States and poured into the funnel of this end of the Pipeline.

     Colonel Gardner arranged for my transfer from Newark to Great Falls. My orders designated me as “United Nations Representative.” Few people realize that although the United Nations Organization was not set up in San Francisco until September, 1945, the name “United Nations” was being used in the Lend-Lease organization as early as 1942, as in my original orders to Newark.

     For the record, I want to quote my orders to Great Falls, with one phrase italicized. One reason for this is that in 1949 the New York Times printed the following statement of a “spokesman” for the United Nations:

“Jordan never worked for the United Nations.”

     I thereupon took the original copy of my orders in person to the Times, explained that this was an Army designation as early as 1942, and asked them in fairness to run a correction (which they did not do), since I never claimed to have “worked for the United Nations” and their story left the impression that I was lying. Here are my orders, with the original Army abbreviations:

Army Air Forces

Headquarters, 34th Sub Depot

Air Service Command

Office of the Commanding Officer

Capt GEORGE R. JORDAN, 0468248, AC, having reported for duty this sta per Par1, SO No. 50, AAF, ASC, Hq New York Air Serv Post Area Comd, Newark Airport, N.J., dated 2 January 43, is hereby asgd United Nations Representative, 34th Sub Depot, Great Falls, Montana, effective this date.
By order of

Lt. Colonel MEREDITH.

     These official orders activating my post were preceded on January first by a Presidential directive. This directive was addressed to the Commanding Generals of the Air Transport, Material, and Air Service Commands, through Colonel H. Ray Paige, Chief, International Section, Air Staff, who worked directly under General Arnold.

     This directive gave first priority for the planes passing through our station, even over the planes of the United States Air Force! It was extremely important in all my work. I quote the crucial first paragraph:




January 1, 1943



Subject: Movement of Russian Airplanes.

1. The president has directed that “airplanes be delivered in accordance with protocol schedules by the most expeditious means.” To implement these directives, the modification, equipment and movement of Russian planes have been given first priority, even over planes for U.S. Army Air Forces…

By Command of Lieutenant General ARNOLD,

Richard H. Ballard

Colonel, G.S.C.

Assistant Chief of Air Staff,


     The following story illustrates the importance of “first priority” and indicates how few people, even in the armed services, were aware of it. One day a flying Colonel arrived at Great Falls and asked for clearance to Fairbanks, Alaska. He was told that his plane could not leave for the four days it would take to comply with the winterization orders enabling his plane to fly the cold route. He immediately demanded sufficient mechanics to do the job in a few hours.

     I pointed out that this would require mechanics who were working on Russian planes. “I know I’m just an Air Force Colonel,” he muttered, “and I hate to discommode Uncle Joe, but I’m afraid, Captain, that this American plane will have to take precedence over the Russian planes.”

     It isn’t often that a Captain can contradict a Colonel. When I showed him the foregoing directive and he read the words, “the President has directed,” and “first priority,” he was positively speechless.

     We suggested that he could borrow some mechanics from Pocatello (Idaho) and Ogden (Utah) to facilitate the winterization of his plane. But he went around with a puzzled look, muttering “First priority! I’ll be damned.”

     He asked me whether many Air Force pilots knew about this. I told him that they found it out when they hit Great Falls and tried to enter the Pipeline.

     To complete my dossier there was an order from the headquarters of the Air Service Command which outlined my duties in detail. I think it important enough to quote in full:






SUBJECT: Duties in Connection With Movement of Russian Airplanes.

TO: Commanding Officer

34th Sub Depot

Great Falls Municipal Airport

Great Falls, Montana

1. In connection with the movement of aircraft to U.S.S.R. through your station, it is directed that you appoint an officer who will be charged with the following duties:

a. Inspect aircraft upon arrival, to determine
(1) Condition

(2) Status of regular equipment

b. Install special flight equipment as requested by Russia.

c. Receive and store special flight equipment furnished for this movement.

d. Report any shortages of regular equipment to United Nations Branch, Overseas Section, and take necessary action to have them supplied.

e. Furnish United Nations Branch, Overseas Section, with daily report covering arrivals and departure of these aircraft and status of those held on field.

f. Coordinate activities of Air Service Command, Air Transport Command and Material Command which affect this entire movement of aircraft.

g. Receive and transmit messages and requisitions from Fairbanks.

h. Coordinate and expedite air freight movements for U.S.S.R. from Great Falls and Edmonton.

2. It is recommended that Captain Jordan who was recently assigned to your station be appointed for this purpose.

By Command of

Major General FRANK:

A/C.P. Kane, Col. C.C.



Chief, Supply Division

     The temperatures were ranging from zero to 70 degrees below zero along the route where the williwaws blow between Great Falls and Fairbanks. The williwaws don’t get down as far as Gore Field, but gales up to 110 miles an hour moved one pilot to say, “If we used a 500-pound bomb as a windsock, it would blow around too much.” Despite the cold, the Engineer Corps were rebuilding the old Canadian gold-field airstrips and were getting the airway really started as a Pipeline.

     The Russian staff had moved from Newark, to Great Falls, with Colonel Kotikov still at their head. By this time I was on a very friendly personal basis with the Colonel. As human beings, we got on very well together. From the viewpoint of the usual Russian behavior toward Americans, it could even be said that we were on intimate terms.

     Colonel Gardner decided that it would expedite matters if I took a trip to Fairbanks, visiting the various airports en route to familiarize myself with conditions and with the Russian personnel.

     I was to return and report back to Colonel Winters and Colonel Doty in Dayton the type of accessories that were needed to expedite the deliveries of the cannon-firing F-39 Airacobras, the small fighting planes that were being flown by contact pilots to Ladd Field, Fairbanks. The medium bombers and the transports could, of course, be flown by instrument pilots.

     The Russians nicknamed the Bell Airacobras the Cobrastochkas (“dear little cobras”), and reported that they were able to perform successfully all sorts of vertical maneuvers, particularly the chandelle, and held a very definite advantage over the Messerschmitt 109. If bought in lots of one thousand, the Airacobras cost U.S. taxpayers only $85,465.45 each.

     On February first, 1943, I departed from Great Falls for Fairbanks.

Continue with Chapter 4

Back to How Wars Are MADE | Issues index | Sweet Liberty HOME PAGE