The Alaska Highway is said to be the greatest civil works project of the Army Corps of Engineers after The Panama Canal.
The highway is the result of commitment and cooperation among the US and Canadian governments, and the governments of British Columbia and the Yukon Territory. The building of the original primitive military road was led by the US Army Corps of Engineers. The modern highway has been created and maintained by Canada since shortly after completion of the original military road.
Over 11,000 US soldiers and 7,500 civilians built 1543 miles of road with more than 200 bridges and 8000 culverts through rough terrain in only 8 months in order to defend North America's west coast in World War II. It also created a back door to send war supplies to the Soviet Union and avoid going through Europe during the war. And the project helped change racial attitudes in the United States and had a lasting impact on indigenous peoples of Alaska and Canada..
I drove the highway over six days in September 2018 and discovered more than I expected. I hope this helps to appreciate this impressive achievement of the Corps of Engineers. D Jones
Strategic WW II importance of The Alaska Highway
When Japan invaded islands in the Alaska Aleutian Islands there was great fear that its forces might move on to mainland Alaska and then the US. Reinforcing the US defenses in Alaska became a national priority.
The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor made America turn around and look west after years of looking east toward the World War II fighting in Europe, North Africa and Asia. Suddenly the west coast was at risk. Japan occupied two islands in Alaska's Aleutian chain, and its warships were patrolling off the coast of Alaska. If Japan held the Alaska islands that it invaded flights to Alaska and then the US would be easy. Relying on sea lanes to ship forces and supplies north was too risky, and there was no road. Talk of the need for a road to Alaska began in 1938, but now what had been a contingency plan became an emergency.
The decision to build a road was made quickly:
December 7, 1941 - Pearl Harbor attacked.
February 6, 1942 - Army approves project plans.
February 11, 1942 - Congress approves money.
February 11, 1942 - President Roosevelt signs.
March 8, 1942 - Construction begins.
June 7, 1942 - Japanese invade Aleutians Islands.
November 20, 1942 - Opening ceremony held.
The force organized to do the work included:
an Engineer provisional brigade of about 9,000 men that included the 18th, 35th, 93rd, 340th, and 341st Engineer Regiments. The 93rd,95th and 97th Engineers were segregated African American regiments. Also elements of the 29th and 648th Engineer Topographic Battalions, as well as the 73rd and 74th Engineer Companies, and every Army branch was involved.
The Engineer generals who made it happen:
Brigadier General Clarence L. Sturdevant: Assistant to the Chief of Engineers, signed the original highway plan in 1942. Called the "Father of the Alaska Highway."
Major General Brehon B. Somervell: The Army's G-4 and Chief of Army logistics and construction. He built the Pentagon. Time Magazine called him "the man of the hour" for organizing material quickly for the Alaska Highway.
General William M. Hoge: Commander of the highway project in the field of operation. Long Army Engineer history building roads. Later led at Omaha Beach, Commanding General 4th Armored Division, and Commanding General US Army Europe.