Crimson Route

Crimson Route

The Crimson Route was a set of joint United States and Canadian transport routes planned for ferrying planes and material from North America to Europe during World War II. The project was ended in 1943 and never fully developed.



The 1940 fall of France and the Battle of Britain alarmed Americans who feared that England might also fall, bringing the Nazis one step closer west to the United States. Americans continued to eschew direct involvement in the war. Not so the Roosevelt Administration which devised several creative and covert means for aiding our Allies and preparing the United States for war while maintaining a façade of neutrality.

With the passage of the Lend-Lease act in March 1941, large numbers of United States manufactured aircraft were going to be ferried to the United Kingdom to assist the British in the war effort against Nazi Germany. The British had already established a network of "steppingstone" airfields in Newfoundland, Labrador, Greenland, and Iceland to make possible the ferrying of short-range fighters from North America to Great Britain. Many of the aircraft being sent to the United Kingdom, however, were manufactured in Southern California. This meant that the aircraft had to be flown across the United States to airfields in New England, where they would then be flown across the North Atlantic. [1]

With the United States entry into the war being secretly planned by the Roosevelt Administration during 1941, deployments of Army Air Force combat units to Great Britain were anticipated, it was believed that the airfields in New England and Labrador would be unable to handle an ever-increasing volume of overseas movement and ferry traffic. Thus, alternate transport routes from the United States, including a route from the western states to the British Isles was needed.

A much shorter route from Southern California could be used by flying a Great Circle Route north though central and northern Canada from from Southern California, the distance to Iceland might be cut by almost 600 miles. It was expected that much more favourable flying weather would be found than what is prevalent in Northeastern North America, that valuable experience with Arctic conditions of flight would be acquired, and that the experiment might lead to the development of a shorter airway into Russia (see: Northwest Staging Route).[2]

Planned routes

First referred to as the "North East Staging Route" it eventually became known as the "Crimson Project" or "Crimson Route", with Crimson being the code-name for Canada. The project came under the jurisdiction of the Air Transport Command North Atlantic Division.[3] Originally there were to be three routes making up the Crimson Route: Eastern, Western and Central.

Eastern route

Name Location Coordinates Notes
Presque Isle Army Airfield ME 46°41′20″N 68°02′41″W / 46.68889°N 68.04472°W / 46.68889; -68.04472 (Presque Isle AAF) Chief port of embarkation for U.S. aircraft flying the North Atlantic. Headquarters, 23d AAF Ferrying Wing, Ferrying Command 12 June 1942; re-designated North Atlantic Wing, Air Transport Command, 11 February 1944; Redesignated North Atlantic Division, ATC, 27 June 1944. After Crimson Route project cancelled, was used as part of the Northern Transport Route though Goose Bay until 1945. Closed as an ATC base on 20 September 1945.
Goose Bay Airdrome LB 53°19′09″N 60°25′33″W / 53.31917°N 60.42583°W / 53.31917; -60.42583 (Goose Bay Afld) 1383d AAFBU, North Atlantic Division, ATC, part of Newfoundland Base Command. After Crimson Route project cancelled, was used as part of the Northern Transport Route though Greenland until 1945. ATC operations ended 1945. Was major USAF base in the Cold War, turned over to Canadian Government, 1966.
Crystal I QC 58°05′45″N 68°25′36″W / 58.09583°N 68.42667°W / 58.09583; -68.42667 (Crystal I) Planned Hub with Central Route originating at Detroit, Michigan; reduced to a weather station in 1943, closed 1945. Now Kuujjuaq Airport
Crystal II NWT 63°45′20″N 68°32′22″W / 63.75556°N 68.53944°W / 63.75556; -68.53944 (Crystal II) Planned Hub with Western Route originating at Great Falls, Montana; 1384th AAFBU, North Atlantic Division, ATC; reduced to a weather station in 1943. During the Cold War was used as a radar station and as a base for construction of the DEW Line. Closed by USAF in 1963, now Iqaluit Airport.
Crystal III NWT 67°06′13″N 062°37′08″W / 67.10361°N 62.61889°W / 67.10361; -62.61889 (Crystal III) Abandoned 1943.
Bluie West 8 GL 67°00′41″N 50°42′50″W / 67.01139°N 50.71389°W / 67.01139; -50.71389 (Bluie West 8) Part of Greenland Base Command. After Crimson Route project cancelled, was used as part of the Northern Transport Route though Greenland until 1945. Became SAC base during the Cold War. Closed 1992 now civilian community (Kangerlussuaq) and airport (Kangerlussuaq Airport),
Bluie East 2 GL 65°34′59″N 37°37′00″W / 65.58306°N 37.6166667°W / 65.58306; -37.6166667 (Bluie East 2) Part of Greenland Base Command. After Crimson Route project cancelled, was used as part of the Northern Transport Route though Greenland until 1945 then closed.
Meeks Field IS 63°59′03″N 22°36′24″W / 63.98417°N 22.60667°W / 63.98417; -22.60667 (Keflavik APT) Part of Iceland Base Command. 1386th AAFBU, North Atlantic Division, ATC; After Crimson Route project cancelled, was used as part of the Northern Transport Route. Became NATO interceptor base during the Cold War as Keflavik Airport. Turned over to Iceland Government 2006.
Prestwick Airport UK 55°30′28″N 04°35′25″W / 55.50778°N 4.59028°W / 55.50778; -4.59028 (Prestwick APT) Main arrival point for USAAF aircraft ferried to UK over various North Atlantic Transport Routes. 1403d AAFBU, European Division, ATC. Used by the USAF until mid-1950s, now commercial airport.

This route was referred to by the American military as the "North Atlantic Ferrying" or "Staging Route."

Central route

Name Location Coordinates Notes
Romulus Army Airfield MI 42°13′01″N 83°21′13″W / 42.21694°N 83.35361°W / 42.21694; -83.35361 (Detroit Apt) 553d AAFBU, Ferrying Division, Domestic Wing, ATC (Detroit) Embarkation Point, also HQ, 2d Ferrying Group. Opened April 1940. Initial mission of base was delivery of military aircraft to British in Canada prior to United States Entry into the war; later coordinated WASP ferrying activities in Upper Midwest, and movement of B-24 Liberators from Ford Willow Run plant for shipment to ETO and MTO. Turned over to civil control, 1945 now Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport
RCAF Station North Bay ON 46°21′46″N 79°25′16″W / 46.36278°N 79.42111°W / 46.36278; -79.42111 (RCAF Station North Bay) Prewar RCAF station, after 1945 became major air defense installation during the Cold War. Today CFB North Bay is NORAD ROCC for both Canada East and West NORAD regions.
Kapuskasing ON 49°24′51″N 82°28′15″W / 49.41417°N 82.47083°W / 49.41417; -82.47083 (Kapuskasing Airport) Became Kapuskasing Airport providing regional airline service in Northern Ontario.
Moosonee ON 51°17′26″N 80°36′33″W / 51.29056°N 80.60917°W / 51.29056; -80.60917 (Moosonee Airport) Became Moosonee Airport providing regional airline service in Northern Ontario.
Richmond Gulf ON 56°15′00″N 76°16′59″W / 56.25°N 76.28306°W / 56.25; -76.28306 (Richmond Gulf) Planned, no airfield constructed
Crystal I QC Hub with Eastern Route; followed to Prestick Airport, Great Britain (see eastern route)

Most of the Canadian airfields were newly and expressly constructed for the purpose of the Crimson Route.

Western route

Name Location Coordinates Notes
Great Falls Army Air Base MT 47°30′15″N 111°11′13″W / 47.50417°N 111.18694°W / 47.50417; -111.18694 (Great Falls AAB) Principal mission of base was preparing Lend-Lease aircraft for shipment to USSR 1944-1945; base

served as aerial port for personnel and cargo moving between CONUS and Alaskan bases. Postwar became major SAC bomber and missile base. Malmstrom AFB today Minuteman ICBM missile base part of Air Force Strike Command.

Regina SK 50°25′55″N 104°39′57″W / 50.43194°N 104.66583°W / 50.43194; -104.66583 (Regina APT) Prewar airport, opened about 1930. Today major airport in Midwestern Canada, providing airline service throughout country and to the United States.
The Pas MB 53°58′17″N 101°05′31″W / 53.97139°N 101.09194°W / 53.97139; -101.09194 (The Pas APT) Constructed 1943 by United States engineers for Crimson Route. Completed facility turned over to Canadian government 1944. Now regional airport in northern Manitoba.
Churchill MB 58°44′49″N 094°04′26″W / 58.74694°N 94.07389°W / 58.74694; -94.07389 (Churchill APT) Constructed 1943 by United States engineers for Crimson Route. Completed facility turned over to Canadian government 1944. Now regional airport in northern Manitoba.
Southampton NWT 64°30′00″N 084°30′00″W / 64.5°N 84.5°W / 64.5; -84.5 (Southampton Island) Constructed 1943 by United States engineers for Crimson Route. Completed facility turned over to Canadian government 1944. Now Coral Harbour Airport in Nunavut.
Crystal II NWT Hub with Eastern Route; followed to Prestick Airport, Great Britain (See Eastern Route)

This was the route that the American military directly referred to using the term Crimson Route.


A directive issued by the United States Chief of Staff on 24 May 1942 ordered construction of landing strips at The Pas and Churchill in Manitoba, at Coral Harbour Southhampton Island on Hudson Bay, along with weather stations and runways at Fort Chimo Quebec (CRYSTAL I), on Frobisher Bay (CRYSTAL II), and on Padloping Island (CRYSTAL III) to begin during the summer of 1942.[2]

The project received a severe setback in late summer (27 August 1942) when an enemy U-boat operating off the Labrador coast sank a ship carrying some 6,000 tons of cargo, including vital construction equipment intended for use at CRYSTAL I, CRYSTAL II, and Coral Harbour on Southampton Island Hudson Bay. [2]

The winter of 1942-43 presented major problems all along the North Atlantic Transport Route. A high accident rate due to weather was experienced beginning in September 1942 and it continued to climb. On 22 November Air Transport Command suspended the transportation of passengers across the North Atlantic for the duration of the winter. The operation of two-engine transports beyond Iceland already had been forbidden. Some ferrying, chiefly of long-range aircraft, continued into December, as did the transport operations of C-54 Skymaster's and C-87 Liberator's under contract with TWA and American Airlines, but by mid-December the North Atlantic Transport Route had been virtually closed down for the winter[2]

ATC traffic to Great Britain was diverted to the South Atlantic Transport Route. The distance to Britain by this route was double that of the projected CRIMSON route, but distance dis-advantage was eclipsed by the fact that operations that could be maintained on a year-round basis. [2]

Efforts on another front were also productive. Prior to 1943 the Portuguese government only allowed German U-boats and navy ships to refuel in the Azores. However diplomatic efforts in 1943 persuaded Portuguese dictator Salazar to lease bases on Azores Islands to the British. This represented a change in policy and was a key turning point in the Battle of the Atlantic allowing the Allies to provide aerial coverage in the middle of the Atlantic. This helped allies to hunt U-boats, protect vital convoys and support mid-Atlantic Air Transport Command ferry efforts.[2]

This new prospect in 1943 that a transatlantic route through the Azores would soon be possible brought the expensive and unlucky CRIMSON ROUTE project to an early end. On the recommendation of ATC, the Army Air Force in the spring of 1944 abandoned the airfields at The Pas, Churchill and Southampton Island while those at the CRYSTALS and Mingan were reduced to emergency status. Save for five RAF planes which followed the CRIMSON routes to the United Kingdom in the summer of 1943, virtually no other use was of the route by either ferried or transport United States aircraft.[2]

See also


 This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the Air Force Historical Research Agency.

  1. ^ John D. Carter, “The Air Transport Command,” The Army Air Forces in World War II, vol. 7, Services Around the World, ed. Wesley Frank Craven and James Lea Cate, 42, 44–45 (Washington, D.C., Office of Air Force History, new imprint, 1983).
  2. ^ a b c d e f g The North Atlantic Route
  3. ^ AFHRA document 00180725

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