The following is extracted from the book “The DEW Line Story” produced by Western Electric Company in 1958.
Logistics, a word borrowed from military terminology, is used to describe the operations involved in moving large forces of men and supplying them with all the things they need. The logistics of DEW Line construction can be told only in superlatives.
The sealifts provided by the navy, and the job of moving the machines, fuel oil and supplies from ship to shore to DEWLine sites done by Army personnel was one of the largest projects of its kind in history. The airlift carried on continuously by commercial and Air Force planes was the largest commercial operation ever attempted
Purchasing the needed materials required 113,000 purchase orders. Everything from safety pins to giant rock crushers had to be located, ordered and expedited. In many cases deliveries had to be immediate because the sealift could not wait.
In moving men and material, the Arctic was not overpowered in one gigantic operation. It was conquered by degrees. Transportation overland to most station sites in Canada was out of the question. So small advance parties were set down in the Arctic void by light planes fitted with skis instead of wheels. In some cases, they had only shovels for tools, but by dint of back-breaking labor they cleared enough snow from the ice so planes with regular landing gear could set down. These planes brought small tractors, because men alone were no match for the fast-piling snow. Small tractors made it possible to open the airstrips long enough for larger planes carrying larger tractors to land. With these it as possible to build the long and substantial airstrips required by large freight planes. Only then could the airlift begin in earnest.
The sealift was a moving drama in two acts and a final scene. These were a year apart and had to be timed as nicely as a coast-to-coast TV show because the Arctic Ocean ice opens up for only a few weeks in the summer. The large conveys had to get in, unload their cargoes and get out on a split-second schedule or face a long winter trapped in the frozen north.
To the sturdy icebreakers that led the way, “open water” meant any ice they could smash and crash their way through, and they had to do just that time after time. When the 1955 sealift was completed, 129,000 tons of cargo had been laid down by the ships in what proved to be one of the most severe ice seasons on record.
The second set of sealifts a year later was easy by comparison. It carried the technical gear, the last of the construction equipment and supplies to run the stations for a full year. On that trip Nature was kind, the weather was better, and the polar passages were relatively free of ice. The third sealift in the summer of 1957, which started about the time the Line was completed, was smaller than the preceding ones and completed by the experienced crews without incident.