day's boat ride separates an overpopulated Japan, hungry for raw materials,
from a Siberia that is empty of people but abundant in natural resources.
Encouraging the extraction of Siberia's enormous resources made sound
economic sense. With the eventual modernization of this area, Moscow would
eagerly invite Japanese capitalists to invade
Siberia. The possibilities
were promising, but the desire to populate the Pacific coast was not entirely
economics and demographics. The Soviet Pacific coast is washed partly
by the Sea of Japan, an area of great strategic military importance and
another reason to justify a new land transport artery. The largest of
the four Soviet naval fleets and the one with the largest operating area
is the Red Banner Pacific Fleet, headquartered in Vladivostok. There had
been a significant buildup of the Pacific Fleet in 1970's and 1980's because
of the unsettled political situation in Southeast Asia, the Soviet invasion
of Afghanistan in 1979, the turmoil in the Persian Gulf region and the
unrest along the eastern coast of Africa. The Soviet Pacific coast provides
more direct access than European coasts to the open oceans. The major
port complex of Vladivostok opens into the Sea of Japan, with four major
straits giving egress into the Pacific. The second major naval port in
the Far East is Petropavlovsk, on the coast of Kamchatka. Most of the
Pacific Fleet's submarines are based there, where they have direct access
to the Pacific Ocean. The
decision was finally made to build the Baikul-Amur Railroad.
members show support for the BAM at a Komosomol conference
youth of the Soviet Union were called to the task, specifically the Komsomol.
was the youth organization of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union,
and consisted of approximately 40 million members ranging from ages fourteen
to twenty-eight. Soviet
leaders planned the BAM was to be built in a decade, a goal which was
set taking into account this "youth coefficient". The 17th Komsomol
Congress declared the Baikal-Amur railroad to be the number one mammoth
all-Union Komsomol undertaking. Much preliminary work lay ahead for geodesists,
geologists, builders, aviators, taiga pathfinders, and engineers. It was
necessary to anticipate the countless difficulties the builders may encounter
while "in the field", and ruggedly reliable equipment was developed
for work in permafrost (ground permanently frozen except for the surface
soils that thaw when temperatures rise above freezing) and arctic cold.
Newly discovered deposits were added to the maps, and energy supply centers
were built. On April 27, 1974 the first contingent of young volunteers
left Moscow for the Siberian taiga (the extensive, sub-Arctic evergreen
forest of the Soviet Union). The Young Communists weren't the only workers
who worked on building the BAM, countless political prisoners and prisoners
of the war who were jailed in the extensive gulag system were also put
to the task. The forced laborers were often transported along the BAM
in secret cars which were attached to passenger trains, the passengers
unknowing of the human cargo that was being transported along with them.
and Japanese prisoners of war, as well as political prisoners
serving in the Siberian gulag system also worked on the BAM.
(continued next page)