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Lend-Lease Act

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The Lend-Lease Act, also known as the Act to Promote the Defense of the United States, was an act that President Roosevelt signed on March 11, 1941. It granted the President the right “to sell, transfer title to, exchange, lease, lend, or otherwise dispose of […] any defense article […] for the government of any country whose defense the President deems vital to the defense of the United States.” [1]

Application during WWII

While not originally planned, it was under this act the American ruling class sent the USSR materials worth $545,000 out of the $741 million worth of supplies shipped to all the countries that were part of the anti-Axis coalition.[2] The British state was the first to request military assistance on the basis of this special leasing relationship at the end of May 1940, at a time when France’s defeat had left the British state without military allies in Europe. The British ruling class asked the American for 40–50 antiquated destroyers and offered three payment options: receiving them gratis, paying in cash, or leasing. President Roosevelt immediately accepted the third option, and the transaction terminated in late summer of 1940. At that point the United States Treasury Department’s personnel proposed taking the concept behind that private deal and extending it to apply to all intergovernmental relations. The War and Navy Departments were brought in to help develop the lend-lease bill, and on January 10, 1941 the US presidency brought that act for consideration before both houses of Congress, where they approved it on March 11. On October 1, 1941, People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs Vyacheslav Molotov, British Minister of Supply Lord Beaverbrook, and US Special Envoy Averell Harriman signed the First Moscow Protocol, initiating the expansion of the lend-lease program to the Soviets.[1]

Importance to Soviet Victory

Lend-Lease to the USSR, like many other actions involving the USSR the war, is often blown out of proportion by Western Historiography. The fact of the matter is, that while certainly a supportive act, it was neither key to the Soviet Victory, nor was it done out of some benevolent altruism or charity, but as a calculated decision by the USA in support of an ally of the immediate moment and a token demonstration of geopolitical appeasement, given Stalin's discontent with the USA's lack of on-the-ground involvement in Europe.

Timing

While the Lend-Lease program began in 1941, the first deliveries to the USSR would actually be by the British, who delivered a small helping of older surplus they were getting rid of, such as model Spitfires and Matilda tanks in the Winter of 1941. None of this equipment reached the frontlines until after the Battle of Moscow was fought and won, the first land-battle they outright lost since the war began in 1939. Moreover while Lend-Lease dripped into the USSR in small portions, it was judged too much of a risk after U-boats, the Luftwaffe and the convoy-hunting Battleship Tirpitz devastated several deliveries, and halted before the year was out. It would only continue after the Battle of Stalingrad ended in Victory for the USSR. That is also when deliveries began to come in larger and meaningful amounts.

The Goods Sent

In Progress

Even the famed trucks are over-exaggerated

Years Domestic Russian Trucks in Service Lend-Lease Trucks
01/01/42 317,100 0
01/01/43 378,800 22,000
01/01/44 387,000 94,100
01/01/45 395,200 191,300
05/01/45 385,700 218,100
  • A) Note: "trucks" cover any kind of military transport vehicles, such as Jeeps.
  • B) Note: By 1944 was 4-6% of the trucks in Russian service were captured from the Germans.
  • C) Note: The truck-based BM-13 "Katyusha" Multiple Rocket Launcher System (MLRS) while famously utilized with Studebaker trucks, was put into service using Soviet trucks as early as 1941, before Lend-Lease.


IF you take the time to decipher the numbers posted above, you will see that although there is no doubt the LL trucks helped a lot, they were in no way decisive in the outcome of the war (by decisive I mean their absence would have meant a German victory). The largest proportion is in 1945, the end of the war, when Lend-Lease vehicles made up 1/3 of the Trucks in Soviet Military Service. This obviously excludes Civilian trucks in the USSR. The Soviets also purposely tailored their production to complement materiel deliveries, thus the reduced Soviet truck output from '42 onwards was not a result of their plants being maxed out, it was a conscious decision once it was clear Lend-Lease trucks would become available in quantity so as to allow domestic production to focus on other areas of industry. On a side note, another little known fact about LL trucks is that a portion of them (119,000 motor vehicles) were actually re-assembled in Soviet factories after delivery, having been transported 'knocked-down'.

Repayment

The USSR's main than repayment of the Lend Lease Debt was by single-handedly dealing more damage to the Germans than the rest of the Allies combined and thus saving the lives of millions of soldiers of the Western allies as well as billions of dollars worth of losses at the cost of their own. Moreover after the War ended, the USSR sent most of the remaining equipment back and did attempt to pay back the Lend Lease, albeit incompletely, something that Britain ALSO never fully repaid for that matter. Some was forgiven, some was paid for. The Soviets repaid ~$500m of their $11bn, while the UK repaid $5bn of $30bn. Some repayments were simply not received. For example a 1942 payment from the USSR got torpedoed. Supposedly $3 billion worth of platinum on board (worth $50m in 1942).[3]

Additionally the reverse-lend-lease program also existed and included sending Soviet products and resources to the Allies. For example the French pilots of the Normandie-Neman air regiment often used Yak-3 fighters, and retained 37 of them after the war with the newly re-established French Air Force.

Brass Tacks

Many Westerners, and a few Easterners such as Marshal Zhukov, have suggested that this was a deciding factor in World War II. While it is true that the Lend-Lease helped the Soviets a great deal and accelerated the Allies’ progress, to claim that the liberal states saved the USSR from utter annihilation by sending some tanks and trucks is an exaggeration: sending supplies (one of the main points being trucks, army jeeps, and other automobiles) is quite different from sending millions of soldiers on the frontline to fight.[4] While nobody knows what ‘could have happened’ without the Lend-Lease, it almost definitely was not ‘certain destruction’. Zhukov may have implied such in the Tehran Conference of 1963, but this was related to denial of the importance of Lend-Lease by Soviet officials of that time. It is in no way an official assessment of anything (not to mention that Zhukov was a general, not an industry minister).[5]

The Soviets managed to evacuate entire factories from the occupied territories; there were other industrialized and agricultural regions in Ural, Caucasus, Russian South and Volga region among others. By the end of 1942 Soviet military production was roughly four times the antebellum level, and the Red Army had around seven thousand tanks and SPGs in November 1942, compared to roughly one thousand five hundred in December 1941. The reason why the Soviets were not producing the materials that the liberal states supplied under the Lend-Lease in large quantities is that the Lend-Lease was already supplying them with it, not because they had absolutely no means to produce it. They were indeed relying on American trucks, railroad cars and such, in order to free their own resources and concentrate them in other fields, but that does not mean they would have been unable to produce anything themselves. The Soviets still managed to evacuate thousands of factories and skilled workers and established new industrial complexes operating in safe regions and vast unoccupied territories.[5] The enormous majority of Lend-Lease did not arrive until after the conflict in Stalingrad, by which time the Soviets had turned the tide of the war and built up their own industry.[6]

The situation undoubtedly would have been much more dire without crucial supplies coming from the Anglosphere. Soviet casualties and losses would have definitely been even higher in that case, especially considering how agriculture lost most of its workforce. There is a chance that all of it would have indeed lead to defeat in the end too. But this in no way affects the fact that apart from supplying the Soviets, both the United Kingdom and United States did barely anything in Europe up until late 1943, while the war was effectively decided on the Eastern Front.

As for aluminum, the total supply of aluminum from the United States, Britain and the Dominion of Canada under the Lend-Lease during the conflict amounted to 301 tons, and its total production in the USSR over the same period, including silumin — to 350.9 tons. So there was not a ‘total lack’ of aluminum production. In fact, the Dnepropetrovsk and Volkhov plants mentioned there were successfully evacuated and reestablished in Ural region.[5] By the end of the war the Ural Aluminum Plant alone has been producing three times more aluminum per year than all the lost plants combined. When Anastas Mikoyan said that ‘we were left without aluminum’, he did not mean that ‘we couldn’t produce any aluminum whatsoever ever again’; what he meant was that reestablishing aluminum production was a difficult task, and that the Lend-Lease certainly helped tremendously in that regard. But Anglo-American military activity in Europe until late 1943 was still poor compared to what was happening in the Eastern Front. Sending canned meat, aluminum and trucks, no matter how important that they be, is still not equal or greater than sending millions of troops on the frontline.

Conclusion

To conclude the USA's Lend-Lease was not decisive to the USSR's defeating of Germany in World War II. It was decisive to the USSR defeating Germany faster. Germany had already lost the war in 1941/1942 as it surged through Ukraine, Belarus, Russia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Moldova, and Estonia. It and it's Axis allies took horrific losses that could not be replaced. By March 1942, the Wehrmacht was barely holding on as an offensive force. The USSR was outproducing them, calling up more manpower. If they couldn’t do it in early 1941, when everything was in their favor, then they would not have been able to do it in 1942, or 1943, or 1944, or 1945, when everything was favoring the USSR. The USSR could have won alone, at a slower and even bloodier pace. However, if you ask a Soviet veteran if they would have wanted to do so, one can bet they would unanimously say no, and thank the Western Allies for their contribution in bringing the Nazis to their knees. They have nothing to pay for either, the Lend Lease supplies were more than paid for with the blood and sweat and tears of the Soviet Liberators who defeated the Nazis.

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 Spitsyn, Evgeniy (2015-05-13). "Roosevelt's World War II Lend-Lease Act: America's War Economy, US "Military Aid" to the Soviet Union". Независимая газета. Retrieved 2021-04-10.
  2. American Historical Association (2019). "How Much of What Goods Have We Sent to Which Allies?". Retrieved 2019-11-20.
  3. Ballou, Brian R. (2012-02-01). "Maine crew set to recover sunken $3b in platinum". Boston Globe. Retrieved 2021-10-04.
  4. Beckhusen, Robert (2017-03-27). "Lend-Lease Saved Countless Lives — But Probably Didn't Win the Eastern Front" (Medium). @rbeckhusen. Retrieved 2019-11-20.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 https://histrf.ru/uploads/media/default/0001/12/df78d3da0fe55d965333035cd9d4ee2770550653.pdf
  6. Oriental Review (2015-05-12). "WWII lend-lease: was the US aid that helpful?". Retrieved 2019-11-20.