History of World War II: America Was Providing Military Aid to the USSR, While Also Supporting Nazi Germany
Roosevelt’s World War II Lend-Lease Act: America’s War Economy, US “Military Aid” to the Soviet Union
By Evgeniy Spitsyn - Global Research - May 17, 2015
The Lend-Lease Act, or “An Act to Promote the Defense of the United States,” which was signed by President Roosevelt on March 11, 1941, gave the US 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.” The term “any defense article” was understood to mean weapons, military equipment, munitions, strategic raw materials, ammunition, food, and civilian goods required by the army and homeland-defense forces, as well as any information of military significance.
The structure of the Lend-Lease Act required the recipient nation to meet a number of conditions:
1) payment is not required for any items that go missing or that are lost or destroyed during hostilities, but any property that survives and is suitable for civilian use must be paid for in full or in part, as repayment of a long-term loan granted by the US
2) military articles being stored in the recipient countries may remain there until the US requests their return
3), in turn, all leasees must assist the United States using all the resources and information in their possession
The Lend-Lease Act required countries requesting American assistance to provide the US with an exhaustive financial report. US Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau, Jr. was correct to recognize this requirement as something unprecedented in world affairs, claiming during a Senate Committee hearing that for the first time in history, one state and one government was willingly providing information to another about its own financial position.
President Roosevelt signs the Lend-Lease bill
With the help of the Lend-Lease Act, President Roosevelt’s administration prepared to address a number of urgent issues, both foreign and domestic. First, its framework would make it possible to create new jobs in the US, which had not yet fully emerged from the extreme economic crisis of 1929-1933. Second, the Lend-Lease Act made it possible for the American government to exert a certain degree of influence over the countries on the receiving end of the lend-lease assistance. And third, by sending his allies weapons, goods, and raw materials, but not boots on the ground, President Roosevelt was able to stay true to his campaign promise, in which he pledged, “Your boys are not going to be sent into any foreign wars.”
The lend-lease system was in no way designed to aid the USSR. The British were the first to request military assistance on the basis of this special leasing relationship (which was similar to an operating lease) at the end of May 1940, at a time when France’s crushing defeat had left Great Britain with no military allies on the European continent. London asked Washington for 40-50 “old” destroyers, offering three payment options: getting them for free, paying in cash, or leasing. President Roosevelt quickly accepted the third option, and that transaction was completed in late summer of 1940.
At that point, staffers inside the US Treasury Department came up with the idea of 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 Jan. 10, 1941 the US presidential administration brought that act for consideration before both houses of Congress, where it was approved on March 11. Plus, in September 1941, after much debate the US Congress approved what was known as the Victory Program, the essence of which, according to US military historians (Richard Leighton and Robert Coakley), was that “America’s contribution to the war would be in weapons, not armies.”
US President Franklin D. Roosevelt (R) meets with Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov (L) in the United States in 1942.
On Oct. 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, which marked the beginning of the expansion of the lend-lease program to the Soviet Union. Several additional protocols were subsequently signed.
How important was the US lend-lease?
During the war, Soviet factories produced more than 29.1 million small arms of all major types, while only 152,000 small arms (0.5% of the total) were manufactured by American, British, and Canadian plants. Looking at all types of artillery systems of all calibers we see a similar picture – 647,600 Soviet weapons and mortars vs. 9,400 of foreign origin, representing less than 1.5% of the total.
The numbers are less grim for other types of weapons: the ratio of domestic vs. allied tanks and self-propelled artillery was, respectively, 132,800 vs. 11,900 (8.96%), and for combat aircraft – 140,500 vs. 18,300 (13%).
Out of the almost $46 billion that was spent on all lend-lease aid, the US allocated only $9.1 billion, i.e., only a little more than 20% of the funds, to the Red Army, which defeated the vast majority of the divisions from Germany and her military satellites.
During that time the British Empire was given more than $30.2 billion, France – $1.4 billion, China – $630 million, and even Latin America (!) received $420 million. Lend-lease supplies were distributed to 42 different countries.
South American bomber A-20 “Boston» (Douglas A-20 Havoc/DB-7 Boston), crashed at the airport in Nome (Nome) in Alaska during the distillation in the Soviet Union under the Lend-Lease.
But perhaps, despite the fact that the quantities of transatlantic assistance were fairly negligible, is it possible that it did play a decisive role in 1941, when the Germans were at the very gates of Moscow and Leningrad, and within 24-40 km from the Red Square?
Let’s look at the statistics for arms shipments from that year. From the onset of the war until the end of 1941, the Red Army received 1.76 million rifles, automatic weapons, and machine guns, 53,700 artillery and mortars, 5,400 tanks, and 8,200 warplanes. Of these, our allies in the anti-Hitler coalition supplied only 82 artillery weapons (0.15%), 648 tanks (12.14%), and 915 airplanes (10.26%). In addition, much of the military equipment that was sent – in particular, 115 of the 466 tanks manufactured in the UK – did not even make it to the front in the first year of the war.
If we convert these shipments of arms and military equipment into their monetary equivalent, then, according to the well-known historian Mikhail Frolov, DSc (Velikaya Otechestvennaya Voina 1941-1945 v Nemetskoi Istoriografii.[Great Patriotic War 1941-1945 in German historiography], St. Petersburg: 1994), “up until the end of 1941 – the most difficult period for the Soviet state – under the Lend-Lease Act, the US 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-Hitler coalition. This means that during this extraordinarily difficult period, less than 0.1% of America’s aid went to the Soviet Union.
“In addition, the first lend-lease shipments during the winter of 1941-1942 reached the USSR very late, although during those critical months Russia was able to put up an impressive fight against the German aggressors all on her own, without any assistance to speak of from the democracies of the West. By the end of 1942 only 55% of the scheduled deliveries had made it to the USSR.”
For example, in 1941 the United States promised to send 600 tanks and 750 aircraft, but actually sent only 182 and 204, respectively.
In November 1942, i.e., at the height of the battle for the Caucasus and Stalingrad, the arms deliveries practically came to a complete halt. Disruptions in shipments had already begun in the summer of 1942, when German aircraft and submarines almost entirely wiped out the infamous Convoy PQ 17 that was abandoned (at the order of the Admiralty) by the British destroyers assigned to escort it. Tragically only 11 of the original 35 ships arrived safely into Soviet ports – a catastrophe that was used as a pretext to suspend subsequent convoys from Britain until September 1942.
A new convoy, the PQ 18, lost 10 of its 37 vessels along its route, and another convoy was not sent until mid-December 1942. Thus, for three and a half months, when one of the most decisive battles of the entire Second World War was being waged on the Volga, fewer than 40 ships carrying lend-lease cargo arrived intermittently in Murmansk and Arkhangelsk. For this reason, many were understandably suspicious that London and Washington were spending that time just waiting to see who would be left standing after the battle of Stalingrad.
As a result, between 1941 and 1942 only 7% of the wartime cargo shipped from the US made it to the Soviet Union. The bulk of the weapons and other materials arrived in the Soviet Union in 1944-1945, once the winds of war had decisively shifted.
What was the quality of the lend-lease military equipment?
Out of the 711 fighter planes that had arrived in the USSR from the UK by the end of 1941, 700 were hopelessly antiquated models such as the Kittyhawk, Tomahawk, and Hurricane, which were significantly inferior to the German Messerschmitts and the Soviet Yakolev Yaks, both in speed and agility, and were not even equipped with guns. Even if a Soviet pilot managed to get a German flying ace positioned in the sights of his machine gun, those rifle-caliber guns were often completely useless against the German plane’s rugged armor. As for the newest Airacobra fighter planes, only 11 were delivered in 1941. And the first Airacobra arrived in the Soviet Union disassembled, without any sort of documentation, having already long outlived its service life.
Bell P-39Q Airacobra
Incidentally, this was also the case with the two squadrons of Hurricane fighters that were armed with 40-mm tank guns designed to engage German armored vehicles. But these fighter planes turned out to be so completely useless that they sat out the war mothballed in the USSR because no Red Army pilots could be found willing to fly them.
A similar situation was observed with the much-vaunted British light Valentine tanks that Soviet tank operators nicknamed “Valentinas,” and the medium Matilda tanks, for which those tank operators reserved a more scathing epithet: “Farewell to Our Homeland.” Their thin armor, highly-flammable gasoline-powered engines, and positively prehistoric transmissions made them easy prey for German gunners and grenade launchers.
According to Valentin Berezhkov, an interpreter for Joseph Stalin who took part in all the negotiations between Soviet leaders and Anglo-American visitors, Stalin was often deeply offended by British actions such as offering obsolete aircraft like the Hurricane as lend-lease handouts, instead of newer fighters like the Spitfire. Moreover, in September 1942, in a conversation with Wendell Willkie, a leader in the US Republican Party, Stalin asked him point-blank in front of the American and British ambassadors, William Standley and Archibald Clark Kerr: why were the British and American governments supplying such poor-quality equipment to the Soviet Union?
He explained that he was primarily speaking of shipments of American P-40s instead of the much more up-to-date Airacobras, and added that the British were providing completely unsuitable Hurricane fighters, which were far inferior to what the Germans had. Stalin claimed that once when the Americans were preparing to ship 150 Airacobras to the Soviet Union, the British had intervened and kept them for themselves. “We know that the Americans and British have planes that are equal to or better than the German models, but for some reason many of those are not making it into the Soviet Union.”
The American ambassador, Admiral Standley, knew nothing about this, but the British ambassador, Archibald Clark Kerr, admitted that he was aware of the Airacobra event, but he defended their redirection with the excuse that in British hands those fighters would be much more valuable to their common Allied cause than if they ended up in the Soviet Union…
Besides weapons, other supplies were also provided under lend-lease. And those figures are absolutely indisputable indeed.
Specifically, the USSR received 2,586,000 tons of aviation fuel, an amount equal to 37% of what was produced in the Soviet Union during the war, plus almost 410,000 automobiles, making up 45% of the Red Army’s vehicle fleet (not counting cars captured from the enemy). Food shipments also played a significant role, although very little was provided during the first year of the war, and the US supplied only about 15% of the USSR’s canned meat and other nonperishables.
This support also included machine tools, railway tracks, locomotives, rail cars, radar equipment, and other useful items without which a war machine can make little headway.
Of course this list of lend-lease aid looks very impressive, and one might feel sincere admiration for the American partners in the anti-Hitler coalition, except for one tiny detail: US manufacturers were also supplying Nazi Germany at the same time …
For example, John D. Rockefeller Jr. owned a controlling interest in the Standard Oil corporation, but the next largest stockholder was the German chemical company I. G. Farben, through which the firm sold $20 million worth of gasoline and lubricants to the Nazis. And the Venezuelan branch of that company sent 13,000 tons of crude oil to Germany each month, which the Third Reich’s robust chemical industry immediately converted into gasoline. But business between the two nations was not limited to fuel sales – in addition, tungsten, synthetic rubber, and many different components for the auto industry were also being shipped across the Atlantic to the German Führer by Henry Ford. In particular, it is no secret that 30% of all the tires produced in his factories were used by the German Wehrmacht.
The full details of how the Fords and Rockefellers colluded to supply Nazi Germany are still not fully known because those were strictly guarded trade secrets, but even the little that has been made public and acknowledged by historians makes it clear that the war did not in any way slow the pace of the US trade with Berlin.
Lend-lease was not charity
There is a perception that lend-lease aid was offered by the US out of the goodness of its heart. However, this version does not hold up upon closer inspection. First of all, this was because of something called “reverse lend-lease.” Even before the Second World War had ended, other nations began sending Washington essential raw materials valued at nearly 20% of the materials and weapons the US had shipped overseas. Specifically, the USSR provided 32,000 tons of manganese and 300,000 tons of chrome ore, which were highly prized by the military industry. Suffice it to say that when German industry was deprived of the manganese from the rich deposits in Nikopol as a result of the Soviet Nikopol–Krivoi Rog Offensive in February 1944, the 150-mm frontal armor on the German “Royal Tiger” tanks turned to be much more vulnerable to Soviet artillery shells than the 100-mm armor plate previously found on the ordinary Tiger tanks.
In addition, the USSR paid for the Allied shipments with gold. In fact, one British cruiser, the HMS Edinburgh, was carrying 5.5 tons of that precious metal when it was sunk by German submarines in May 1942.
The Soviet Union also returned much of the weaponry and military equipment after the war, as stipulated under the lend-lease agreement. In exchange they were issued an invoice for $1,300 million. Given the fact that lend-lease debts to other nations had been written off, this seemed like highway robbery, and Stalin demanded that the “Allied debt” be recalculated.
Subsequently the Americans were forced to admit their error, but they inflated the interest owed in the grand total, and the final amount, including that interest, came to $722 million, a figure that was accepted by the USSR and the US under a settlement agreement signed in Washington in 1972. Of this amount, $48 million was paid to the US in three equal installments in 1973, but subsequent payments were cut off when the US introduced discriminatory practices in their trade with the USSR (in particular, the notorious Jackson-Vanik Amendment).
The parties did not return to the discussion of lend-lease debt until June 1990, during a new round of negotiations between Presidents George Bush Sr. and Mikhail Gorbachev, during which a new deadline was set for the final repayment – which would be in 2030 – and the total outstanding debt was acknowledged to be $674 million.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, its debts were categorized as either sovereign debt (the Paris Club) or debts to private banks (London Club). The lend-lease debt was a liability owed to the US government and is part of the Paris Club debt, which Russia repaid in full in August 2006.
US President Franklin D. Roosevelt explicitly stated that aid to Russia was money well spent, and his successor in the White House, Harry Truman, was quoted in the pages of New York Times in June 1941 as saying,
“If we see that Germany is winning the war, we ought to help Russia; and if that Russia is winning, we ought to help Germany, and in that way let them kill as many as possible …”
Nikolay Voznesensky (1903-1950)
The first official assessment of the role played by lend-lease aid in the larger victory over Nazism was provided by the chairman of Gosplan, Nikolai Voznesensky, in his work Voennaya Ekonomika SSSR v Period Otechestvennoi Voiny [Soviet military complex during the Great Patriotic War] (Moscow: Gospolitizdat, 1948), where he wrote,
“If one compares the quantity of industrial goods sent by the Allies to the USSR with the quantity of industrial goods manufactured by socialist factories in the Soviet Union, it is apparent that the former are equal to only about 4% of what was produced domestically during the years of the war economy.”
American scholars and military and government officials themselves (Raymond Goldsmith, George Herring, and Robert H. Jones) acknowledge that allthe Allied aid to the USSR was equal to no more than 1/10 of the Soviets’ own arms production, and the total quantity of lend-lease supplies, including the familiar cans of Spam sarcastically referred to by the Russians as the “Second Front,” made up about 10-11%.
Moreover, the famous American historian Robert Sherwood, in his landmark book, Roosevelt and Hopkins: An Intimate History(New York: Grossett & Dunlap, 1948), quoted Harry Hopkins as claiming the Americans “had never believed that our Lend Lease help had been the chief factor in the Soviet defeat of Hitler on the eastern front. That this had been done by the heroism and blood of the Russian Army.”
British Prime Minister Winston Churchill once called lend-lease “the most unselfish and unsordid financial act of any country in all history.” However, the Americans themselves admitted that lend-lease brought in considerable income for the US. In particular, former US Secretary of Commerce Jesse Jones stated that the US had not only gotten its money back via supplies shipped from the USSR, but the US had even made a profit, which he claimed was not uncommon in trade relations regulated by American state agencies.
His fellow American, the historian George Herring just as candidly wrote that lend-lease was not actually the most unselfish act in the history of mankind, but rather an act of prudent egotism, with the Americans fully aware of how they could benefit from it.
And that was indeed the case, as lend-lease proved to be an inexhaustible source of wealth for many American corporations. In fact, the United States was the only country in the anti-Hitler coalition to reap significant economic dividends from the war.There’s a reason that Americans often refer to WWII as “the good war,” as evidenced, for example, in the title of the book by the famous American historian Studs Terkel: The Good War: An Oral History of World War II (1984). With unabashed cynicism he quoted, “While the rest of the world came out bruised and scarred and nearly destroyed, we came out with the most unbelievable machinery, tools, manpower, money … The war was fun for America. I’m not talking about the poor souls who lost sons and daughters. But for the rest of us the war was a hell of a good time.”
Evgeniy Spitsyn is a Russian historian and author.