* World War II campaigns -- Arsenal of Democracy Lend Lease countries Soviet Union








Lend Lease: Country Trends: Soviet Union


Figure 1.--Here after the great Red Army victory at Kursk, Red Army troops are entering Vinnytsia in the western Ukraine (December? 1943). Notice the American jeep. American Lend Lease vehicles like Jeeps abd trucks played a major role in the Red Army victories in the East. They gave the Red Army a mobility that the whermacht could only dream about. Vinnytsia is not a city that commonly comes up in World War II histories. Actually it was a microiosm of the barbarity that characterized the Eastern Front. Click on the image for details.

Soviet participation in the land campaign against Germany was critical. Without the Red Army engaging the Wehrmacht in the East, an Allied invasion of France would have never been possible. America extended Lend Lease to the Soviet Union in September 1941. Lend Lease proved critical to the Soviet war-effort. This should not be over emphasized. The Red Army stopped the Wehrmacht at Leningrad and Moscow (December 1941) before Lend Lease aid had begun to arrive in any quantity. The Soviets had a massive arms industry that out produced the Germans in many areas. [Dunn] Many of their weapons were of a high quality--especially the T-34 tank which was superior to the American Sherman tank. The Soviets had moved their armaments plants back to and beyond the Urals after the NAZI invasion. By 1942 those plants were back in operation. Still wars are won by marshaling superior resources. After the War, Stalin down-played the importance of Lend Lease. Most historians, however, report that Lend Lease played a critical role in the Soviet war effort. The Red Air Force had been largely destroyed in the first weeks of the German invasion. The United States commitment to supply 400 planes a month to the Soviets was a critical factor in the rebuilding of the Red Air Force. Lend Lease not only provided weapons including high performance aircraft, but many other key materials. American trucks and locomotives played a key role in the logistics need to support Red Army offenses. Other materials such as blankets and canned meat were very important to the Red Army. The Soviet Union had been essentially a partner with the NAZIs until Hitler ordered an invasion (June 1941). Aid to the Soviets was more contentious than to other countries, but had a strong advocate in Hopkins. [McJimsey, pp. 293-294] Some Americans wanted to restrict aid to the Soviets on ideological grounds. Some like Ambassador Standley may have also understood the evil nature of the Soviet regime. Here a case can be made that America erred in so copiously supplying the Soviers. Certainly the trucks which America supplied the Soviets to fight the Wehrmacht were later used to cart unknown numbers of people off to the Gulag. These arguments can safely made today after the NAZIs ere defeated. That defeat was, however, much less certain in 1941-43. One of the considerations to bear in mind was that Stalin and joined Hitler once, in part because he thought the Allies were intent on weakening the Soviet Union by sitting out the war and having the Soviets and NAZIs destroy each other. After the cross-Channel invasion was postponed in 1942 (Sledgehammer) and especially in 1943 (Roundup). Stalin was enraged. There were Soviet and NAZI peace feelers. [Mastny, p. 1378. and Karpov] Historians debate as to how serious these feelers were, in part because Stalin to suppress all evidence after the War. Hopkins argued with considerable force that after the postponement of the cross-Channel invasion in 1943 that full scale Lead Lease aid was necessary to convince Stalin of the Western Allies sincerity and commitment. [McJimsey, pp. 292-294.]

Operation Barbarossa (June 1941)

Hitler launched his invasion of the Soviet Union (June 22, 1941). It was the largest military operation in history. Hitler warned that the world would tremble. He was correct. Stalin had sought to have the NAZIs and Western Allies fight the War and weaken eawhile he watched from the sidelines building his strength. Instead, he found himself isolated and facing the full force of the German military without any allies. Stalin was stunned and unlike President Roosevelt after Pearl Harbor went into adeep depression and did not speak to the Soviet people for some time. Barbarossa and the subsequent fighting on the Eastern Front was the most mamouth miltary campaign in human history and is unlikely evere to be exceeded. Despite the huge, well-equipped Red army, the Wehrmcht in only 5 months reached the outskirts of Moscow. Unlike Hitler's predictions, however, the Soviet union did not fall 'like a house of cards'.

Extension of Lend Lease to the Soviet Union (September 1941)

It was not immediately apparent how the Allies would respond to the German invasion of the Soviet Union. The Soviets were Communists with azctive programs to subvert America, Britain, and other countries. And Hitler had not launched World War II on his own. Stlalin had very much been a partner in the horrible exercise. And Stalin had engaged in a series of aggressions of its own as a ally of Hitler. Less well known at the time was the extent of Soviet attrocities in the occupied territories--the Bltics, Poland and Romania. (This was not the case inFinland as the population almost to a man fled the area seized by the Soviets.) Even so, there was not the slightest hesitation on the part of Prime Minister Churchill and President Roosevelt. Both resonded immediately. Churchill told Parliament that Britain would aid the Soviets. There was not much the British could do. America was a very different matter and Roosevelt indicated that America would assist the Soviets in defending their country (June 24). Aid to the Soviets was more contencious than to other countries. Some Americans wanted to restrict aid to the Soviets on ideological grounds. Some like Ambassador Standley may have also understood the evil nature of the Soviet regime, but the extent of Soviet atrocities were not well known in the West. Nor was the extent and nature of German attricities in the Soviet Union. Lend Lease Administrator Hopkins was a strong advocate for aid to the Soviets. [McJimsey, pp. 293-294] After debatihg the issue, Congress approved legislation extending Lend Lease to the Soviet Union (September 1941). Here a case can be made that America erred in so copiously supplying the Sovierts. Certainly the trucks which America supplied the Soviets to fight the Wehrmacht were later used to cart unknown numbers of people off to the Gulag. These arguments can safely made today after the NAZIs ere defeated. That defeat was, however, much less certain in 1941-43. And there is no doubt that the Soviet Union with American aid smashed the Whermacht, saving countless lives, including many American GIs.

Soviet Military Role

Soviet participation in the land campaign against Germany was critical. Without the Red Army engaging the Wehrmacht in the East, an Allied invasion of France would have never been possible. Most of the Wehrmacht during World War II after the fall of France was employed on the Eastern Front against the Soviet Union. It was on the Eastern Front that the Wehrmacht suffered the bulk of its casualties and material losses. It is virtually inconceiveable that the Western Allies could have rentered Europe had the Wehrmacht not been ground down by the tutantic battles waged on the Eastern Front.

Stalin's War Policies

One of the considerations to bear in mind was that Stalin had joined Hitler once. It is diddicult to know his precise calculation. He sseems to have believed that the Allies were intent on weakening the Soviet Union by sitting out the war and having the Soviets and NAZIs destroy each other. It is difficult to know to what extent he believed this and to what extent it was a propaganda line to justify joining with Hitler. We suspect a little of both. Another factor was surely the trritorial concessions Hitler offered. The NAZI-Soviet Non-Agression Pact (1939) essentially partitioned Europe between the two totalitarian powers. Poland of course was just a beginning. As a result, before Hitler launched Barbarossa, the Soviet Union had launched a series of aggressions comparable to those of NAZI Germany. After the cross-Channel invasion was postponed in 1942 (Sledgehammer) and especially in 1943 (Roundup). Stalin was enraged. (Nevermind the fact that Stalin had ordered Communist Parties in America and Britain to oppose defense spending and continuation of the War.) Hopkins argued with considerable force that after the postponment of the cross-Channel invasion in 1943 that full scale Lead Lease aid was necessary to convince Stalin of the Westen Allies sincerity and commitment. [McJimsey, pp. 292-294.]

NAZI-Soviet Peace Feelers

There were Soviet and NAZI peace feelers. Historians debate as to how serious these feelers were, in part because Stalin to suppress all evidence after the War. Since the disollution of the Soviet Union more details have become available, although there is considerable debate among historians about the circumstances. Some of the relevations if accurate are startling. One Russian author citing declassified Soviet intelligence files reports that Stalin agter the Wehrmacht had stabalized the Eastern Front personally authorized the offer of a separate peace to Adolf Hitler (February 1942). Stalin reportedly proposed that the Soviets and NAZIs cooperat against the United States and the United Kingdom. A Soviet document dated February 19, 1942 reveals that Stalin offered Hitler a cesefire on the Eastern Front and to joint the NAZIs in joint military operations against the Western Allies "to restructure the world" by the end of 1943 under the pretext of accusing "world Jewry of war-mongering." Another document dated February 27, 1942, provides a report on high-level discussins between Soviet and NAZI officias. lsVsevolod Merkulov, a Soviet security official reported on his meeting with SS Gen. Karl Wolf, in Mtsensk, Belarusian, at the time occupied by the Germans. Merkulov reported that Wolf discussed German demands that Stalin must "solve the Jewish question" in the Soviet Union before Germany would agree to an alliance against the Allies. Wolf also discussed concessions that the NAZIS were prepared to make, including territorial concessions. There was even a curious offer to change the color of the swastika on the NAZI flag from black to red. Merkulov described the world-wide view of the NAZIs, including a demand that the Soviets acqiese to German control over Latin America, the Arab world and North Africa as well as Japanese control over China. This was reprtedly unacceptable to the Soviets. [Karpov] U.S. intelligence was aware of some of these contsacts [Mastny, p. 1378.]

Soviet Arms Industry

The role of Lend Lease should not be over emphasized. The Red Army stopped the Wehrmacht at Lenningrad and Moscow (December 1941) before Lend Lease aid had begun to arrive in any quantity. The Soviets had a massive arms industry that out produced the Germans in many areas. [Dunn] Many of their weapons were of a high quality--especially the T-34 tank which was superior to the American Sherman tank. The Soviets had moved their armaments plants back to and beyond the Urals after the NAZI invasion. By 1942 those plants were back in opperation.

Shipping to the Soviet Union

Building the needed war equipment was only part of the task. With the Soviet Union, the more difficult task was getting it to the Soviets. Aiding the British involved a straight shoot accriss the Atlantic. Although the U-boats posed a threat, most of the dhipments reached Britain and the turn around for the ships was realitively quick given the relatively short distance involved. The United States abnd the British opened up three routes to the Soviets. First, was the northern route to Murmansk and Ark Aangel. This route at times proved almost suisidal. Convoys were attacked by U-boats as well as German surface ships and aircraft based in Norway. Second, was the southern route. This involved a long trip around the Cape of Good Hope and then overland through Iran. This route was limited because the length of the voyage tied up shipping and the Iranian port and transportation infrastructure was limited. In addition during much of 1942 the Indian Ocean was threatened by the Japanese Navy. Third was the western or Pacific route. This route extended from american west coast ports to Soviet Pacific ports. This proved to be the most important. About half of Lend Lease shipments took the Soviets were shipped over this route. Some of this was done by air. American aircefaft were flown from Alaska to the Soviets. Large quantities of supplied were also shipped by cargo vessels. It is surprising because these shipments took place through Japanese controlled waters. This began before Pearl Harbor. Even after Pearl Harbor the Japanese did not intercept the shipments. American officials, however, decided it adviseable to tansfer the vessels to Soviet registry. The first 15 ships were transferred (November-December 1942. Eventually 125 ships were transferred. [Herring] American magic intercepts revealed that Ribbentrop could not believe that the Japanese were permitting this when he first received reports of what was happening. [Boyd, p. 221.]

Japanese Assessments

The Japanese were well aware of the American Lend Lease shipmebts. Although a NAZI ally adhered to their neutrality pact with the Soviets. Thus the Japanese allowed the American Lend Lease shipments to pass unmolested. Japanese diplomats traveling on the Trans-Siberian Railway reported trains loaded with American trucks and manufactured goods. [Boyd, p. 88.] They also noted American aircraft. The overall Japanese assessment, however, underestimated the full dimmensions of the shipments to the Soviets. [Boyd, p.93.]

Deliveries

The United States through Lend Lease delivered a wide range of weapns and material to the embatteled Soviet Union. Some of the most important items were trucks, planes, and food. Rhe Soviets were not impressed with some Ameican weapons, escpecially the tanks. American tank design was not only behind the Germans, but behind the Soviets as well. But the Soviers were impressed with American trucks and planes. Trucks may not make the World War II list of major weapons, but they are as important as tanlks in the wageiig of Blizkrieg. And in terms of major weapins, the Soviet profuction of tanks, artillery, and planes was highly dependent on American Lend Lease shipments of steel, aluminum, and orher raw material. Food is another weapon that does not make the great headlines, but was absolutely critical to the soviet war effort. The Germans occupied some of the most fertile agicultrura; land in the Soviet Union--much of the Black Soil Zone. Depending on just when the estimate we are made, this amounyed to about 40 persent of the productive agricultural land of the Soviet Union. This created a huge problem for the Soviets, how to feed not only the military, but the civilian population manning the factories and mines that supported the Soviet war effort. The United States also dlivered naval vessels to the Soviet Union, most going to support the Arctic convoys and to escort the Pacific convoys. A Russian reader has supplied us some information about deliveries of naval vessels. These deliveries played an important role in the development of the Soviet Navy.

Importance of Lend Lease

The Soviet Union had been essentially a parter with the NAZIs until Hitler ordered an invasion (June 1941). Thus the decession to assist the Soviets was a major policy shift. It also took time to increase war production and ship material to the Soviets. There were huge demands for war material, both from the American military and other allies, especially Britain. Thus deliveries were failrly limited in 1941 and 42 when American industry had not been fully converted to war production. Lend Lease proved critical to the Soviet war-effort. Wars from time memorial are won by marshalling superior resources. And this was the case in EWorld War II. Lend Lease did not play a role in stopping the NAZIs in front of Moscow (December 1941). (Although President Roosevelt's pressure on the Japanese did play a role, allowing Stalin to transfer substantial forces from the Siberia to the defense of Moscow.) And deliveries were still limited in 1942. But by 1943 American industry had been fully coverted to war production and deliveries to the Soviet Union increased expodentially. After the War, Stalin down-played the importance of Lend Lease. Most historians, however, report that Lend Lease played a critical role in the Soviet war effort. The Red Air Force had been largely destroyed in the first weeks of the German invasion. The United States commitment to supply 400 planes a month to the Soviets was a critical factor in the rebuilding of the Red Air Force. Not only the building of these planes, but delivering them to the Soviet Union was a massive logisical undertaking. The deliveries were far below the commitment at first, but reached significant levels by 1943: 114 aircraft in 1942, 2,465 in 1943, 3,033 in 1944 and 2,482 in 1945 (through August). [Alberti] The primary aircraft provided was the Bell P-39 Aircobra. Lend Lease not only provided weapons including high performance aircraft, but also large quantities of aluminum which permitted the Soviets to significantly increase their own aircraft production. Many other items and key materials were delivered. American trucks and locomotives played a key role in the logistics neeed to support the massive Red Army offenses. This was especially the case of Operation Bagration, the Soviet offensive that destroyed Germany's Army Group Center June-August 1944). German successes in Barbarossa were in paet due to superior German mobility. The Wehrmacht were, however, never fully mechanized. America delicered thousands of trucks (many Studabaker trucks) to bthe Soviets under Lend Lease. These deliveries by 1944 gave the Soviets aevelm of mobility that the Whermacht at its peak never had. When the Red army launched Bagration, it had achieved a level of mobility that Army Group Center had not anticipated while at the same time its own mobility had deteriorated. The result was the destruction of Germany's largest and nost powerful field army. Other materials such as blankets and canned meat were very imporant to the Red Army.

Soviet Acknowledgement

During World War II, the Soviets were grateful for the Allied assiatance and had a range of positive statements, noit always in print. Of course there were two phases during the War. First as a NAZI ally (19839-41), they joined in with the NAZIs in a cindemnatioin of Werstern capaitaism. After the Germans invaded (June 1941), anti Western propaganda was moderated and the Soviets acknoiwkefged the help from the Allies, primarily the United States (1941-45). Lend Lease deliveries were at first limited because the United States was just gearing up its industrial economy for war, but by 1943 substantial quantities were reacahing the Soviet Union.

Soviet-Russian Post-War Opinions

After the War, Soviets attempted to downplay the role of the Western Allies. You see comments like "Aid from our allies, England and the United States was insignificant." [Soviet Ministry of Defense, p.91.] This of course is interesting. We constantly hear complaints from the Russians that West does not recognize the massive role of the Red Army in defeating the German Wehrmacht. But in fact, there is no serious Western Western historian that dies not fully recognize the role of the Red Army. It is actually Soiviet historians (remenver that Soviet historians were state employees who had to foillow the Party Line toi ghe letter)n that not only do not recognize the role of Allies, but actually dismissit as ;'minimal' or 'insignificant'. In connection, with Lend Lease the general thread is that Lend Lease provided only a small part of Soviet war production. This actually is true if you calculate all of Soviet production. The Siviets had a substantial economy and a large war industry. (Before the War, Soviet arns oriductiin exceeded that of the United States. What Lend Lease dis was to fill in gaps and weakenesses in crital points in the Soviet War economy. One Russian historian who in the afternath of the fall of Communism can speak more freely, describes how the real significance of Lend-Lease was that it covered the 'sensitive points' of Soviet production -- gasoline, explosives, aluminum, nonferrous metals, radio communications, and other areas. [Sokolov] "In a hypothetical battle one-on-one between the U.S.S.R and Germany, without the help of Lend-Lease and without the diversion of significant forces of the Luftwaffe and the German Navy and the diversion of more than one-quarter of its land forces in the fight against Britain and the United States, Stalin could hardly have beaten Hitler." [Sokolov] This of course is just the kind of history many if not most Russians, esopecially President Putin, do not like to here. And why on World War II duscussioin boiards, a steady stream of Russians retyen to the old Soviet Cold Sar mantra that Lend lease's importance was minimal if not insignificant.

Venona Papers

Lend Lease resulted in a massive increase in the number of Soviet officials operating in the United States. Officials were assigned to work at defense plants producing equipment for the Soviet war effort. This as a result led to a signoficant increase in coded messages sent back to Moscow. Most were entirely legitimate diplomatic or Trade Office messages. Some were, however, messages sent by inteligence operatives pssing on matrial sent by the very substahntial Soviet espionage operations in the United states. The growing U.S. Army Ultra code breaking effort at Arlington Hall once the Enigma problem was mastered began to assign a small group to work on the Russian Problem. They had a growing pile of Russian intercepts. It proved a difficult problem, but mistakes by the NKVD enabled Arlington Hall to crack quite a number of the messages. The results were stareling, revealing the nature and extent of Soviet espionage on a war time ally producing vital material for the Red Army. The results, however, would not be revealed to the American people for many years.

Reader Views

Readers have commented on our Lend Lease page.

A Russian View

A retired Red Army officer has provided us a view of Lend Lease from a Russian perspective. He provides some very useful statistics. We agree with his point that Lend Lease did not sugnificantly aid the Soviets in 1941 and 42. Here it was the Red Army that stopped the NAZIs largely with Soviet manufactured arms. We disagree with our reader, however, on some of his other points concernng Lend Lease. We are very interested in his comments, in part because the war in the East is often not sufficently covered in World War II histories. Thus his comments provide a very useful addtion to our coverage of World war II which relies almost completely on Western sources.

A Russian view

Another Russian reader writes, "I'm very well aware of crucial role of the Lend-Lease Act Roosvelt managed to push through. Without that help, the war would be a lot longer and even a lot bloodier. It was really priceless help. But it was still not the most decisive factor in the victory." [Ivanov.] This seems a good brief synopsis of the program.

Sources

Alberti, Fedor (Deputy Head of Moscow State Civil Aviation Engineering University). "Lend-Lese Air Ferries", Aero Space Journal (1997).

Boyd, Carl. Hitler's Japanese Confidant: General Oshima Hiroshi nd Magic Intelligence, 1941-1945 (University Press of Kansas: Lawrence, 1993), 271p.

Dunn Jr., Walter S. The Soviet Economy and the Red Army, 1930-1945 (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1995).

Herring, George C. Aid to Russua, 1941-1945: Strategy, Diplomacy, the Origins of the Cold war (New York: Columbia University Press, 1973.

Ivanov, Constantine. E-mail message, November 22, 2009.

Karpov, Vladimir. Generalissimo.

Kimball, W.F. The Most Unsordid Act (1969).

McJimsey, George. Harry Hopkins: Ally of the Poor and Defender of Liberty (Harvard University Press: Cambridge, 1987), 474p.

Mastny, V. "Soviet war aims at the Moscow and Teheran conferences," Journal of Modern History (1975).

Sokolov, Biorris. "Ленд-лиз – оружие Победы. Роль западной помощи Восточному фронту," (09 апреля 2020). Like other Soviet historians, Sokolov followed the Party Line untill the fall of Communism. He began writing more freely andm=, as a result, was dismissed from hid university post. He is one of the Russian historians who are critically reviewing the Soviet role in World War II, although this has become more difficult because of President Putin's policies.

Soviet Ministry of Defense. Lekand Fetzer, trans. Ray Wgner, rd. The Soviet Air Force in World War II (early 1970s). This is the official Socviet history published by the Ministry of Defense.






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Created: March 16, 2004
Last updated: 6:38 AM 1/8/2016