LEND-LEASE: FDR’S SECRET WEAPON AND LIFE-LINE TO RUSSIA

In fact, Lend-Lease fit nicely into FDR’s war strategy consistent with peacetime collaboration with the Soviet Union since the late twenties and well into the thirties. Bellamy writes that rather than Great Britain and Russia becoming straight-out allies, (Churchill only ever refers to the USSR as “Russia”), they engage as “co-belligerents”, they both shared one common enemy and aim “to do Germany all the harm we can”. Some British officers were more explicit and the idea sleeping in the same bed with the Russian Bolsheviks was less than fanciful “for the Russians are a dirty lot of murdering thieves themselves and double-crossers of the deepest dye. It is good to see the two biggest cut-throats in Europe, Hitler and Stalin, going for each other.” (Remark of Lt. General Henry Pownall, Vice-Chief of the Imperial General Staff, Chris Bellamy, Absolute War: Soviet Russia in the Second World War, Knopf, 2007, 409, citing Pownall Diary, in Joan Beaumont, Comrades in Arms: British Aid to Russia, 1941-45, London: Davis Poynter, 1980)

The Russians remained anxious that the British might now make a separate peace with the Germans,” Chris Bellamy writes in Absolute War (2007), “although they reckoned, quite rightly, that the constant British quest for intelligence was to evaluate the length of the breathing space available before Germany smashed Russia and turned back against Britain.” Stalingrad was the great turning point in the war. After the long siege destroying the city and their surrender Germany could never win. However, in the early days of the war, July 12, 1941 with the odds against him Molotov signs a vague mutual agreement with the astute British lawyer and avowed Marxist ambassador Sir Strafford Cripps – not a treaty– for war. They both needed the Americans if they were going to survive; anything less than an unconditional surrender with Germany would be fatal to either London or Moscow.

Bellamy writes, “the Americans were in a quite different position. From a geographical point of view, they had more secure – longer – communications with the western Soviet Union through Alaska and Siberia and allied sea routes through the Arctic Circle, north of Norway, Sweden and Finland and down to Russia through the White Sea to Arkhangel’sk and Murmansk, as well as the northern route through Turkey and Iran.” Even after the US declared war on Japan Stalin is careful not to provoke the Japanese and considered invaluable Lend-Lease convoy shipments to Vladivostok “undesirable.” Instead, Allied convoy ships sailed through German submarine infested waters to reach northern Russia. Of twenty four ships that sailed April 8, 1942 from Iceland bound for Russia only seven arrived, one sank and sixteen turned back. (C. Bellamy, 410-9)

Bellamy’s contemporary book on Russia’s strategic importance on winning the war against Germany is so far the best I have seen on the Lend-Lease aid program. In July 1941 Roosevelt proposed a three-nation committee with Hopkins and Anastas Mikoyan. Bellamy writes in his chapter “Grand Alliance”:“Just after Barbarossa, an opinion poll showed that 54 per cent of those questioned opposed sending munitions to Russia.” FDR promises Stalin “aid to the hilt” and tells the Soviet rep in Washington Comrade Umanskii he can be relied on for his request of $1.8 billion worth of guns, airplanes, ammunition and even an entire war producing industrial plant.

The three-day Moscow Conference takes place September 29 concluding that Great Britain would supply Moscow monthly beginning with “500 tanks, 300 anti-tank guns, plus aluminum, tin, lead molybdenum, cobalt, copper and zinc, and other ‘equipment’. The US would supply 1,250 tons of toluol (toluene) – used to make high-grade aviation fuel – per month, and 100 tons of phosphorous, while the UK would supply $150,000 worth of (industrial diamonds). In fact, only half a million dollars’ worth of aid arrived in November and December – 1 per cent of the amount promised.” (C. Bellamy, 420-1. For sources on Lend-Lease Bellamy refers to Robert Hugh Jones, The Road to Russia: US Lend-Lease to the Soviet Union, (Oklahoma, 1969). Bellamy cites as principal source material, “Wartime International Agreements: Soviet Supply Protocols,” US Department of State, Publication 2759, European Series 22, Washington DC, 1948)

Russia might easily have fallen in 1942 had it not been for the American aid Furthermore, the Japanese, after impressed by Moscow’s fierce defense, opt not to attack the Soviet Union and instead concentrate on the expansion in China, Southeast Asia and the Pacific, and so fall into FDR’s trap for a first-strike against the Americans.

Queried by Molotov, in London in May, Churchill replied that the British Empire and the United States together would defeat Nazi Berlin. By that time the Russians had already lost “their entire prewar army in 1941 – millions of men and women, the equivalent of a small nuclear attack”. On August 12, 1942 Churchill lands at Moscow Central Airport on Leningradskii Prospekt. Stalin doesn’t understand English, and Englishmen less. Due to mechanical problems obliging his advisers Commanding General A. Wavell (postwar Viceroy of India sacked by Attlee in 1947), Sir Alan Brooke and Sir Alexander Cadogan to turn around back to Tehran, Churchill is left virtually on his own, as he prefers, and works out details with Harriman.

Lend-Lease proved to be a lifeline not only for the USSR but also for the West contributing a significant difference in the progress of the Soviet armies against Hitler’s armies. As he had contained the importance of western aid in its industrial and military preparations for war, although it constituted about 15 per cent of the total equipment used by the USSR Stalin and Party leaders tried to play down the role of wartime Lend-Lease.

In particular, almost one-half million American trucks were delivered to the USSR to aid its war effort. The Ukrainian T-34 tanks with their wide tracks and the American-made Studebaker trucks transporting Katushya rocket launchers rallied the Red Army against the highly trained Wehrmacht Panzer forces. Gregorovich’s findings agree with the account that the USA supplied the USSR with “6,430 planes, 3,734 tanks, 104 ships and boats, 210,000 vehicles, 3,000 anti-aircraft guns, 245,000 field telephones, gasoline, aluminum, copper, zinc, steel and five million tons of food. This was enough to feed an army of 12 million every day of the war. Britain supplied 5,800 planes, 4,292 tanks, and 12 minesweepers. Canada supplied 1,188 tanks, 842 armoured cars, nearly one million shells, and 208,000 tons of wheat and flour. The USSR depended on American trucks for its mobility since 427,000 out of 665,000 motor vehicles (trucks and jeeps) at the end of the war were of western origin.” (A. Gregorovich, Forum Ukrainian Review, No. 92, Spring 1995. Scranton, PA; John Mosier’s Deathride (2010) has a unique reassessment of Soviet military numbers and effectiveness against a superior mechanized Nazi Wehrmacht; Max Hasting, Armageddon, 2004)

In Hitler’s petulant illusion for a quick victory by late November 1941, the Germans had planned to feed and fuel their war machine with resources plundered from the Ukraine. “The first German ‘Military-geographical study of European Russia’ was completed by 10 August 1940,” Bellamy writes. “The main targets were Ukraine, which produced 90 per cent of the USSR’s sugar beet, 60 per cent of its coal, 60 per cent of its iron and 20 percent of its wheat, plus Moscow, the capital, and Leningrad. … the competing attractions for these objectives play havoc with the selection and maintenance of Hitler’s aim.” (C. Bellamy, 168)