Published Date

January 1, 1945

Resource Type

GI Roundtable Series, Primary Source

From GI Roundtable 13: How Shall Lend-Lease Accounts Be Settled? (1945)

On the very day that the bill was signed, Great Britain and Greece (then at war with Italy) were declared eligible for lend-lease aid. Goods started to move almost immediately. China, engaged in a desperate struggle with Japan, was declared eligible on May 6, and Norway on June 4, 1941.

Congress appropriated 13 billion dollars for the lend-lease program by October 28, 1941, but the movement of goods overseas got under way slowly. Our munitions industry was still largely in the tooling up state. And the flow of finished weapons was at first only a trickle. The stimulus of lend-lease and our own defense orders, however, rapidly expanded American war industry. In the meantime, food made up the largest part of lend-lease shipments:

Machinery was set up to handle the requests of foreign governments for lend-lease aid and to arrange for the production of the needed articles and services. To avoid duplication, purchasing for lend-lease was tied in closely with purchasing for our own armed forces. For example, the job of procuring lend-lease munitions was entrusted to the War Department; warships and naval aircraft and supplies to the Navy Department; merchant ships and shipping to the Maritime Commission (and later to the War Shipping Administration); food to the Department of Agriculture; and industrial materials (such as metals, chemicals, lumber, coal, textiles, clothing, etc.) to the Procurement Division of the Treasury. A special agency, the Office of Lend-Lease Administration, was created to decide matters of lend-lease policy, keep operations going smoothly and in gear, and handle the records.


What were the first results?

The first lend-lease shipments, consisting largely of food and industrial commodities, arrived in England at a time when the German submarine blockade was close to starving out the British Isles. The first American tanks and planes reached Egypt in time to be used in the second British drive into Libya which started on November 2, 1941.

The U.S.S.R. attacked by Germany on June 22, 1941—was declared eligible for lend-lease aid on November 7, 1941. Even before that date urgent supplies were sent to the Soviets with the help of 50 million dollars credit advanced by the United States government. The first convoy of American and British cargo ships steamed into the harbor of Murmansk while the German armies were hammering at the gates of Moscow. Our aid to the U.S.S.R. was relatively insignificant in 1941, but it bore the promise of much more to come. This promise was a source of strength to the Russian people in their darkest hours.

Lend-lease in 1941 also made it possible to send engineers, trucks, gasoline, and road-building equipment to hard-pressed China. The monthly volume of supplies carried over the Burma Road—China’s last link with the outside world—was thereby tripled.

Lend-lease after Pearl Harbor

With our entry into the war on December 7, 1941, the idea of lend-lease broadened. From a means of helping friendly nations, it became a mighty weapon of war. New problems had to be solved through lend-lease and new forms of joint action devised. Assistance became cooperation. The United Nations could now base their military planning on pooled resources. We would help our allies to the utmost, and expect to receive their help in return.

The lend-lease program, to be understood, has to be seen in relation to the war as a whole. The act passed by Congress was flexible enough to meet chanting circumstances. This fact turned out to be important to allied strategy. In many instances, lend-lease provided quicker and easier solutions to the problems raised by the war than would otherwise have been possible. Yet the general policy of the act—mutual aid against aggressors—remained unchanged.

In 1942 the lend-lease program rapidly widened in scope and the volume of shipments rose sharply. During December 1942 lend-lease exports totaled 607 million dollars—as much as was sent in the nine months of operation in 1941. As American troops took up battle stations abroad, our allies began to provide reverse lend-lease aid to them—that is, without payment by us.

In the various theaters of war in 1942, our allies fought with renewed confidence and better success because of the equipment furnished under lend-lease. General Montgomery’s Eighth Army, which defeated Rommel’s Afrika Korps at El Alamein, used American planes, tanks, guns, and other equipment. So, to some extent, did the Soviet forces which stood firm at Stalingrad in the winter of 1942–43. And in the Southwest Pacific, our allies were partially equipped with lend-lease arms in the engagements which began to push back the Japanese invaders of New Guinea.

What’s our rate of aid now?

In 1943 as American armament industries hit high gear, lend-lease became a tremendously powerful instrument of war.

Goods and services were provided to our allies at the rate of about 1 billion dollars a month. The British armies, which, along with American and other forces, pushed the Axis out of North Africa, Sicily, southern Italy, and France, used large quantities of lend-lease weapons. So did the rearmed French forces. The Russian offensive which drove the Germans out of White Russia and a large part of the Ukraine was aided by thousands of guns, planes, tanks, trucks, and other items provided by us. And in the air over Europe, the R.A.F. was using many American-made bombers and fighters, powered by gasoline also furnished under lend-lease.

In 1944, when Hitler’s Fortress Europe was decisively breached, the flow of aid to our allies became a torrent.

In the first six months of 1944, lend-lease transfers exceeded 1.5 billion dollars a month. With this aid, the United Nations gained overwhelming superiority over the Nazis. The assistance (along with the fighting efforts of our own armed forces) contributed to allied victories in Italy, France, the Low Countries, Russia, and eventually the Reich itself.

This does not mean that our major allies—except for the revived French army which was almost completely equipped under lend-lease—were mainly dependent on American supplies. It has been estimated that lend-lease provided only 10 percent of British war equipment, and certainly a lesser proportion of Soviet materiel.

But the goods we sent and services we provided were important factors in the success of their armies. Premier Joseph Stalin, in a toast at a dinner party at the Teheran Conference in ate October 1943, declared, “Without American machines the United Nations never could have won the war.”

A few facts and figures

How much of our war production has been turned over to our allies under lend-lease?

In dollar value the sum is large—on June 30, 1944 it amounted to about $28,270,000,000 plus $680,000,000 transferred to allied forces by American commanding generals in the field.* But in the proportion of our total defense and war expenses it is relatively small—about 15 percent.

* Shortly before this pamphlet went to press, figures were released on lend-lease operations up to the end of 1944. As of December 31, 1944, total direct lend-lease had risen from $28,270,000,000 to $35,382,646,000. No attempt has been made to revise the pamphlet accordingly. Lend-lease is a continuing and expanding operation. Trying to keep the pamphlet abreast of the very latest figures would mean it could never appear in print at all.

What does the dollar volume of lend-lease represent? About 54 percent of all our aid has consisted of fighting equipment, including naval and merchant ships. Some 21 percent has comprised industrial materials and products, such as aviation gasoline, metals and machine tools for the manufacture of munitions, cloth and leather to make uniforms and shoes in the factories of Great Britain and Soviet Russia, surgical and medical supplies for hospitals and military bases, rolling stock for railroads, lumber for docks, and so forth.

Approximately 13 percent of lend-lease aid has consisted of foods and other agricultural products destined for the workers of allied countries and their soldiers in the front lines.

“The balance of lend-lease aid—about 12 percent—represents vital war services, such as the construction of factories in the United States to produce lend-lease goods, repair and rental of ships, the ferrying of aircraft, and building of air and naval bases.

Developing and maintaining the lines of supply has been one of the central factors in the military strategy of the war. Lend-lease has helped to make it possible quickly to transport equipment where and when it has been most needed. Thus:

Ferry routes for flying American planes to Brazil and across the South Atlantic to Africa and the Middle Fast have been developed.

Port facilities in the Red Sea and Persian Gulf have been expanded.

A motor highway has been built across Iran and the trans-Iranian railway has been made over into a major artery for moving lend-lease supplies from the Persian Gulf to Russia.

The port of Massawa, badly wrecked by the retreating Italians in 1941, has been put back in operating condition. A pipeline has been laid from the Iranian oil fields across Iraq to the refinery at Haifa in Palestine.

The British-built refinery at Abadan, Iran, has been enlarged to make more aviation gas for allied planes in the Middle Eastern, the China, and the Burma-India theaters of operation.

What’s been lend-leased and where?

In terms of commodities, what does lend-lease represent? From the beginning of the program to June 30, 1944, we exported to our allies under lend-lease about 30,900 planes, 26,900 tanks, and 637,000 other military vehicles (ordnance carriers, jeeps, trucks, etc.). Added thousands in each category were paid for in cash.

We have also lend-leased over 1,800 merchant and auxiliary craft and 1,400 naval vessels, including escort aircraft carriers, corvettes, landing vessels, PT boats, and other small craft.

What proportion o£ our finished munitions has been allocated to lend-lease countries? Out of every 100 tanks that have come off our assembly lines between March 11, 1941 and June 1944, 41 were lend-leased, 3 were sold to our allies for cash, and 56 were delivered to our armed forces. Of every 100 planes, 15 were lend-leased, 3 sold to our allies, and 82 delivered to our Air Forces.

Supplies have been sent where and when they were most needed. In 1941, when the Battle of Britain was raging, lend-lease exports went mainly to the United Kingdom. As the war spread to Africa, the Middle East, Australia, and India, aid was sent to those areas. With the signing of the Russian lend-lease protocol in October 1941, lend-lease goods began to move to the U.S.S.R. in increasing volume.

Altogether, the amount of lend-lease goods actually exported up to June 30, 1944 has been divided as shown in the diagram on the next page. The figures do not include services provided in the United States or goods bought but not exported.

What’s the breakdown?

What these figures mean when broken down into specific items may be seen from the following statistics on the Soviet Union.

By the end of June 1944 the United States had sent to the Soviets under lend-lease more than 11,000 planes; over 6,000 tanks and tank destroyers; and 300,000 trucks and other military vehicles.

Many of the planes have been flown directly from the United States to the Soviet Union over the northern route via Alaska and Siberia, others were crated and shipped to the Persian Gulf, where they were assembled and flown into Russia.

We have also sent to the Soviets about 350 locomotives, 1,640 flat cars, and close to half a million tons of rails and accessories, axles, and wheels, all for the improvement of the railways feeding the Red armies on the Eastern Front. For the armies themselves we have sent miles of field telephone wire, thousands of telephones, and many thousands of tons of explosives. And we have also provided machine tools and other equipment to help the Russians manufacture their own planes, guns, shells, and bombs.

We have supplied our allies with large quantities of food. The Soviet Union alone has received some 3,000,000 tons. Lend-lease has contributed about 10 percent of Britain’s over-all food supply. This, together with a great increase in agricultural production in the British Isles, has helped to feed the British civilians and armed forces. Bread, potatoes, carrots, cabbage, and other common vegetables have been available to the British from their home gardens and farms. The United States has provided a high proportion of such foods as bacon, eggs, cheese, and fruit juices.

Next section: How Much Help Do We Get Via Reverse Lend-Lease?