The Western Allies began supporting the Soviet Union with a wide variety of military equipment beginning in November 1941. Among the items supplied were many tanks and other types of armoured fighting vehicles. Although the countries that comprised the Western Allies found the Communist ideology as distasteful as the Nazis’ National Socialism, they embraced the old proverb that ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’. By supplying the Red Army with as much military equipment as could be spared, the Western Allies knew they would help keep the Soviet Union in the fight and would, in turn, tie down the bulk of the German military ground forces till the end of the war in Europe.
It would be America’s factories that supplied the bulk of the tanks and other armoured fighting vehicles that went to the Red Army during the Second World War. Under a programme referred to as ‘Lend-Lease’, a cross-section of American-designed and built tanks would be shipped overseas in varying numbers through German submarine-infested waters to Russian seaports in the early war period.
Under Lend-Lease, the Red Army would receive 1,336 units of the American-designed and built light tank M3. It was armed with a 37mm main gun and up to five 7.62mm machine guns, albeit firing different types of ammunition to that of their Soviet counterparts. Also sent were 340 units of the slightly-improved light tank M3A1. Both vehicles weighed about 24,000lb (11mt), were powered by gasoline engines and manned by a crew of four. Maximum armour thickness on the front of the turrets of the light tanks M3 and M3A1 was 50mm.
Among the American-designed and built medium tanks that entered into Red Army service were 1,386 units of the diesel-engine-powered M3. The vehicle had a crew of either six or seven men and weighed 61,500lb (28mt). It was armed with a hull-mounted 75mm gun and a turret-mounted 37mm gun plus three 7.62mm machine guns. Maximum armour thickness on the vehicle’s front turret was 50mm.
In addition, under Lend-Lease the Red Army took into service 1,990 units of the diesel-engine-powered medium tank M4A2. The 70,200-lb (32mt) vehicle had a crew of five men and was armed with a 75mm main gun and three machine guns; a single 12.7mm and two 7.62mm. Maximum armour thickness on the front of the M4A2 turret was 88mm. Red Army tankers nicknamed the M4 series tanks they received as Emcha, which was a Russian shortening of M4.
The Red Army also received 2,073 units of the improved up-gunned second-generation medium tank M4A2, designated M4A2(76)W. The suffix ‘W’ represented a main gun storage arrangement that incorporated water to quench propellant fires. The 73,400-lb (33mt) M4A2(76)W had a crew of five men and was armed with a 76mm main gun and three machine guns; as before, a single 12.7mm and two 7.62mm. Maximum armour thickness on the vehicle was 88mm on the turret front.
Fifty-two units of the diesel-engine-powered 3-inch Gun Motor Carriage M10 were also taken into service. This 65,200-lb (30mt) vehicle had a crew of five men. Armament consisted of a 3-inch main gun and a single 12.7mm machine gun. Maximum armour thickness on the vehicle’s turret front was 56mm.
In parallel with the various tanks supplied to the Red Army under the Lend-Lease Act there was a wide range of wheeled and half-track armoured vehicles shipped to the Soviet Union. These would include 3,310 units of the gasoline-engine-powered scout car M3A1. This vehicle weighed 12,400lb (5.6mt) and had a crew of six to eight men. Standard United States army armament consisted of a 12.7mm and a 7.62mm machine gun. Maximum armour protection on the M3A1 was 13mm.
The Red Army would also receive 1,158 American-designed and built open-topped armoured half-tracks. These gasoline-engine-powered vehicles would include 342 units of the half-track car M2 and 603 units of the half-track car M9A1. These open-topped vehicles weighed up to 21,200lb (9.6mt) and had a maximum armour of 16mm on their front hull and a crew of ten men in United States army service, with an armament of a single 12.7mm (.50 calibre) machine gun and up to two 7.62mm (.30 calibre) machine guns.
Also shipped to the Red Army were two examples of the half-track personnel carrier M3 and 401 units of the half-track M5. These vehicles had a twelve-man crew in United States army service and weighed up to 21,500lb (9.7mt). Maximum armour thickness on the M3/M3A1 and the M5 version front hulls was 16mm. Typically, the various versions of these half-track personnel carriers were armed with a single 7.62mm (.30 calibre) or a single 12.7mm (.50 calibre) machine gun. The half-track personnel carriers supplied to the Red Army were typically employed as command vehicles in armoured units.
There was also a half-track-based tank destroyer provided to the Red Army, the Gun Motor Carriage T48. It was based on the chassis of the half-track personnel carrier M3 and armed with a British-designed, American-built 57mm gun. It was mounted in the rear of a modified M3 half-track on a conical structure, designated the 57mm gun mount T5.
Of the 962 T-48s built by the Diamond T Motor Car Company between December 1942 and May 1943, only thirty went to the British army, with 650 going to the Red Army. Of the remaining vehicles, most were eventually converted to the half-track personnel M3A1 configuration for use by the United States army. In Red Army service the T48 was referred to as the SU-57 and would remain in service through to the conclusion of the war in Europe.
The Anti-aircraft Artillery Board of the United States army had a vehicle developed based upon the chassis of the half-track personnel carrier M3. It was armed with a 37mm automatic cannon and two 12.7mm (.50 calibre) air-cooled machine guns. It was referred to as the Multiple Gun Motor Carriage M15A1 and had an open-topped armoured shield around the front and sides of the weapons to protect the gun crew. Some 100 units of the M15A1 were supplied to the Red Army under Lend-Lease.
Another anti-aircraft vehicle known as the Half-Track Multiple Gun Motor Carriage M17 was also supplied to the Red Army under Lend-Lease. It was armed with a power-operated turret designated the M33 that mounted four 12.7mm (.50 calibre) air-cooled machine guns in the open-topped rear hull of the vehicle. Rather than being mounted on the chassis of the half-track personnel carrier M3 as was the M15A1, it was mounted on the chassis of the half-track personnel carrier M5 built by the International Harvester Company for foreign aid use only. The entire production run of 1,000 units of the M17 was shipped to the Soviet Union.
The British government also decided early on that it was in their best interests to keep the Red Army in action and supplied it with 3,782 units (of various versions) of the Infantry Tank Mark III, officially nicknamed the ‘Valentine’. Armed with either a 40mm or 57mm main gun and a single 7.92mm machine gun, the vehicle weighed approximately 36,000lb (16mt). The tank started off with a crew of three that was pushed up to four men in later production versions. While the initial version of the Valentine had a gasoline-powered engine, subsequent models supplied to the Red Army all had diesel engines. Maximum armour protection on the Valentine series turret front was 65mm.
In addition to the Valentine series, the Red Army received 1,084 units of the Infantry Tank Mark II, officially nicknamed the ‘Matilda II’. The four-man vehicle was armed with a 40mm main gun and either one or two 7.92mm machine guns. Weighing in at about 60,000lb (27mt), the tank was powered by a diesel engine and had a maximum armour thickness of 78mm on its turret front.
Another infantry support tank that the British government would supply to the Red Army was officially nicknamed the ‘Churchill’. Models provided were the Mark III and Mark IV, both armed with a 57mm main gun. Both gasoline-engine-powered versions were also fitted with two 7.92mm machine guns. The Mark III version of the five-man Churchill tank weighed approximately 87,000lb (39.5mt). Maximum armour thickness on the Churchill Mark III and IV was 102mm on their turret front.
There was also a small shipment of twenty British light tanks designated the Mark VII sent to the Red Army. In British army service the vehicle was officially nicknamed the ‘Tetrarch’. The three-man vehicle was armed with a 40mm main gun and a single 7.92mm machine gun. Weighing in at 16,800lb (7.6mt), the maximum armour thickness on the vehicle’s front turret was 16mm.
Besides tanks, the British government sent to the Red Army 2,500 units of the Universal Carrier in whose service they often saw use as a reconnaissance vehicle. The 8,848-lb (4mt) vehicle had crew of four to five men and in British army service was armed with either a 7.7mm light machine gun or a 14.3mm Boys anti-tank rifle. Armour protection on the open-topped Universal Carrier was no more than 10mm.
When Stalin met them on September 13 1942 he was livid with rage at his British ally for arguing over military aid. ‘Tens, hundreds of thousands of Soviet people are giving their lives in the struggle against fascism, and Churchill is haggling over twenty Hurricanes.’ It was over a year since Britain and the United States had pledged to send the Soviet Union the military and economic aid necessary to keep the Soviet front from collapsing. Though there was popular hostility in both Western states to co-operation with Communism, the alternative of a German victory in the East was regarded as even less palatable, since it would leave Britain at the mercy of a military giant and the United States with little realistic prospect of fighting a major war 3,000 miles distant from its shores. Yet for all the importance attached to Soviet resistance, neither Western power contributed enough during 1942 to ensure Soviet survival. Churchill candidly told the Soviet ambassador, Ivan Maisky, that all Britain could offer was ‘a drop in the ocean’. The American Lend-Lease aid programme, begun in March 1941 for the British Empire and extended to cover the Soviet Union in August that year, provided $5.8 billion of goods for Britain by the end of 1942 but only $1.4 billion for the Soviet Union. Throughout the year Stalin had pressed Britain and the United States to provide direct assistance by opening a ‘second front’ in Europe to divert German forces away from the Eastern campaign. The war with Japan and the immature state of American rearmament made it difficult for the West to do more. The British army was hard pressed to keep a small Italian-German force from conquering Egypt, and the Royal Navy was fighting the Battle of the Atlantic, on which the future of any Western war effort depended. The only direct pressure Britain applied came from a long-range bombing offensive against Germany’s western industrial cities, which because of its modest scale had achieved only meagre results by the end of 1942.
The most serious gap in the Soviet armoury at the start of the war was in radio communication and intelligence. In the early months of war there were desperate shortages of radio equipment, which made effective command and control of large numbers of aircraft and tanks impossible and made it difficult to hold together a regular infantry division. And when radio was used German interceptors caught the messages and dispatched air or tank strikes against the unfortunate command post that had relayed them. Soviet commanders soon grew uncomfortable with using radio once they realized it could betray their whereabouts. The system was disrupted in the fast-moving defensive battles of 1941 and 1942, as one communications post after another was overrun by the enemy. The effort to provide effective communication in 1942 was central to the final successes of Soviet mass operations in 1943 and 1944.
It could not have been achieved without supplies from the United States and the British Commonwealth. Under the Lend-Lease agreements drawn up with America and Britain in 1941, the Soviet Union was supplied with 35,000 radio stations, 380,000 field telephones and 956,000 miles of telephone cable. The air force was able by 1943 to establish a network of radio control stations about one and a half miles behind the front, from which aircraft could be quickly directed to targets on the battlefield. Tank armies used the new radios to hold the tank units together, increasing their fighting effectiveness by the simplest of innovations. Finally, the Red Army began to organize its own radio interception service in 1942. By 1943 five specialized radio battalions had been raised; their function was to listen in on German radio, jam their frequencies and spread disinformation over the air waves. In the battles of summer 1943 the battalions claimed to have reduced the transmission of German operational radiograms by two-thirds. In the last years of the war Soviet signals-intelligence underwent an exceptional and necessary improvement. The systems for evaluating intelligence from radio interception, spies and air reconnaissance were overhauled by the spring of 1943, and a much clearer picture of German dispositions and intentions could be constructed. Moreover, radio came to play a major part in the evolution of sophisticated tactics of deception and disinformation, which on numerous occasions left the enemy quite unable even to guess the size, the whereabouts or the intentions of Soviet forces.
It was true that the quantity of armaments sent was not great when compared with the remarkable revival of Soviet mass production. The raw statistics show that Western aid supplied only 4 per cent of Soviet munitions over the whole war period, but the aid that mattered did not come in the form of weapons. In addition to radio equipment the United States supplied more than half a million vehicles: 77,900 jeeps, 151,000 light trucks and over 200,000 Studebaker army trucks. One-third of all Soviet vehicles came from abroad and were generally of higher quality and durability, though most came in 1943 and 1944. At the time of Stalingrad only 5 per cent of the Soviet military vehicle park came from imported stocks. Imports, however, gave the Red Army supply system a vital mobility that was by 1944 better than the enemy’s. The Studebaker became a favourite with the Soviet forces. The letters ‘USA’ stencilled on the side were translated as ‘Ubit sukina syna Adolfa’ – ‘to kill that son-of-a-bitch Adolf!’ The list of other supplies, equally vital to the Soviet supply effort, is impressive – 57.8 per cent of aviation fuel requirements, 53 per cent of all explosives, almost half the wartime supply of copper, aluminium and rubber tyres. Arguably the most decisive contribution was supplies for the strained Soviet rail network, much of which was in the occupied areas in 1941. From America came not only 56.6 per cent of all the rails used during the war but 1,900 locomotives to supplement the meagre Soviet output of just 92, and 11,075 railway cars to add to the 1,087 produced domestically. Almost half the supplies, by weight, came in the form of food, enough to provide an estimated half-pound of concentrated nourishment for every Soviet soldier, every day of the war. The shiny tins of Spam, stiff, pink compressed meat, were universally known as ‘second fronts’.