Lend-Lease Redux II

The USA, Britain and Canada supplied 22,800 armoured vehicles to the USSR during World War II. Of these, 1981 were lost at sea on the hazardous Arctic convoys to Murmansk. The shipments that did arrive were the equivalent of 16 per cent of Soviet tank production, 12 per cent of self-propelled gun production, and all of the armoured personnel carrier (APC) production. The first shipment in 1941 totalled 487 Matildas, Valentines and Tetrachs from Britain, and 182 M3A1 Light Tanks and M3 Medium Tanks from the USA. A year later, these figures had risen to 2487 from Britain and 3023 from the USA.

Despite being pressed in North Africa, Britain committed 14 per cent of her tank production to Lend-Lease supplies. Though Lend-Lease tanks helped the USSR while it was under serious pressure between 1941 and 1942 after it had suffered huge tank losses, in the long run, US trucks were the real war winners. The USA supplied 501,660 tactical wheeled and tracked vehicles: 77,972 Jeeps, 151,053 1.01 tonne (1 ton) trucks and 200,662 2.03 tonne (2 ton) trucks. These gave the infantry and logistic troops working with them a tactical mobility. The initials ‘USA’ stencilled on these vehicles were in the USSR taken to stand for the slogan’ Ubiyat Sukinsyna Adolfa’ – . ‘Kill that son of a whore Adolf’.

In the Cold War period, it was common for Soviet historians to denigrate the quality of the Lend-Lease tanks supplied by Britain and the USA. It is true that their medium tanks did not compare well against the T-34. However, the M3Al light tank was comparable or superior to the T-60 and T-70 light tanks, and the M4A2 Sherman was more durable and reliable than the T-34. Interestingly, in post-war encounters between the Sherman and T-34 in Korea and the Middle East, the M4 often came off the winner, even though it was theoretically an inferior design. The first unit to go into action with Lend-Lease armour was in the Staraya Russa and Valdai areas, fielding Valentines, Matildas and captured German tanks.

THE WHITE MOTOR CAR COMPANY

The White Motor Company was an important American truck manufacturer before the war. To meet the Army’s requirement for a high-speed scouting vehicle, the company offered an armoured version of one of its commercial truck chassis designs. This was tested as the T-7, accepted in 1938, and standardized as the M3 Scout Car in June 1939. Nearly 21,000 were built and 3340 of the M3s, widely known as the White Scout Car, were supplied to the USSR.

The White Motor Company was also responsible for producing the first US-designed half-track used during the war. Based on a White commercial truck chassis, it had the body of the M3 Scout Car. This was tested as the T-14 in 1939 and standardized as the Half-Track Car M2 and the Half-Track Personnel Carrier M3 in September 1940.

The USSR would eventually receive 342 M2 Half-tracks, 2 M3s, 421 M5s, and 413 M9s. The most popular of these was the M17 Multiple Gun Motor Carriage, which was armed with quad 0.50 calibre (12.7mm) Brownings, and the M15Al armed with a 37mm (1.46in) automatic cannon and twin Brownings. The USSR was sent 1000 M17s and 100 M15Als. These vehicles were very popular during World War II because they had no indigenous armoured self-propelled antiaircraft gun.

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The provision of Lend-Lease supplies was slow in the early stages of the war, but from late 1942 it became a steady flow through the Soviet eastern provinces via Vladivostok, by the overland route from the Persian Gulf and the more dangerous and inhospitable convoy journeys from British ports to Murmansk or Archangel. Foreign aid on such a scale permitted the Soviet Union to concentrate its own production on the supply of battlefront equipment rather than on machinery, materials or consumer goods. Without Western aid, the narrower post-invasion economy could not have produced the remarkable output of tanks, guns and aircraft, which exceeded anything the wealthier German economy achieved throughout the war. Without the railway equipment, vehicles and fuel the Soviet war effort would almost certainly have foundered on poor mobility and an anaemic transport system. Without the technical and scientific aid – during the war 15,000 Soviet officials and engineers visited American factories and military installations technological progress in the Soviet Union would have come much more slowly. This is not to denigrate the extraordinary performance of the Soviet economy during the war, which was made possible only by the use of crude mass-production techniques, by skilful improvisation in planning and through the greater independence and initiative allowed plant managers and engineers. As a result of the improvements in production, the Red Army faced the German enemy in 1943 on more equal terms than at any time since 1941. The modernization of Soviet fighting power was an essential element in the equation. The gap in organization and technology between the two sides was narrowed to the point where the Red Army was prepared to confront German forces during the summer campaigning season in the sort of pitched battle of manoeuvre and firepower at which German commanders had hitherto excelled.

Soviet reaction to Allied aid during the war was mixed. While sending out extravagant shopping lists to the Western powers, the Soviet authorities complained constantly about delays in supply and the quality of some of the weaponry they were sent. Offers by British and American engineers and officers to follow up the deliveries with advice on how to use and repair the equipment were met with a stony refusal. It was true that aid deliveries were slow to materialize in the fifteen months after the promise was made in August of 1941, due partly to the difficulties in establishing effective supply lines, partly to the demands of America’s own rearmament. But neither Roosevelt nor Churchill were in any doubt that aid for the Soviet Union was vital to the anti-Axis coalition; they bore Soviet complaints without a serious rupture. When the first aid programme was finally settled in October 1941, Maxim Litvinov, by then the ambassador to Washington, leaped to his feet and shouted out, ‘Now we shall win the war!’ Yet after 1945 Lend-Lease was treated in the official Soviet histories of the war as a minor factor in the revival of Soviet fortunes. The story of Lend-Lease became a victim of the Cold War. Even in the late 1980s it was still a subject of which the regime would not permit open discussion. The significance of Western supplies for the Soviet war effort was admitted by Khrushchev in the taped interviews used for his memoirs, but the following passage was published only in the 1990s: ‘Several times I heard Stalin acknowledge [Lend-Lease] within the small circle of people around him. He said that… if we had had to deal with Germany one-to-one we would not have been able to cope because we lost so much of our industry.’ Marshal Zhukov, in a bugged conversation in 1963 whose contents were released only thirty years later, endorsed the view that without aid the Soviet Union ‘could not have continued the war’. All this was a far cry from the official history of the Great Patriotic War, which concluded that Lend-Lease was ‘in no way meaningful’ and had ‘no decisive influence’ on the outcome of the war.

The Soviet Union would not have been able to “fight their fight without allied support.”  However, the contribution of U. S. production and Lend-Lease to the Soviet effort has often been exaggerated.

“Left to their own devices,” as one contemporary source puts it, “Stalin and his commanders might have taken 12 to 18 months longer to finish off the Wehrmacht.” (David M. Glantz & Jonathan House, ‘When Titans Clashed’, 1995, p. 285)

Glantz and House noted (pp. 150-151, 285) the Soviet economy would have been more heavily burdened without Lend-Lease trucks, the implements of war, and raw materials including clothing.  Ultimately, the authors conclude, the result would have been the same, “except that Soviet soldiers could have waded at France’s Atlantic beaches.”

The authors point out, Lend-Lease equipment did not arrive in sufficient quantities in 1941-42 to make a difference.  “That achievement must be attributed solely to the Soviet people and to the nerve of Stalin” and others.  Lend-Lease trucks enabled the Soviets to keep their mobile forces moving, especially after March 1943.  But combat vehicles and aircraft proved less satisfactory.  The Valentine and Matilda tank turrets could not be upgunned.  And the Soviets wanted close air support ground aircraft and low altitude fighters, not fighter interceptors and long-range bombers.

According to Glantz and House (p. 340 n1), from October1941 to May 1942 the Allies delivered 4700 aircraft and 2600 armored vehicles.  In 1941 and 1942, the Soviets produced 8200 and 21,700 combat aircraft respectively, as well as 4700 and 24,500 tanks.  The Soviets lost 17,900 aircraft in 1941 and 12,100 aircraft in 1942 while tank losses were 20,500 and 15,100 for those years. (p. 306).

By mid to late 1942 the 1500 factories moved east of the Urals between July and November 1941 were beginning to meet much of the Soviet Union’s needs. Standardization of equipment and increased use of labor, especially women and teenagers, allowed tank production for example to rise 38% over 1941. Industrial production in the Urals increased 180% in 1942 over 1940, 140% in Western Siberia, 200% in the Volga region, 36% in Eastern Siberia and 19% in Central Asia and Kazakstan. (Source: Colonel G. S. Kravchenko, specialist in military economics, History of the Second World War, 1973, pp. 975-980).

Kravchenko points out that the smallest amounts of deliveries came at the beginning, the hardest period of war while the second front had not yet been opened. Lend-Lease, while important in providing locomotives, rail wagons, jeeps, trucks, raw materials such as aluminum, machine tools, food and medical supplies, only accounted for 10% of tanks and 12% of aircraft. Soviet soldiers appreciated the 15 million pair of boots the U.S. provided.

According to Alexander Werth (Russia at War: 1941-1945) Lend-Lease contributed to the Soviet army’s diet and to its mobility.   Between June 1941 and April 1944, Werth states (p. 567), the US delivered 6430 planes, 3734 tanks and 210,000 automobiles; the British 5800 planes and 4292 tanks; the Canadians 1188 tanks and 842 armored cars.  Given the Soviet attrition rate, (June 1941 to June 1943 – 23,000 planes and 30,000 tanks – Werth – FN p. 610), Allied contributions hardly covered Soviet losses.

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