Pie chart of Lend-Lease allocations

U.S. Army. Via

Lend-Lease was the name of the program that began with Roosevelt's signature on House of Representatives Bill 1776 on March 11, 1941.   This new law authorized the President to transfer defense materials to any country whose defense was considered vital to the security of the United States.  The bulk of Lend-Lease aid went to Britain, but Russia also received substantial aid, and lesser amounts went to almost every other Allied power.

The debate over the bill was bitter, with isolationists claiming that the bill would draw the United States into a war that would bury every fourth American boy.  Members of Congress objected to the power it would put in the President's hand. The CIO objected to a provision allowing the government to ban strikes in the factories producing Lend-Lease goods. Roosevelt responded to these objections in one of his "fireside chats" (radio broadcasts from the White House directly to the public), likening the proposal to lending a length of garden hose to a neighbor whose house was on fire.  The bill passed by a single vote.  With this bill, the United States became the great Arsenal of Democracy, proving weapons and matériel for itself and most of its allies.

The bill authorized the President to transfer defense articles from existing stocks and from production already on order of not more than $1.3 billion. Such transfers required the approval of the Army Chief of Staff or the Chief of Naval Operations, an odd reversal of the usual chain of command. This was likely a concession to fears that Lend-Lease would impair the United States' own defense preparations. However, new production could be transferred without limit (other than the available appropriations.) Authority to enter new Lend-Lease agreements would initially expire on 30 June 1943 and such agreements could continue to be acted on until 1 July 1946. The Act was extended by one year three times, making the final deadlines 30 June 1946 for new Lend-Lease agreements and 1 July 1949 for carrying out existing agreements.

The first appropriation for Lend-Lease was $7 billion, passed on March 1941, which was followed by another $5.985 billion in October. These early appropriations made a significant contribution to early conversion of American industry to war production. An informal rule was adopted that 80% of production of a particular defense article would go to U.S. stocks and 20% to Lend-Lease until minimal requirements for national defense were met, and then the formula could be reversed, with 20% going to U.S. stocks and 80% to Lend-Lease.

By December 1945, total Lend-Lease outlays amounted to over $48 billion, equivalent to about $604 billion in 2012 dollars. Of this, about $8.2 billion was for aircraft and parts, $3.9 billion for tanks and other combat vehicles, $2.5 billion for trucks and other soft-skinned vehicles, $3 billion for weapons, and $1.5 billion for ammunition. $31.6 billion went to the British Commonwealth, $11 billion to Russia, $3.23 billion to France, and $1.6 billion to China.

An important feature of the bill was that defense materials were transferred without any obligation of debt on the recipient nations.  This defused the issue of war debts before it could even be raised.  However, there was a modest amount of "reverse Lend-Lease" in certain theaters.  In the Pacific theater, Australia provided significant supplies and facilities to United States forces.  This was not always appreciated, as when the Yanks grew to loathe mutton, but for the most part the assistance was very welcome.  Australian reverse Lend-Lease included 420,000 pairs of pants, over a million knitted shirts, 270,000 battle jackets, 11 million pairs of socks, 1.5 million blankets, and 1.8 million pairs of boots and shoes, along with 95% of rations consumed in the Southwest Pacific. Reverse Lend-Lease did not, however, come close to repaying the cost of direct Lend-Lease, amounting to just 1/6th the value of direct Lend-Lease.

Churchill said, "The Lend-Lease Bill must be regarded without question as the most unsordid act in the whole of recorded history."  This was a bit generous.  The original intent of Lend-Lease, as understood by Congress and the public, was to avoid shedding the blood of American soldiers by enabling others to fight more effectively.  But Lend-Lease continued after the United States was forced into the war, and continued to be provided free of any obligation of indebtedness.  Perhaps Churchill was right after all.

Lend-Lease in the Pacific

Roosevelt extended Lend-Lease to China on 6 May 1941, and thereafter China received considerable Lend-Lease assistance ($846 million), though this was dwarfed by that given to Commonwealth nations and Russia. Of this, some $820 million was in the form of outright grants. This was in addition to $643 million in credits outside the Lend-Lease program from 1938 onwards.

A total of 110,864 tons of Lend-Lease supplies were shipped to China by April 1942. Some 69% of this took the form of various kinds of motor vehicles and another 17% was road building materials and equipment, reflecting the high priority put on improving communications to China. However, following the attack on Pearl Harbor, Japan invaded Burma and closed the Burma Road, leaving China with no access to the outside world except by hideously expensive air transport. Because there was no way for China to bring in purchased goods from abroad and there was little for the Chinese government to purchase in China, cash grants and loans simply exacerbated the wartime inflation, and much of the finances disappeared into corrupt channels. Allied efforts to supply China over "The Hump" were costly and largely ineffective, delivering just 351 machine guns, 96 mountain cannon, 618 antitank rifles, 28 antitank guns, and 50 million rounds of rifle ammunition between May 1942 and September 1944 (Taylor 2009). The campaign to reopen the Burma Road from Ledo was successful too late to make much difference.

Aid to China also suffered from unrealistic demands from the Chinese. For example, at one point T.V. Soong, the Chinese Foreign Minister, submitted a detailed table of requirements that was based on 4-ton trucks, which were neither being manufactured in great numbers nor suitable for the Chinese road network. This reflected a pattern of demanding the largest, most modern equipment regardless of its availability or suitability for service in China. Soong later demanded that a shipment of Enfield bolt-action rifles be replaced with Garand semiautomatic rifles, saying that delivery of the Enfields would "damage his reputation." Not only was the U.S. Army itself short of Garands at the time, but the Army felt that the lower ammunition consumption of the Enfield was more realistic given the tenuous communications with China. Even less realistic was Soong's request of 8 November 1941 that a third of the Pacific Fleet's carrier dive bombers be ferried to China to equip the American Volunteer Group.

Notwithstanding the difficulties, early Lend-Lease shipments to China had considerable priority. The Tulsa departed for Burma on 22 October 1941 carrying, among other things, 48 modern 75mm pack howitzers at a time when the U.S. forces in the Philippines were still equipped with obsolete 2.95" howitzers. However, zeal sometimes overcame good sense, as when lead was included in shipments to Burma, one of the greatest natural sources of the metal.

Tulsa later became the center of a serious diplomatic dispute, when the British in Burma impounded her cargo pending a decision on whether the weapons could be transferred to the hard-pressed defenders of Burma. China already held title to the cargo and the Chinese government professed outrage at the seizure of their goods. The incident was eventually smoothed over and the weapons transferred to the British, but Lend-Lease procedures were changed such that title to Lend-Lease supplies remained with the U.S. government until actual delivery in the destination countries.

Soong's table of requirements seemed to envision arming thirty divisions, and this was confirmed on 17 November 1941 when the head of the Chinese ordnance department told the American military mission in Chungking that the Chinese planned on creating thirty kung teng chui (gong deng zhui, "assault on fortified position") divisions with a strength of about 10,000 men each and organized into ten armies to defend strategic positions. The Chinese planned to supply the divisions with rifles from their own arsenals, but metal and powder for ammunition were almost nonexistent.

However, given the difficulty of equipping and supplying ground formations, Lend-Lease to China tended to emphasized air power. The American Volunteer Group was equipped with 100 P-40Bs diverted from British Lend-Lease in return for a promise of more modern fighters, and the Roosevelt Administration scraped together a hodgepodge of additional aircraft not wanted elsewhere: 144 P-66s, 125 P-43s, and 66 Hudsons and Douglas Bombers. More modern aircraft were supplied only when requirements elsewhere had been filled.

The loss of the Burma Road left some 149,000 tons of Lend-Lease supplies in the United States and another 45,000 tons in India with no realistic hope of delivery. However, the Chinese vigorously protested both the repossession of these supplies for other uses and the reduction in future allocations of Lend-Lease to China. The tremendous efforts to transport supplies to China via the Himalayas airlift must be understood in this light.

The Pacific and Indian Ocean Lend-Lease Routes to Russia

Lend-Lease aid to Russia was dismissed by Soviet historians of the Cold War era as insignificant, amounting to only 4% of the Soviet Union's own production. However, with the fall of Communism, Russian historians had greater access to historical archives and greater freedom to reach their own conclusions. Claims regarding Soviet production had been badly exaggerated, and a reevaluation shows that Lend-Lease amounted to a full 30% of the Soviet Union's own production. Most of this was raw materials, foodstuffs, POL, and machinery rather than arms (which constituted just 10% of the aid.) Lend-Lease supplied 57% of Russia's gasoline, 90% of Russia's rail stock, and enough food for an army of twelve million men for the duration of the war. Most of the trucks supplying the T-34 tanks and PPs-toting infantry that spearheaded Russia's counteroffensive against Germany were made in Detroit. Russian soldiers allegedly joked, as they opened cans of Spam, "Well boys, here is the opening of the Second Front" (quoted by Collingham 2011), but Spam was a vast improvement on the dried fish that was supplying most of the Russian infantryman's protein, and it was very welcome. Lend-Lease food may have provided as much as 30% of civilian calories.

It seems likely that Lend-Lease gave the Russians the margin for survival. Nevertheless, the Russians so harassed Lend-Lease administrators and were so secretive about their resources that the American ambassador to Russia, Admiral William Standley, cabled Washington that (Smith 1985):

I am becoming convinced that we can only deal with [the Russians] on a bargaining basis, for our continuing to accede freely to their requests while agreeing to pay an additional price for every small request we make seems to arouse suspicion of our motives in the Oriental Russian mind rather than to build confidence.

Lend-Lease reached Russia through four routes, two of which were within the scope of the Pacific War. The Persian route ran through the western Indian Ocean and through Iran (Persia) into south Russia. It would have been susceptible to attack had the Japanese seized Madagascar or even Colombo, and did suffer some losses from far-ranging German and Japanese submarines.

The North Pacific route accounted for twice as much Lend-Lease tonnage as any other route. It consisted of two parts. The sea route extended from U.S. West Coast ports, such as Seattle, through Alaskan ports to Vladivostok. Ships on the western part of this route were under Soviet flag and were treated as neutral vessels by Japan, which was anxious not to disturb its non-aggression pact with Russia. The air bridge extended from Great Falls through Edmonton, Whitehorse, Galena, and Nome to Uel'en, Markovo, Iakutsk, Kiernsk, and Krasnoiarsk to Novosibirsk. Over 8000 aircraft flew this route during the latter part of the war. Aircraft were picked up at Nome by Russian pilots, were marked with Soviet colors, and were left unmolested by the Japanese on their flight to Siberia.

The Japanese refusal to interfere with Lend-Lease shipments through the north Pacific deeply upset the Germans, but likely reflected an informal quid pro quo with the Russians: Japan would not interfere with Lend-Lease, and Russia would not allow the western Allies to base strategic bombers in the Soviet Far East. Stalin would not permit the air bridge to go into operation until April 1942, perhaps fearing that this would be interpreted as a move towards basing American aircraft in Russia.

Project Hula was the transfer of small ships and landing craft to Russia from April to December 1945. About 250 ships and boats were transferred with the intent of giving the Russians the capability to conduct amphibious operations against Japan. Russian sailors manned the ships at Cold Bay and received some training before taking them to Vladivostok. The project had unintended consequences in that the Russians proceeded with the invasion of the Kuriles even after the Japanese accepted the Potsdam Declaration.


Collingham (2011)

Fleming (2001)

Hsiung and Levine (1992)

Huston (1966)

Lundstrom (2006)

Peattie et al. (2011)

Romanus and Sunderland (1953)

Taylor 2009

Weeks (2004)

Weinberg (1994)

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