During the early years of World War Two in Europe, both Great Britain and Russia needed a vast amount of military equipment to combat Germany and other Allied nations needed help against Japan. These countries lost a lot of equipment in the early Axis onslaught and their need for replacements far surpassed their own production capability. Luckily the industrial might of the United States of America had the solution to this problem.
The Lend-Lease program proposed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in early 1941 (following requests from British Prime Minister Winston Churchill “Give us the tools and we will finish the job“) was enacted by the United States Congress on March 11th, 1941 to provide financial and military equipment aid to her allies (formally known as An Act to Further Promote the Defense of the United States). This was 9 months before the United States entered the war and President Roosevelt stated it was a way of “helping to put out the fire in your neighbour`s house before your own house caught fire and burned down.”. Although this program initially still kept the United States out of the war, it was then neutral in pretence only and brought them closer to entering the fighting themselves.
Under the Lend-Lease program military equipment, supplies and weaponry including tanks, ships and aircraft were provided to 39 Allied countries including Great Britain, the Free French, Nationalist China, the Soviet Union and Brazil between 1941 and August 1945. The type of aid varied depending on the needs of each nation. Initially Great Britain for example needed food, land vehicles, ships and transport aircraft. The Soviet Union predominately needed fighter and attack aircraft and although they mostly made their own tanks they needed great numbers of trains and trucks to transport troops and supplies (around two-thirds of the trucks used by the Red Army at the end of the war were American made). As the war progressed and Great Britain was able to produce more of their own necessities, they also provided equipment and supplies to the Soviets for their war effort.
During World War Two the United States produced a massive amount of weaponry for theirs and the overall Allied war effort including 310,000 aircraft, 100,000 tanks and armoured vehicles, 124,000 ships of all types (with 82,000 landing craft), 7,500 locomotive engines, 41 billions bullets and 2.6 million machine guns! They spent $50.1 billion providing equipment and supplies to foreign nations during this period ($31.4 billion went to Britain, $11.3 billion to the Soviet Union, $3.2 billion to France, $1.6 billion to China, and the remaining $2.6 billion to the other Allies. That’s around $650 billion in today’s money!). The Lend-Lease program helped turn the tide of the war in favour of the Allies (the majority of expenditure was allocated to Great Britain who had been at war the longest – since September 1939).
Under the Lend-Lease program there was no expectation for full repayment or return of equipment following the formal end of World War Two in September 1945 as it was regarded as being ultimately used in the defence of the United States (the program enabled the United States to fight an enemy without over extending its own manpower and equipment). Generally a 90% discount was applied to lend-lease items that were retained. The UK paid back the final installment of their Anglo-American Loan of £1.075 in 2006 but it was not expected the USSR would make back a full repayment (following many disputes a partial payment of $722 million linked to grain shipments was finally made). Allied nations did also repay in some kind during the course of the war by providing their own equipment, the use of bases, food and logistical support to the United States ($7.8 billion in reverse Lend-Lease aid with the majority of this coming from Great Britain and other Commonwealth nations. The Soviets also made payments during the war of precious raw materials such as gold and platinum).
The vast majority of the equipment and supplies provided under the Lend-Lease Program found its way to the various allied nations by shipping convoys (especially across the treacherous Atlantic Ocean where they faced the U-Boat Wolf Packs) but there was also a unique 9600 km / 6,000 mile air bridge from the lower 48 US states to Alaska and then onto the Soviet Union that was in operation from 1942 to 1945. It was known as the Alaska-Siberia Lend Lease Airway or ALSIB. A large number of aircraft were handed over to the Soviets at Fairbanks, Alaska and then flown by their pilots across this airway to Mother Russia.
Some 8,000 aircraft made this journey on the Alaska-Siberia Lend Lease Airway, including about 5,000 Bell P-39 Airacobra and P-63 Kingcobra fighters (4,719 P-39’s were provided to the Soviet Union). This was also treacherous work as the Soviet pilots had virtually no training in the types of aircraft they were about to fly across a vast distance, through sub zero conditions and operating from primitive air fields! Losses were inevitable but given the sheer number of aircraft involved they were not as high as expected (an attest to the pilots): 74 aircraft were lost in the lower 48 of the United States, 58 more in Canada and Alaska and only 42 on the lengthy Siberian leg of the air route.
In Fairbanks, Alaska is an excellent memorial to the men and women who contributed to the Lend-Lease Program from both the United States and the Soviet Union. The Lend-Lease Memorial created by Alaskan sculptor R.T. Wallen was officially presented to the people of Alaska in 2006 and can be found in the downtown riverfront park of Fairbanks. It depicts both a US Army Air Force and Soviet pilot along with a Bell P-39 Airacobra propeller (the predominate aircraft ferried on the air route). It is also a memorial to the Women Airline Service Pilots (WASP) who participated in the Lend-Lease Program (ferrying aircraft). The aircraft and other supplies were ferried from the lower 48 US states, over Canada to Ladd Field near Fairbanks (now Fort Wainwright) where up to 600 Soviet pilots flew the aircraft on to the to the Soviet Union.
National WWII Museum (production statistics)