Document created: 24 August 04
Air University Review, September-October 1970

Lend-Lease and Soviet-American Relations

Lieutenant Colonel Thomas A. Julian

The German attack on the Soviet Union in June 1941 undoubtedly created something akin to a collective sigh of relief among top officials of the United States War Department. Here was at least temporary respite from the fear that the British, who had so gallantly survived the nadir of their military fortunes in 1940, would succumb to German invasion in 1941, leaving the United States to face the awesome military power of the Nazis alone. Here, in short, was time—time to help strengthen the United Kingdom’s defenses through all-out lend-lease aid, time to bring the American armed forces at least closer to the state of readiness that would be necessary to fight the global war envisioned in both the American-British staff conversations of early 1941 and the basic American War Plan, RAINBOW 5.

Since March 1941 the Administration’s increasingly open commitment to support the British in their struggle against the European fascist powers (and whatever hopes it still had for avoiding direct American military involvement) had been embodied in lend-lease. Created initially to prevent British financial exhaustion brought on by massive orders for American arms, lend-lease was also the obvious means whereby similar purchases by the U.S.S.R. could be financed once its inadequate foreign exchange reserves ran outan almost immediate situation. However, President Roosevelt, with his customary instinct for what was possible in domestic polities, moved only slowly toward extending lend-lease to the Soviet Union because of the strident opposition of isolationists, supported widely by American religious groups hostile to aiding the “godless” Soviet government in any fashion.

The President’s maneuvering both to probe and shape American opinion to favor or at least accept this move, and the interim patchwork of financial expedients he used (the secret purchase of Soviet gold being one), have been described brilliantly by Raymond H. Dawson.1 Now, Robert Huhn Jones, Associate Professor of History at Case Western Reserve University, has written a narrative account of lend-lease to the U.S.S.R.,* beginning with its foreshadowing in FDR’s initial decision to aid Stalin in June 1941 and running through the end of the flow of materiel to the Soviet Union in late September 1945. For the bulk of his narrative, Jones draws together much information already familiar from published sources2 as well as a small amount of new material, chiefly from the Franklin D. Roosevelt and Truman Libraries.

Insofar as Jones introduces a theme, he does so in his first chapter, in which he discusses the origins of lend-lease, citing President Roosevelt’s comparison of materiel aid as analogous to a garden hose loaned to a neighbor to put out a fire; both altruistic and selfish motives come to mind, but no thought is given to remuneration. Jones sees FDR’s acceptance of the “garden hose” idea and rejection of “the dollar sign” relative to lend-lease as fundamental to an understanding of how Roosevelt was to have lend-lease administered throughout the war.

Jones describes the initial uncertainties in Washington following the German attack on the Soviet Union in June 1941 and the roles played by Joseph Davies and Harry Hopkins in extending the lend-lease program to the U.S.S.R. At the subsequent Moscow conference of October 1941 the Anglo-American representatives (including Lord Beaverbrook and two future U.S. ambassadors to the Soviet Union, Admiral William Standley and W. Averell Harriman) signed an agreement with the Soviet authorities specifying the materiel to be transferred, thus translating FDR’s and Churchill’s desires into a formal program.

As Jones relates, the signature of this first Soviet Supply Protocol was but the beginning of an immense effort to fulfill its terms and those of successive Protocols. For there were often conflicting demands of other Allies as well as of our own Army and Navy, attacks by Nazi submarines and aircraft on vessels carrying supplies to transshipment points or Soviet ports, and immense distances and other geographic adversities.

An organization to administer aid to the Soviet Union had to be created. Soviet requirements had to be adjusted to American production schedules. Ultimately, the Persian Gulf Command, under Major General Donald H. Connolly, had to be established to provide the technical skill and services necessary to move a major portion of the military supplies through Iran. American management techniques helped cut unloading time at Persian Gulf ports during 1943 from 50 days to 18. Anglo-American successes in the Battle of the Atlantic, the opening of an aircraft ferry route from Alaska across Siberia (the ALSIB route), and improvements in cargo handling throughout the lend-lease system facilitated delivery to the U.S.S.R. between 22 June 1941 and 20 September 1945 of shipments worth approximately $10,200,000,000, including some 14,000 aircraft.

Jones describes these developments in his first nine chapters and introduces a number of interesting points: the Protocols did not confer responsibility for delivery upon the United States; although the Soviets constantly pressed for more shipments over the sea lanes to Murmansk and Archangel, they provided no effective air cover for the convoys; and as late as January 1943, twenty-five percent of Americans polled did not know what lend-lease was!

Additionally, in the most original and interesting part of the book, Professor Jones assesses the impact of lend-lease aid upon the Soviet war effort and indicates changing Soviet and American attitudes toward lend-lease from its inception almost to the present. In these final chapters, he draws upon the monumental six-volume Soviet history of the war, still little known except to specialists since not readily available in English translation.3 Jones concludes, predictably, that lend-lease shipments helped stem the German tide and boost the morale of Soviet fighting men. Like General John R. Deane, Chief of the U.S. Military Mission to the U.S.S.R., 1943-45, he stresses the contribution to Soviet military mobility of the tremendous number of trucks, jeeps, motorcycles, and other lend-lease vehicles and points to the important role that shipments of food, specialized metals, and petroleum products played in meeting Soviet deficiencies.

Jones’s discussion of Soviet attitudes toward lend-lease is a traditional one, emphasizing the fluctuating Soviet attitude and amount of publicity given to American aid and the almost complete denial of its importance in the postwar era, including its treatment in the official Soviet history.

Except for these chapters, Jones makes little attempt at analysis, stating his intent was to provide an outline of a complex subject that could not be treated definitively. He uses a terse, journalistic prose that makes his book eminently readable. Regrettably, however, a close reading reveals some deficiencies that limit its usefulness for the student and even the general reader. Notably, the book contains occasional distortions* which reveal Jones’s lack of mastery of the sources he does use (as well as his ignoring of others) and a curious naïveté.

*The reader whose curiosity is piqued by the picture of the usually dour Molotov “smiling under his mustache” as he leaves the White House on 1 June 1942 (p.114) will search in vain for such a description in Sherwood’s book, cited as the source.

In writing about a group of complexly related topics, one runs the risk of exaggerating the importance of one individual aspect, distorting its true significance. Jones compounds this problem in at least one instance by careless use of one of his sources, without noting the conflicting and more accurate account of the event in another source listed in his bibliography. Specifically, Jones explains the proposal (code-named VELVET) to place an Anglo-American air force in the Caucasus in late 1942 in the following terms:

Stalin emphasized [during early October in offering to curtail some war materiel orders] that everything except aircraft already made up a part of the Second Protocol. Army planners resisted sending more airplanes than scheduled, and this time Roosevelt backed them up; instead they offered Stalin an American base [sic] in the Caucasus (which Stalin turned down) and two hundred, perhaps three hundred transport planes before the end of 1943. (p.  154)

What Jones ignores, thus seriously distorting the actual situation, are the facts that: (1) the President himself first suggested the Caucasus project to General George C. Marshall in late August 1942; (2) Roosevelt thereafter aggressively pushed the project as a means of providing direct military support of Soviet resistance in the Caucasus; and (3) the War Department from the Chief of Staff on down (including General Arnold and the AAF) opposed the project but yielded to the President’s desires in the matter. The full context shows that VELVET was not a sop offered to Stalin in lieu of an increase in American aircraft allotments under lend-lease, although the Joint Chiefs of Staff, making a virtue out of necessity, apparently used its existence to help justify their refusal to allot more aircraft to the Soviet Union. In short, Jones makes lend-lease the primary factor in the situation when it was not.4

In another minor but surprising distortion, Jones cites as an example of Soviet downplaying of American aid the fact that “no Russian paper published information about Allied supply routes or convoy arrivals,” as if publication of such data were to be expected―especially illogical in a pathologically suspicious regime such as the Soviet government.

Perhaps the most salient deficiency in the book is its insufficient emphasis on the U.S. military’s relationship to the Soviet aid program. The War Department involvement in aid to the Soviet Union went back to the immediate aftermath of the German attack on the U.S.S.R. and started with a marked difference in the points of view of the Army and the President. Whereas the President was willing to take aircraft from AAF units if necessary to assist the Red Army, General Marshall in mid-July 1941 was 

unalterably opposed to the release of any U.S. pursuit planes and light and medium bombers until we have first established units of these types in the Philippines for the security of the Fleet anchorage and the defense of the islands.5

He also pointed out that insufficient aircraft for maneuvers weakened training programs unacceptably.

Marshall’s attitude was conditioned not only by his own sense of the Army’s weakness relative to its potential foes but also by the gloomy predictions of his Military Intelligence Division, suggesting that military hardware sent to the U.S.S.R. would fall into the hands of the Wehrmacht after the supposedly incipient collapse of the Soviet fighting forces. However, the President was insistent upon having a meaningful program of materiel aid implemented as quickly as possible, and his view prevailed. As Harold Stein has pointed out in analyzing wartime civil-military relations, FDR’s military advisers never disputed his basic decision to aid the U.S.S.R. nor did they question his right to do so, whatever reservations some may have had.6

The Army and Navy played secondary roles in the Soviet aid program. Harry Hopkins directed lend-lease to the U.S.S.R. through the Soviet Protocol Committee, though the program operated through career Army men like Major General James H. Burns, Major General Sidney Spalding, and Brigadier General Philip Faymonville. However, various agencies of the War Department, especially the Army Air Forces (AAF), were involved with the program on an almost day-to-day basis because they were charged with overseeing the delivery of military equipment and supplies to designated shipment points. This involvement was a constant reminder of the Soviet aid program’s role as a factor in Anglo-American military planning, and it also helped shape the War Department’s plans and attitudes toward the Soviet Union. Specifically, the urge to use lend-lease as a bargaining lever, to get something in terms of military advantage in return for military equipment sent to the Soviet Union, was always present in some Army circles, particularly the AAF. In 1943-44, this led to a little-known proposal of heavy bombers for bases that interestingly (in view of his consistent rejection of the idea of using aid for leverage) had the tacit support of the President.7

Similarly, AAF interest in the ALSIB route for the delivery of aircraft, a subject which Jones treats in some detail, was conditioned not only by AAF responsibilities for aircraft deliveries under the Soviet Protocols but also by General Arnold’s interest in using Soviet Far Eastern bases at which to base American heavy bombers. These points, important to an understanding of the course of the Soviet aid program, are essentially ignored by Jones.

For historians and other specialists, the biggest flaw in the book is that it is not based upon such exhaustive research as is claimed in the Foreword (in all fairness, not written by Jones). A number of published sources are ignored, some of which are cited in the notes for this review. More significantly, important documentary collections were not consultedand no student of the subject is likely to take Jones’s assertion seriously that “it is doubtful that records in closed categories would substantially alter the general outline or conclusions of this book.” It is not simply a matter of availability, since many pertinent War Department, especially AAF, records have been declassified or are declassifiable. Notably, one pioneering study, a doctoral dissertation based on such records and not consulted, was written almost six years before Jones’s book was published.8 Access to other records (including those of the Soviet Protocol Committee) is available with a security clearance, and material from them usable after screening. The latter process is sometimes inconvenient and usually slow, but it can no longer be ignored by anyone wishing to claim “exhaustive” research.

In spite of these caveats, the book is useful for the general reader. The Roads to Russia provides a brief, readable introduction to the origins and course of our program of wartime materiel aid to the Soviet Union. However, to gain insight into the complexities of the situation, such as the interaction of the lend-lease program with American military planning, the Presidential groping for a policy that would cement the wartime alliance with the Soviet Union as a peacetime dam against future aggression, and the State Departments more traditionally oriented attempt to reach the same goal through definition of a common interest, one should supplement Jones’s book by reading a recent article by George Herring, “Lend-Lease to Russia and the Origins of the Cold War,” in the Journal of American History.9

Hopefully, Herring or some other careful worker in the myriad collections of official papers will produce a more searching and critical study in the near future. Until then, The Roads to Russia  will help fill an important gap in the writings about Soviet-American relations during the Second World War.

*Robert Huhn Jones, The Roads to Russia: United States Lend-Lease to the Soviet Union (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1969, $6.95), 326 pp.

United States Air Force Academy

Notes

1. Raymond H. Dawson, The Decision To Aid Russia, 1941: Foreign Policy and Domestic Politics (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1959).

2. Mined heavily are Richard M. Leighton and Robert W. Coakley’s official Army history, Global Logistics and Strategy, 1940-1943 (Washington, D.C.: Office of the Chief of Military History, 1955); Robert E. Sherwood’s Roosevelt and Hopkins: An Intimate History (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1948); Admiral William H. Standley’s account of his stewardship in the U.S.S.R., Admiral Ambassador to Russia (Chicago: Henry Regnery Company,1955); William L. Langer and S. Everett Gleason’s The Undeclared War, 1940-1941 (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1953); Stephen Roskill’s The War at Sea, 1939-1945 (3 volumes in 4: London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1954-61); and Maurice Matloff and Edwin M. Snell’s official Army history, Strategic Planning for Coalition Warfare,1941-1942 (Washington, D.C.: Office of the Chief of Military History, 1953), as well as Dawson and appropriate volumes of the Department of State’s Foreign Relations series.

3. History of the Great Patriotic War of the Soviet Union (6 volumes; Moscow: Military History Publishing House of the Ministry of Defense of the U.S.S.R, 1961-65).

4. Matloff and Snell, pp. 329-36, cover the project fully, but Jones relied upon (and misused) Leighton and Coakley, pp. 584-86. Also see Roosevelt’s message to Churchill, October 5, 1942, Winston Churchill, The Hinge of Fate (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1950), p. 576.

5. Memorandum, Marshall for General H. H. Arnold, 16 July 1941 (File 145.95, folder WP-111-C-4, Russia, Bk 1, in USAF Historical Archives, Maxwell AFB, Alabama).

6. Harold Stein in “Editorial Comments” on Marvin D. Bernstein and Francis L. Loewenheim’s “Aid to Russia: The First Year,” Harold Stein, ed., American Civil-Military Decisions: A Book of Case Studies (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1963), p. 151.

7. For a full discussion of AAF interest in securing Soviet collaboration in the war, see Thomas A. Julian “Operation FRANTIC and the search for American-Soviet Military Collaboration, 1941-44” (unpublished doctoral dissertation, Syracuse University, 1968).

8. Richard C. Lukas, “Air Force Aspect, of American Aid to the Soviet Union: The Crucial Years 1941-1942” (unpublished doctoral dissertation, Florida State University, 1963).

9. Journal of American History, LVI (June 1969), 93-114.


Contributor

Lieutenant Colonel Thomas A. Julian (USNA; Ph.D., Syracuse University), a student at the National War College, was until recently Deputy Head and Associate Professor, Department of History, Air Force Academy. From 1959 to 1964 he was a member of the Academy history faculty and a student at the Air Command and Staff College, and he has served a tour with an air commando squadron at Da Nang, Vietnam. Colonel Julian was with the Far East Air Forces in Japan following pilot training (1953).

Disclaimer

The conclusions and opinions expressed in this document are those of the author cultivated in the freedom of expression, academic environment of Air University. They do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, the United States Air Force or the Air University.


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