Lend Lease

John T Kuehn's picture

Lend Lease --  More Important than Air Power?

A necessary but not sufficient factor in victory in World War II.


John T. Kuehn

The program known to history as Lend-Lease represents one of the most underappreciated aspects of World War II, especially by your mark one mod zero World War II history buff.  This latter category of human is more interested in the muzzle velocity of the Ferdinand jagdpanzer than they are in Lend Lease, for example.

                Full disclosure, I used to be that way, too, but then I grew up.

Back to Lend Lease.  The short story of Lend Lease is that it was a program to provide war material and aid to the British in their war against Nazi Germany without specifically violating the US Neutrality Act, which restricted the US in its ability to sell arms and munitions to the co-belligerents. It eventually became legislation in March 1941, after the US had already provided the famous destroyers for bases to Britain in September 1940.  This might be regarded as the first installment of Lend Lease. Lend lease used the semantic of US defense as the way to justify these arms sells,  they would protect the US, not be used to prosecute wars of aggression.

At first Lend Lease (LL) applied to Britain, but because of Japanese stupidity in not declaring war in China after 1937,  arms could be sold to China and the LL franchise extended to China.

Finally, in a sweeping turnaround of US policy vis-à-vis Soviet Russia,  FDR expanded LL to include the USSR in 1941 after the German invasion.  Thus the arsenal of democracy was already at the disposal of the powers fighting the Axis before, well before, the decision by the Japanese to bomb Pearl Harbor was made.

Although Lend-Lease did not win the war of its own accord (sufficient), it was one of the most significant factors necessary for the Allies’ eventual victory.

As for the second part of the argument, perhaps in the comments we might see more pro or con about it being more important than air power…although much of what LL provided were aircraft, parts, and fuel.  But as an initial entry, we might say air power could not get off the ground in sufficient force to contribute to victory in China, the UK and USSR without LL.

So two questions here, really. 

Why have historians, and more broadly the public, seemed immune to the significance of LL?

And was LL more critical to victory than air power, however efficacious (or lacking in efficacy) it might have been?

John T. Kuehn

Fort Leavenworth, Kansas


Keywords: Keywords: Lend Lease, World War II

You pose another interesting question. Part of the answer lies in your statement, "Full disclosure, I used to be that way, too, but then I grew up." I fear that many of those who read military history reflect your earlier interests rather than your more sophisticated interests concerning war making as opposed to "drum and trumpet" history. There are not many popular histories of logistics and most campaign narratives do not consider logistics in a meaningful way. Industrial and agricultural resource mobilization and allocation of resources do not strike the fancy of the average reader.
The debate over Lend-Lease and the Destroyers for Bases deal exposed the fissures in American politics over engagement with the wider world. The country was bitterly divided over entering the war against Germany. This was played out in the debate over these two deals as well as creating peacetime conscription and preparing for war with a large army - there was not a similar level of debate over the various naval construction bills passed between 1936 and 1940.
As for the lack of interest among historians, I seem to remember, from the long ago days when I was a grad student studying for my PHD exams (one of my fields was diplomatic history), reading several books and articles about Lend-Lease, which were approached from the angle of Anglo-American relations and US-Soviet relations. I think that part of the reason for the dearth of studies has to do with academic historical fashions - "national," "diplomatic," "military" history is out of fashion while all manner of social history is "in."
As for the general public's lack of interest, it could be a reflection of indifference to examining the past in a way that avoids myth or general indifference to the past. The Second World War is so encrusted with popular myth that it almost impossible to deal with it as history. For the general public, it is still a "good war" and the myth of national unity is ingrained in the popular memory. The reality was, of course, much messier. We are partially at fault - as professional historians we have not ventured into the public square to hawk our wares and to explain and demonstrate how all forms of history are inter-related.

I hope I have not fallen on this grenade. I find your provocations instructive - you must be a gifted instructor.


As for your comment: "..... fear that many of those who read military history reflect your earlier interests rather than your more sophisticated interests concerning war making as opposed to "drum and trumpet" history. There are not many popular histories of logistics and most campaign narratives do not consider logistics in a meaningful way. Industrial and agricultural resource mobilization and allocation of resources do not strike the fancy of the average reader."

Even among professional military officers, there is very little interest in these areas (I'm a retired USAF Lt Colonel speaking from experience). I recall as a student at Defense Systems Management College in the 1980's, taking a 20 week course on how to manage defense acquisition programs, the word "history" wasn't even mentioned once (one of the reasons, I believe, military procurement is a perpetual mess). Popular works on military logistics? I can think of only one. A good survey of US military R&D and procurement? I can't find even one.

Think the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program is a mess? I suggest you review US aircraft production in WW I.

The supreme irony, of course, is that American industrial capability has been the secret sauce to the wars we have won.

Looking at these hand grenade questions:

>>Why have historians, and more broadly the public, seemed immune to the significance of LL?
>>And was LL more critical to victory than air power, however efficacious (or lacking in efficacy) it might have been?

The issue with the public's knowledge of Lend Lease's importance in WW2 founders on the rocks of whether the general public knows anything about history at all, which gets to the failure of the public education system to teach anything.

As for military historians and Lend Lease...academic military historians are not professionally economically trained, with a very few exceptions. So the idea of macroeconomic specialization of labor -- and how US Lend Lease promoted the British and Soviet economies to focus on weapons production to the exclusion of more basic industries -- simply doesn't occur to them.

There have been a few history books that have dealt with Lend Lease. The best I've found is Walter S. Dunn's 1995 book "The Soviet Economy and the Red Army 1930-1945" with a complete and statistically detailed chapter on Lend Lease and has integrated Lend Lease contributions into other chapters as required.

Corrnell Barnett's deeply flawed 1986 book "The Audit of War - The Illusion & Realities of Britain as a Great Power" has a lot of information on how Lend Lease made British heavy bomber and radar production possible in terms of tooling, aluminium and vacuum tubes -- "Valve" in British English. Enough to make it worth skim reading over Barnett's repeated and extended diatribes on British "Practical Man" industrial practices.

Stephan Broadberry and Peter Howlett's "The United Kingdom: "Victory at All Cost" chapter in the 1998 "The Economies of World War II - Six Great Powers in International Competition," edited by Mark Harrison, uses some of Barnett's observations with some of their own about the role of Lend Lease as a political tool by the USA to diminish the UK as a post-war economic competitor to the USA.

As to the second grenade question, the issue of Lend Lease's relative importance compared to Airpower, is flawed in that it is a "two sides of the same coin" issue.

American Lend Lease was incredibly important in giving the UK and the Soviets the airpower they produced in that basic industrial inputs like aluminium, machine tooling, vacuum tubes and 100 to 150 octane aviation gasoline were key to the planes they built and their performance in combat.

For example, the RAF Bomber Command's "Light Night Striking Force" was absolutely a creature of Lend Lease's economic specialization and would have had only a fraction of it's eventual size and effectiveness without Lend Lease.

See these links:

Pathfinder (RAF) - Wikipedia

Pathfinder Methods | Pathfinder Craig

And this passage from the Wikipedia link:

"Light Night Striking Force[edit]

The Light Night Striking Force (LNSF) was an outgrowth of the Pathfinder Force use of the fast and long-ranged Mosquito bomber, which could carry a sizeable bombload. Under 8 Group, the number of Mosquito squadrons was built up. These were used for harassing raids on Germany. To the two (Oboe-equipped) Mosquito squadrons already in Pathfinder Force, a third (No. 139) was added in June 1943, which Bennett intended to use for diversionary raids to draw the German nightfighters away from the main force.[18] In February 1944 an entirely Mosquito raid was mounted against Düsseldorf. It was formed of the usual marker aircraft from 105 Squadron and 692 Squadron Mosquitos, each carrying a single 4,000 lb "cookie",[note 1] and backup aircraft with 500 lb delayed action bombs.[19] With Harris' support, Bennett formed more Mosquito squadrons to expand the LNSF, giving him nine bomber squadrons, as well as the Oboe-equipped markers and 8 Group's own meteorological Mosquitos. The LNSF achieved 27,239 sorties, their best month being March 1945 with nearly 3,000 sorties. This was achieved with the loss of just under 200 aircraft on operations or "damaged beyond repair".[20]

Over the course of its history the Pathfinder Force flew a total of 50,490 sorties against some 3,440 targets. At least 3,727 members were killed on operations.[21]"

The wooden air frame and Merlin engines of the Mosquito's, UK created OBOE radio navigation and the RAF's superior pilots from the Empire Air Training Program were absolutely supported by the aluminium, machine tools, vacuum tubes, and the British Branch MIT Radiation laboratory updates of OBOE from meter band to microwave band frequencies in WW2.

The expansion of the RAF LNSF from two to nine squadrons in 1944 would have been economically impossible for the UK without Lend Lease.

There really needs to be a good macroeconomic examination of how Lend Lease promoted specialization related to Allied weapons production, but it will have to be done by by an Professional Economist and not a Military Historian.

Trent Telenko
Quality Staff Specialist
Defense Contract Management Agency

"The issue with the public's knowledge of Lend Lease's importance in WW2 founders on the rocks of whether the general public knows anything about history at all,"
This piece of shrapnel --from Mr. Telenko--at first caused me to laugh (LOL) and then to stop abruptly...

Trying to parse out whether lend lease vs airpower (or seapower, or whatever) had a greater contribution to Allied victory in WW2 would be effectively impossible. Good luck with that! Though I suppose you rolled that hand grenade across the table to get a dialog going.

As to why Lend Lease hasn't gotten the credit it deserves, the simplest (yet multi-faceted) answer is human nature.

- The nations that received Lend Lease aid do not have much incentive to emphasize how much the victories purchased by their citizens with blood were also purchased through foreign sourced materials. Sure, Dodge trucks, good boots, and P-39s/P-63s (don't laugh, the Red Air Force fought mainly at low levels where those aircraft could give a much better fight) helped (for example) the Soviet Union to stave off the Nazi hordes. But the quote from a fictional Soviet Officer in "War and Remembrance")--"Russian body"--points to the terrible human costs they also paid. Even if intellectually they realize Lend Lease's importance, every instinct of group self-respect, political popularity etc will push leaders and citizens alike of recipient nations towards downplaying the impact of Lend Lease.

- As for the USA, we do like touting our status as the WW2 "Arsenal of Democracy" (the Arsenal of Communism, less touted). But what makes a better war story--Bastogne, Midway, D-Day, the "Mighty Eighth"...or a list of toys we sent for other nations to fight with? While the Brits look back fondly on their role as paymasters for the various anti-Napoleon coalitions (to the annoyance of Napoleon, the "nation of shopkeepers" could produce funds), the Brits talk a lot more about Wellington's Spanish campaigns, the Wooden Walls of the Royal Navy and the "near run thing" at Waterloo than they do about their nation's ability to write and cash checks funding their coalition partners.

One can think of this human effect as similarly driving the old saying "amateurs study tactics, professionals study logistics." But as Carl tells us, war is an act of emotion as well as reason. I've seen some statistics that allude to the impact of Lend Lease (like pointing out how American trucks were a huge part of Soviet mobility, as opposed to Allied tanks provided through Lend-Lease vs Soviet tank production). But I'm not aware of a systemic study of Lend Lease that explored not only the numbers involved (including losses along the way, whether from Persian bandits or lost ship on the Murmansk run) but going past how nations that received Lend Lease applied the material to speculate on the specific impacts of Lend-Lease material on an operational/strategic basis.

Maybe not focused on the exact question but some more general and other comments on the Lend Lease program.
I did a tour in Alaska and "bumped in to" the subject a couple of times. FYI the transfer site for aircraft going to Russia was at Eielson AFB (probably Army Airfield at the time). The Russians had a contingent there where they actually put Russian markings on the planes and their pilots then ferried them westward. For whatever reason - maybe just wartime SOP they apparently armed them up for combat too (bullets for the guns). It is still a long way to the Bering Straits and a number crashed in western Alaska. Over the years these crashes - planes in Alaska with Russian markings, armed machineguns and skeletons in the cockpits have been found. Apparently Russia has never had an interest in the remains... Some of the bunkers/buildings the Russians used are still around with their signs/markings (in Russian). A second item I think I got in a newspaper supplement up there was labeled as part of "Major Jordan's diaries." He was a US officer involved in the program and if I could find it (just looked and could not locate it) it had a detailed listing of all the supplies we gave Russia under this program during the war. People think in terms of planes and vehicles but we gave a lot of raw materials and supplies too. Part of the "Major Jordan" story was I think a whole conspiracy theory thing about how this program actually supported the Russian nuclear program and eventually led to their development of the bomb... Basically making I sound like they asked for a lot of stuff and because of the times we gave them a lot without second-guessing why they were asking... I don't really know further details - there is some stuff on the internet on this. All FYI.
Greg Banner
LTC, USA (ret.)
(stationed in Alaska 1984-1985)

Mr. Taint,

Regards this passage:

I recall as a student at Defense Systems Management College in the 1980's, taking a 20 week course on how to manage defense acquisition programs, the word "history" wasn't even mentioned once (one of the reasons, I believe, military procurement is a perpetual mess). Popular works on military logistics? I can think of only one. A good survey of US military R&D and procurement? I can't find even one.

If DSMC wasn't using the US Army WW2 Green book history "Buying aircraft: Material Procurement for the Army Air Forces" in your course they weren't trying.

Off the top of my head the following books meet your "A good survey of US military R&D and procurement?" standard.

1, Crystal Clear: The Struggle for Reliable Communications Technology in World War II by Richard J. Thompson Jr.
The story of quartz crystal radio R&D and Procurement in WW2.

2. When Computers Went to Sea: The Digitization of the United States Navy by David L. Boslaugh
The story of the introduction and use of the NTDS data link system in the US Navy.

3. P-51: Development of the Long Range Escort Fighter by Paul A. Ludwig,
This is a real jewel of a book in that it looks like an over sized table top book with lots of photos -- because it is -- but it is really the best program history of the P-51 in relation to the development of long range escort fighters in WW2. A lot of the photo space is used to reproduce key documents in the P-51's development history and Ludwig along the way interviewed "Col "Herb" Zemke about the 8th Air Force's internal politics in the Combined Bomber Offensive. What the VIIIth Fighter Command fighters were actually doing in the Fall of 1943 (hunting German fighters) versus what they were ordered to do by the Bomber Generals (Stick close to the bomber stream) amounted to mutiny at 30,000 feet.

It's nice to see I've gotten Prof. Kuehn to think a little about his hand grenade.

Let us see if i can do it again by posing a question related to his second hand grenade question and answering it, namely:

"Would there have been a Merlin powered P-51 Mustang WITHOUT Lend Lease?

To start with, the technology development tree for the combat evolution of the original Lend Lease P-51A to the Merlin powered P-51B long range escort fighter required the incorporation of the following --

1. The two-stage mechanical super-charged Merlin engine,
2. A new 4-blade "Big Paddle" propeller,
3. A new under fuselage air intake for #1,
4. The 85-gallon internal fuel tank,
5. The acceptance of auxiliary fuel tanks and an engineering program to make them usable at high altitude,
6. A major engineering program for the high altitude Merlin engine in combat (See Rolls Royce testing below)

A lot of the developmental success of the P-51 rested on the corporate cultures of North American Aviation, Rolls Royce, and Packard on the Lend Lease side compared to Allison and Lockheed on the non-Lend Lease side for the P-38, the only other real competitor for long range escort fighter in USAAF flag rank circles in 1943.

As a friend of mine put in on my "P-51 Narrative Deconstruction" Chicagoboyz post -- "North American Aviation and Rolls-Royce had PASSION about their products. Allison was dominated by GM’s bean-counter mentality and Lockheed’s corporate culture was adequate but not passionate."

Some of this requires understanding the background to both the engineering and pre-war US politics involved.

The USAAF owned the tech data rights to the Allison engine. The pre-war politics of the FDR Administration in their "Merchants of Death" investigations of US Aviation companies in the Mid-to-Late 1930's left corporate America unwilling to commit to any government program without money up front.

The use of "Government owned contractor operated" factories and "Cost plus-fixed Fee" contracts were how the government "bought out" that corporate distrust in 1940-1942.

This gave the Allison engine development "...a case of the slows" in 1940-1942 compared to Rolls Royce who had been at war since 1939. The Allison engine was used in the P-38, P-39, P-40, and P-63 fighters. It was "tuned," design wise, for efficient mass production with a single mechanical supercharger stage to be used with a 2nd stage turbosupercharger.

Fitting it with a 2nd mechanical supercharger stage meant it could not fit into a P-51 air frame without a major redesign to either the engine or the P-51 air frame in Fall 1943, and there simply was not time to do that.

The other advantage of the Merlin powered P-51 was that while the American production of the P-51B was started in early 1943. There was a second new P-51C plant that was added in Dallas, Texas by the summer 1943. (While the second P-38 production plant was added in the _summer_of _1945_.)

This second Mustang plant was due to a decision by the USAAF in late 1942 to use the Allison powered P-51 as a medium to low altitude "low end" fighter for tactical reconnaissance(TAC-R) and Army close support role because it was competitive with the FW-190 and ME-109 while the P-40 clearly was not. The use of the Packard Merlin was intended for UK Lend lease orders while the USAAF was to use the Allison.

Unfortunately (Or fortunately, you pick) NAA converted it's Allison P-51/A-36 tooling to Merlin P-51 tooling due to a lack of industrial priority for new machine tools and the USAAF had to accept Merlin powered P-51's for the "TAC-R" and Army Close Support roles in 1943 instead.

The Schweinfurt–Regensburg mission over Southern Germany was 14 Oct 1943.

The decision to start escorting heavy bombers all the way to target happened in November 1943.

My research says it wasn’t a Lockheed corporate culture issue that made it less responsive with the P-38 than NAA was with the Mustang. It was an industrial infrastructure issue. The decision for the second P-51 plant in late 1942-early 1943 was determinative as far as the ability of North American to be more responsive developmentally to the 8th Air Force vice Lockheed.

Lockheed was forbidden by the USAAF to make changes to the P-38 that would slow production at the sole P-38 plant.

North American had a brand new production plant that was just spooling up as the demand for quick modifications of the P-51 came in from Dec. 1943 through early spring 1944.

NAA could phase in new changes faster than Lockheed for the simple reason that NAA could use up older design parts in one plant while phasing in newer aircraft design modifications in the other.

Lockheed's P-38J had to completely use up old part designs before phasing in new ones at its sole production plant. The best it could do was send modification kits to the UK by air…which were on a C-54 transport shot down by RAF Fighter Command!

The P-51 also benefited from the British Merlin production plants and aircraft test facilities in the UK, as the British could turn around aircraft/engine test fixes for efficient high altitude performance far faster for the NAA technical representatives in the UK than Lockheed/Allison tech reps could to do going to Ohio (Wright-Patterson field) and California.

It was Lend Lease that created the close industrial partnership between North American Aviation, Rolls Royce, and Packard that first created the P-51, later added the Merlin engine to it and finally provided for the industrial infrastructure that made rapid modifications of the Merlin engine for large numbers of P-51's in the high altitude escort role between Nov 1943 and March 1944 possible.

BLUFF -- No Lend Lease, No Merlin powered P-51 Mustangs for the 8th Air Force.

Trent Telenko
Quality Staff Specialist
Defense Contract Management Agency

For Greg Banner -- In my opinion, speculation that Lend-Lease helped the Russian nuclear program is almost certainly unfounded. Based on what I learned while working at the Dept. of Energy some years back, I think a couple of things happened. First, Igor Kurchatov and his scientific research team during and after the War came up with a viable design for an implosion weapon, working within their own resources. However, Soviet intelligence did gather a lot of information from the Manhattan Project, and at some point Stalin's hatchet man, Beria, demanded that Kurchatov use the proven US design. Kurchatov complied, despite his insistence that his team's indigenous design would work and should be used. But no one defied Beria, and a copy of the US "Fat Man" implosion device was produced and detonated in 1949.

Or so the story goes. Kurchatov apparently carried with him to his grave a strong resentment of Beria forcing him and his colleagues to copy the American design instead of trying out their own.

Mr. Bernstein is quite right about the divided American political situation prior to WW II and Pearl Harbor which brought that division to and end.

It grew as much out of WW I and the US turning its back on Europe and reverted to isolationism[like some still attempt] and withdrawing behind the Oceans in a sense of smug safeness from being involved in the World at large, despite the efforts of Woodrow Wilson after 1918. It also accorded with the older history and tradition set down by Washington to avoid foreign entanglements after the American Revolution.

Another example was 1940, when the Draft Bill passed Congress by a single vote; even then, in face of increasing evidence of war in Europe and possibly elsewhere Americans stood almost ready to enter their 1940s unprepared.


Growing up as a kid, the Soviet Union was the big bad wolf so to speak in public view of the 1950s. But among those who were such a threat to the US and Freedom, Stalin and his henchman, Lavrenti Beria were the standouts of that time. Everyone in the West knew who Beria was, he was Stalin's thug cop, for want of a better description. He was the 'Terror' who made people disappear when Stalin said so. Beria was the man most feared and a very deep breath was the day's order when Stalin died cause everyone expected him to succeed Stalin as ruler of Soviet Union. The Central Committee resolved that problem[ie, Krushchev and Malenkov] and likely, with much relief in the Communist world as well. As Head of the Secret Police, the world anticipated briefly a true brutality of Communist Police State life;
His public image makes this current ex-Communist Cop, Head of State, look almost tame[just a subjective conclusion]. Nothing in the West would have compared at that time. Russia does seem to have a difficult time with Cops running their lives.

I think the Lend-Lease angle is more about critical supplies than any scientific or technical information on building the A-Bomb. The argument as best as I can remember was that there were items and supplies which were obviously of use to a nuclear program (and maybe of use to little else) that we provided in the spirit of maybe somewhat blind and naive cooperation... Again, some info on the internet but if I can find my document which lists all the supplies I will see what is there...