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