The Soviets Could Not Have Won Without Lend-Lease
Another myth has it that the Soviets could not have survived or won WWII without massive American Lend-Lease. Lend-Lease clearly helped, and Soviet successes in the second half of the war would not have been as dramatic without the hundreds of thousands of American jeeps and trucks that improved logistics and allowed for deep advances. And American airplanes were greatly appreciated – the Soviets’ second-highest scoring fighter ace of the war downed most of his kills while flying an American P-39 Airacobra.
However, the bulk of Lend-Lease did not arrive until 1944-1945, by which point the Soviets were already nearing victory. Indeed, meaningful amounts of Lend-Lease did not begin arriving until late 1943, by which point the Soviets had already halted the German advance and gone on the counteroffensive, rolling back German gains and beginning the relentless march westward that ended in Berlin and Central Europe.
By the time the bulk of Lend-Lease arrived, the Soviets already had significant accomplishments under their belts and were well on the way to winning the war, including halting the Germans at the Battle of Moscow in 1941; major victories at Stalingrad and Kursk in 1943; liberating the Ukraine and reaching Poland in the winter of 1943-1944, and shattering Army Group Center in Operation Bagration in 1944.
It all comes down to when the Lend-Lease equipment was delivered. US commitments and promises of Lend-Lease were made early, beginning in 1941. But a variety of factors caused significant time to elapse before the US could make good on those commitments, starting with the time needed for American factories to transition from peacetime production of civilian goods to a war footing. Moreover, America had her own rapidly expanding military – 16 million men were put in uniform during the war – to arm and equip, which was often a higher priority than Lend-Lease.
Additionally, deliveries, especially during the war’s first year, were further delayed by a perception that the USSR might collapse at any moment, so Lend-Lease equipment could simply end up as German war booty. Because of such fears, on more than one occasion during the Soviets’ darkest hours in 1941-1942, ships loaded with Lend-Lease destined for the USSR were either offloaded and the equipment redistributed to the US military, or the ships were diverted to Britain and the equipment given to the British instead.
Even when the goods were ready and fears of Soviet collapse had receded, it took years to establish reliable routes. Deliveries were initially routed across the Arctic Ocean to Murmansk, but it was a hazardous passage in which many convoys were decimated by German planes and submarines operating from Norway. The quantities delivered were more symbolic than meaningful, and were of use only in the peripheral Arctic fronts facing Finland.
Another more meaningful was through Iran, which the Allies occupied precisely for that purpose, but the road and rail infrastructure necessary for the delivery of significant aid was not completed until the second half of 1943. Aid through this route went mainly to the Soviets’ southern fronts, which were more important than the northern ones supplied through Murmansk, but were not the main front.
The main supply route, through which Lend-Lease finally gushed like a torrent, was through Vladivostok and thence across the Trans-Siberian railway to the central fronts and the Soviets’ main war effort. However, that was the most difficult route that took the longest time to establish, requiring not only significant work on the Soviet end, but the creation of an entire road and rail network from scratch, across Alaska and Western Canada, to handle the massive mountains of aid.