US Lend Lease made up 4% of the Soviet wartime economy production
2005-03-25 16:49 * RUSSIA * UNITED STATES * WAR * LEND-LEASE *
RUSSIANS GRATEFUL FOR LEND-LEASE
MOSCOW-- (RIA Novosti political commentator Vladimir Simonov) Today, any Russian schoolchild can afford the 100 rubles or so to buy the computer game "Lend-Lease." This popular computer game is a simulator of ten types of U.S., Soviet and German equipment used in WWII. The goal of the game is expressed by the slogan on the box: "Victory is all that matters!"
The goals of the real lend-lease arrangement were more complicated. Franklin D. Roosevelt, who came up with the idea of helping America's allies during WWII, compared it to a fire hose that should be given to a neighbor to prevent fire from spreading to one's own home.
It was mostly the Soviet Union that was ablaze at the time, in the early 1940s. In lending and leasing weapons, ammunition, foodstuffs and other goods, the United States was primarily pursuing its own interests, which boiled down to playing for time and retaining its ability to join the war in the best possible shape. American historian George Herring wrote that the lend-lease program was not the most selfless act in the history of mankind, but rather an act of prudent egotism, with the Americans fully aware of how they could benefit from it.
The Soviet Union was not the sole recipient of aid under the lend-lease program, either. Forty-two other countries received aid, most of which went to Britain and its colonies, consuming over $30 billion out of the $46 billion the United States spent under the program. As for the Soviet Union, U.S. supplies amounted to just 4% of the country's defense-industry output at the time.
So, was the lend-lease program so modest that it did not influence the outcome of the war? Or would the Soviet Union, on the contrary, have lost the war but for the US and British convoys regularly carrying materiel to Murmansk, Arkhangelsk and Russian ports in the Far East?
These are the poles of opinion. As usual, the truth is somewhere in between. As memories of those times become obscured in thehaze of the ensuing decades, finding the truth is becoming ever more difficult.
What we know more or less for certain is the kind of hardware the U.S. supplied to the Soviet Union under the program, which peaked in 1943-44. The list of supplies was largely influenced by Moscow, which had to fill in the gaps in domestic military production with foreign supplies. For example, the Red Army had enough small arms and ammunition, so demand for them was not high. Lend-lease mostly provided heavy and high-tech (for the time) military hardware.
During the war, 22,195 aircraft, 12,980 tanks, 13,000 guns, 427,000 automobiles, 560 ships and 345,000 tons of explosives were brought to the Soviet Union along three supply routes running via the Atlantic, Arctic and Pacific.
Incidentally, most of the foreign supplies were of civilian hardware, such as steam engines, railroad cars, machines, chemicals, medicine and foodstuffs. The Red Army consumed U.S. canned meat with gusto, its officers doted on Jeeps and Studebakers for their excellent cross-country abilities, and legendary fighter pilot Alexander Pokryshkin racked up kills in an American-made P-39 Aerocobra fighter.
The supplies that the Soviet Union received cost $11 billion at the time - about a quarter of the lend-lease aid provided to other allied countries.
For the record, there was also a "reverse lend-lease" of sorts, under which the Soviet Union supplied the United States with goods that the latter badly needed, including 300,000 tons of chrome ore, 32,000 tons of manganese ore, and large supplies of platinum, gold and wood. However, this was not what the then Secretary of State Edward Stettinius meant when he said that the Russians had already paid a price that cannot be measured in dollars or tons for this aid.
Equipment destroyed in the war was supposed to be regarded as a gift from the United States, with surviving, operational materiel to be returned or paid for by the Soviet Union. When the time came for the latter to pay, Washington, influenced by Cold War sentiments, inflated the sum owed by the Soviets in comparison to the debts of the rest of the coalition. The negotiations dragged on for decades until an agreement was signed in 1972, under which the Soviet Union received a final bill of $722 million. Of that sum, $100 million still has yet to be paid.
There are three reasons why the actual importance of lend-lease was higher to the Soviet Union than the purely technical amount of supplies.
Firstly, the undisturbed cooperation and trade between the Soviet Union and the West typical of the 1920s had dwindled by the start of the war. The Soviet Union increasingly found itself in a situation resembling international isolation. Therefore, every ton of supplies from the United States and Britain looked like the lifting of a blockade.
Secondly, the beginning of the war was an utter failure for the Red Army, whose strength in terms of planes, tanks and artillery pieces dropped by five to six times as early as June and July 1941 compared with the Wehrmacht. For production to begin in the east of the country, the Soviet leadership had to play for time, and the American aid was extremely useful in those hard times.
Finally, it immediately became clear that WWII would be, to a large degree, a war of engines and weapons. It is no coincidence that Stalin remarked during a meeting with Roosevelt's envoy, Averell Harriman: "The war will be won by industrial production." The Soviet Union was lucky to borrow and lease the fruit of another country's production at the initial stage.
Lend-lease did not turn the allies into soulmates. In fact, it would cause serious tension on many occasions.
U.S. and British tanks were far from perfect and would often be delivered lacking sights, maintenance and repair kits, etc. High-explosive rounds for 75-mm guns tended to explode unexpectedly. Stalin complained to Roosevelt in a letter in 1942: "I deem it my duty to inform you that, according to our experts on the front, U.S. tanks are easily set ablaze by antitank rifle rounds hitting them in the rear or on the sides. This is due to the high-grade gasoline burnt by the U.S. tanks producing a thick layer of gas fumes inside the tanks, which facilitates combustion."
Nonetheless, neither Stalin himself, nor the great military leader Marshal Georgy Zhukov, ever questioned the role played by lend-lease, regarding it as a turning point in WWII. New generations of Russians still remember and are grateful for the contribution of the Allies, and primarily the United States, to the common victory, the 60th anniversary of which the world will celebrate in May.
Over half of the Airacobras produced, almost 5000 planes, went to the Soviet Union. The first P-39s to reach Soviet hands were delivered from Britain, who had rejected the aircraft after it failed RAF flight testing in late 1941. After accelerated ground and flight testing the Soviet government agreed to delivery of large numbers of Airacobras through the Lend-Lease program. Between 1942 and 1944, Soviet ferry pilots flew approximately 2,600 P-39s into the USSR from Fairbanks, Alaska. Another 2,000 were shipped (crated) to Iran, assembled, inspected, and flown to Soviet bases east of the Caucasus Mountains. The majority of the 4,600 P-39s shipped to the Soviet Union were the highly developed Q-models. Many of these, at Soviet request, lacked the two wing-mounted .50-caliber machine gun pods.
Slowly at first in the summer and fall of 1942, and then rapidly as more aircraft became available in the ensuing months, the Red Air Force transitioned both new and experienced fighter pilots to the P-39, forming or refitting fighter regiments of three squadrons, twelve aircraft per squadron. The mission of the Red Air Force was to support the Red Army, and in order to perform this mission air units at division level and above were subordinated to ground formation commanders. The Red Air Force employed the P-39 Airacobra in several roles: the most common role was to cover or protect ground forces. This entailed patrolling in a zone above a specific Red Army formation and preventing the penetration into that zone of German bombers and their accompanying fighters. A second mission for the P-39 was to escort Il-2 Shturmoviks or Pe-2 dive bombers to attack German troops and installations. In this role the P-39s were used to fend off German fighters or to suppress German AAA defenses.
A third mission for the P-39 was reconnaissance, both air and ground. A fourth mission was "free hunt", wherein pairs of experienced Soviet fighter pilots were permitted to conduct deep penetrations of German airspace over land or sea to search for air or ground targets. A fifth mission for the P-39 was ground attack, primarily of soft targets such as troop concentrations, road convoys or trains, and airfields. Contrary to popular myth, the P-39 was not employed as a "tank-buster" for two very good reasons: the M4 37mm cannon was slow-firing and only had 30 rounds of ammunition, and the Soviets never received M80 Armor Piercing Shot ammunition for this cannon through Lend-Lease. (Even had they received AP ammo, it was only capable of penetrating 1.0 inches of armor at 500 yards. After 1943 there weren't many German tanks that vulnerable, especially from the top quadrant.) Our government did deliver approximately 1.2 million M54 High Explosive shells, however, and Soviet P-39 aces put them to good use against both air and soft ground targets.
Several of the Red Air Force's ranking aces flew the P-39 for a major portion of their combat sorties. The top ace in the P-39 and number four overall was Guards Major Gregoriy Rechkalov, who shot down 50 of his total 56 kills while flying a P-39. Guards Colonel Aleksandr Pokryshkin, who finished the war as the number two Soviet ace with 59 individual and 6 shared kills, reportedly flew the P-39 for 48 of his kills. Another high scorer in the P-39 was Guards Major Dmitriy Glinka, who destroyed 20 German aircraft in 40 aerial engagements in the summer of 1943, and finished the war with an even 50 kills, 41 of them while flying the P-39. Third-ranked Soviet ace Guards Major Nikolay Gulaev transitioned to the P-39 in early August 1943 with 16 individual and 2 shared kills. He flew his last combat sortie on 14 August 1944 (ordered to attend higher military schooling), leaving the battlefield with an additional 41 individual victories and 1 shared kill after just over one year in his P-39.
Why was the P-39, which achieved so little air combat success in other theaters, so effective on the Eastern Front? The answer to this question lies in the nature of the air war itself on that front. Neither the Germans nor the Soviets engaged in high-altitude, long-range, strategic bombing. The bulk of Soviet war industry had been moved east of the Ural mountains, beyond the range of the Luftwaffe. German medium level and dive bombers went out every day, escorted by Bf-109s and FW-190s, to find and attack Soviet Army ground units. These bombers, and by necessity their escorting fighters, flew at altitudes well within the high performance envelope of the P-39-under 15,000 feet. The P-39, with its nose armament alone, had devastating air-to-air firepower. A hit on a German bomber with a single 37mm round was frequently sufficient to disable or destroy it. The Red Air Force compensated for the P-39's short range by locating their tactical airfields extremely close to the front line-often within artillery range. And during surge periods, when German air activity was intense, Soviet P-39 pilots were known to fly five and even six or more sorties in a single day.
How do we know all this? Many Soviet P-39 combat pilots wrote memoirs in the 1970s and 1980s in which they described their wartime experiences, hundreds of pages of descriptions of life in fighter units and of air combat. Other publications released since the collapse of the Soviet Union offer new information on what units were equipped with the P-39 and when, lists of pilots and their total sorties, aerial engagements, and scores. When fully exploited, these sources will reveal an enlarged and much improved picture of the P-39 Airacobra. It will be shown to be an outstanding combat aircraft, as worthy of respect as the P-38 Lightning, P-47 Thunderbolt, and P-51 Mustang.