Washington, D.C. November 7, 1941

On March 11, 1941, U.S. President Franklin D. Roose­velt signed into law the Lend-Lease Act, which was a govern­ment-back pro­gram under which the still-neutral United States would begin supplying Great Britain and mem­bers of the British Common­wealth (Aus­tralia and New Zea­land, for instance), Free French Forces led by Gen. Charles de Gaulle, the Nationalist Republic of China under Chiang Kai-shek, and later other Allied bel­lig­er­ent nations whose defense was deemed vital to the secu­rity of the U.S. Lent or leased but not sold, the mili­tary and econo­mic aid con­sisted of food, clothing, oil, war­ships and war­planes, avia­tion fuel, armored fighting vehicles, ammu­nition, trucks, tires, machine tools, steam loco­mo­tives and rolling stock, etc. The hall­mark legis­lation over­turned three suc­ces­sive Neu­trality Acts and the “cash and carry” pro­gram from the 1930s aimed at keeping the nation out of overseas entanglements.

On this date, November 7, 1941, the U.S. Congress formally con­sented to extend Lend-Lease privi­leges to the Soviet Union after Roose­velt had approved $1 bil­lion in Lend-Lease aid to the Soviets on Octo­ber 30. U.S. aid came at the request Soviet leader Joseph Stalin shortly after the German Wehr­macht (armed forces) had invaded the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941 (Oper­a­tion Bar­ba­rossa)—this despite a non­ag­gression pact the two former antag­o­nists had entered into in August 1939. Soviet man­power and equip­ment losses that first sum­mer and autumn were stag­gering. Stalin and Red Army bosses realized their country­men might have a fighting chance against their Axis ene­mies if the U.S. would send 6,000 air­craft and 20,000 anti-aircraft guns and if the British, at war with Germany and its Axis allies since Septem­ber 1939, would send 3,000 fighters, 3,000 bombers, and war-related raw materials such as alu­mi­num and rubber. The Soviet leader was fear­ful his coun­try might be crushed by Axis armor within a few short months: more than 2,000 air­craft were lost on the first day of the German sneak attack, rising to 5,000 by July 5 and almost 18,00 by year’s end. Just as bad, 20,500 Soviet tanks, including new pro­duc­tion, had been destroyed or aban­doned as the end of year approached. Stalin urged Roose­velt and British Prime Minis­ter Winston Chur­chill to dis­patch ASAP 25 to 30 divi­sions for “military cooperation with Soviet troops on Soviet soil.”

British, Canadian, and U.S. aid (but not combat troops) began pouring into the Soviet Union almost imme­di­ately by air, sea, and land (see map below). The aid, most of which took the form of interest-free loans, was a key com­ponent in the Red Army’s victory over the Axis powers in World War II. The British, for in­stance, dis­patched 700 air­craft, 500 tanks, 900 vehi­cles, and 76,000 tons of other sup­plies before the year was out. By the end of 1942 the U.S, playing catch-up, had sent 2,600 first-line planes, 3,200 tanks, and 81,000 other vehi­cles (e.g., trucks, half-tracks, and jeeps). The deliv­eries filled a criti­cal gap while destroyed and dis­placed Soviet fac­tories came back on line. At the Big Three Con­fer­ence in Teh­ran (Novem­ber 28 to Decem­ber 1, 1943), Stalin admitted to Roose­velt and Chur­chill (he was talking about air­craft): “The United States is the land of machines. With­out the use of those machines, with­out the aid of Lend-Lease, we would have lost the war.” Stalin’s admis­sion was never heard by the average Soviet citizen.

By war’s end the U.S., Great Britain, and Canada had provided $11.3 bil­lion (worth $163.4 bil­lion today) of mili­tary and civil­ian Lend-Lease assis­tance to the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union and its successor polity Russia paid off their U.S. Lend-Lease obli­ga­tions after ini­tially rejecting a request for $1.3 bil­lion to settle their debt. The U.S. even­tually accepted $722 mil­lion, with the balance written off due to “destroyed, lost, or used” military (but not civilian) equipment.

U.S. Lend-Lease to the Soviet Union in World War II

U.S. Lend-Lease deliveries to Soviet Union, June 1941 to September 1945

Above: Map shows Lend-Lease shipments to the Soviet Union using various sea routes between mid-1941, 5 months before the U.S. was drawn into World War II, and Septem­ber 1945. (Not depicted are ship­ments by air.) Between Octo­ber 1, 1941, and May 31, 1945, some 2,660 ships sailed from U.S. ports with 16,529,791 tons of Soviet-bound sup­plies, among which were 14,795 air­craft and 375,883 trucks The first U.S. Lend-Lease ship­ments were con­veyed in Arctic con­voys that followed the northern route around Scan­di­navia. They delivered nearly 4 mil­lion tons chiefly to two North Russian ports and were the most dan­gerous deliv­eries of the con­flict owing to German U‑boat, com­merce raider, and Luft­waffe attacks from occupied Norway. (Eighty-five merchant­men in Arctic convoys were inter­cepted and sunk by Germans, including one with 4.5 tons of gold intended for the U.S. Trea­sury; check out Battle of the Atlantic.) The Iranian route around South Africa first operated in Septem­ber 1941; rail routes in the Persian Gulf con­nected with the Soviet rail net­work and deliv­ered just under 4.2 mil­lion tons. A minor sea route deliv­ered supplies through the Medi­ter­ranean and Black Seas. The trans-Pacific route to the Soviet Far East, using Soviet-flagged ships, opened a month after Lend-Lease was extended to the Soviet Union. It accounted for half the total Lend-Lease goods the Soviets received but, by agree­ment with Japan, the goods were non­mili­tary. A minor route deliv­ered supplies to the Soviet Arctic via the Bering Sea.

1st Baltic Front tankers with U.S. Lend-Lease Sherman tankBritish school girls with U.S. Lend-Lease lunch food

Left: 1st Baltic Front tankers rest near their M4 Sherman medium tank, one of 4,000 M4 Shermans out of the 49,234 built that the Soviets received under U.S. Lend-Lease. (As much as 40 per­cent of the Red Army’s heavier tanks were Lend-Lease.) A major forma­tion of the Red Army, the 1st Baltic Front took part in several import­ant mili­tary oper­a­tions, most not­ably Oper­a­tion Bagra­tion in the summer of 1944. The 1st Baltic Front also assisted in lifting the 872-day Siege of Lenin­grad on Janu­ary 27, 1944, as well as capturing Fortress Koenigsberg in East Prussia in April 1945.

Right: A group of smiling schoolgirls wave for the camera as they receive plates of imported bacon and eggs as part of the U.S. Lend-Lease pro­gram. The school prin­cipal (center) passes out plates of food using two hands. The photo­graph was snapped on the school play­ground and was pro­bably taken in late August or early Septem­ber 1941 as some of the first Lend-Lease food ship­ments reached Great Britain. By the end of the war, the U.S. had extended over $50 bil­lion (equi­va­lent to more than $723 bil­lion in 2020) in Lend-Lease aid to nearly 40 nations.

British-built Valentine tank bound for Soviet UnionReverse Lend-Lease Austin K2/Y military ambulance

Left: A Valentine tank destined for the Soviet Union leaves a British fac­tory. Crowds of people and an honor guard of tanks greet Soviet ambas­sador Ivan Mikhail­o­vich Maisky, his wife, and members of the Soviet mili­tary mis­sion when they arrived at a tank factory, where the week’s tank pro­duc­tion was Soviet-bound. The tank on the truck bed is named “Stalin” and has just been christened by Madame Maisky.

Right: Not all Lend-Lease aid went from the U.S. (the world’s “arsenal of demo­cracy”) to its war­time part­ners. Reversing direc­tion, U.S. Lend-Lease allies pro­vided nearly $8 bil­lion (equi­va­lent to $115 bil­lion in 2020) worth of goods and services, 90 per­cent of this sum coming from Britain and its Common­wealth. Recip­ro­cal contri­bu­tions (reverse lend-lease) included the Austin K2/Y mili­tary ambu­lance shown here used by the U.S. Army; British avia­tion spark plugs used in B‑17 Flying For­tresses; Cana­dian-built Fair­mile launches used by the U.S. Navy as sub­marine chasers; de Havil­land Mosquito photo-recon­nais­sance air­craft; and con­tri­bu­tions to the Man­hattan Project that pro­duced the world’s first nuclear wea­pons. Austra­lia and New Zea­land supplied the bulk of food­stuffs to U.S. forces in the South Pacific. Though tiny in com­par­i­son, the Soviet Union supplied the U.S. with badly needed rare min­erals such as chrome ore (300,000 tons), man­ga­nese ore (32,000 tons), and large supplies of plati­num and gold, or about $2 mil­lion in reverse Lend-Lease.

Contemporary British Newsreel Documenting U.S. Lend-Lease Supplies Arriving in Britain, 1941