Alexander Dolitsky: In the uneasy alliance of U.S.-Soviet Lend-Lease agreement, America sent food to Russia

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By ALEXANDER DOLITSKY

Part IV: Trust but verify

In four years of World War II, the United States supplied 14,798 combat aircraft to the Soviet Union.

More than half (7,925) of the planes were flown over the Northwest Route across Canada and Alaska and accepted at Ladd Army Airfield in Fairbanks by Russian inspectors.

Looking back, some American military experts questioned whether the Soviets needed all of these aircraft. By the end of 1943, the USSR was building a great number of planes in factories in the Ural Mountains and already had technical military superiority over its enemies. In 1943, Soviet industry produced 35,000 airplanes and 24,000 tanks and self-propelled guns, compared with 25,000 airplanes and 18,000 tanks produced by Germany. In fact, despite its smaller industrial capacity and a reduced base of strategic raw materials, the Soviet Union still produced more military equipment than Germany overall, with a total output during the war of 137,000 aircraft (including 112,100 combat planes), 104,000 tanks and self-propelled guns, and 488,000 artillery pieces.

According to some military analysts and American participants in the program, the Soviet Union was stockpiling Lend-Lease equipment for post-war use, and probably used the air route for espionage. During the Korean War (1950‒53), American soldiers reportedly were puzzled to encounter so much American equipment (e.g., jeeps, trucks).

Evidently, the Chinese and Soviets provided military aid to North Korea using the very same supplies they had received from the United States several years earlier. American analysts have yet to grasp the full extent and intention of Soviet secrecy during WWII on matters ranging from combat operations to agricultural production. Information would often have to come directly from Stalin, which led some officials to conclude he “apparently was the only individual in the Soviet Union who had the authority to give some information.”

Some American military experts have alleged that uranium was shipped through Great Falls, and it was also suspected that in May of 1944 U.S. Treasury banknote plates had gone up the air route. Those who worked on the U.S. side of the operation tend to debunk claims of Soviet conspiracy. 

Much information attesting to the helpful U.S. attitude toward the USSR and vice versa during the war remains unknown to the general American public. Assertions by post-war commentators that a thorough evaluation of the program might uncover some embarrassing facts likely are due more to the later context of the Cold War and to global foreign affair policies that began during the Truman presidency than to any widespread wrongdoing having actually occurred during the war. This became clear during the U.S. House of Representatives hearing on Lend-Lease matters held during the McCarthy era of the early 1950s, which was tainted with exaggerations and fabrications by members seeking to persecute liberal historians, radical socialists, and anyone perceived as sympathetic to the Soviet Union.

Lend-Lease Supply to the Soviet Union included food

About $11 billion in war materials and other supplies were shipped to the Soviet Union from the United States over four major routes between 1941 and 1945. In addition to military equipment, the USSR received such non-military items as cigarette cases, records, women’s compacts, fishing tackle, dolls, playground equipment, cosmetics, food, and even 13,328 sets of false teeth.

Soviet requests for food emphasized canned meat (tushonka), fats, dried peas and beans, potato chips, powdered soups and eggs, dehydrated fruits and vegetables, and other packaged food items. Dehydration, which made shipping food to the Soviet Union possible under the program, led to a rapid expansion of American dehydrating facilities, which eventually influenced the domestic market and the diet of American people in the post-war period. 

Lend-Lease accounts show that, in 1945 alone, about 5,100,000 tons of foodstuffs left for the Soviet Union from the United States; that year, the Soviets’ own total agricultural output reached approximately 53,500,000 tons. If the 12 million individual members of the Soviet Army received all of the foodstuffs that arrived in the USSR through Lend-Lease deliveries from the United States, each man and woman would have been supplied with more than half a pound of concentrated food per day for the duration of the war.

Without a doubt, Lend-Lease food proved vital to the maintenance of adequate nutrition levels for Soviets and other Lend-Lease beneficiaries. In 1944, two percent of the United States’ food supply was exported to the Soviet Union, four percent to other Lend-Lease recipients, one percent to commercial exports, and 13 percent to the United States military.

This aid was made possible due to sacrifices made by the American people and an enormous increase in American agricultural and industrial production—up 280 percent by 1944 over the 1935‒39 average. Between 1939 and 1945, America’s gross national product soared from $90 billion to $212 billion; altogether the United States spent over $315 billion on its war effort. It has been estimated that approximately 50 million Americans (about one-third of America’s population at the time), including 12 million U.S. troops, participated in the war between 1941 and 1945. 

Although the Soviet government tried to minimize the importance of Lend-Lease support by arguing that U.S. supplies to the USSR represented only 4–10 percent of total Soviet production during the war, the aid items were in fact essential for that nation’s survival. For example, while Soviet production of steel was about 9,000,000 tons in 1942, under Lend-Lease, the Soviet Union received about 30 percent, or 3,000,000 tons of steel. The Soviet T-34 tank engine and Soviet aircraft used Lend-Lease aluminum. Copper shipments (about 4,000,000 tons) equaled three-quarters of the entire Soviet copper production for the years 1941-44. About 800,000 tons of non-ferrous metals (e.g., magnesium, nickel, zinc, lead, tin), 1,000,000 miles of field telegraph wire, 2,120 miles of marine cable, and 1,140 miles of submarine cable formed an impressive figure, especially when compared to Soviet production.

The Soviet Union also received essential military items under the Lend-Lease Agreement: 14,798 aircraft (not including PBN and PBY patrol planes) from the United States, and nearly 4,570 combat aircraft from Great Britain (equivalent to 17 percent of the 112,100 combat aircraft produced in Soviet plants); 9,000 tanks and self-propelled guns, or 10 percent of the Soviet production; 47,238 jeeps; and 362,288 trucks (compared to the 128,000 trucks manufactured in the Soviet Union during those four years of the war). All of this equipment greatly contributed to the mobility and survival of the Red Army.

Unfortunately, many of these materials deteriorated due to poor maintenance or were wastefully stockpiled due to Soviet carelessness and inefficient infrastructure. Nevertheless, most of the materials were widely used and often admired by Red Army soldiers. In fact, Soviet air ace and three times Hero of the Soviet Union, the legendary Aleksandr Pokryshkin, used a Lend-Lease P-39 Airacobra to shoot down 48 of the 59 Nazi planes credited to him; Grigory Rechkalov, the second highest scoring Allied ace of World War II, shot down 47 of the 61 enemy planes credited to him using the P-39 Airacobra, as well. In 1944, Time magazine reported that:

Russian fighter pilots are tremendously fond of the US-built Bell Airacobra, which they call Cobrushka (“Little Cobra”); they have more than 4000 of them. The Russians were profoundly uninterested in U.S. criticism of Cobrushka on the grounds that it could not fight at high altitude; like any other tactical air force, the Russians do nearly all their fighting below 15,000 ft. Nearly all of the top-scoring Red aces fly Airacobras.

Many non-military and military items were funneled through Great Falls, and the United States reportedly received payment from the USSR for only a small fraction of these items. However, Ladd Army Airfield airplane mechanic Bill Schoeppe knew of two airplanes loaded with 10,000 pounds of gold, valued at about $5.6 million at the time, which traveled from Siberia to the Lower 48 in 1943. 

I have been in many discussions about payment for equipment, and I can say I was in two planeloads of gold bullion on the way to Washington, D.C. In each case, the cabin floor was covered with gold, over 5,000 lbs. each. How many more shipments? I don’t know.

No written record has been found thus far of that transaction or of other transactions of a similar nature, as the records of the Foreign Economic Administration’s Division of Soviet Supply have disappeared. The National Archives does not have them and neither does the Department of State. Many of the FEA records were inadvertently shredded in the early 1970s, and DSS records may have been among those destroyed.

Check back for Part V of this series: The Lend-Lease program marked a turning point in World War II.

Alexander Dolitsky: U.S. Lend-Lease aid to Soviet Union during World War II

Alexander Dolitsky: Roosevelt’s choice with Soviets — to help or not to help?

Dolitsky: Memories of the Soviet pilots stationed in Alaska

Alexander B. Dolitsky was born and raised in Kiev in the former Soviet Union. He received an M.A. in history from Kiev Pedagogical Institute, Ukraine, in 1976; an M.A. in anthropology and archaeology from Brown University in 1983; and was enroled in the Ph.D. program in Anthropology at Bryn Mawr College from 1983 to 1985, where he was also a lecturer in the Russian Center. In the U.S.S.R., he was a social studies teacher for three years, and an archaeologist for five years for the Ukranian Academy of Sciences. In 1978, he settled in the United States. Dolitsky visited Alaska for the first time in 1981, while conducting field research for graduate school at Brown. He lived first in Sitka in 1985 and then settled in Juneau in 1986. From 1985 to 1987, he was a U.S. Forest Service archaeologist and social scientist. He was an Adjunct Assistant Professor of Russian Studies at the University of Alaska Southeast from 1985 to 1999; Social Studies Instructor at the Alyeska Central School, Alaska Department of Education from 1988 to 2006; and has been the Director of the Alaska-Siberia Research Center (see www.aksrc.homestead.com) from 1990 to present. He has conducted about 30 field studies in various areas of the former Soviet Union (including Siberia), Central Asia, South America, Eastern Europe and the United States (including Alaska). Dolitsky has been a lecturer on the World Discoverer, Spirit of Oceanus, andClipper Odyssey vessels in the Arctic and sub-Arctic regions. He was the Project Manager for the WWII Alaska-Siberia Lend Lease Memorial, which was erected in Fairbanks in 2006. He has published extensively in the fields of anthropology, history, archaeology, and ethnography. His more recent publications include Fairy Tales and Myths of the Bering Strait Chukchi, Ancient Tales of Kamchatka; Tales and Legends of the Yupik Eskimos of Siberia; Old Russia in Modern America: Russian Old Believers in Alaska; Allies in Wartime: The Alaska-Siberia Airway During WWII; Spirit of the Siberian Tiger: Folktales of the Russian Far East; Living Wisdom of the Far North: Tales and Legends from Chukotka and Alaska; Pipeline to Russia; The Alaska-Siberia Air Route in WWII; and Old Russia in Modern America: Living Traditions of the Russian Old Believers; Ancient Tales of Chukotka, and Ancient Tales of Kamchatka.

15 COMMENTS

  1. I heard about some of this from my Dad, who escaped to Russia from the German POW camp. He saw rows of trucks inMurmansk. He asked why they weren’t being used he was told that “American trucks were no good” by the political officer assigned to watch him he caught a ride home on a returning ship from there, back to NY

    • No, we armed the guys that faced 85% of the Wehrmacht so we didn’t have to. We changed our view of them, or at least some Americans did, when after the German surrender they tried to scoop up all the Japanese and Chinese possessions they could. There is a good argument that the Hiroshima atomic bomb was dropped on Tokyo, but the Nagasaki bomb was dropped on Moscow to make sure Stalin understood we had more; even though we didn’t at the time.

      • No, the Masked Avenger is correct. This country has a tried and true record of sticking its nose in places it doesn’t belong. The true American heroes in the lead up to the Second World War were people like Charles Lindbergh whose advocacy of non-interventionism would have been supported by the founders of this country.

        The Boomers believe that this country was founded in 1945 and that Hitler was literally Satan so they can’t fathom a worldview in which involvement in both World Wars was a mistake. To cover this up, we get platitutes about how we helped two groups of unfavorable people bludgeon each other with our weapons for profit. There was no profit because we were never repaid. The only country which has legitimately paid off world war reparations is Germany and it took them nearly 100 years. So to think a country with an backwards command economy which just lost 15% of its total population in a brutal war paid us back within five years (start of Cold War) is laughable.

    • By 1940 the Russians were the only nation left standing anywhere capable of defeating the Germans and weakening their armed forces to the extent which made an amphibious assault viable on the European mainland. If my memory is correct, it was the Japanese who attacked Pearl Harbor and invaded islands in the Aleutians, and Germany who declared war against us. At the time they were the enemy, not Russia. It was an excellent investment for America to sell, trade and/or give from our surplus of war material and food to aid the Russians in the successful fight in destroying the German military. How do you value the life of each American GI? Because millions more would have perished if Russia had not stubbornly hung in the fight.

  2. Very good article. The mass of equipment and food sent east was placed to very effective use by the highly motivated Russians, 27 million of whom paid with their lives to defeat the Wermacht and its’ allies. The strategic offensive capability of the Wermacht was effectively defeated by July/August 1943 at Kursk (following the catastrophe at Stalingrad campaign ending in February 1943), Germany never again achieving the strategic initiative in any theater. The German officers were masters of defensive operations and successfully delayed the inevitable destruction and partition of Germany, with zero chance of victory. In the 1940s we were food, (actual reliable energy, oil, coal, refined gasoline, ect.) and resource independent and had an actual industrial base capable of mass producing war material. We also had a US Dollar that had a real gold based value and our industry and homeland was untouched by the utter devastation in Europe and our young men were spared facing the brunt of the Wermacht during its’ peak strength. American tanks were useless in the high intensity combat of the Eastern Front, but as crude and ineffective for use against German armor as they were, the Soviets maximized their value by deployment to the Manchurian border as a deterrent to Japan opening a 2nd front, freeing manpower and artillery for focused use on the utter destruction of the German juggernaut. On balance the value of the lend lease material sent to Russia was paid for in pain, suffering and blood many times over when considering how many millions of American GIs lives were spared by leaving the brunt of the fighting and dying to the Russians.

  3. Let us also consider how during the Civil War the Russians brought the Imperial Russian Fleet into the Atlantic and into New York Harbor to dissuade the British from interfering with “the maintenance of the American Union”.

    Maybe the Russians still retained residual appreciation and respect for that action on their part, even though the Bolshevists had destroyed their reputation in the intervening period.

    ‘https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/1835544.pdf

    • This country played a major roll in the rise of the Bolshevists. Many of the “revolutionaries” sailed to Moscow and St. Petersberg from New York to take part. Could it be that when we take immigrants from other parts of the world they also bring their Old World grievances with them?

      This included Leo Trotsky (real name Lev Bronstein) a Bnai Brith member (Jewish Freemasonic Lodge). We then shipped them food during the Great Depression, long before we were upset with Mr. Moustache or friendly with Uncle Joe. Without this aid, the fledgling Soviet Regime might very well have collapsed in the 20s or early 30s.

      The take home message is this: countries, just like people, do not to things out of the goodness of their hearts. They do things because they think they can benefits from those actions at that particular moment in time. Its the role of the Boomer Truth Regime to show up to explain away the inconsistencies with what could easily be described as a bi-polar foreign policy. It’s a difficult task but someone has to do it.

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