The Significance of the Allied Lend-Lease Program and Soviet Victory during the Second World War

This a historiography paper.  It is something that only graduate students write with any regularity.  The purpose of these papers is to test how well graduate students have familiarized themselves with a field of study.  They are not primary source papers.  Instead a historiography paper is a paper about the historical literature on the field. 

In a normal research paper, you write about an event in history, where  you gather sources and then develop an argument.  The argument is about the events that happened and the sources are the events themselves, what was said and done.  A historiography paper is different.  It is about the way history has been written.  So even through your topic may be an event, your paper is really about the way historians have written about that event.

The Significance of the Allied Lend-Lease Program and Soviet Victory during the Second World War

By Tom White

Historians have debated the significance of the Allied Lend-Lease Program to the Soviet victory  on the Eastern Front. Much of this controversy can be directly linked to a Cold War Soviet Union government restriction on war time archives, and a deliberate pattern of propaganda aimed at minimalizing allied support. Following the demise of the Soviet Union in 1991 however, there has been greater access to Soviet war archives which has attested to the significance of the Lend-Lease Program toward Soviet victory, and this has allowed a truth to emerge about past events that is more accurate. By examining and categorizing the writings of historians during the Cold War period with those of the post-Soviet period a pattern clearly emerges. This examination will categorize their writings according to the source material made available to them and show that as more source material became available the historical writing will reflect the significance of the Allied Lend-Lease Program.

The Allied Lend-Lease Program was established in order to help Britain resist Nazi a by supplying it with armaments and goods. The United States (US) which had not yet entered the war in Europe, viewed Lend-Lease as tool which would help slow the wave of Nazi aggression sweeping Europe, an aggression that the US believed would eventually threaten its national interests.  Within three days following the German invasion into Soviet territory, was extended to the Soviet Union. At the end of World War II however, Soviet restrictions to on archival access resulted historians understanding of the Lend-Lease Program’s affects. Speculation has been ripe  concerning the Soviet rationale for these restrictions with most experts agreeing that Soviet political motivations were responsible. These political motivations were shaped in a large part by the long established Soviet hostilities which have pitted the Soviet socialist order against that of the Allied capitalist order. As an indirect result of Soviet political influence, the historiography surrounding the Allied Lend-Lease program of World War II can be characterized as falling within one of two historiographical camps. Historians of the first camp have effectively argued that the Lend-lease Program played an insignificant role in Soviet Union achieving victory over the Nazi’s while historians of the second camp have argued just as successfully that the effects of the program were in fact quite significant.

Historians within the first camp, have relied upon “Soviet historians and reference books [which has] minimized the importance of Lend-Lease victories in the East”[1] to support a position that the Lend/Lease program’s impact was insignificant. In fact historians within this camp have argued along a familiar Soviet propagandist party line which claims that other factors such as better Soviet wartime strategy and resilience were responsible for victory, not allied material support. By the war’s end, according to historian Robert Jones, Russia went to great pains to disregard the importance of Lend-Lease with Soviet Commissar of Foreign Affairs Vyacheslav Molotov stating in 1945 that “our country nevertheless supplied the needs of our heroic army with all essentials, including first-class weapons, qualitatively superior to those of the enemy.”[2]  Other historians such as Roger Munting have argued that Allied Lend-Lease support never amounted to more than “four percent of Soviet wartime industrial production”[3], a figure first attributed to Soviet Deputy Premier N. A. Voznesenski in 1947.

While the premise of the first camp of historiography has centered on the claim the significance Allied Lend/Lease Program was minimal, the second camp of historiography having more access to Soviet World War II archive material argues that the Allied Lend/Lease program played a significant role in the Soviet victory. In fact victory over Germany would not have been possible without the aircraft, tanks, and military transportation provided as a result of the Allied Lend-Lease program.  The historian Albert Weeks, to support his claim of the significance of the Lend-Lease, cites the work of renowned post-Soviet historian Boris Sokolov’s The Truth About the Great Patriotic War. In Sokolov’s work, Weeks claims that rather than the often cited figure of a meager four percent of Soviet wartime industrial production that Lend-lease accounted for, Sokolov’s research shows much more significant figures ranging “anywhere from 15 percent to 25 percent and in some upwards to 50 percent.”[4] These figures contrast sharply with historians such as Munting.

In trying to reconcile some of the disparity which exists between the respective historiography, the historians on both sides of the controversy offer some very good arguments to support their positions. Roger Munting in his work The Economic Development of the USSR argued that lend-lease provided only a marginal contribution to the Soviet war effort and cites figures showing “deliveries of 2 percent of artillery, 12 percent of aircraft, 10 percent of tanks…”[5] while giving slight credit to allied deliveries of food and transport as helping to overcome Soviet “bottlenecks.”[6] Munting in arriving upon such figures relied upon the research of Soviet historian G.S. Kravchenko’s own The Economy of the USSR in the Years of the Great Fatherland War (1941-1945). Kravchenko’s work, much like Munting’s, gives scant credit to lend-lease, instead citing the ingenuity of the Soviet leadership “as no small measure due to the effectiveness of previous economic and technological decisions”[7] made during the 1930’s. Munting writing in a similar tone as Kravchenko, argues that the Soviet military preparations before the war allowed for the “surprisingly well organized evacuation of plant and workers”[8] that would have been lost to the invading armies allowed industrial production to be shifted east. The shift east according to Munting allowed steel production to continue at a much less interrupted state, although allied deliveries of other high value quality metal products did aid “in overcoming supply bottlenecks within the USSR”[9] a point also conceded by the historian Mark Harrison .

Mark Harrison in his work The Russian and Soviet Economies in Two World Wars argued along similar lines as Munting, claiming that Soviet victory can be attributed to the fact that “Much of the war was fought on Soviet territory. This released positive forces of national resistance, stimulating Soviet resource mobilization…”[10]  It was the Soviet’s ability to mobilize industrial production, a point which Harrison argues “permitted recovery from the devastating losses of the opening campaigns.”[11] Harrison’s work makes a compelling argument that it was primarily Soviet industrial strength only aided by Allied economic support at the needed time which led toward German defeat.  The historiography of both Munting and Harrison placed far greater emphasis on the supreme effort of the Soviet Union while minimalizing the allied support effort, with Munting’s writing leading in this minimization. In fact in Munting’s  Lend-lease and the Soviet War Effort , Munting only really acknowledged the Allied lend-lease contributions in the areas of transport and food commodities as being crucial.

While the historiography of Munting, Harrison, and Kravchenko have minimalized the significance of the Allied Lend-Lease Program to the Soviet war effort, the same cannot be said for historians Albert Weeks, Robert Jones, and Alexander Hill.  Weeks in his work Russia’s Life-Saver provided an excellent quote which set the tone of his work, and which made the strong argument as to the significance of the Lend-Lease program in achieving Soviet victory. In a confidential interview with the wartime correspondent Konstantin Simonov, the famous Soviet Marshal G.K. Zhukov is quoted as sayin g “Today [1963] some say the Allies didn’t really help us…But listen, one cannot deny that the Americans shipped over to us material without which we could not have equipped our armies held in reserve or been able to continue the war.”[12] Marshall Zhukov according to Weeks even goes on further to state that the Soviet government engaged in the calculated use of propaganda to systemically demean the importance of the Allied Lend-Lease Program, believing that it distracted from the heroism and sacrifice of the Soviet soldier and people.  Furthermore Weeks claims that since the end of the 1990’s, there has been a change amongst the Russian historians regarding the significance of the Lend-Lease program, one which more closely approximates the truth. For example Weeks cited the work of the Russian historian Boris Sokolov who claimed that the Lend-Lease figure of four percent of related military goods which has been used in western historiography as fact , is actually an “egregious error …made by Soviet propagandists.”[13]  According to Sokolov the true figures of the Lend-Lease Program were much higher than the four percent figures used in other historical works, in fact in “some cases upwards towards 50 percent of various types of military goods as a percentage of what the Soviets themselves were able to produce”[14] is more accurate. These figures tend to support Weeks’ argument that the Allied Lend-Lease Program did play a significant role in Soviet victory, a point also conceded by the historian Robert Hill.

Robert Hill in his work British Lend-Lease and the Soviet War Effort made a strong argument in support of Lend-Lease, particularly when discussing the significance of British armored deliveries. Hill made the point that during the first year of the war “the Soviet losses [in armor] approached and exceeded domestic supply, making any additional inputs significant.”[15] Hill points out that although Soviet tanks were superior, the Soviets did not have the planned quantities of these tanks because of the heavy losses they suffered earlier in the war, and this made the British deliveries all the more significant, a point also conceded by the Jones.

Robert Jones, in his work The Roads to Russia also argues in support of the significance of the Lend-Lease Program claiming that “the United States aid to Russia played a much more vital war role than it would appear from the cold [war] statistics.”[16] Jones argued along similar lines as Weeks, also points out that by the end of the war Russia went to great lengths to disregard the significance of Lend-Lease. In fact Jones argued that had the Soviet Union published the true extent to which the Lend-Lease Program aided the Soviets, it would have exposed the Soviet Union to “the lie [of]her own propaganda”[17],. Albert Weeks and Robert Hill however provide some interesting insight which helps to explain the Soviets rationale for minimizing the significance of the Lend-Lease Program.

Albert Weeks in his work Russia’s Life-Saver found that the present Executive Director of the Alaska-Siberia Research Center Director Alexander Dolitsky offered the best explanation for Russia’s reluctance to acknowledge the significance of Lend-Lease when he stated that, “the Soviets efforts to minimize the role of Lend-Lease may have been motivated by considerations of national prestige and image.”[18] Robert Hill on the other hand believed that the Soviets downplayed the significance of lend-lease in order to make a more political point, claiming that  “the Communist Party could claim to have both organized and inspired the Soviet people to achieve victory…”[19] thereby strengthening their own position at home. Both rationales certainly go a long way toward supporting the arguments of Weeks, Hill, and Jones in explaining the Soviet need to minimize the significance of the Lend-Lease Program.

The historiographical controversy surrounding the significance of the Allied Lend-Lease Program serves as a perfect example of the dynamic and progressive process of historical study. This progressive process is one that evolves and changes as more information is discovered, allowing a truth to emerge about past events that is now more accurate. The earlier writings of historians such as Munting, Harrison, and Kravchenko perfectly illustrate this point because their writings were only as accurate as the available source material. The Soviet government which controlled the source material was intent on minimizing the significance of the Lend-Lease Program, and instead sought to promote an image of Soviet sacrifice and heroism. To do this, the Soviet government promulgated inaccurate figures that hid the full significance of Lend-Lease support. The Allied Lend-Lease Program was a significant factor in the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany. Although this issue was controversial during the Cold War, historians such as Albert Weeks and Alexander Hill in a post- Soviet era have provided us with a much more accurate interpretation.  

 

 

Bibliography

Gatrell, Peter, and Mark Harrison. “The Russian and Soviet Economies in Two World Wars: A Comparative View.” The Economic Review 46, no. 3 (1993): pp.425-452. Accessed November 16, 2011. http://www.jstor.org/stable/2598362.

Hill, Alexander. “British Lend Lease Aid and the Soviet War Effort, June 1941-1942.” The Journal of Military History 71, no. 3 (2007): pp. 773-808. Accessed November 1, 2011. http://www.jstor.org/stable/30052890.

Jones, Robert H. The Roads to Russia: United States Lend-Lease to the Soviet Union Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1969.

Lieberstein, Samuel. “Ekonomika SSSR v gody Velikoi Otechestvennoi voiny (1941-1945) gg. [The Soviet economy of the USSR in the years of the Great Fatherland War (1941-1945)] by G.S. Kravchenko.” Technology and Culture 15, no. 1 (1974): 123. Accessed November 16, 2011. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3102786.

Munting, Roger. “Lend-Lease and the Soviet War Effort.” Journal of Contemporary History 19, no. 3 (1984): pp. 495-510. Accessed November 1, 2011. http://www.jstor.org/stable/260606.

Munting, Roger. The Economic Development of the U.S.S.R New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1984.

 Weeks, Albert L. Russia’s Life-Saver: Lend-Lease Aid to the U.S.S.R. in World War II New York: Lexington Books, 2010.

 


[1] Albert L. Weeks, Russia’s Life-Saver: Lend-Lease Aid to the U.S.S.R. in World War II (New York: Lexington Books, 2010), 135

[2] Robert H. Jones, The Roads to Russia: United States Lend-Lease to the Soviet Union (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1969), 248

[3] Roger Munting, “Lend-Lease and the Soviet War Effort.” Journal of Contemporary History 19, no. 3 (1984): pp. 495-510. Accessed November 1, 2011. http://www.jstor.org/stable/260606., 495

[4] Weeks, Russia’s Life-Saver: Lend-Lease Aid to the U.S.S.R. in World War II , 8

[5] Roger Munting, The Economic Development of the U.S.S.R (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1984), 118

[6] Roger Munting, The Economic Development of the U.S.S.R (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1984), 118

[7] Samuel Lieberstein. “Ekonomika SSSR v gody Velikoi Otechestvennoi voiny (1941-1945) gg. [The Soviet economy of the USSR in the years of the Great Fatherland War (1941-1945)] by G.S. Kravchenko.” Technology and Culture 15, no. 1 (1974): 122-125. Accessed November 16, 2011. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3102786., 123

[8] Munting, “Lend-Lease and the Soviet War Effort.”,  499

[9] Ibid, 500

[10] Peter Gatrell and Mark Harrison. “The Russian and Soviet Economies in Two World Wars: A Comparative View.” The Economic Review 46, no. 3 (1993): pp.425-452. Accessed November 16, 2011. http://www.jstor.org/stable/2598362., 449

[11] Ibid, 438

[12] Albert L. Weeks The Other Side of Coexistence: An Analysis of Russian Foreign Policy, (New York, Pittman Publishing Corporation, 1974), p.94, quoted in Albert L. Weeks, Russia’s Life-Saver: Lend-Lease Aid to the U.S.S.R. in World War II (New York: Lexington Books, 2010), 1

[13] Weeks, Russia’s Life-Saver: Lend-Lease Aid to the U.S.S.R. in World War II , 8

[14] Ibid

[15] Mark Harrison, Soviet Planning in Peace and War,1938-1945 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985)pg. 114 and 264; and G. F. Krivosheev, ed.,  Soviet Causalities and Combat Losses in the Twentieth Century,(London: Greenhill Books, 1997)pg. 252, quoted in Alexander Hill “British Lend Lease Aid and the Soviet War Effort, June 1941-1942.” The Journal of Military History 71, no. 3 (2007): pp. 773-808. Accessed November 1, 2011. http://www.jstor.org/stable/30052890., 787

[16] Robert H. Jones, The Roads to Russia: United States Lend-Lease to the Soviet Union (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1969), 238

[17] Jones, The Roads to Russia: United States Lend-Lease to the Soviet Union, 250

[18] Weeks, Russia’s Life-Saver: Lend-Lease Aid to the U.S.S.R. in World War II , 126

[19] Alexander Hill, “British Lend Lease Aid and the Soviet War Effort, June 1941-1942.” The Journal of Military History 71, no. 3 (2007): pp. 773-808. Accessed November 1, 2011. http://www.jstor.org/stable/30052890., 774


 

 

One thought on “The Significance of the Allied Lend-Lease Program and Soviet Victory during the Second World War

  1. By claiming that H.Hopkins was a Soviet agent and that V.Suvurov was right, Weeks has lost all credibility.

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