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US Lend Lease Agreement

By the end of 1940, Great Britian had been at war with Germany and its partners for more than a year and had spent all of its liquid reserves – the British were out of cash. Speaking to American reporters on November 23rd, the British Ambassador, Lord Lothian, smiled as he declared “Well boys, Britain’s broke; it’s your money we want.

The United States was still trying to shake off the effects of the Great Depression, and many Americans remembered the horrors of the last war in Europe and its great cost in bothy men and money. American’s who wanted to help the British, including newly re-elected President Franklin D. Roosevelt, were prevented from loaning Britian money by a set of Neutrality Acts, the last of which has been passed by the U.S. Congress in May 1937. These acts initially prevented the United States from selling war materials to any belligerent in a war, but they were later modified to allow purchases on a strictly cash-and-carry. Thus, each purchaser had to pay cash and provide its own shipping to carry the materials. Another Act, kept any nation from borrowing money from America if it had not repaid its prior war debt – which only Finland had done after the First World War. Shortly after the British evacuvation at Dunkirk in June of 1940, Roosevelt and others sympathetic to the British side stepped the restrictive acts by an outright gift of much needed munitions, worth about $3 million, by declaring the supplies “surplus”. In September 1940, Great Britian received 50 old but much needed American destroyers in exchange for 99 year leases on Atlantic air and naval bases. Great Britian, however, needed much more, and Prime Minister Winston Churchhill continued to pressure Roosevelt for aid.

Public opinion polls showed the the majority of Americans favoured giving aid to Britain, as long as the United States remained neutral and out of the fighting. In a press conference on December 17th 1940, and again during one of his Fireside Chats on December 29th Roosevelt said the United States was not going to loan Britian money but was going to get rid of the “silly, foolish old dollar sing” with a new aid program called Lend-Lease. He likened it to a garden hose loaned to a neighbour whose house was on fire. One did not ask for payment first, but rather expected a replacement or repayment when the emergency was over. He also borrowed a phrase he had heard from Churchill, saying “We must become the great arenal of democracy”. The Lend-Lease act was actually titled An Act to Promote the Defence States when it was finally enacted on March 11, 1941. The act allowed the President to “sell, tranfer title to, exchange, lease, lend, or otherwise dispose of “any” material that would promote the defence of the United States. When the news reached Winston Churchill, he called Lend-Lease “Hitlers death warrant”.


Economic depression, however, had shrunk America’s industrial output which was only beginning to rebound in 1940. That year, Detroit’s automobile makers produced 3.7 million motors vehicles, up from only 1.3 million in 1932, but still for from the over 5 million which rolled off assembly lines in 1929. The U.S. military was also rearming and expanding at this time, putting a further strain on American industry. These factors, plus a shortage of ships to deliver the goods, limited the flow of Lend-Lease Administration was not even officially created until August 1941.


Initially, both the Army and Navy’s air services were opposed to Lend=Lease, as it meant they were in competition with Britian and other nations for modern combat aircraft. Gen. “Hap” Arnold, chief of the U.S. Army Air Corps, argued against the production of so many British specified designs, when his own pilots did not have enough modern fighters or bombers/ In April 1941, however Arnold was invited to visit England, where he met with Churchill and other leaders, including a lengthy audience with the King. Shown many of Britain’s most secret projects, including the jet engine, Arnold returned home a convert to the Lend-Lease program, and began solving the problem of delivering large numbers of planes across the Atlantic.


The Devil as an ally


In the early morning hours of June 21st 1941 German Forces invaded the Soviet Union, and suddenly, Churchill and other Allied leaders found themselves with a new ally against Hitler – Communist dictator Josepth Stallin. The night before, with intelligence reports forecasting the German move against Russia, Churchill was asked by his personal secretary how he would reply to the attack in Parliament, should it come. The prime minister, an arch anti- Communist and longtime opponent of Stalin, calmly replied “I have only the purpose, the destruction of Hitler, and my life is much simplified thereby. If Hitler invaded hell I would make at least a favourable reference to the devil in the House of Commons”. Roosevelt and other American’s were also reluctant to provide aid to Stalin. Lend-Lease was finally extended to the Soviet Union in November 1941, but significant shipments of supplies did not begin for several months. American aircraft and other aid flowed to Russia over four very different routes.


The Takoradi Air Route and Persian Gulf Ports

Establised originally to support the British forces in the Western Dessert, the Tokoradi Air Route began at the port of that name on the Gold Coast of Africa, ending more than 4,000 miles later at Abu Sueir, Egypt, near Cairo. Aircraft arrived at Takoradi onboard ships or by air from the United States via South America and the Ascension Islands. Other Lend-Lease aircraft and supplies bound for the Soviets traveled to ports in the Persian Gulf, and were then flown or moved north by rail through Iran, courtesy of the U.S. Military Railway Service.

The Artic Convoys

The destination of supply convoys in Russia were the ports of Archangel and Murmansk in the Barents Sea, the later the only Soviet port that was ice-free in the winter. Aircraft in crates and as deck cargo were included in these shipments through waters patrolled by aircraft of the Luftwaffe and both surface warships and U-boats of the Kriegsmarine. The Artic convoys endured heavy attacks from both the air and the sea, even being shelled by German Battleships and heavy crusiers. More than 20 percent of the ships and cargoes shipped by this route were lost.


Look on a map, the shortest distance between North America and the Soviet Union is across the Bering Strait, separating Alaska and Siberia. In 1941, however, there was not even a road from the Continental United States to the interior of Alaska. Before aircraft could be ferried to Alaska, the road and intermediate airfields had to be built. In March 1942, U.S. Army Engineers began construction of the Alcan Military Highway in Dawson Creek, British Columbia, aiming to join the existing Richardson Highway at Big Delta, Alaska, about 90 miles south of Fairbanks. Ten months later, in November 1942, the Alcan was declared open for business.

The Army Ferrying Command was founded in May 1941 at Long Beach California, but moved to Great Falls, Mont, in June 1942 and renamed the Air Transport Command (ATC). One of the first tasks facing ATC was establishing the ALSID (Alaska-Siberia) air route. Operating from a new field called East Basse, ferry operations began over the ALSID on August 3rd 1942, by the 7th Ferrying Group. After being winterised, planes left Great Falls and followed the Northwest Staging Route through Canada, with stops at Edjmonton, Grand Prairie, Fort St. John, Fort Nelson, Watson Lake and Whitehorse. The final stage of the more than 2,200 mile air journey, from Whitehorse to Ladd Field, near Fairbanks, Alaska was often the worst, combining bad weather and rugged, unforgiving terrain.
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