Lend-Lease was formally titled ‘An Act to Promote the Defence of the United States’. The programme brought together the United States, Great Britain, the USSR, the Republic of China and other Allied countries during World War Two. It was proposed by American president Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1940 and confirmed in 1941. It cleverly allowed the United States to support the war effort without engaging in battle or violating its Neutrality Act.
Lend-Lease support provided by the US reached a total cost of $50.1 billion, or $659 billion in today’s money. Britain received $31.4 billion, the Soviet Union $11.3 billion, China $1.6 billion and other Allied countries $5.8 billion. Canada established a sister act entitled Mutual Aid, which loaned $1 billion to Great Britain and $3.4 billion to other Allied countries.
In 1941, the situation in Europe was becoming critical. Britain was running short of arms, supplies and money. Winston Churchill appealed to Roosevelt for assistance. The Neutrality Act, which had played a key role in US foreign relations since 1931, prevented the US from selling arms to hostile nations. Furthermore, direct US involvement would not have been viewed positively by the majority of its citizens, who saw World War Two as an essentially European conflict. German Americans were the biggest ethnical group in the US at the time. Roosevelt concluded that a move towards American involvement needed to be gradual. Lend-Lease was his solution.
Propaganda and the fall of France helped American citizens to see the plus side of the Lend-Lease act. By February 1941, it was supported by over 50 per cent of Americans. A further 15 per cent were in favour of the act as long as they were given a guarantee of not getting actively involved in the war and of receiving security in return.
Roosevelt approved and signed the Lend-Lease act on March 11, 1941. Later that year, the programme was extended to countries other than Great Britain, including the Republic of China in April and the Soviet Union in October.
Lend-Lease aid was delivered to the USSR through three main channels: the Pacific Route, the Arctic Convoys and the Persian Corridor. The Artic Convoys were the shortest and most dangerous method. They provided 23 per cent of total aid shipped to the USSR. The longest route was through the Persian Corridor, which provided 27 per cent. The Pacific Route accounted for the final 50 per cent, though it could only be used for non-military aid.
In April 1945, Congress announced that Lend-Lease would not assist with post-conflict help. The programme ended in August that year.
Lend-Lease allowed the US to step around the Neutrality Act and helped to shift the attitude of the American public in favour of supporting Allied countries. It therefore had a major affect on the outcome of World War Two.