By the late summer of 1941 the world watched, and waited, for what seemed like the imminent collapse of the Soviet Union. The Germans had penetrated deep into Russian territory and were on the doorsteps of the capital. The Red Army had lost millions of men, and tens of thousands of tanks and aircraft.
Recovery looked impossible. The Nazis occupied the primary agricultural regions of the country, and had also overrun a large portion of Russia’s industrial zones. What factories remained were in pieces, and in transit to their new locations far behind the front lines.
However, despite significant setbacks and incredible losses, the Russians did the impossible – they stopped the Germans. During the pivotal stage of the invasion, from October to December, the Red Army managed to recover enough to halt the German advance eastward. Not only was the defensive battle a resounding success, but the subsequent counter-attack that began in the first week of December around Moscow gave the Russians hope for the eventual defeat of the Nazis. The December offensive was eventually expanded to include the entire front, from Leningrad to Rostov, and ran into the late spring of 1942.
Up until the end of that year, the Russians worked feverishly to re-establish their industrial capacity and recover from the devastating losses experienced in the opening stages of the German invasion. By June 1942, American Lend-Lease shipments were starting to roll into the Soviet Union. These much-needed supplies would go a long way to propping up the Russian war machine, and its impact has been widely debated both on these forums and in the historiography of the issue itself.
One aspect of Lend-Lease that is quite often overlooked, and which gets very little attention here at TWC, is the First Moscow Protocol that technically ended in June 1942. Members here have often downplayed its role, if not ignored it altogether. Perhaps this is due to a lack of understanding, or an unwillingness to examine its impact on the early part of the war in the East. In any event, I will try to provide as objective an overview of it as possible.
During the First Protocol the British were the primary providers of aid to the Russians for the only reason that the American economy was just beginning to find itself on a war footing. These early shipments were quite significant for the Russians as they struggled to make good the losses of 1941. While the early LL aid certainly didn’t “save” the Soviets, it did play a much more significant role than has been acknowledged.
By the end of June 1941, the Russians had started requesting materiel from the British and Americans. They asked for 3000 fighter planes, 3000 bombers, anti-submarine sonar (ASDIC) as well as a massive quantity of raw material and other goods. Despite the requests, there was considerable resistance from within the US to the thought of supplying the Russians with any material at all – whether purchased through a cash and carry program, or via Lend Lease.
The difficulty facing the British was meeting their own needs, while at the same time being the primary provider to the Soviets until the Americans could formally include Russia in the Lend Lease Act. It wasn’t until late September that the big 3 Allies were able start negotiations for a more detailed itinerary for the First Protocol, and it wouldn’t be until November when Russia was formally included in the LL program. It was eventually agreed to supply 200 planes and 250 tanks on a monthly basis, along with other equipment/resources vital to the Soviet war effort.
According to Alexander Hill, the Russians were only able to produce 4649 “principle types (T34, KV series, and light tanks)” of tanks in the second half of 1941, and 11178 for the first six months of 1942. The British managed to deliver 1442 during this time. While the British vehicles were inferior to the T34, the Russians had been unable to produce the T34 in any appreciable numbers until after the end of the First Protocol, giving the British vehicles value that went beyond their technical characteristics.
The Russians only managed to produce 2819 medium/heavy tanks from June until December (while total med/heavy AFV losses during the same time amounted to 3200, and pre-war stocks being around 1400), and these were supplemented by 361 medium/heavy British vehicles (with 466 total AFVs delivered).
On December 1st, Red Army tank strength stood at 6347, with only about 1400 being medium or heavy. Thus, British Lend-Lease vehicles represented 25% of all available Russian medium/heavy tanks. The importance of Lend-Lease vehicles becomes even more evident when the situation in front of Moscow is examined in more detail. According to Soviet sources, the Red Army had a total of 670 tanks, of which 205 were medium or heavy. Of the integrated and Independent tanks units operating in the Battle for Moscow, Hill asserts that 30 – 40% of their medium/heavy tanks were of British origin!
During the spring and early summer of 1942, tanks from the UK continued to play a valuable role in Soviet formations. While the ratio of LL to domestic vehicles steadily declined as Russian production began to kick in, LL vehicles still amounted to 16% of total available strength.
Of even more importance to the USSR during the First Moscow Protocol were the deliveries of aircraft. According to Mark Harrison, the Russians produced a total of 16468 planes between June 1941 and June 1942. During the same period, the UK supplied 1323 fighter planes. On the surface, this appears to be of only minor importance, but if we take into consideration combat losses by the Red Air Force, these LL planes take on greater significance. Including pre-war stocks, and deliveries in 1941, the Russians had cycled almost 30000 planes through frontline service, resulting in losses of 18000 planes! The December 31st stock of fighter planes was only 7900 aircraft, including an approximate number of 700 LL fighters.
Soviet Air Defence units (PVO) saw increasing numbers of LL supplied planes fill their orders of battle. The 6th Fighter Air Corps of Moscow had 15% of its compliment of aircraft supplied by LL for the defence of Moscow, and overall, by the end of 1942, LL planes made up 27.5% of PVO forces. Many air regiments in the far north had even higher proportions of LL planes, serving as the backbone for the aerial defence of Murmansk, Karelia and Archangel.
To be conintued...next time I post, it'll be about materiel, resources, and other goods supplied by the British during the First Protocol. I'll also supply a complete list of all sources I've used (none of which include the internets...)