No. 2, 2011

Alexander Matveichuk ,
Ph. D. (History), Member, Russian Academy of Natural Sciences


Deliveries of aviation gasoline to the Soviet Union under Lend-Lease were a great Allied contribution to the common goal of victory over Nazi Germany

We can say without exaggeration that no topic associated with the events of World War II has sparked such heated discussion among the historical community as the value of Lend-Lease, the system by which the United States, Great Britain, and Canada supplied the Soviet Union with weapons, military and other specialized hardware, raw and semifinished materials, fuel, and food. Here the spectrum of historians' opinions is quite broad: from declaring that Lend-Lease was all but the decisive factor in the defeat of Nazi Germany and its satellites to denying the substantial effect of Allied aid in destroying the Wehrmacht and other foreign armies that accompanied the Germans in their Eastern campaign. The search for the truth in this academic debate continues, and will go on for quite some time.

Aviators need aviation gas

With the start of World War II, substantial changes were made in the program for the rearmament of the Soviet Union's air forces. In September 1939, the Politburo of the Communist Party's Central Committee issued the decree On the Reconstruction of Existing and the Construction of New Aircraft Factories, in which it was ordered that nine existing plants be rebuilt and nine new aircraft works be erected.

In accordance with these plans, the production of up-to-date types of military aircraft got under way: the Yak-1, MiG-3, and LaGG-3 fighters; the Il-2 ground attack aircraft; and other airplanes whose use demanded they be supplied with quality high-octane gasolines. In the period from 1 January1939 to 22 June 1941 alone, domestic aircraft works turned out 17,745 military planes, of which 3,719 were of the latest types. At the same time, deliveries of fuels and lubricants from Soviet refineries, which continued to remain stuck at their earlier levels, were unable to satisfy the rapidly growing fuel needs of the Soviet armed forces (including those of the airforce) in terms of either quality or quantity.

In 1940, a total of 29,414 million tons of oil was processed at domestic refineries, producing only 883,600 tons of aviation gasoline, 3.477 million tons of automotive gasoline, 5.6 million tons of kerosene, 1.274 million tons of ligroin, 1.459 million tons of diesel fuel, 413,000 tons of naval oil, 9.8 million tons of fuel oil, and 1.469 million tons of various lubricants. Of the 883,600 tons of aviation gasoline produced domestically in 1940, an overwhelming proportion was avgas with low octane numbers of 70 to 74. This was almost good enough for obsolete domestically-produced aircraft, but only 4% of the demand for B-78 aviation gasoline, the best of those produced in the Soviet Union and the one needed by the new generation of warplanes, was satisfied across the country.

It was under unsatisfactory conditions such as these with regard to supplies of aviation gasoline that the Soviet airforce entered the initial phase of their Great Patriotic War on 22 June 1941.

The period of great trials

By mid-June 1941, the Nazi high command had concentrated 950 divisions comprising 5.5 million soldiers and officers, more than 3,700 tanks, around 5,000 airplanes, and upwards of 47,200 artillery pieces and mortars on the border of the Soviet Union in accordance with the plan for Operation BARBAROSSA. At dawn on 22 June 1941, after massive artillery barrages and aerial bombardment, the advance guard of the Nazi army crossed the border and began penetrating deep into Soviet territory quite rapidly. In certain sectors of the front, they managed to advance 35 to 50 kilometers the first day. At noon on 22 June 1941, an address by the Soviet government, read by Chairman of the Committee of People's Commissars Vyacheslav Molotov, was delivered over the radio to all of the nation's citizens, after which the mobilization of the military reserves was announced, a state of war was declared to exist in the republics and regions of the European part of the Soviet Union, and other immediate measures were undertaken.

At the start of the war, the Red Army Fuel Service had 247 fixed storage facilities and fueling stations with a total dispensing capacity of 653,000 m3 of bulk fuel and as many as 2,000 railroad tank cars. Some 90% of the Red Army's fuel stores were located in the border military districts. Seventy-three fixed tank farms with a storage capacity of 171,000 m3 were lost in just the first month of military operations. In the following three months, the army lost another 160,000 tons of its allocated ration of fuel and 300,000 tons of its mobilization reserve. It managed to evacuate only 60,000 tons. Throughout the summer and autumn of 1941, under the conditions of a shortage of munitions and fuel, the Red Army thus had to fight an unequal battle against a seasoned foe which had considerable superiority in military hardware and logistics support.

The highly unfavorable circumstances of the surprise attack, along with the gross miscalculations of the Soviet Communist Party and political leadership and military high command, led to the loss of economic regions vital to the country in just five months. As a result, Nazi troops occupied a considerable portion of the Soviet Union's territory, on which 80 million people had been living before the war and 46% of the nation's manufactured goods had been produced, including 68% of its steel, 67.8% of its rolled iron, 60% of its aluminum, and 62.5% of its recoverable coal.

Creation of the anti-Hitler coalition

On June 22, 1941, the day Nazi troops attacked the Soviet Union, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill made a radio address with an offer to aid "Russia and the Russian people." This was followed two days later by US President Franklin Roosevelt's announcement that Washington would support the Soviet Union in its war against Nazi Germany. To achieve this in practice, the President of the United States created a special group to keep the Soviet Union supplied. Roosevelt at once spoke out against those American politicians and military leaders who were calling for the Soviet Union not to be supplied. In their opinion, the Soviet Union was in no condition to resist Germany for a prolonged period of time, and this would lead to all shipments of arms and raw materials falling into the hands of the German forces. President Roosevelt assumed responsibility for following an active policy of supporting the Soviet Union, taking a direct hand in organizing the first shipments and quickly appearing before Congress with an initiative to include the Soviet Union in the Lend-Lease program.

Moscow saw the merit of the heads of the leading Western powers being ready to aid the Soviet Union. On June 29, 1941, Foreign Minister Molotov sent a telegram to Konstantin Umansky, the then Soviet ambassador to the United States, in which he stated "You will now have to go to Roosevelt or [US Secretary of State Cordell] Hull (or [Under Secretary of State Sumner] Welles) and ask him about the possibility of aiding the Soviet Union with deliveries of the following: (1) single-engine fighter aircraft, 3,000; (2) bombers, 3,000; ... (5) cracking and other installations for producing high-octane aviation fuel and lubricants.... It would be desirable if they granted five years' worth of credit for these goods. Telegraph your results."

In August 1941, the Intergovernmental Committee on Russian Aid was created by order of the President of the United States. It was headed by Harry Hopkins, Arthur Purvis, and USSR Ambassador Konstantin Umansky. President Roosevelt ordered $1 billion in aid to be sent to the Soviet Union on the basis of an interest-free loan, to be paid back over a period of ten years starting five years after the war's end. From June to the end of October 1941, $92 million worth of strategic goods were delivered from the United States. This sum included payment for 156,335 short tons of aviation gasoline, of which 25,185 tons were avgas with octane numbers above 99; 130,729 tons were avgas with octane numbers from 87 to 99; and 87,421 tons were avgas with octane numbers up to 87.

The Agreement concerning mutual deliveries, credit and methods of payment was signed by the Soviet Union and Great Britain on 16 August 1941. The Soviet Union was thereafter to be granted 10 million in credit for a period of five years, and deliveries of arms and strategic materials (including petroleum products, particularly high-octane aviation gasoline) began at once.

The fuel component of Lend-Lease

The protocol on supplying the Soviet Union under the Lend-Lease program (later referred to as the First Moscow Protocol) was signed by representatives of the Soviet Union, United States, and Great Britain at a conference held in Moscow on September 29 - October 1, 1941.

Monthly deliveries of 20,000 tons of petroleum products for the Soviet air forces (high-octane aviation gasoline, octane-boosting avgas additives, and lubricants and motor oils) were especially stipulated in the First Protocol. Even this, however, was not enough in the first few trying years of the war. Despite the heroic efforts of Soviet oil workers, the extreme conditions of the war led to a drop in Soviet oil production, from 31 million tons in 1940 to 19.3 million tons in 1945, i.e., a reduction of 37.7%. They also aggravated the difficult situation in the oil industry's refining sector, which turned out to be incapable of fully satisfying the growing demand for high-octane aviation gasolines.

If 1.269 million tons of aviation gasoline had been produced in the Soviet Union in 1941, only 912,000 tons were produced in 1942. It should also be noted that Soviet refineries were producing avgas with low octane numbers. In 1941, an overwhelming amount (75%) of the aviation gasoline produced had octane numbers from 70 to 74, the ones needed by obsolete types of domestically-produced aircraft.

In response to a request from the Soviet government, the Allies increased deliveries of high-octane aviation gasolines and lubricants. According to the official data for the years of the Soviet Union's Great Patriotic War, 2,159,336 short tons of petroleum products were delivered from the United States alone under Lend-Lease and commercial contracts. The amount of high-octane aviation gasoline, converted into the metric system, was 1,197,587 tons, including 558,428 tons with octane numbers above 99. One other important item: in the nomenclature of American oil deliveries, the Soviet Union also received 267,088 tons of automotive gasoline; 16,870 tons of kerosene; 287,262 tons of fuel oil; 111,676 tons of lubricants; 5,769 tons of paraffin; 4,788 tons of chemical additives; and 999 tons of other products.

It should be emphasized that in addition to petroleum products, the oil component of Lend-Lease included deliveries to the Soviet Union from the United States of equipment for four refinery complexes, along with drilling rigs and other oil industry equipment, pipe casings and compressor/pump piping, portable collapsible pipelines, instruments, tankers, tank trucks, railroad tanker cars, filling station pumps, and much else.

Lend-Lease deliveries to the Soviet Union officially ended on May 12, 1945, and from then until the Red Army crossed the Manchurian border in the Far East, deliveries of cargoes continued under the Special Program of October 17, and the so-called Molotov-Mikoyan List appended to it. In accordance with these agreements, the maximum amount of military and civilian material that the United States and Great Britain could spare to the Soviet Union was established. The so-called Pipeline Agreement, signed on October 15, 1945 and extending the Lend-Lease protocol, was also of immense importance to the shattered economy of the Soviet Union. This $222 million agreement had a substantial effect on the postwar development of the Soviet oil and gas industry as well.

It should be noted in general that, being part of the overall Lend-Lease program, the deliveries of petroleum products, refining and oilfield equipment, piping, and other materials from the nations of the anti-Hitler coalition to the Soviet Union helped greatly in keeping the Soviet armed forces supplied with fuel and lubricants throughout the war, thereby bringing the day of the great victory over our common enemy appreciably closer.

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Oil of Russia, No. 2, 2011
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