World War II: The Lend-Lease Act

Lend-Lease Act Signing
Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt signs the Lend-Lease Act, 1941. Library of Congress

The Lend-Lease Act, formally known as the An Act to Promote the Defense of the United States, was passed March 11, 1941. Championed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the legislation allowed military aid and supplies to be offered other nations. Passed before the United States entered World War II, the Lend-Lease Program effectively ended American neutrality and offered a means for directly supporting Britain's war against Germany and China's conflict with Japan. Following the American entry into World War II, Lend-Lease was expanded to include the Soviet Union. During the course of the conflict, around $50.1 billion worth of materials were supplied on the premise that it would be paid for or returned.


With the outbreak of World War II in September 1939, the United States assumed a neutral stance. As Nazi Germany began winning a long string of victories in Europe, the administration of President Franklin Roosevelt began seeking ways to aid Great Britain while remaining free of the conflict. Initially constrained by the Neutrality Acts which limited arms sales to "cash and carry" purchases by belligerents, Roosevelt declared large amounts of American weapons and ammunition "surplus" and authorized their shipment to Britain in mid-1940.

He also entered into negotiations with Prime Minister Winston Churchill to secure leases for naval bases and airfields in British possessions across the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic coast of Canada. These talks ultimately produced the Destroyers for Bases Agreement in September 1940. This agreement saw 50 surplus American destroyers transferred to the Royal Navy and Royal Canadian Navy in exchange for rent-free, 99-year leases on various military installations. Though they succeeded in repelling the Germans during the Battle of Britain, the British remained hard-pressed by the enemy on multiple fronts.

Destroyes for Bases Transfer
Royal Navy and U.S. Navy sailors inspect depth charges aboard Wickes-class destroyers, in 1940 before their transfer to the Royal Navy. Library of Congress

The Lend-Lease Act of 1941

Seeking to move the nation towards a more active role in the conflict, Roosevelt wished to provide Britain with all possible aid short of war. As such, British warships were permitted to make repairs in American ports and training facilities for British servicemen were constructed in the U.S. To ease Britain's shortage of war materials, Roosevelt pushed for the creation of the Lend-Lease Program. Officially titled An Act Further to Promote the Defense of the United States, the Lend-Lease Act was signed into law on March 11, 1941.

This act empowered the president to "sell, transfer title to, exchange, lease, lend, or otherwise dispose of, to any such government [whose defense the President deems vital to the defense of the United States] any defense article." In effect, it allowed Roosevelt to authorize the transfer of military materials to Britain with the understanding that they would ultimately be paid for or returned if they were not destroyed. To administer the program, Roosevelt created the Office of Lend-Lease Administration under the leadership of former steel industry executive Edward R. Stettinius.

In selling the program to a skeptical and still somewhat isolationist American public, Roosevelt compared it to loaning a hose to a neighbor whose house was on fire. "What do I do in such a crisis?" the president asked the press. "I don't say... 'Neighbor, my garden hose cost me $15; you have to pay me $15 for it' - I don't want $15 — I want my garden hose back after the fire is over." In April, he expanded the program by offering lend-lease aid to China for their war against the Japanese. Taking swift advantage of the program, the British received over $1 billion in aid through October 1941.

American Lend-Lease Tank
An American light tank is unloaded at a central ordnance depot in England, part of a lend-lease shipment from the United States. Library of Congress

Effects of Lend-Lease

Lend-Lease continued after the American entry into the war following the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. As the American military mobilized for war, Lend-Lease materials in the form of vehicles, aircraft, weapons, etc. were shipped to other Allied nations who were actively fighting the Axis Powers. With the alliance of the United States and the Soviet Union in 1942, the program was expanded to allow their participation with large amounts of supplies passing through the Arctic Convoys, Persian Corridor, and the Alaska-Siberia Air Route.

As the war progressed, most of the Allied nations proved capable of manufacturing sufficient frontline weapons for their troops, however, this led to a drastic reduction in the production other needed items. Materials from Lend-Lease filled this void in the form of munitions, food, transport aircraft, trucks, and rolling stock. The Red Army, in particular, took advantage of the program and by war's end, approximately two-thirds of its trucks were American-built Dodges and Studebakers. Also, the Soviets received around 2,000 locomotives for supplying its forces at the front.

Reverse Lend-Lease

While Lend-Lease generally saw goods being provided to the Allies, a Reverse Lend-Lease scheme also existed where goods and services were given to the United States. As American forces began arriving in Europe, Britain provided material assistance such as the use of Supermarine Spitfire fighters. Additionally, Commonwealth nations often provided food, bases, and other logistical support. Other Lead-Lease items included patrol boats and De Havilland Mosquito aircraft. Through the course of the war, the United States received around $7.8 billion in Reverse Lend-Lease aid with $6.8 of it coming from Britain and the Commonwealth nations.

End of Lend-Lease

A critical program for winning the war, Lend-Lease came to an abrupt end with its conclusion. As Britain needed to retain much of the Lend-Lease equipment for postwar use, the Anglo-American Loan was signed through which the British agreed to purchase the items for approximately ten cents on the dollar. The total value of the loan was around £1,075 million. The final payment on the loan was made in 2006. All told, Lend-Lease provided $50.1 billion worth of supplies to the Allies during the conflict, with $31.4 billion to Britain, $11.3 billion to the Soviet Union, $3.2 billion to France and $1.6 billion to China.

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Hickman, Kennedy. "World War II: The Lend-Lease Act." ThoughtCo, Aug. 28, 2020, Hickman, Kennedy. (2020, August 28). World War II: The Lend-Lease Act. Retrieved from Hickman, Kennedy. "World War II: The Lend-Lease Act." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 20, 2023).