The Lend-lease scheme of 1941 changed history. Without the unfettered willingness of America to devote the greater portion of its economic resources to the Allied war effort, WW2 would have ended early. With an Axis victory.
In Part 1 of this 10 part series, I have begun re-telling the economic secret to the Allied victory in WW2.
Why was the Lend-lease scheme so important? What was the political and economic situation facing Britain in 1939 and 1940?
WW2 began in Europe with the German invasion of Poland in September 1939, after several years of escalating actions by Nazi Germany against its neighbours. Britain and France declared war on Germany without necessarily expecting to become embroiled in a major war. Diplomacy was seen as more important than guns in 1939. With the benefit of hindsight, we might wonder why Britain and France hesitated to confront Nazi Germany in a military sense. When we think of WW2 in Europe from our vantage point of the early 21st Century, we think of the Holocaust and the many atrocities committed by the Nazis and their allies. However, in the 1930s, few people outside Germany were concerned particularly about Nazi ideology or Nazi oppression of German citizens. Of greater concern, but not warranting a military response in the eyes of the international community, were the repeated German violations of the Treaty of Versailles of 1919 – the re-introduction of conscription and expansion of the German military (1935), the military re-occupation of the Rhineland (1936), and the annexation of Austria (1938). Similarly concerning but not warranting military action was the German military support to the Nationalist forces in the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), German alliances with other militarist regimes in Italy and Japan (1936), German seizure of the Sudetenland from neighbouring Czechoslovakia (1938), and finally the annexation of the whole of Czechoslovakia (1939).
Britain and France prepared for war at a leisurely pace in late 1939 and early 1940. After twenty years of peace in Europe since the end of WW1, and their wilful disregard of German militarism in the 1930s, Britain and France needed time to adjust to the realities of war. Meanwhile, Germany invaded its neighbours according to own timetable in early to mid-1940 – Denmark and Norway in April; and Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Belgium, and France in May of that year. This period is often remembered in terms of German Blitzkrieg (lightening war) tactics, but really the Western Allies were in denial. Or perhaps, bewildered is a better word. The German military did not use particularly revolutionary tactics, it was just more aggressive in the application of its tactics.
In Part 3 (of this 10 Part series), I will discuss the dire situation facing Britain after the defeat of its western European Allies. Britain stood alone in Europe while America remained stanchly Isolationist.