SEA ROUTES OF SOVIET LEND-LEASE
During the Second World War, lend-lease supplies from the Allied nations – Britain and later the United States — were delivered to the Soviet Union along several major routes. In the early months of the Soviet-German hostilities, when the war was especially hard for this country, the most important was the Northern route, with the convoys traveling to the northern ports of the Soviet Union – Archangel and Murmansk.
“The shortest of all lend-lease routes – and at the same time the most dangerous — was the Northern route,” says Alexander Nesterov, Science Director of the
Moscow-based museum “The Allies and Lend-Lease”. “The distance from the British and Icelandic ports to Archangel and Murmansk was covered by the convoys within a mere ten to twelve days. The convenience of the ice-free port of Murmansk connected with the railway was apparent. However, the city was located in close proximity to the frontline, and Nazi aircraft could reach it within just 10 minutes. All that made the unloading in Murmansk very dangerous. The White Sea ports of Archangel and Severodvinsk were safer. “The Archangel port is now and will continue to be of special significance in the immediate future”, said Soviet leader Joseph Stalin in the autumn of 1941. “We’ve concluded an agreement with President Roosevelt and Prime-Minister Churchill. Transports loaded with vital supplies are on their way to Archangel via the Atlantic. We must organize their reception and quick unloading. The cargoes must be promptly dispatched to the battle-lines. It’s very important”. The First Allied convoy “Dervish” arrived in Archangel on August 31, and a few weeks later — on September 27, 1941, a group of Soviet ships, together with the British ones, left this country as part of the first ‘reverse’ convoy.”
Another crucial supply route that provided a massive flow of war materiel to the Soviet Union was the ‘Persian corridor’. On January 29, 1942, a Tripartite Treaty of Alliance between the Soviet Union, Britain and Iran was signed in Tehran. In accordance with it, Allied troops could stay on Iranian soil until the end of the war and use that country’s supply lines for delivering war cargoes. While the British were engaged in the reconstruction of the southern ports and trans-Iran communications, the Soviet troops modernized Iran’s Caspian ports and roadways that led to them. In late 1942 the British contingent was joined by American construction corps. In 1943 the Americans took over the responsibility for transferring war cargoes via Iran. As of spring 1942 the bulk of war supplies from the United States was shipped to the Soviet Union from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In April 1942 the number of American vessels arriving in the Gulf area doubled. Ships flying the British flag arrived in Iran regularly too. The ‘Persian corridor’ provided the Eastern front with foodstuffs, metals, army vehicles, bombers and fighter planes, cannonry and ammunition. Most supplies arriving in the Persian Gulf by sea were then carried by rail or in truck convoys. Some cargoes were reloaded onto ships to be delivered to the Soviet territory across the Caspian Sea.
About half of the cargoes for the Soviet Union were delivered by the Pacific route. War-time Minister of the Soviet Navy, Admiral Nikolai Kuznetsov, wrote in his memoirs: “Transport vessels loaded at the ports on the west coast of the United States arrived in Vladivostok, Nikolayevsk-on-Amur and Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, in the Soviet Far East. As a rule, the time at sea ranged from 18 to 20 days — plus the time it took to deliver the cargoes by rail, first, in the United States and then on Soviet territory. Although the Soviet Union strictly observed neutrality, the Japanese interfered with the passage of ships in the Pacific and sometimes sank our vessels…”
The first consignments of war cargoes were shipped from the United States to the Soviet Union as early as in the summer of 1941 – several months before this country was incorporated into the Lend-Lease aid program. The example to this effect is the “Santa Clair” oil tanker that arrived in Vladivostok on September 2, 1941. It was followed by two more American oil tankers. This flow of cargoes was disrupted by the war between the United States and Japan that broke out in December 1941. From then on war cargoes on the Pacific sea lane were delivered by Soviet vessels only. In 1942 freighters of the Soviet Pacific Fleet started going mainly to the United States to bring back much needed war supplies, and since 1943 that was a principal route of Soviet lend-lease.