“LEND-LEASE WAS THE BEST PERIOD IN THE MODERN HISTORY OF RUSSIAN-AMERICAN RELATIONS”
The guest in our studio today is Carl Watt, an American residing in Russia. A graduate of Leningrad State University, he’s been in this country for a total of ten years now. During the past few years Mr.Watt has been working with the “Allies and Lend-Lease Museum” in Moscow. He is talking to Olga Troshina of our staff.
TROSHINA: Carl, first of all, tell us why you’re interested in Lend-Lease?
WATT: I’m interested in Lend-Lease as part of the relations between our two peoples, which are now very peaceful, and I’m very happy about that. I think there’s no other period in our relations that is as beautiful to think back on as the Lend-Lease period, when brave Russian soldiers were doing a lot of the fighting, most of the fighting in the war, and the Americans were at least able to help by sending over food, ammunition, and equipment. In the 1990s, I was working with the Design Bureau Ilyushin, when they were working on an American-Russian plane for Russia, and I met many veterans there. It’s one thing to be a history buff in America, where the war was far away, but here the war was directly on the territory. There were so many intensive battles here. So, it became much more real for me, when I met the veterans that were working at Ilyushin. Also, when I was growing up, my family had a Willys Jeep, and I was always very interested in that. And then, I was amazed one day, when I was at the Moscow Auto Exotica Fair, I saw this man driving around in the Willys Jeep. And that turned out to be Mr.Borodin, the Director of the Lend-Lease Museum in Moscow.
TROSHINA: Could you please tell us briefly what kind of museum it is?
WATT: When I first met Mr.Borodin, he was hoping to have a museum, and I thought, “How are you going to have a museum in the center of Moscow?” But it turned out that the local school was under a pressure from the government to start a museum of the war. They invited us to come and display our collections in this museum at the school. This is about 65 square meters. It’s just a small apartment-size room, but the local government has given us a lot of storage, space shelves, and display cabinets. Now we’re ready to double our size. It’s amazing how many things were preserved during all those years, for example, a can of American powdered milk from the war was right at the director’s next door neighbor. Brand new boots we find, brand new coats, all kinds of things in Russia.
TROSHINA: I heard about at least one item that you donated to the museum – that is a Soviet Navy flag. Where did you get it?
WATT: While staying here in Russia, I’ve been scouting the American-based sale site eBay. And that’s where I found the flag. It had been in the basement of a museum in America. It’s a Soviet naval flag. It says USSR in English written on it. And it was one of the flags that was made when the Americans turned over a ship to the Soviet Navy. They were able to put the right flag on it, so there was no question of what nationality when it was turned over.
TROSHINA: At the present time you happen to be the museum’s voluntary secretary. What does it mean to be a museum secretary?
WATT: Well, I’m just happy to be counted as a member of the staff of the museum. We often have celebrations at school for World War Two veterans, and we want to invite people, say, from the American Embassy or the British Embassy or the Canadian Embassy to participate. Otherwise, a lot of my effort is to raise funds so that we continue to purchase the items that we find so that we can get some more artifacts for our museum, as we all are doing in the staff. It’s our passion, our hobby. Right now we’re spending a lot of time renovating a garage in Moscow so that we have a place where we can restore some of the things we’re buying. We have some amphibious Jeeps from 1943 that the Americans sent over. These are very rare throughout the world, and so we’re working on restoring them. The people who’re involved in this are just wonderful people. This is a totally grass-roots effort, the lend-lease thing. There’s no government involvement. These are people who remember that their fathers were flying in American bombers, and they’re just very interested to put this thing together. They’re very cultured people, and I enjoy very much working with them.
TROSHINA: What is your opinion on the role played by the Lend-Lease aid program in the Second World War?
WATT: I think Lend-Lease played a special role because of the huge losses in the first months of the war. There was so much equipment lost that the lend-lease shipments were really helpful during the first months, during the first years after the big German advances. And then also I think it’s generally agreed that American trucks were really the key to making the Soviet Army mobile enough to take a quick advance across Europe towards Berlin.
TROSHINA: Moral support was no less important…
WATT: Yes, I think so. One thing I found at a market here is a letter from a soldier home, and the form the letter is on shows a Soviet soldier, an American soldier with a flag, and a British soldier with a flag. I’m sure that was done to make sure the soldiers realized they were part of a coalition against the Germans.
TROSHINA: Did anyone in your family take part in any lend-lease projects during the Second World War?
WATT: Well, it’s interesting. I didn’t know this, but after I told my parents that I was working with the Lend-Lease museum, they mentioned that one of my father’s uncles came to Murmansk three times during the war…
TROSHINA: With the convoys?
TROSHINA: What should be done to help the Americans learn more about Russia’s contribution to the victory over Nazism?
WATT: Well, I think that we should try and find more equipment, more exhibits, more items that are left over from that war from the Soviet contribution and maybe start to exchange with our museums. In America we have war museums, but very little Soviet artifacts are there. And so may be that will be the first step, if we start establishing contacts between our groups.
TROSHINA: On the other hand, I think Russians too still have a lot to learn about the Allied effort in the war. And your museum can be of great help in this respect…
WATT: Yes, I hope so. I take great pleasure when we come out in Willys Jeeps and Harley Davidson motorcycles that are left from the war. I think it’s great to show people that these things were there too, because it all was sort of hidden for a number of years. We also display our Jeeps during May 9 Victory celebrations and during the anniversary of the start of the war we demonstrate some of our things, we show them, so I think we’re reaching a lot of people, and we can reach more as we start to restore more of our artifacts. For example, every year on May 9 you can go to Gorky Park in Moscow, and all the people who’re collecting these things – motorcycles, Jeeps, all kinds of equipment, are there to display them to the veterans and everyone to see.
TROSHINA: Why do you think it’s important to speak about our wartime cooperation, Lend-Lease in particular, now, over six decades on?
WATT: It was an extremely important thing. Because of the cold war this cooperation was played down in my country, it was played down in your country. I like to look at it again as the best period we can remember in the modern history of Russian-American relations. And I think it’s good to look back at it and say, “Yes, there’re some great things that we can do when we work together”. I think both sides should be proud of their roles in the war and their role in Lend-Lease, and so why not start remembering it? Let’s remember some of the good things that have happened during the last sixty years.
TROSHINA: Thank you for answering my questions, Carl. Success to you with your museum activities!
WATT: Thank you very much. We look forward to having Americans writing to us at the museum and sharing their experiences about Lend-Lease. And maybe, if they have artifacts to share, that would be great.
Contact info for the museum:
Nikolai Borodin, Director
The Allies and Lend Lease Museum
10 Ulitsa Zhitnaya