Soviet Army played largest role in defeat of Hitler

first posted 2007/0319
minor change 2007/0424

Copyright © 2007 by Hugo S. Cunningham

The German army did not suffer serious casualties until December 1941, when they were mauled by the Red Army before Moscow. From June 1941 to June 1944, the Red Army fought almost alone against the German Army. Only three years of German losses on the Eastern front (and the continued deployment of most German forces on the Eastern front) ensured that the June 1944 Normandy landing had a happier outcome than the 1942 Dieppe landing.

I extract more specific figures from
Martin K. Sorge, The Other Price of Hitler's War: German Military and Civilian Losses Resulting from World War II, (Contributions in Military Studies, Number 55) Greenwood Press, New York, 1986; cloth, 175 pp.
Quoted material copyright © 1986 by Martin K. Sorge

p. 62: Table 5

Total Wehrmacht losses, September 1 1939 to 31 Jan 1945: killed or died of wounds.

  Eastern Front       1,105,987 
  Scandinavia            16,639 
  Southwest              50,481 (Africa, Italy) 
  Southeast              19,235 (Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Albania, 
  West                  107,042 (France, Belgium, Holland) 
  died of wounds        295,659 [table 10, p. 65] 
  total               1,622,561  1,622,561 

Note: the 295,649 "died of wounds" should presumably be allocated among all the fronts in proportion to the numbers listed as killed, ie most to the Eastern front.

Navy                                48,904 

Air Force                          138,596 
total Wehrmacht                  1,820,061

Note: Navy losses and most of the Air Force losses would have been against the West, eg Anglo-American strategic bombing. At least some Air Force losses, however, would have occurred on the Eastern Front, both in air combat and in ground combat support.


In West 6 Jun 44 to 31 Jan 45 
  Army                   66,321 
  Air Force              11,066 
  misc:  illness, 
   accident, suicide, 
   execution             (rest) 
  total                 191,338    191,338 

p. 63 Table 6 

Missing German Military Personnel, 1 Sep 39 to 31 Jan 45 

  Eastern front   1,018,365 
  Scandinavia         5,157 
  Southwest         194,250 
  Southeast          14,805 
  West              409,715 

Replacement Army                  1,337 

Navy                            100,256 

Air Force                       156,132 
total                         1,902,704 

Of interest also is
Max Hastings, Armageddon : The Battle for Germany, 1944-1945 (Vintage).

Hastings sets out in great detail that even after the Western allies had liberated France and deployed along the German frontier, the Germans still suffered their heaviest casualties in the East. Soviet tactics were reckless with the lives of Soviet soldiers, but they also bludgeoned the Germans.

When Anglo-American tank units met resistance, they tended to wait for the infantry to clear it out; similarly, their infantry tended to wait on the tanks. In contrast, the Soviets had infantry machine-gunners riding on their tanks. They suffered heavy casualties, but the tanks broke through much more quickly. Western units waited on artillery and air strikes.

The German and Soviet Armies routinely shot shirkers and deserters, or sent them to punishment units which often amounted to the same thing. In contrast, the Americans shot only one deserter, and the British did not shoot any.

Hastings goes out of his way to suggest that the weaker Western effort was not necessarily wrong. It is doubtful whether the repressive apparatus necessary to enforce 100% effort in Soviet and Nazi terms could have been switched off once peace returned.

Hastings questioned the hoarding of elite Western fighters in airborne units. As the fiasco of Arnhem ("Market Garden") showed, light-armed airborne units could not defend themselves against armor. The paratroopers, self-selected for aggressive fighting spirit, might well have been more valuable "salting" ordinary infantry and armored units.

In a separate book on the 1944 Normandy Invasion Overlord, Hastings denounced the low quality of Western weapons design for land combat. German machine guns were better; no Western anti-tank gun compared with the German 88-mm, and Western tanks were totally ineffective against German Tigers and Panthers. Western command of the air (and the diversion of 2/3 of German forces to the Russian front) was essential to Western victory in 1944-45.

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