Why the Soviet Union could Not have Won “World War 2” Without the Western Allies

The Soviet Union unequivocally did the most of any power to defeat Nazi Germany during the “Second World War.” It fought the lion-share of the German army, and her European allies, for the majority of the conflict while the Western Allies usually faced significantly smaller numbers of Axis forces in Europe. Likewise the Soviet Union also destroyed perhaps 80% of the German armed forces and suffered a disproportionate amount of losses vs. the Western Allies, having much of its territory overrun and losing at least 20 million soldiers and civilians. Because of this there is a view that the Soviet Union could have beaten Nazi Germany without the Western Allies. This view is false. Without the considerable amount of lend lease equipment and supplies, the strategic bombing campaign, and the often critical intervention of western allied forces it is likely that the Soviet Union was doomed to lose a war on its own against Nazi Germany.

It is obvious that the Soviet Union did most of the fighting in Europe during “World War 2” and that it destroyed much more German forces than the British and Americans did. However in the case of production, strategic bombing, lend lease, and western allied campaigns in Europe one could argue that America and Britain tipped the scales in favor of the Allies to win. While it would be unfair to denigrate the important contribution to victory of the Red Army in “World War 2” it is likewise unfair to downplay the roles of Britain and America during the conflict.

The first, and perhaps most blatant, decisive western allied influence would be regarding production. America itself produced nearly 50% of all weapons and supplies during “World War 2,” including perhaps 66% of total allied weapons and supplies. While some of this equipment has been described, perhaps unfairly, as subpar, including the Sherman tank, there is no doubt that much of it including the P-51 Mustang and America’s jeeps and aircraft carriers, were first rate. It should be evident that suggesting that America producing 50% of all weapons and supplies during the war would not be decisive to victory would be completely absurd.

While some have argued that despite this the Russians did most of the fighting to win the war the fact remains that American production was also decisive in this regard as well considering lend lease arguably kept the Russians in the war at best, or gave the Soviet forces the capabilities to effectively defeat the German army, at worst. Whereas some skeptics of lend lease point to the relatively few weapons the western allied powers gave to Russia vs. the weapons produced by the Russians themselves (for example 12,000 tanks they gave them vs. 100,000 the Russians made) it is sometimes forgotten that the best supplies the Russians received from the Western Allies were not tanks, planes or artillery. However, such supplies of weapons themselves were not insignificant and included 20,000 armored vehicles including 12,000 tanks, perhaps 18,700 aircraft for the Soviet Air force, and it seems enough equipment to field perhaps 60 Divisions was given to the Soviets through the Persian corridor alone.

Yet perhaps the most important assets sent to Russia were non-military supplies which the militarized soviet economy could not produce in abundance, and were decisive in giving the Red Army the means to effectively defeat the German army. While combat operations tend to dominate historical narratives there is little doubt that the Red Army owed much of its logistical and communications capabilities to the Western Allies. Regarding logistics the Western Allies provided perhaps two thirds of all trucks and jeeps for the Russians, roughly 400,000. This is what gave the Red Army its incredible mobility which it used from 1943 onwards to breakthrough German lines and encircle and destroy numerous armies. Western aid was also decisive in rehabilitating soviet railways. Regarding locomotives and train cars the Western Allies provided the soviets with 2000 and 11000 respectively while Soviet industry made a mere 92 of the former and 1000 of the latter. They even provided 56% of Soviet rails during the conflict.

Regarding communications the Western Allies provided the Russians 35,000 radio stations, 380,000 field telephones and 956,000 miles of telephone cables which was instrumental in allowing the Red Army to control its massive forces.

Other important supplies given included 57% of all aviation fuel requirements for the Red Air Force, 53% of all explosives, and almost half of the Soviets aluminum, copper and rubber all of which were vital for Soviet industry). Finally some have argued that the 1.75 million tons of food provided was decisive in staving off famine in the Soviet Union during the winter of 1942-43.

Besides such statistics some of the Soviet leaders admitted the crucial importance of lend-lease. According to Khrushchev Stalin himself privately stated “if we had had to deal with Germany one-to-one we would not have been able to cope because we lost so much of our industry.” Marshal Zhukov, perhaps the most important allied General of the war and arguably the 2nd most influential man regarding the Soviet war effort likewise said that without the aid (lend-lease) the Soviet Union “could not have continued the war.”

Then there is the argument that the Soviet Union, despite its supposedly inferior position towards Nazi Germany, managed to consistently outproduce the latter in weapons throughout the war. Indeed, after the “Fall of France” in 1940 the Germans had more population, resources and industry in Europe than both the Soviet Union and Great Britain combined. This situation became worse in the summer and fall of 1941 as the German advance in Russia overrun perhaps 40% of the Soviet population, more than half of its coal and steel output, and the Ukrainian breadbasket which produced a disproportionate amount of food. As Richard Overy has noted Germany became at this point “an enemy with four times more industrial capacity at its disposal” vs. the Soviets. Yet despite this the Soviet economy, being smaller, less sophisticated, and enjoying fewer resources (save for oil), and industry than Nazi Germany, outproduced its enemy in weaponry throughout the war.

The reasons for this are not complicated, and while there is no denying the statistics a case can even be made here that the Russians were eventually doomed to lose without the intervention of Britain and America, or at best to get a stalemate. There is the fact that whereas at the outbreak of the Nazi invasion in June 1941 the Soviet economy immediately, and ruthlessly, devoted itself to total war and geared everything towards war production the Germans were considerably more lax in this regard. It took until the defeat at “Stalingrad” to finally convert the Germany economy to total war and for much of the conflict most German industry operated on single shift basis per day instead of two or three (which means they could have produced twice, or three times, as much weaponry had German industry been fully mobilized) The Russians were also more progressive in employing women in war industry (and thus benefited from increases at production) whereas the Nazis were more traditional, wanting women to stay at home and thus did not benefit from the considerable amount of female labour that could have been industrially decisive until later in the war.

Additionally, whereas the Russians were content to allow its industry to produce a few reliably models of tanks, artillery pieces, and planes, with relatively simple designs, the Germans had considerably more models and infinitely more complicated characteristics which of course meant more specialization. For example while the Soviets had perhaps 2 main tank types and 5 main aircraft ones the Germans at one point had 425 aircraft models,150 lorries models and 150 motorcycle ones. Obviously the German system with its complications and specializations was not a recipe for effective mass production. In the Soviet case it resulted in producing much more weapons and the German one a smaller number of weapons but of better quality. Of course the debate here is whether or not the Soviet numbers offset German quality. The general historical consensus seems to be yes but it ignores a few notable considerations.

Firstly, it ignores that whereas the Soviets vastly outproduced the Germans in 1941 and 1942, and also outproduced them in 1943, that by 1944 the Germans caught up to Soviet production. Secondly, considering that German weapons were generally superior to Soviet ones it can fairly be said that equal production would have given the Germans the advantage. Thirdly, the Germans, from 1943 onwards had to deploy more and more divisions and weapons against the Western Allies. While obviously most of their weapons and forces still faced the Red Army the Germans increasingly had to divert more important forces against the British and Americans. Finally, it is generally accepted that the western allied strategic bombing campaign in 1944 either destroyed, or diverted towards air defense, 50% of the German war economy.

Simply put had Britain and America not been in the war the Germans could have outproduced the Russians in weapons 2-1 by 1944 and considering that their weapons were generally better, considering they had a bigger pool of manpower (as they had most of Europe whereas the Russians had lost 40% of their manpower base in 1941), considering the Germans always had a superior kill and destruction ratio vs. the Germans, and considering the Germans could have concentrated all their forces against Russia as the Western Allies would not have been in the war, it is obvious that the Germans would have had a decisive advantage over the Russians.

Simple war production statistics and kill/destruction ratios during the war confirm this. Despite the fact that the Germans had control of significantly more people, industry and resources for most of the war than the Russians, the latter managed to consistently outproduce them until the former came close to catching up in 1944. Either way during the war the Germans managed to produce perhaps 50,000 full tracked armored fighting vehicles (tanks, self propelled guns, tank-destroyers, etc.) whereas the Russians produced roughly 100,000. While on the surface this seems decisive the German AFV’s, especially in the latter years, were generally of better quality (most vividly seen by the Panther and Tiger tanks). Perhaps even more important was the disproportionate destruction ratio German AFV’s inflicted on their Russian counterparts. In 1941 the Germans on the eastern front managed to destroy 7 AFV’s for every 1 they lost. In 1942 the ratio was 6-1, in 1943 and 1944 it was 4-1 and only in 1945 it came close at 1.2-1 (although this statistic is misleading as the losses in 1945 counted as lost the huge number of German AFV’s that were surrendered at the end of the war).

Ultimately the Russians lost 96,000 AFV’s during the war on the eastern front (while they produced 100,000 during wartime they had started with 23,000 at the beginning of the German invasion) while the Germans lost 32,000 fighting the Russians. This represents a 3-1 destruction ratio in favor of the Germans and therefore it is obvious that Russian production alone would not have been able to beat the Germans. In fact it would not even have been able to prevent the Russians from losing. Considering that the Russians would not have benefited from the strategic bombing campaign that drastically cut down German production (in other words the Germans would have eventually significantly outproduced the Russians themselves), considering that the Russians would not have had access to the 20,000 AFV’s the western allies gave them, and considering they would not have had the logistics and communications assets provided by the Americans and British to give the Red Army the mobility and capacity to wage armored warfare effectively there is little doubt that Russia, despite its impressive industrial feats during the conflict, was doomed to lose a one on one battle of economics and industry against Germany in the end.

Putting production and lend lease and aside, it is arguable that the western allied military forces often provided enough distraction for the Red army to survive at crucial times. While it is hardly surprising that the German navy was concentrated against the Western Allies and the German army against the Russians the German air force was often also devoted disproportionately agains the Western Allies, even during critical moments on the eastern front. Considering German air power was as important, perhaps even more so, then her armored forces, for their success in warfare this was not inconsequential.

In 1941 and 1942 most of the Luftwaffe was devoted against the Russians. However from late 1942 onwards the proportion of German Airpower was decisively shifted against the Western Allies. Much of this was due, at least in 1942-43, to the considerable demands of the Mediterranean theatre of war including attempting to neutralize the British base at Malta and supporting Rommel’s campaign in North Africa, but most of it was ultimately due to the combined western allied bomber offensive which moved from being a relatively manageable nuisance in 1942 to a decisive threat by mid 1944.

By the summer of 1942, at least regarding fighter aircraft, the majority of German Airpower was either deployed in the Mediterranean, guarding Western Europe against invasion, or protecting the German skies against allied bombers. This was when the Germans were launching their risky summer campaign in Russia to try to seize the Caucasus oilfields, and later Stalingrad, in a last ditch attempt to knock Russia out of the war before the Western Allies gained too much strength. While it cannot be stated with certainty that having the lion-share of the German Air force on the eastern front would have been decisive there is little doubt that given the close result at Stalingrad that it could have made a difference.

The same could be said in 1943 when perhaps 70% of German fighters were deployed against the Western Allies while the Germans and Russians arguably fought the most decisive battle of the war on the eastern front at Kursk. In 1944 the Western Allies, especially the Americans, were even more decisive as they effectively destroyed the German Air force as an effective fighting force by engaging and destroying it over the skies in Germany prior to the invasion of Normandy.

Just as important as distracting and destroying German Airpower were the effects of the strategic bombing campaign against Germany led by Britain and America. As stated above the western air forces eventually distracted most of the German Air Force, often at crucial times for the Soviets, and even destroyed the bulk of German Airpower. Also noted above were the effects of the bombing campaign which considerably lowered German production. For example in 1944 the campaign resulted in 31% less aircraft, 35% less tanks and 42% less lorries being produced by the Germans than they had planned for. Finally, the resources the Germans had to devout to combatting the strategic bombing campaign were incredible including two thirds of the German air force, 55,000 anti-aircraft guns (including 75% of the deadly 88mm guns that doubled as anti-tank weapons and could have reaped havoc on Russian tanks on the eastern front), and 2 million Germans who had to man defences, or repair damage, from the bomber attacks. The final result being as Richard Overy has stated “the combined effects of direct destruction and the diversion of resources denied German forces approximately half their battle-front weapons and equipment in 1944. It is difficult not to regard this margin as decisive.” Albert Speer, the man tasked to fix German war industry woes regarded the western allied bombing campaign against Germany as “the greatest lost battle on the German side.”

Besides German Airpower the Western Allies also either tied down powerful German land forces from going to the eastern front at key moments, and even forced the Germans to transfer significant forces from the east to the west, as well. While the numbers of German tanks and soldiers stationed in North Africa and Western Europe may have seemed poultry to the all out war on the eastern front in 1941and 1942 it could be argued that given the close results near Moscow in 1941 or the earlier stages at Stalingrad in 1942, that such forces fighting the Western Allies arguably could have been enough to turn the tide towards a German victory on the eastern front.

Certainly at key times western allied intervention did much to alleviate considerable pressure for the Russians on the eastern front. The American and British descent on North West Africa in November 1942 forced the Germans to not only deploy scare troops and tanks to Tunisia, but also to occupy Southern France, thus seriously spreading German forces even more thin just right before the Russians launched their powerful counter-attack at Stalingrad.

Likewise the allied invasion of Sicily in July 1943 was extremely problematic for the Germans as they were attempting their last great offensive on the eastern front at Kursk to regain at least some initiative against the Russians. It was in fact the reason why Hitler halted the offensive, which marked the point in the war where the Russians seized and retained the initiative for the rest of the conflict. Hitler ordered significant formations from the eastern front to the Mediterranean, and while ultimately much of them were not sent, the Germans lost any chance, however small, of winning at Kursk, and thus it could be argued the Western Allies had a significant effect on the result of the battle.

Even the much criticized invasion of Italy had appreciable effects for the Russians. The Germans rightly feared the Italians were poised to switch sides to the allies and they deployed perhaps 20-25 divisions in Italy from mid-1943 to the end of the war. The invasion also forced the Germans to disarm countless Italian divisions which ultimately amounted to nearly 1 million soldiers in Italy, the Aegean, Greece and Yugoslavia. These soldiers had to be replaced, by German ones, and it is obvious that having to disarm and replace 1 million Axis soldiers, along with considerable amounts of tanks, planes, artillery and other equipment, could be nothing but beneficial to the Russians who fought the lion-share of the German army.

Finally, the ever increasing threat of a western allied invasion of Western Europe in 1944 forced the Germans to keep significant forces, perhaps 60 divisions and a disproportionate amount of armor, in the west. Hitler was so obsessed with defeating such an invasion that he drained reinforcements to the eastern front and the lack of such forces helped the Russians to inflict perhaps the biggest defeat the Germans suffered during the war in the summer of 1944. As Nigel Davies noted in a piece regarding misleading statistics for the war “in sheer combat power, the removal of ten percent of divisions (say 20 divisions) from the Eastern Front to face the Western Allies (happened 3 times – Tunisia/Mediterranean 1942, Sicily/Italy 1943, and France 1944) looks a lot more significant if it involves moving 50% of the available Panzers and 70 or 80% of the high quality, full strength, specially equipped, Paratroop or Mountain or Waffen SS divisions.”

The Soviet Union could not have beaten Nazi Germany during the “Second World War” without the Western Allies. Lend lease was decisive in giving the Red Army the mobility, the communications, and logistics to wage modern war, considerable resources to help her faltering economy, and even significant amounts of weapons which helped tip the balance in their favor fighting Germany on the eastern front. Despite the fact the Russians generally outproduced the Germans during the war they would have ultimately been outproduced by them had it not been for the western allied bomber offensive which destroyed, or distracted, perhaps 50% of the German war effort by the end of 1944. Considering German weapons were generally of better quality, and considering the Germans had a significantly higher kill and destruction ratio vs. Soviet Forces the Russians would have been eventually hard pressed to hold out. The Western Allies also helped the Russians by distracting German Airpower at critical times during the war, notable in late 1942 while the Germans were fighting the Stalingrad campaign, during 1943 as the Germans were fighting at Kursk, and especially in 1944 when they effectively destroyed the German Air Force as a fighting force. Even on land western allied interventions were often decisive. Critical forces that could have been decisive at Stalingrad were distracted by the occupation of Southern France and the Torch Landings, the invasion of Sicily made Hitler stop the offensive at Kursk, and having to mass forces in Western Europe prior to the invasion of Normandy left the Eastern Front dangerously exposed in mid-1944. While the Soviet Union rightfully deserves the credit as the power which did the most to defeat Nazi Germany during the “Second World War” it could not have won the conflict without the Western Allies.

Bibliography

Beevor, Antony. The Second World War. New York: Little Brown, 2012.

Neillands, Robin. The Bomber War: The Allied Air Offensive against Nazi Germany. New York: Overlook, 2001.

Overy, Richard. Russia’s War. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1998.

Overy, Richard. Why the Allies Won. New York: Norton, 1995.

Richards, Denis. RAF Bomber Command in the Second World War: The Hardest Victory. London: Penguin, 2001.

Warner, Philip. World War Two: The Untold Story. London: Cassell, 2002.

Article from “Operation Barbarossa”: The T-34 in WWII: The Legend Vs. the Performance by Nigel Askey, 2014. http://www.operationbarbarossa.net/the-t-34-in-wwii-the-legend-vs-the-performance/

Article from “Rethinking History”: Statistical confusion – whose troops actually did the fighting in World War Two by Nigel Davies, 2011. http://rethinkinghistory.blogspot.ca/2011/02/statistical-confusion-whose-troops.html

Paper on “Industrial mobilisation for World War II: a German comparison” by Mike Harrison, 2000. http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/economics/staff/mharrison/public/opk2000mobilisation.pdf
The United States Strategic Bombing Survey, Summary Report by Franklin D’Olier,1945. http://www.anesi.com/ussbs02.htm


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3 Replies to “Why the Soviet Union could Not have Won “World War 2” Without the Western Allies”

  1. There were good things however about being a citizen under a Communist government, things which westerners will cringe over because they have not lived under it. Under Communism, you could receive the highest education, entirely free of charge.

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