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

The Soviet Union did more than any power to defeat Nazi Germany in World War 2. It fought the majority of the German army, with its European allies, for most of the conflict while the Western Allies faced smaller numbers of Axis forces in Europe. The Soviets destroyed 80% of Germany’s armed forces and suffered disproportionate losses versus the Western Allies. The Soviets had much of their territory overrun and lost up to 27 million people. Due to such reasons there’s a popular view the Soviet Union could’ve beaten Nazi Germany without the Western Allies.  

This viewpoint doesn’t stand up to serious scrutiny and the facts. The Soviets fought and destroyed most German, and Axis forces in Europe, but the Western Allies’ industrial production, strategic bombing, lend-lease, and military campaigns in Europe tipped the scales for allied victory. While it’s unfair to downplay the decisive Soviet contribution to victory, it’s also unjust to dismiss the necessary role played by the Western Allies. 

American production and Lend-lease:

The most crucial western influence was industrial production. America, by itself, produced nearly 50% of all weapons and supplies (by ALL nations) during World War 2. This included 66% of total production for the allies. Some equipment has been described, often unfairly, as subpar, like Sherman tanks, but much of it like P-51 Mustang Fighters and aircraft carriers were first rate. It would be absurd to suggest America producing 50% of all weapons and supplies during the war wasn’t vital for allied victory.

Western lend-lease to Russia also arguably kept it in the war and gave Soviet forces the means to defeat the German army. Skeptics of lend-lease point to the relatively few weapons the west gave to Russia versus those produced by the Soviets themselves (like 12,000 Western tanks versus 100,000 Soviet ones). But the total sum of weapons given to Russia wasn’t insignificant, and included 20,000 armored vehicles, 18,000 aircraft, and enough materials to equip more than 60 Soviet divisions.

In truth, the most important lend-lease sent to Russia were non-military supplies the military focused soviet economy (especially after it’s losses in 1941) couldn’t produce in big numbers. These were decisive in giving the Red Army the means to crush German forces. While combat operations dominate historical accounts, effective logistics and communications are crucial to win wars, and the Russian war effort was dependent upon the the Western Allies for this.

For logistics the Western Allies provided two-thirds of all trucks and jeeps for the Russians, roughly 400,000. This gave the Red Army the incredible mobility it used from 1943 on to breakthrough German lines and destroy numerous armies. Western aid also decisively improved Soviet railways. Regarding locomotives and train cars the Western Allies gave Russia with 2000 and 11000 respectively, while Soviet industry only made 92 of the former and 1000 of the latter. The West even provided 56% of Soviet rails during the conflict. 

The Western Allies were also critical in building up the Red Army’s communications capabilities. They gave Russia 35,000 radio stations, 380,000 field telephones, and 956,000 miles of telephone cables. These allowed the Red Army to effectively control its massive forces.

Other notable supplies included 57% of all aviation fuel for the Red Air Force, 53% of all explosives, and almost half of the Soviets’ aluminum, copper, and rubber (all vital for Soviet industry). Finally, they gave 1.75 million tons of food, which prevented a famine in the Soviet Union in the winter of 1942-43.  

Besides such statistics many Soviet leaders admitted the importance of lend-lease. Stalin said “Without the machines we received through Lend-Lease, we would have lost the war.” Marshal Zhukov, perhaps the most important allied General of the war, said that without lend-lease the Soviet Union “could not have continued the war.”

Was the Soviet Union’s Superior Industrial Production Vs. Germany’s Inevitable?:

Critics of the Western Allies often point out the Soviet Union, despite its inferior economic/industrial position versus Nazi Germany, produced more weapons than it during the war. After France fell in 1940 Germany controlled more population, resources, and industry in Europe than Russia and Britain combined. The situation became worse in 1941 after Germany invaded Russia, conquering 40% of the Soviet population, more than half of its coal and steel, and Ukraine’s breadbasket. As Richard Overy noted Germany at this point was “an enemy with four times more industrial capacity at its disposal” vs. the Soviets. Despite this Russia’s economy, being smaller, less developed, and with fewer resources (save for oil), produced more weapons than Hitler’s Germany.

This is correct but it wasn’t inevitable. Germany’s military production was as flawed until 1943 as Russia’s was generally efficient throughout the war.

While the Soviet economy mobilized for total war after Germany attacked it in 1941, the Germans did this too little, too late. It took the shocking loss at Stalingrad to convert Germany’s economy to total war. For much of the conflict German industry operated on single shifts per day instead of two to three (limiting production severely). Russia employed women far more in war industry while the Nazis were more traditional, wanting women to stay home. Germany lost out on crucial female labour until later in the war.  

The Russians also focused on producing a few reliable, simply designed models of tanks, artillery, and planes. German production saw far more models, often with complicated designs. For example, the Soviets had 2 main tank types and 5 main aircraft ones, but Germany at one point had 425 aircraft, 150 lorries, and 150 motorcycle types. You’d think a mostly horse-based army like Germany’s would’ve been more realistic about streamlining weapon production.

Germany’s system was not efficient at mass production until 1944. The Soviets made more weapons, while Germany generally made better ones, but rarely enough when it mattered. The debate is whether Soviet numbers overwhelmed German quality. Historical consensus tilts towards yes, but that ignores important points.


Firstly, Russia significantly outproduced Germany from 1941-1943, but by 1944 the Germans caught up with Soviet production. Secondly, German weapons were generally better than Soviet ones this means similar production would’ve given Germany the advantage in a war just between them. Thirdly, from 1943 on Germany deployed more divisions and weapons against the Western Allies. While most Germans forces still faced the Soviets the Germans increasingly diverted more forces (particularly airpower) against the British and Americans. The Western Allies Combined Bomber Offensive in 1944 also destroyed or diverted 50% of German weapons. 

Given this last point alone if Britain and America hadn’t joined the war Germany could have outproduced the Russians in weapons 2-1 by 1944. As German weapons were usually better, that Hitler’s and his allies had more manpower (having most of Europe while the Soviets lost 40% of its population in 1941); given German forces always had a superior loss exchange ratio (meaning they inflicted more losses and casualties) versus Russia; and since Germany could’ve concentrated all forces against Russia; means Germany would’ve had a decisive advantage over the Soviet Union without allied help. Simple production statistics and loss exchange ratios during the war confirm this.

For example, Germany produced 50,000 fully tracked armored fighting vehicles (AVFs) like tanks, self-propelled artillery, and tank-destroyers, during the war while Russia produced 100,000. At first this seems decisive but German AFVs, especially in the latter years, were generally stronger (as seen by the Panther and Tiger tanks). 

Also telling were the disproportionate losses German AFVs inflicted on their Russian counterparts. In 1941 the Germans on the Eastern Front destroyed 6.6 AFV’s for every one they lost. In 1942 the ratio was 5-1, in 1943 and 1944 it was 3-1, and only in 1945 it came close at 1.3-1. However, in the case of 1945 this includes the huge number of German AFV’s surrendered at the end of the war).

Russia lost 96,000 AFVs during the war, produced 100,000, and had 23,000 when Germany invaded in 1941. By contrast the Germans lost 32,000 against the Russians. This gave Germany an overall loss exchange ratio in its in favor. Thus, Russian production wouldn’t have compensated for its huge losses without lend-lease, or the Western Allies’ campaigns against Germany. 

The Soviets wouldn’t have benefited from the western strategic bombing campaign (covered below) that cut down German production or have access to the 20,000 AFVs given to them via lend-lease. They’d also not have the logistics and communications assets provided by lend-lease that gave Russia the ability to wage modern warfare effectively. In simple terms the Germans would have produced more and better weapons than Russia, destroyed Russian forces at an unsustainable rate, and with no allied help the Soviets could have lost the war.

Western Airpower and the Combined Bomber Offensive:

Besides industrial production and lend-lease the Western Allies provided significant distractions for German forces which helped Russia at crucial times. 

It’s not surprising the German navy focused on the Western Allies, or the German army against Russia, but the German airforce (the Luftwaffe) was often deployed disproportionately against Western forces. As Germany’s airpower was as crucial, sometimes more so, than its armoured forces, this shouldn’t be dismissed.

In 1941-1942 most of the Luftwaffe was concentrated against Russia. Yet from mid-1942 onwards German airpower shifted increasingly against the Western Allies. Much of this was due to the widespread demands of the Mediterranean theatre, including attempts to neutralize Malta and supporting Rommel’s campaign in North Africa. But afterwards the Combined Bomber Offensive, a nuisance in 1942, became a major threat by 1943 and a decisive one in 1944.  

Even in the summer of 1942, at least regarding fighter aircraft, most German airpower was deployed in the Mediterranean, or protecting Western Europe from allied bombers. At this point Germany was launching its summer campaign in Russia to seize the Caucasus oilfields and Stalingrad. This was Hitler’s last-ditch attempt to knock Russia out of the war before the Western Allies became strong enough to threaten a second front in Europe. While it’s not certain having most of the German airforce on the Eastern Front would’ve been decisive, it could have been decisive at certain parts during the Battle of Stalingrad and German efforts in the Caucasus.

The same can be suggested for 1943 when 70% of German fighters were deployed against the Western Allies, while Germany and Russia fought the Battle of Kursk, gave the Soviets the initiative on the Eastern Front. In 1944 the Western Allies, especially America, were even more decisive when they destroyed the Luftwaffe as an effective fighting force by engaging it over the skies in Germany, prior to the invasion of Normandy.


Besides distracting and destroying German airpower the Combined Bomber Offensive against Germany was critical in weakening its industrial production. 

For example, in 1944 the offensive resulted in 31% less aircraft, 35% less tanks, and 42% less lorries being produced by Germany than planned. The resources Germany devoted to combatting allied bombers were incredible, including two-thirds of the German air force, and 55,000 anti-aircraft guns (including 75% of its 88mm guns that doubled as anti-tank weapons that could’ve wreaked havoc on Russian tanks on the Eastern Front). It also required 2 million Germans who had to man defenses, or repair damage, from the bomber attacks. 

The final result, according to Richard Overy, was “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 Combined Bomber Offensive against Germany as “the greatest lost battle on the German side.”

The Effects of Western Allied Campaigns against Germany:

The Western Allies also prevented strong German land forces from going to the Eastern Front at key moments, and sometimes forced Germany to transfer significant forces from the east. The numbers of German tanks and soldiers stationed in North Africa, the Mediterranean, and Western Europe, at first seem small to the titanic clashes on the Eastern Front. However, it could be argued given the close result near Moscow in 1941, or the earlier stages at Stalingrad in 1942, that German forces fighting the Western Allies, or protecting Western Europe from invasion, could’ve been enough to tilt the balance.

Certainly, at key times western allied intervention considerable eased German pressure on the Russians. The American and British invasion of North West Africa in November 1942 forced Germany to not only deploy scare troops and tanks to Tunisia, but also occupy Vichy France. This seriously spread German forces thin right before the Russians launched their counter-offensive at Stalingrad.  

The allied invasion of Sicily in July 1943 was also problematic for Germany, as it was mounting its last great offensive on the Eastern Front at Kursk to keep the initiative against the Soviets. The invasion of Sicily was one of the main reasons Hitler halted the offensive, marking the point where Russia seized and retained the initiative for the rest of the war. Hitler ordered significant formations from the Eastern Front to the Mediterranean, and while much of them weren’t sent, Germany lost any chance of winning at Kursk. Thus, it could be argued the Western Allies had a significant effect on the battle.  

Even the much-criticized invasion of Italy helped the Soviets. The Germans rightly feared the Italians were poised to surrender in 1943 and deployed 20-25 divisions to Italy from mid-1943 to the end of the war. The invasion also forced Germany to disarm many Italian divisions which amounted to almost 1 million soldiers in Italy, the Aegean, Greece, and Yugoslavia. These soldiers had to be replaced, and it’s obvious having to disarm and replace 1 million Axis soldiers could only benefit the Russians who fought the majority of the German army.

Finally, the looming threat of an allied invasion of Western Europe in 1944 forced Germany to keep 58 divisions, including ten armored divisions, in the west. Hitler was obsessed with defeating this invasion and limited reinforcements to the Eastern Front before D-Day, which helped the Soviets inflict the biggest defeat the Germans suffered during the war in the summer of 1944.

Nigel Davies, in a smart piece regarding misleading statistics for the war, puts these western allied campaigns in perspective:

“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 couldn’t have beaten Nazi Germany during the Second World War without the Western Allies. Lend-lease was decisive in giving the Red Army the mobility, communications, and logistics to wage modern war. Lend-lease also gave considerable resources to help Russia’s faltering economy, and many weapons that tipped the balance in its favor against Germany. 

While Russia generally outproduced Germany during the war, it would’ve been outproduced itself if not for the Combined Bomber Offensive that destroyed, or diverted, 50% of the German war effort by the end of 1944. As German weapons were generally better, and German forces had significantly higher loss exchange ratios than the Soviets, the latter would’ve been hard pressed to hold out.  

The Western Allies also helped Russia by distracting German airpower at critical times. This included the Stalingrad campaign in 1942, the Battle of Kursk in 1943, and especially in 1944 when they destroyed the German air force as a fighting force. Even on land western allied interventions were important. German forces that could’ve been decisive at Stalingrad were diverted by the occupation of Vichy France and the Torch Landings. The invasion of Sicily convinced Hitler to stop the offensive at Kursk, while Hitler’s obsession with the expected invasion of Western Europe in 1944 meant less reserves for the Eastern Front.  

The Soviet Union deserves credit as the power that did the most to defeat Nazi Germany during World War 2, but it couldn’t have won the conflict without the Western Allies. 



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

Deighton, Len. Blood, Tears and Folly: An Objective Look at World War 2. New York: Castle Books, 1999.

Hanson, Victor Davis. The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict was Fought and Won. New York: Basic Books, 2017.

Hastings, Max. All Hell Let Loose: The World at War 1939-1945. London: Harper Press, 2012.

Magenheimer, Heinz. Hitler’s War:  Germany’s Key Strategic Decisions 1940-1945. London:  Cassell, 2000.

Mawdsley, Evan. World War 2: A New History. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

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.

Van Creveld, Martin. The Age of Airpower. New York: Public Affairs, 2011.

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

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *