All hail mighty Russia – saviour of the world!
If you’re a leftist, you can get down on bended knee and worship the greatness of the Red Army and thank them for saving the world from the evils of Nazism (while delicately manoeuvring your considerable mental blind spot over the inconvenience of over two million rapes and tens of millions murdered by Stalin and his henchmen).
If you’re a rightist, you can get down on your other bended knee in deference to the fact that above the Aryan superman is the far greater power of the Slavic superman, a creature of such enduring strength and toil that he can suck up 26 million dead (the ever reliable figures of the Soviet Ministry of Truth) and then roll up the Wehrmacht like a used carpet.
Whatever your ideology, be assured on one thing, Mother Russia rocks.
In a nutshell, this was the message sent out the other weekend by the big “victory” parade in Moscow and by the Russian-financed media and its army of internet shills and trolls.
According to this version of things, the Brits and Yanks were nothing but a pathetic sideshow. But this pretty picture, in as much as there is any truth in it, is heavily reliant of careful framing and exclusion of facts. At best, it is a carefully edited snippet of truth, rather than truth itself, which tends to sprawl out in all directions.
“Soviet” Does Not Equal “Russian”
Yes, most of the fighting occurred between the Germans and the Soviet forces – but Soviet, not Russian!
It is difficult to find evidence for the proportion of Russians in the Red Army in WWII, and anyway Soviet stats are about as reliable as the “fact” that the Germans committed the Katyn Forest Massacre. But there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that the Red Army relied heavily on the Soviet Union’s ethnic fringe of Kazakhs, Mongols, Tatars, Buryats, Uzbeks, Kalmucks, Jews, etc.
This would certainly explain the comments made by General Patton in a letter to his wife in July 1945:
“Berlin gave me the blues. We have destroyed what could have been a good race, and we are about to replace them with Mongolian savages.”
Using troops from the ethnic fringe is normal practice for any large, multi-ethnic state like the Soviet Union, but is an even more pronounced tendency when that state also happens to be tyrannical. This is because one of the best ways a tyranny can defend against rebellion is by breaking the ethnic link between the military and the general population. In the case of the Soviet Union, this would mainly be the Russian population. The Red Army would therefore, in all probability, have a disproportionate number of non-Russians, even in wartime.
So, any army that beat the Germans, although including Russians, would by no means be dominated by them.
This is signalled in the fact that the supreme leader of the Red Army throughout this period was a non-Russian, namely Stalin himself; while other important Red Army leaders were of diverse nationalities: Semyon Timoshenko (Ukrainian), Konstantin Rokossovsky (Polish), and Kliment Voroshilov (Ukrainian), to name a few.
One reason why the only Soviet general everybody knows is Georgy Zhukov is because he was one of the few top military leaders who was actually Russian, and so benefitted from the need for the Soviet state to showcase an authentic Russian hero to inspire its core population in wartime.
Dead Germans Do Not Signify Degree of Victory
The main data point that you hear from those trying to magnify the Russian part in the German defeat is that most Germans were killed on the Russian front. The German military historian, Rüdiger Overmans, in Deutsche militärische Verluste im Zweiten Weltkrieg (2000) broke down the number of German military personnel killed as follows:
Even if you add Western Europe, Sea and Air War, Italy, and Africa together (all areas entirely dominated by the Western Allies), you only reach 752,244, which is little over a quarter of the number of Germans killed on the Eastern Front – in return for 8 to 14 million Soviet servicemen killed (a suspiciously high figure that probably includes several million killed by their own side).
But the high causality figures on the Eastern Front are highly deceptive, because all they mean is that Soviet forces were engaged in a more indecisive struggle for longer with the Germans.
If the Soviet forces had actually had a more decisive victory, the number of Germans killed would actually have been less, and if the Soviet victory had been more difficult, likewise, the number of German troops killed would have been higher.
The relatively low German kill rate of the Western Allies means that Western military action was actually more successful and decisive. This becomes apparent when we look at the POW hauls. According to Overman’s estimates, the three main allied powers held the following number of POWs at the end of the war.
Another 1,000,000 were allocated to the French, presumably by the Americans. This means that the Anglo powers captured around 7.6 million German troops to the Soviet figure of 3 million (of which at least a million were exterminated in captivity).
So, if we add the number of POWs to the number of dead, we now get the following figures:
Only the Soviet Union Needed to Fight this War
Apologists for the Soviet Union will no doubt contend that the higher number of Germans who surrendered to the Anglo powers merely reflects the fact that this was an easier option.
Of course that is true, but that only reflects the fact that there are degrees of enmity, and that the true enmity was the one between the Soviets and the Germans. It is well known that Hitler was more than happy to leave the British Empire and the United States alone in return for a free hand to deal with the genocidal threat posed by a Soviet State that had already killed millions of its own people in peacetime.
This fact – that the West voluntarily offered its services in this war – should also weigh in how we apportion the “credit” of victory over Germany. This is not to say that what the West did in opposing Nazi Germany was morally right or wrong. That is a separate issue and one that is not under discussion here. We are merely judging this as a question of military credit.
If we view the question in terms of contributing to victory, it can be argued that the Soviet Union contributed absolutely nothing to victory in the sense that any “contribution” was not freely given. Instead, its sacrifice was exacted from it, forced upon it by Germany’s pre-emptive strike against it. The Western allies, by contrast, opted to give of their men and money to defeat Nazi Germany. In this sense we can say that the West contributed everything to victory, the Soviet Union practically nothing.
The Non-Soviet Sinews of War
Finally, there is the economic question. Not only did the Western powers pound German cities and industry into the ground, an unpleasant aspect of the war on which I have little inclination to dwell, but they also provided the Soviet Union with enormous amounts of material assistance, delivered at great expense over lengthy supply lines.
The bombing campaign against German cities also forced the Germans to divert enormous resources of skilled men, materials, and technology to defend against it. These resources, applied to the Eastern Front, could have made a decisive difference. But that is a hypothetical. What is more certain is the massive amount of Western material assistance, without which the Red Army would have been a lot easier for the Germans to deal with. The complete list of aid for the Soviets can be found here. It included the following items:
Tanks and Combat Vehicles: 13,303
Anti-Aircraft Cannons: 8,000
Ordnance Service Vehicles: 2,328
Radar Systems: 400
Petroleum Products (gasoline and oil): 2,670,371 tons
Explosives: 300,000 tons
Field Radios: 40,000
Foodstuffs (canned meats, sugar, flour, salt, etc.): 4,478,116 tons
Locomotives & Railway cars: 13,000.
Tommy Guns (fully automatic machine guns): 135,000
Metal Cutting Machine Tools: 400,000
Soviet apologists will typically make the case that most of this aid started to arrive after the “decisive” Battle of Stalingrad, but Stalingrad was only decisive because all the other battles after it were decisive as well. If the Battle of Kursk in 1943 had followed the German plan, Stalingrad would have been reduced to a historical footnote.
What made the war against Germany decisive was the overwhelming weight of men and materials leagued against the Axis power. But even if we merely focus on Soviet production, here too we have to acknowledge a massive debt to the West. Most Soviet industries were not built up in some autarkic dreamworld as Leftists and Russophiles love to imagine. In Facing The Abyss, the British nationalist A.K. Chesterton comments on Anthony C. Sutton’s study Western Technology and Soviet Economic Development, 1917 to 1930:
“So far from Russia’s pulling herself up by her own boot-laces, as Communist propaganda would have us believe, almost all of the projects of the First Five Year Plan were designed by American companies. At least ninety-five percent of the industrial structure received Western assistance, the agreements to grant concessions having been reached by the Russian Congress of Councils of the National Economy as early as December 1917” (p 69-70)
“In the development of the Russian iron and steel industry, Britain’s huge Lena Goldfields Ltd. obtained a concession to operate blast furnaces and steel works in the Urals, where a German firm, Bergman, was busy restoring metal plants and manufacturing heavy machinery, together with guns, shells, and small arms for export. Lena Goldfields also re-opened the pre-war Ridder mine complex for the production of lead-zinc. The powerful Deutsche Bank of Germany provided long-term loans. Bryner & Company (U.K.) contributed to Soviet foreign exchange through the export of zinc concentrates, and two years after the period covered by Sutton a smelter built by Lena produced thirty-four per cent of the total Russian output of zinc.” (p 70-71)
This pattern of a technologically backward Soviet Union relying on infusions of Western know-how ran all the way through to the final demise of the USSR in 1991. My own uncle, a high-ranking executive for the British chemical company ICI, spent several years in Russia in the 1960s and 1970s overseeing the construction of a massive chemical processing plant with technology that the Russians were incapable of providing for themselves.
The Two-Act War
So , to sum up, we can say that the Red Army was not Russian, but instead a polyglot force in which Russians were probably underrepresented. We can also say that the Western Allies fought Germany not only on the land, but also in the air and on the sea, while the Soviet Union only fought Germany on one of these elements. We can point out that the high number of casualties between the two (2,742,909 German military personnel up to the end of 1944 and between 8 and 14 million Soviets) is testament mainly to the indecisiveness of the fighting between them, rather than a measure of either side’s victory.
When it comes to the sinews of war, we can also say that the Soviets were overwhelmingly dependent on Western assistance, both in building their “own” industries in the 1920s and 1930s, and through the enormous supplies that the Americans and British delivered directly to their doorstep during the war.
I have not even mentioned the fact that UK code breakers gave the Allies an enormous intelligence advantage over Germany, something that also immeasurably benefitted the Soviets.
Bearing all this in mind, the Soviet share in the defeat of Germany can be reckoned at no more than one third of the total, and probably less. If we look at it in terms of strictly the Russians, we have to reduce that to around a quarter at best.
But it must also be remembered that WWII was merely a coda or sequel to WWI, the Great War. In that war, Russia, despite the vastness of its armies, was crushed and humiliated, and it was only by the tremendous victories won by General Haig on the Western Front in 1918 that an otherwise victorious Germany was brought to its knees, allowing Russia to regain the extensive territories it had surrendered at Brest-Litovsk.
So, if we view WWI and WWII as different parts of a single struggle entitled “The Defeat of German Power in the First Half 20th Century,” then, the Russian contribution shrinks even more, possibly to as little as an eighth or a tenth – this is about the same level as the French contribution to the two World Wars.