D-Day More Important in Containing the Soviets than Defeating the Nazis

Over time, my understanding of the importance of the D-Day invasions has shifted.  Growing up, I considered these events to be the single key event in defeating the Nazis.  Listening to the radio this morning, this still seems to be the common understanding.

Over time, I have had to face the fact that the US (or at least the US Army) was not primarily responsible for defeating Germany -- the Russians defeated Germany, and what's more, would have defeated them whether the Allies had landed in France or not.  Check out the casualties by front, from Wikipedia:

click to enlarge

The Russians defeated Germany.  Period.   And I don't think the western allies would ever have had the stomach to inflict the kind of casualties on Germany that were ultimately necessary to defeat her without Russian help.  To me, this is the great irony of WWII, that it was not ultimately a victory for democracy.  Only totalitarian Russia could defeat totalitarian Germany.  This thought often bothers me a lot.  It doesn't fit with how we want to view the war.

However, D-Day did have an important effect -- it kept Western Europe out of Soviet hands.  We did not know it at the time, but I would argue in retrospect that from mid-1944 on we were competing with Russia to see how Europe would get divided up after the war.  D-Day allowed the western allies to overrun most of Western Europe and keep it out of Soviet hands, perhaps an even more important outcome than just speeding the defeat of the Germans.  Sure, FDR gets grief for giving the farm away to Russia at Yalta, but what could he do?  The Soviet occupation of Eastern Europe at that point was a fait accompli.  What would have been FDR & Churchill's negotiation position at Yalta if their armies were not even on the continent (excepting Italy, where we might still be fighting in 2014 and getting nowhere)?

  • Georg Thomas

    Are you not underestimating (1) the support (material and otherweise) that the Western allies gave to the SU, (2) the enormous effect of the destruction of Germany's productive capabilities and the demoralisation of the population in the German heartland by Allied bomber raids, (3) the tying up of German military capabilities on and in the oceans and other theaters of war (North Africa e.g.), and - in the process - the devastation of the German air force? Finally consider the first point I make in this blog post: http://redstateeclectic.typepad.com/redstate_commentary/2014/06/d-day.html

  • Nehemiah

    Coyote, that is an oversimplification of the situation. While it is true that USSR had the upper hand after the German army's advance was halted and then reversed, it doesn't follow that their victory was assured in the absence of the extraordinary force build up for the invasion of Europe. There were a significant number of German divisions tied down to protect against D-Day. And the fact that the invasion was successful both demoralized the German army and gave great encouragement to the Soviet army. Don't under estimate the impact of the successful invasion on both armies fighting in the east.

    Having said that, I would quickly concede that the Allies may not have won the war without the Soviet's success in the east.

    Curious, do you give the US military credit for VJ Day?

  • None

    As Georg said you miss numerous facts. In additiona, without British intelligence aid (for example allowing them to prepare at Kursk), chance dreadful weather, allied logistical support, and the devastation of the German air force during the Battle of Britain the Soviets would in all likelihood have been driven far enough back that the whole unloved Soviet system would have collapsed on itself. It came pretty close to happening.

  • historybuff

    "And I don't think the western allies would ever have had the stomach to
    inflict the kind of casualties on Germany that were ultimately
    necessary to defeat her without Russian help."

    I dunno - in the early days of the Manhattan project, I think Berlin was envisioned as the first target.

    But I agree that the Soviets carried the bulk of the effort.

    The bar chart is fascinating - on every front, in every year, the Germans inflicted more casualties than they received. Doing that late in the war when they were reeling, and in the face of Hitler's disastrous micromanagement, says something about the competence of the German army.

  • Georg Thomas

    Also, it is misleading to dwell on a single event when judging the issue of who had the larger part in defeating the Nazis. There is no such single event on the Russian front either, Stalingrad notwithstanding.

    Hitler's foremost job was to defeat the Germans from the moment he attained political power to the countless disasters he caused, not least on the various fronts of the war. Hitler led an irrational and highly incompetent war effort on the Eastern front, and Stalin did his best to inflict maximum harm on his own (not only military) people, even before he was attacked by the Germans.

    All in all, I venture the hypothesis that the US was the decisive factor in defeating Germany, thanks to their ability to devastate German production capabilities, which the Russians had no hand in whatsoever.

  • rst1317

    I would be careful in assuming that just because the sparsely equipped, nearly untrained and horribly managed Soviet army sustained X casualties would mean the same for others. Stalin's purges nearly wiped out the army's ability to fight. What tiny Finland was able to them is a great example of how low their army had sunk.

  • herdgadfly

    Taking this reasoning one step further, perhaps it is time to ramp up German troops to provide the EU's perimeter defense against the latest Russian saber-rattling. The German economy has benefited for the past 70 years from not having to support its own defense and the United States has already filled the collection plate to overflowing during the same time period.

  • Elam Bend

    I'm in general agreement with Warren. 90% of German casualties were on the eastern front. The British military historian Max Hastings in his books does a good job making an argument that we didn't have the kind of soldiers to fight a war the way the Russians and Germans fought and maybe we should be glad of that given the societies that produced them. This opinion does not discount the massive amount of aid provided to the Russians by the west nor key items that helped the effort, like the battle of Britain, attacking German oil, etc. Still, in a 1,000 years, this will look like a massive German Russian war; and it was. Even the German war aims were more about grabbing land to the east above anything else.

    The Russians did almost lose the plot at the very begining, but the Germans had lost on the East front within 6 weeks of the invasion - that was the opinion of the German high command. Trying to invade such a large area with not real plan of occupation other than starve 30 million Slavs (themselves the winnowed survivors of such a plot a decade before) was doomed to almost certain failure. They didn't have enough soldiers or good enough logistics. What they did have, for reasons of culture, fanaticism, and sheer berserker initiative was the best fighting army ever.

    As for knowing the reality of the game, Churchill at the very least understood the game, even to the point of drawing up plans to use 100,000 German soldiers to fight the Russians (at least out of Germany). There were numerous instances of German soldiers surrendering to the western allies and volunteering to fight the Russians. As much as the next 50 years sucked for Eastern Europe, I think the American leadership wisely held off.

    As for our war with Japan, that was more a US-Japan fight. While it never reaches the level of casualties and sheer brutality of the Rus-Ger line, it was brutal and it was an American victory.

  • NL7

    The US and UK gave a lot of support to the USSR through lend-lease and other programs, keeping them in the game. The Soviets nearly lost the war a few times, so economic aid and multiple fronts probably saved them. Stalin acknowledged that US manufacturing was necessary to win the war.

    A lot of the Soviet deaths were due to poor logistics and tactics. The Soviets threw regular Russians at the Germans, sometimes effectively unarmed. So that accounts in part for the enormous casualties.

  • Q46

    And now Western Europe is the Fourth Reich.

    Compare the aims of Hitler and his National Socialist/Fascist ideology and rampant environmentalism... with the aims and ambitions of the EU, revolving round an economically mighty Germany.

  • Q46

    "And I don't think the western allies would ever have had the stomach to inflict the kind of casualties on Germany..."

    I think you need to read about the 1 000 bomber raids and the bombing of Dresden, and area bombing... by RAF and USAAF.

  • Guest

    Sounds like the exact same argument heard in divorce court: "I earned the money. I did all the work My wife just sat at home and watched the kids. I shouldn't have to give her half of anything. She doesn't deserve it".

  • Sam Whit

    Of course it is an exaggeration; it was equally exaggeration the other day when, in conversation, I claimed that the British won the war: it shakes things up.

  • lethalox

    I think this type of logic is very hard to conclusive prove.
    1. The Russian lost lots of troops. I am not sure we know the numbers. There is lots of potential error in the numbers given that it came from the Soviet Union.
    2. The Russians always lose lots of troops. See WWI.
    3. Western front was a lot smaller thru France & Italy.
    4. The western front was a lot closer to the industrial heart of Germany

    Without Russian involvement winning WWII would have been much tougher, not impossible. Berlin would have been nuked by the end of 1945.

    Was D-day critical, probably not to winning, but it was dramatic, and likely ended the war earlier versus invading through southern France.

  • Anonymous Mike

    I don't agree with Warren on a few things.... the Germans weren't going to beat the Soviets but without Allied aid and intervention I doubt the Soviets were going to beat the Germans. Allied material was critical for the Soviet logistical effort that allowed the Soviets to maintain their massive and rapid offensives in 1943 and 1944.

    I do agree with Warren on the one critical issue; that being the toughness of the Soviet war machine was uniquely instrumental in destroying the Third Reich. Someone mentioned Max Hastings.... Hastings made an interesting comparison between the Soviet and French responses to initial battlefield reverses. The French went under quite quickly, lost the will the fight while still maintaining forces in the field. The Soviets kept fighting even it meant mass slaughter on their side which Hastings attributed to brutal, totalitarian nature of the Stalinist system.

    Also if you look at the condition of the Allied war machine by late 1994, early 1945 you could see cracks beginning to show from the strain of the uptempo in operations since June 1944 in both the Pacific and Europe. The infantry shortage of Fall, 1944, the switch by the USAAF to mass bombings of Berlin out of sheer desperation of breaking German morale, to the pessimism of the viability of Operation Downfall for the destruction of Japan.

    Given the doubts of the Downfall planners regarding long-term civilian support for the invasion of Japan, I don't think the American people would have supported a costly multi-year campaign in north-western Europe. Then again... given the Manhattan Project and the Soviets the point is moot.

  • Artigas

    Russia did not win the war, the Soviet Union did. The Soviet Union was led by a Georgian, the majority of both the Soviet military and civilian casualties were non Russian and represented all 15 Republics and 162 constituent nationalities of the Soviet Union. The bulk of the the war took place in the territory of present day Ukraine, Beleaguers and the Baltic and in terms of absolute and proportional casualties, Jews, Biliousness, Ukrainians and Poles suffered much greater losses than the Russians did. In fact, the only statistic in which the Russians led was in the absolute number of collaborators fighting with the Nazi forces. To ascribe the victory over the Nazis to Russia, particularly in light of its current policy of carving up its neighbors Nazi-style is both deeply erroneous and ignorantly insulting to the memory of all those who died in the war. Lest you think this is just irrelevant semantics, note how much propaganda effort Putin has invested in selectively appropriating for current day Russia, the Soviet sacrifice and victory in WWII, (arguably its only noble achievement), whilst denying any historic ties or responsibility for the vast catalogue of Soviet murderous crimes and repressions. Indeed, Putin has blatantly exploited the memory of WWII to justify Russia´s own current wars of conquests and browbeat and co-opt the hapless current reluctant heirs to Nazi Germany in Berlin.

  • Artigas

    Russia did not win the war, the Soviet Union did. The Soviet Union was led by a Georgian, the majority of both the Soviet military and civilian casualties were non Russian and represented all 15 Republics and 162 constituent nationalities of the Soviet Union. The bulk of the the war took place in the territory of present day Ukraine, Belorus and the Baltics and in terms of absolute and proportional casualties, Soviet citizen Jews, Belorusians, Ukrainians and Poles suffered much greater losses than the Russians did. In fact, the only statistic in which the Russians led was in the absolute number of collaborators fighting with the Nazi forces. To ascribe the victory over the Nazis to Russia, particularly in light of its current policy of carving up its neighbors Nazi-style is both deeply erroneous and ignorantly insulting to the memory of all those who died in the war. Lest you think this is just irrelevant semantics, note how much propaganda effort Putin has invested in selectively appropriating for current day Russia, the Soviet sacrifice and victory in WWII, (arguably its only noble achievement), whilst denying any historic ties or responsibility for the vast catalogue of Soviet murderous crimes and repressions. Indeed, Putin has blatantly exploited the memory of the war to justify Russia´s own current wars of conquests and browbeat and co-opt the hapless current heirs to Nazi Germany in Berlin.

  • obloodyhell

    }}} The Russians defeated Germany. Period.

    Most knowledgeable historians agree. But it should be noted that the only reason the Russians COULD do this was because the USA gave them production facilities and factory training and expertise, and a lot of excess food to keep their people fed. Otherwise, they would have collapsed, and there's no question they almost did that anyway.

  • obloodyhell

    Yup. It was total war, and we did it.

  • Alantar

    True - but don't discount the abilities of the Finns. One sniper known as "White Death" took out the equivalent of a Russian battalion by himself.

  • Alantar

    Certainly the Russians played a major role in defeating the Third Reich, but the war was decided before it even began - not because of the Russian military but because of British and American manufacturing capability. Put simply, British industry was significantly larger than German industry, and American industry dwarfed both put together. By the time the American army entered France, the United States was providing more supplies to their front line troops three thousand miles from home than the Germans could match from next door - while also providing a good deal of the materiel needed by the British and Russian armies. The British and American navies also outclassed the German navy, which effectively kept the German war machine tied up in Europe, excepting the North Africa campaign which failed largely because the weak German navy could not protect supply routes.

    So, D-Day itself may have played a bigger role in containing the Soviets than containing the Nazis, but the Nazis never had a chance from the very beginning - even before they turned against their early ally, the Soviet Union.

  • John Moore

    I'll add one more reason. to the several given, that this is over-simplistic: the allies prevented Germany from using the oceans, other than the failed U-boat attempt to halt the supply of Britain. Germany was effectively land locked, and you can't run much of a war machine for long that way.

  • marque2

    Agreed, apparently Warren hasn't heard of the bombing of Dresden.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bombing_of_Dresden_in_World_War_II

    Towards the end of the war, the Americans sent patrol planes, if they saw reasonable effort by the populace to surrender, the city was saved. If not the city was leveled with bombs. The town my mother grew up in Bamberg, was saved by my grandfather and the Mayer's son offering surrender and defusing the SS bombs under the main bridge into town.

    The town of Neumarkt, where my grandfather retired, was completely leveled because the SS would not let the people in the town surrender.

    Nuremberg was also completely leveled.

    The US army and military in WWII was not the weenie military we have today where forces are not allowed to even defend themselves occasionally for fear of offending civilians in battle. In Germany we took things seriously.

    Also we extended quite a bit of effort invading from Both France and Italy to cut off German supplies and take Western Europe. I highly doubt the Russians could have accomplished this alone. Casualty figures are meaningless. Of course the Soviets took more casualties, they were less technologically advanced than we were, by a long shot, and were directly invaded by the Germans.

  • Stan Forron

    I think the Pacific War reached and even exceeded the brutality of the Eastern Front, if not the scale. I don't know of many battles in the East where 99% or more of one side was killed in action.

  • Tim

    The casualty count on the Eastern front was more of a function of the type of fighting, static siege-style combat than anything else. In a way, WWII was a reversal of what happened in WWI, where the stalemate was in Western Europe more than in the East.

    And Germany's defeat in the East was as much a combination of a forced error (Germany employing the wrong strategic goals), luck (an unusually brutal winter), and the US being able to supply material support via lend/lease as it was USSR superiority.

  • sjutte350

    It is somewhat fallacious to assume that Russia defeated
    Germany on its own, just as it is likewise fallacious to assume that the allies
    could not have defeated the Wermacht without Russian help.

    Two points refute this pretty handily:

    1.
    The wermacht depended heavily on synthetic fuels
    to drive their war machine. The reason
    that they invaded Russia in the first place was to get Russia’s oil. Without that oil, the Wermacht would have
    crumbled under the onslaught of even the American Army by itself. They could never have kept up with our pace
    of production

    2.
    The reasons that Russia did not fall to pieces
    under the original invasion under Barbarossa are twofold – a critical error on
    the part of Hitler to not cut off the head of the snake by invading and
    conquering Moscow (something that would have been more easily done than the “turn
    right, take Stalingrad” maneuver that they ended up doing). Remember, most Russians didn’t like Stalin
    much. You go in and destabilize the
    state by taking out the capital, and you might as easily had Russia fighting
    FOR the germans instead of against them.
    And two, the United States supplied Russia. The amounts of supplies given to Russia were
    the reason they didn’t collapse in on themselves.

    Couple that with constant German tactical blundering, and
    you’ve got a recipe for a war that maybe lasts into ’47 at best, and we put them
    down, anyway.

    One very interesting question is the “what if” posed by the
    idea that a few had, such as Churchill and Patton, to name a few, that we
    re-arm the Wermacht after their surrender, and maintain our standing army in
    Europe and actually start a campaign against the Russians to push them back to
    their own borders. Without our supply
    chain, and without an air force that even remotely approached ours, the job may
    not have been that difficult. Remember,
    the only reason – the ONLY reason, that the reds turned the tables at
    Stalingrad was supply. The Wermacht had
    none. The Reds had us.

    Three things won the war as it ended up, but only two were
    absolutely necessary.

    1.
    United State’s manufacturing capability and
    supply chain logisitics;

    2.
    Allied air superiority;

    3.
    The Russian Army

    We could have done it without #3, handily. The other two, not so much.

  • Billford

    I think there is a saying the Europeans have:

    There is what actually happened in WWII, and then there is what the Americans like to tell each other happened in WWII.

  • iron308

    I have long thought the same thing as our host. The tide irrevocably turned with the envelopment and fall of Stalingrad, while we were chasing a few German divisions around N Africa. Without our intervention, the war would have lasted some years longer, but the the numbers were against the Germans. Numbers do not always determine the victor, but the longer any war drags on, the more weight the numbers take on.

    Furthermore, I suspect Churchill was fully aware of the necessity of keeping the Soviets as far to the east as possible at the onset of the war, long before we entered it. Perhaps others did to. One would only have had to ask themsleves what happens if the Soviets win, to understand the need for large western armies with a firm foothold on the continent.

    Of course you are not going to have a very eager army if they knew they were really there to install a buffer zone between England and the hordes sweeping down off the Steppe.

  • David in Michigan

    "The Russians defeated Germany. Period." Nothing like making a statement CERTAIN to be controversial to start a blog thread. Might as well add my two cents...... If Britain had surrendered to Germany in 1940, Russia would have been soundly defeated, if Operation Barbarosa had started a month earlier, Russia would have been defeated. If....... well you get the picture. Better just stick to the facts: An unlikely alliance defeated the Germans.

  • Michael Gersh

    If we had launched our invasion from the south rather than the west, we might have held the Soviets to far less of eastern Europe than what went down from our launch point in Normandy. We were well up the boot on D-Day, if the supplies and men had been applied there Patton might well have taken Berlin instead of relieving Bastogne, long before the Soviets got there.

  • Jesse Brandenburg

    What really happened: http://whatreallyhappened.com/WRHARTICLES/pearl/www.geocities.com/Pentagon/6315/lend.html

    The US worked its butt off to provide the USSR with an overabundance of material assistance, which the Soviets used in the most incompetent and wasteful manner possible, along with a wasteful use of its own people.

    Unfortunately, it was not possible to stage a war exclusively between the USSR and Germany, shielding the rest of the world from the fallout.

  • Donald Sensing

    I wrote a post in 2008 called "The Awful Stakes of D-Day," which among other things included this nugget:

    "... neither Roosevelt nor Churchill had any desire at all to see all Germany overrun from the east and fall under the hammer and sickle. The only way to prevent that was to place American and British soldiers on the ground inside Germany. ...

    "The Soviets certainly would not have slacked their offensives had Normandy failed. If anything, they would have pressed all the harder, but would have pressed equally hard for a much larger share of American war production, insisting that they were making better use of it than we were. As they would have been the only dog in the fight, the demands would have been hard for Roosevelt to resist. Not only would all Germany have become communist, so would France, whose communist cells were very active and which would have benefited greatly from having the Soviet army literally next door. Imagine the Iron Curtain falling at the English Channel. The Soviet bear would have easily swallowed countries like Denmark, The Netherlands and Belgium. Likewise, Greece's postwar communist insurgency would have succeeded. Italy might easily have turned communist also."

    http://senseofevents.blogspot.com/2008/06/awful-stakes-of-d-day.html

  • Donald Sensing

    Years ago I read an official Army history of the bombing campaign against Germany, written within only a few years of war's end. I remember Gen. Eisenhower quoted as saying (words to the effect, I can't recall the direct quote) that as the war progressed, violence became an almost physical entity that sat at his councils of war. He said they sent 1,000 bombers not really because the target required it, but because they had 1,000 bombers to send. There was decreasing restraint on the violence over time.

  • Bob the History Guy

    Hard to say what was going on behind closed doors in Washington. The boys on the ground definitely did not think D-day was to contain the Soviet Union. From my reading, they started to think the war was winding down until the Battle of the Bulge. From then on they still took Germany serious until she surrendered.