The Russian – German War 1941 – 1945, Part 1
A Few Notes
|German Soldier on the Eastern Front|
The Russian – German War 1941 – 1945 was without doubt the greatest single war in history. It does, sadly, remain very poorly known to Americans and Western Europeans in general. What follows are just a few basic statistics and facts about the war so has to give a general idea of the nature of the war.
Let us start with the number of deaths.
It has only been since the mid 1990’s that we have been able to get a relatively firm grip on Soviet losses during the war and they were pretty horrible.
For example it appears that over the course of the war Russian military dead numbered c. 6,829,437, this figure does NOT include the at least 3 million Soviet troops who died in German captivity.1
It appears that the total of Soviet troops who died during the war numbered over 10 million.2
German military dead on the eastern front were if anything even less known and it appears that previous figures were serious underestimates. However the following figure seems to be approximately true for the number of German army dead, which included non-Germans in it at times. In the period 1941 – 1944 the German army suffered 2,742,000 dead. In the period January – May 1945 German military dead numbered 1,230,045 of which at least 50% occurred on the Eastern Front which works out to 615,023. This is if you accept that in 1945 there was a continuation of the last quarter of 1944 in which German losses on all other fronts were almost exactly the same as on the eastern front The actual percentage, considering the ferocity of the fighting in the east in 1945, is more like 70% which works out as 861,032. . Ian Kershaw states that at least 1.5 million out of 2.6 million German military dead during this time period where suffered on the Eastern Front in the last ten months of the war this works out to 759,000 German military dead in 1945 on the Eastern Front. Thus the total being at the lowest 3,357,023 and the highest figure is 3,603,032 and the one in the middle 3,501,000. The figures are still however incomplete in that it excludes c. 215,000 Soviets who died while serving in the German army for various reasons and it excludes the casualties suffered by Germany’s allies on the Eastern front. Which were c. 959,000. The total for Germany and her allies works out to 4,531,023 at the lowest and 4,777,032 at the highest. The figure in the middle is 4,675,000.3 These figures exclude deaths in captivity, which for the Germans alone numbered more than 400,000.4
It should be mentioned that both the Soviet and Germany and her allies figures are if anything probably undercounts!5 Thus it is likely that the total of Germany and her allies military dead were actually more than 5 million and that the Soviet dead actually number more than 7 million dead. But keeping to the figures calculated above, which are to repeat probably underestimates, the total military dead of World War Two on the Eastern front no. c. 11,360,460 - 11,606,469!
To put these figures in perspective the total number of military dead from World War One numbered c. 9,722,620 for all belligerents. In comparison Germany in the First World War had 2,050,897 military dead on all fronts as compared to a total of 5,318,000 for the Second World War. Russia in the First World War suffered 1,811,000 military dead.6 Thus it appears that by the standard of death totals the Eastern Front during the Second World War was a “greater” war than the whole of the First World War.
Another way of looking at the death totals is to break them down by quarterlies and compare the number of dead by both sides and see what this reveals about the basic strategy and tactics of each side.
I should point out here that although we have the figures to do monthlies for the Soviet army we can only do quarterlies for the German army so the figures given below exclude the death casualties of Germany’s allies which are not available in quarterly breakdowns.
As mentioned above the figures are likely incomplete and do not include the figures for Germany’s allies so that they exaggerate the difference between Soviet and “German” losses. Still a couple of things are apparent from these figures. One of them is that for much of the war Soviet casualties greatly exceeded German. This would seem to show that on a tactical level German military units were significantly superior to Soviet military units for much of the war. Even putting into the equation the casualties of Germany’s allies would not change this by much. Also it reflects that especially in the first two and ½ years of the war the Soviets were rather spend thrifty with their men. Which indicates a rather unpleasant callousness.
What is also apparent is that Soviet military units did improve relative to German units. Although once again the figures downplay this by leaving out the casualties of Germany’s allies. (This means leaving out c. 1,174,000 military deaths.)8 In fact after the first quarter of 1944 it is likely that Soviet military units were superior to the forces of Germany and Germany’s allies overall, certainly in the ability to inflict casualties. However since the majority of the forces fighting the Soviets were in fact German the general trends probably hold true.
Another important comparison is the number of men both sides had on the Front at different times. The following is a listing of the front line strength levels of the Soviets, Germans and their allies at different times during the war.
What those figures indicate is that despite the fact for much of the war Germany and her allies inflicted a rather unfavorable ratio of casualties on the Russians as compared to their own casualties the Russians were able to achieve by March of 1942 a substantial superiority in numbers. The Germans and their allies were simply unable despite great efforts to overcome Soviet numerical strength. This meant that once German military tactical superiority over the Soviets was significantly eroded or largely disappeared or as seems to be the case toward the end of the war reversed in favour of the Soviets the Germans and their allies were doomed to be crushed.
As it is the Germans and their allies were having a hard time of it even with a significant tactical advantage during most of the war. The Soviet ability despite appalling losses to maintain a significant superiority for most of the war is quite remarkable. The inability of the Germans and their allies to be able to maintain, except during the very earliest part of the war a numerical advantage and their total inability to overcome their massive deficit in favour of the Soviets despite inflicting a strongly favorable balance of losses on the order of 2-3 times more than they suffered for much of the war is a rather telling indication of the fact that by March of 1942 Germany faced a virtually impossible task in defeating the Soviets much less conquering them.
What the casualties and force figures also indicate is that it was not just the Soviet generals who became spendthrift with their men. Like the Soviets, especially in the early and mid-parts of the war the Germans during the last 16 months or so of the war also became spendthrifts with their men. If the Soviet generals seemed far too likely to spend lives for military gains. It appears that in the last phase of the war the German generals adopted to a large extent the same spendthrift attitude. This can be seen by comparing the force strengths with the fatal casualty rate.
Thus taking the average size of the Soviet and German armies at the front and working out the fatal casualties as a percentage of their respective average army strengths during each quarter we get the following.
The figures make it quite plain that through most of the war the Soviets suffered proportionate to their army size greater losses than the Germans. This is especially true during the early part of the struggle when the Soviets suffered as much as 2 ½ times the proportionate fatal losses as the Germans. (4th quarter 1941). In 1942 the rates began to converge although overall the Germans retained an advantage. In 1943 there was the prophetic 1st quarter were for the first time German proportionate losses exceeded the Soviets and not only that were more than 10%. After that for the rest of the year Soviet proportionate fatal losses exceeded the German for the rest of the year. Especially with the 3rd quarter losses looking like a repeat of the first part of the war in proportionate losses. It also likely reflects a period of spendthrift tactics by the Soviets. The 4th quarter signals a return to the convergence of German and Soviet proportionate rates of fatal losses, with the Germans having a slight lead.
In 1944 the accumulated experience of the Soviets and their growing technical and tactical experience are finally made fully manifest. In the first quarter of 1944 the Soviets have a slight edge in terms of proportionate losses over the Germans. In the second quarter of 1944 this slight edge becomes more than two to one in proportionate terms. This is almost entirely before the Normandy landing. Thus even before the landing the Soviets had acquired a sort of ability to administer proportionately greater casualties on the Germans, The third quarter was a disaster for the Germans with the Soviets inflicting c. 3 ½ times the proportionate casualties they suffered during the quarter. A ratio worse than any favourable ratio the Germans had inflicted on the Soviets earlier in the war. The fourth quarter of the year has a ratio in favour of the Russians of about 2 1/2 to one.
1945 continues the trend with the first quarter in which the Soviets once again inflict 3 1/2 times the proportionate fatal casualties they suffered. The last quarter retains a more than 3 to one ratio in favour of the Soviets.
What this illustrates is that when you take into account the smaller size of the German army in Russia as compared to the Soviet army it becomes clear that the German command adopted later in the war the same spendthrift attitude that the Soviet high Command had concerning their own troops for much of the war. In other words it was not just the Soviets who spent men to gain military objectives in the war in the East. The Germans did so also and certainly did so later in the war. And if the proportions are anything to go on a more lavish scale than the Soviets. It is clear that both sides tended to disregard the lives of their men not just the Soviets. And it seems that overall there was a tendency for the Soviets to learn to husband their men’s lives. Intriguingly the Germans seemed to learn the opposite, i.e., to be more cavalier with their men’s lives.
To illustrate there were 4 quarters (1 year), during which Soviet losses exceeded 10% (None larger than 14%), of the forces then fielded each quarter. The Germans on the other hand had 6 quarters (A year and ½, I exclude the second quarter of 1945, because it was just April and the first week of May.) during which their losses exceeded 10% (Two quarters more than 20%). The significance of these figures in indicating a willingness to “spend” men should be clear.
At another time I may go into other aspects of the Russian / German war.
It is worth recalling that in terms of numbers of men in in the armies and the sheer size of the battlefields the Eastern front was indisputably the greatest single war in human history and sadly it was also one of the most brutally fought with some of the most terrible atrocities against civilians in any war.
|Soviets Raise Flag on the Reichstag|
1. Figure calculated from Krivosheev, G. F., Soviet Casualties and Combat Losses in the Twentieth Century, Greenhill Books, London, 1997, pp. 96-97. For the fate of Soviet prisoners of war see Evans, Richard J., The Third Reich at War, Penguin, London, 2008, pp. 182-186.
2. IBID. See also Glantz, David M., & House, Jonathan, When Titans Clashed, University Press of Kansas, Lawrence KS, 1995, p. 306.
3. Final figure calculated by me. Sources are Glantz, p. 307, Kirvosheev, p. 278, Kershaw, Ian, The End, Penguin Books, New York, 2011, pp. 92-93, 379, 425 Footnote 1, 506 Footnote 141. See also German Casualties in World War II, Wikipedia Here. . For figures given for the total German quaterlly losses see Mawdsley, Evan, Thunder in the East, Hodder Arnold, London, 2005, p. 404. This source gives the total of German fatal casualties for the last quarter of 1944 as 223,000 for Russian Front and 224,000 for all other Fronts put together. A source giving month by month totals for the Eastern Front is Fritz, Stephen, G., Ostkrieg, The University Press of Kentucky, Lexington Ken., 2011, pp. 495, 497. This source gives figures down to the last number, (I.e., 62,165), and are not rounded the way Mawdsley does who rounds them up and down to the nearest on thousand figure. This is from Overman's figures which given the way they were calculated are basically false precision. The Source for German casualties that these sources rely on is Overmans, Rudiger, Deutsche Militarische Versluste in Zweiten Weltkrieg, Munich, 1999, which has not been translated into English.
4. Kirvosheev, p. 278, German Casualties in World War II.
5. See Kirvosheev and Glantz.
6. See World War One Casualties, Wikipedia Here, also Kershaw in Footnote 3 along with German Casualties in World War II. 6. German figure for total military dead of World War two includes 459,475 “confirmed” prisoner of War deaths. See German Casulaties in World War II.
7. Figures calculated from Krivosheev pp. 96-97 and calculated from a graph, hence the figures are not exact from Tooze, Adam, The Wages of Destruction, Penguin Books, London, 2006, p. 514., and then corrected with the quarterly figures for German fatal casualties given in Mawdsley p. 404. Further confirmation came from Fritz's figures, pp. 495, 497. The figures for 1945 were calculated from Kershaw Footnote 3 and German losses in World War Two based on an estimated 70% of death total in one figure and 50% in another and an in between figure derived indirectly from Kershaw of fatal casualties on the Eastern Front. Fritz at p. 469-470 says that at least two thirds of the losses suffered in 1945 were suffered on the Eastern Front, a total of 811,000. Fritz lists on the same page 340,000 German soldiers killed on Western Front, (1939-1944). About 151,000 German soldiers were killed in Italy over the same time period. 138,000 German dead in the German Navy in World War II. If you assume that 419,000 German soldiers died on the Western Front in January - May 1945 and you add deaths in Western captivity, (96,000). This makes a total 1,048,000 killed by the Western Allies. The Soviet total of at least 3,917,000 is almost 4 times larger. The figures for before 1945 were compared with figures given by Kershaw et al in Footnote 3 and with the figures given for the Eastern Front in German Casualties in World War II.
8. See Krivosheev p. 278.
9. Figures calculated from Glantz, pp. 301-305. The last four Soviet figures with these signs * & ^ % leave out the new Soviet allies against the Germans thus on October 1 1944 there were 210,000 Soviet Allies, on January 1 1945 360,000 Soviet allies on March 1 1945 450,000 Soviet allies and on May 8 1945 450,000 Soviet allies. They appear to have suffered less than 50,000 dead fighting on the Soviet side and the dead are not lumped into the dead who died fighting the Soviets earlier who numbered 959,000. For more see Krivosheev and Glantz.
10. Calculations are my own. Source of figures for calculation see Footnote 7 and 9.