Who Won The World War II?

Who Won The World War II?This post (from May 10, 2005) was deliberately written to provoke, by asserting that the “victors write history” rule gets into trouble when there are too many victors writing too many histories. Thus, it was written deliberately as an opposite extreme to what kids learn in school in the USA, as well as a report on what many Europeans think and say over beer in a bar (I have heard it many times), not a report of yet another “Truth” that I actually believe in. So, I also re-posted the comments and hope that some real WWII experts chime in this time around (Orac? Archy?) and straighten-up the myths.


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Polish cavalry, the most formidable mounted military force in Europe at the time, was slaughtered by Hitler’s tank divisions early in the WWII. The Soviet cavalry, on the other hand, was highly successful – the only useful cavalry of that war, and the last useful cavalry in history. How come?
The cavalry raids by the Russians were succesfull because German military was snowed-in, frozen, hungry and sick. German rifles, cannons and tanks, unlike Russian, were not designed to be used at 20 degrees below freezing: the firing mechanisms froze, leaving German soldiers incapable of defending themselves against sudden attacks by the cavalry.
Hitler repeated history: like Napoleon 130 years before, he got stuck deep inside Russian territory in the middle of the winter. The fact that Hitler attacked in winter gave the Red Army an initial advantage. Did that initial advantage change the final outcome of the war? Maybe, maybe not. Perhaps it made the war shorter. It certainly helped Russians lose 27 million people instead of much more.
Despite attrocities that the Red Army commited in Ukraine, Baltic states and other places, its participation in the WWII was critical to the final outcome, winter or no winter. Without the Red Army, we would all speak German right now.
Why did Hitler attack in winter? Some historians say (and others vehemently dispute it) that he was delayed by the intervention in Yugoslavia. Yugoslav prime minister signed the Pact with Hitler, but the people rose in protest on March 27, 1941. Hitler was allegedly so mad, he sent 32 divisions to the Balkans to punish them, starting on April 6, 1941. Those divisions got stuck in the mountains of Bosnia, where attacks of local partisans slowly chipped at them over the next four years.
If this theory is true, and Hitler delayed attack on USSR because his troups were bogged down in the Balkans, and this delay resulted in initial losses in Russia, and this led to an overall loss in the War, then Yugoslavs can claim, as many do, that their contribution to the final victory was out of proportion with the size of the country.
Every country claims its contribution was crucial to the final victory: French resistance, Norwegian resistance, Dutch resistance, Yugoslav partisans, Red Army, British RAF and many others all claim they “won the war”. Of course, each contribution was important. Each resistance movement saved some Jews, killed some Nazis, got some SS units stuck locally instead of them being available for fighting elsewhere, etc. The collective effort won the war in the end. The Axis troups were made too busy in too many places to be as effective as Hitler (and Mussolini etc.) hoped for. The question is: how would the war go if any one of those forces was missing?
Resistance in some countries, though helpful, was obviously not critical for the final outcome. Without them, war would still be won in 1945. Some cases, like that of Yugoslavia, are still hotly contested. Nobody seriously questions the critical roles of the RAF and the Red Army.
But how about the American contribution? Most Americans, just like all the others, believe that the their military – the US military – won the WWII, perhaps with a little help from “its allies”. But is that true?
Surely, US military made large sacrifices and big contributions to the overall war effort, but was that effort critical to the final outcome? Most Americans would say Yes, as that is how history is taught in schools. People in all other countries would say No. Why? What is the reasoning? What would they say if asked why was American contribution not critical?
They would say that “Americans did too little too late”. They would say that Japan was far smaller and weaker opponent than Germany and Italy and that it was crumbling under its own weight as it spread itself thinly across Asia, becoming increasingly vulnerable to attacks by local resistance fighters. Once Germany and Italy were defeated, the thinking goes, Japan would have surrendered even if nobody ever fired a single shot at them throughout the war, i.e., they could have been completely ignored and they would still be defeated by the loss of their more powerful allies combined with their thin spread over the Pacific.
Furthermore, America’s obsession with Japan, a minor player, prevented the USA for coming and helping in Europe, where the real fighting was going on, until too many people have died. Refusing to allow docking of ships with Jews (the ships returned to Europe and all the people on board were killed by Nazis) is another qualm Europeans have with the USA.
They would also say that the African front was not critical for final victory – yet another peripheral war theater that could have been ignored with no consequences to the final outcome. Finally, many are resentful of General Patton coming at the very end, once most of Europe was already liberated by Russians or locals, riding straight to Berlin and declaring that he and his troops liberated Europe. They would say that is typical American haughtiness. Now, don’t get me wrong, they appreciate what Americans did, but complain that the STORY Americans tell about it is incorrect, i.e., that American contribution, though valuable, was not critical to the final outcome. This view is not something you will hear discussed in the US schools, or US media. Who knows what the real truth is?
Eric said…
I think that the American version can be a little excessive in its estimation of America’s importance. Clearly in a body bag count, Russia made the largest sacrifice and killed the most Germans (with the help of that nation’s two most formidable generals – January and February). That being said, I think the pendulum can easily swing too far in the other direction. For example, this:
Once Germany and Italy were defeated, the thinking goes, Japan would have surrendered even if nobody ever fired a single shot at them throughout the war, i.e., they could have been completely ignored and they would still be defeated by the loss of their more powerful allies combined with their thin spread over the Pacific.
This shows a pretty severe ignorance of Japanese culture and mindset. Far from a push over, Japan fought to the end, with many civilians committing mass suicide rather than be taken over by the approaching Americans. For Japanese soldiers, the fighting ethic was no less disciplined and self-sacrificing. Even up to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, when Germany and Italy had already been defeated, the Japanese continued to mount a strenuous defense in the hopes of inflicting such a high death toll so as to insure more favorable terms of surrender or armistice.
The thought that this nation, so determined and dedicated, would have just gone away or defeated itself is just flat out wrong. The hypothetical “if Germany and Italy were defeated” actually occurred and Japan showed zero signs of relenting.
J said…
Missing in this evaluation of the importance of America’s contribution to victory in WWII is the US’s material & economic contribution. That is, while it’s true that Soviet soldiers were the ones grinding down the Wehrmacht in the East, a lot of their gear came from US factories — our tanks, etc. Ditto Britain — Lend Lease, etc
These contributions, too, can probably often be over-estimated — but they shouldn’t be entirely left out of the calculus…
Babbler said…
As my Dad always saids “WWII was won with American money and Russian lives”.
Anonymous said…
Are you serious ? Sounds like a liberal wrote this.
coturnix said…
I am a a liberal – proudly so. Still, as you can see, the post is a question. The title has a question mark. The post is meant to provoke thinking: are we all taking some “truths” taught in school for granted? It does not provide answers – it is just meant to be provokative, to challenge the dogmas. I am glad it worked on you.

20 responses to “Who Won The World War II?

  1. This is not a conservative / liberal issue. The consensus of military historians is that Nazi Germany was largely defeated by the USSR. Weather had little to do with it. By 1943 the Russians had the most effective land army of any power in the war. They alone had tanks able to stand up the the Germans and their operational planning, unencombered by meddling from the top was superior to the Germans (after the debacles of 1941-1942 Stalin largely left operational planning to his generals). The Soviets were able to execute several crushing defeats on the Germans – notably Stalingrad, Kursk and Bagration. An important fact is that two of these battles occurred before then invasion of Normandy while Bagration was concurrent with it. True lend lease did help, most notably in giving the Red Army trucks. US weapons played only a minor role, particularly as US tanks were inferior to Russian ones.

  2. Oh, it is not a liberal/conservative issue except to the America-First Hyperpatriotic wingnut anonymous who posted that comment.

  3. Actually, Hitler did not invade the Soviet Union in winter. He attacked on June 22, 1941. True, it would have been much better for Hitler if he had attacked five weeks early, in May, which is what the original plan called for. The reasons Hitler delayed include more than just the need to put down the revolt in Yugoslavia. For example, especially intense rains in early June rendered many roads in Western Russia impassable to tanks and heavy trucks. Even waiting until June, the Wermacht still had trouble with the mud. (So maybe the rain could lay claim to having contributed to German defeat.)
    In any case, even with the late start, Hitler advanced farther and faster than any previous army in history. By December, a mere five months after entering Russia, Hitler’s armies were nearly to the suburbs of Moscow (forward units could even see the spires of the Kremlin) when the winter, combined with a particularly ferocious Soviet counterattack in early December, stopped their advance. If Hitler had had five more weeks before the bitter weather set in, he almost certainly would have taken Moscow.
    As for the final Soviet offensive on Berlin, I recommend two books that give the perspective of just how utterly brutal it was: The Fall of Berlin 1945 by Antony Beevor and Armageddon: The Battle for Germany 1944-1945 by Max Hastings. The latter book in particular puts the role of the Allied forces on the Western Front into perspective vis-a-vis the Red Army on the Eastern Front by essentially alternating between discussing the West and the East. Both books reveal that one important reason that the Red Army was able to advance so far so fast is because of the utter brutality of its generals, who seemed blithely unconcerned about casualties. Indeed, near the end, Stalin played two of his generals, Zhukov and Konev against each other, goading them into a competition over who could take Berlin first, casualties be damned.
    American and British leaders were far more concerned about casualties than the Soviets and therefore tended to be far more conservative in their tactics and the risks that they were willing to take on the attack (other than Patton, of course).

  4. Kristjan Wager

    Every country claims its contribution was crucial to the final victory: French resistance, Norwegian resistance, Dutch resistance, Yugoslav partisans, Red Army, British RAF and many others all claim they “won the war”.

    Ah, but how many had Montgomery say that their resistance were “Second to None”? In recent years, Danes have taken a hard look on the actual facts of Denmark and WWII, and mostly haven’t liked what they saw. The following have been made public within the last ten years or so:
    * There were more people fighting on the German Eastern front against Russia, than together with the allies against the Germans.
    * Denmark turned back Jews at the German-Danish border, when they tried to flee Germany, even before Denmark was occupied on April 9th, 1940.
    * After WWII, Denmark mistreated German refugees, by, among other things, refuging them medical treatment.
    The Danish resistance did a lot to save the Danish Jews, but other aspects of Danish behaviour during WWII is not exactly something to be proud off. And Danes are becoming more and more aware of it.

  5. Kristjan Wager

    Oh, and while Britain didn’t win WWII, they were at one stage the only country fighting the Nazis. After France fell, and before Russia switched over, and USA became involved. If they hadn’t done that, thing might have turned out much different – Hitler tried to win them over as allies, but thankfully without success.

  6. True lend lease did help, most notably in giving the Red Army trucks. US weapons played only a minor role, particularly as US tanks were inferior to Russian ones.

    Although American weapons may not have played that big a role, you seem to be implying that Lend Lease played a relatively minor role in the Soviet war effort, which is simply not true. The vast majority of Soviet industry was west of the Urals, and early after the German invasion Soviet industry was on the verge of collapse, as it took time for Stalin to move his manufacturing plants east, beyond the reach of German bombers. The Soviets, for instance, had a real problem with transport not just with trucks, but with trains, with their railroad manufacturing industry grinding in essence to a halt. Thus, the thousands of trucks, boxcars, and locomotives delivered through Lend Lease were critical. Similarly, the Soviet Air Force was nearly completely dependent upon aviation fuel delivered through Lend Lease. That’s not even counting tires, boots, leather, cotton, and canned rations that came through Lend-Lease.

  7. I understood BWV to have said that Land Lease DID matter (and the weapons not so much).

  8. I believe that the goal of the western allies’ invasion of Europe was to not only remove AH from Western Europe but also to prevent Stalin’s occupation of the same territory.
    I have never understood why Japan bombed Pearl Harbour…I know the trite explanation was to prevent the US interfering in their Asian adventures, but I think it was unlikely, without provocation, the US would have done so.

  9. It seems unlikely in retrospect, Martin, but at the time it was not at all clear. Particularly because Japan had designs on the Philippines, which was recently-independent yet still closely tied to the US at the time. Indeed, invading the Philippines would have brought US fury down on Japan anyway, so Yamamoto simply had the clever idea of striking at Pearl Harbor as an opening gambit to take the US out of the war just prior to the Philippine invasion.
    Of course, they missed the carriers on December 7, and the rest is history.

  10. I’d quesiton how small and marginal a force the Japanese were. From a European point of view, clearly, they were no threat at all. Even if they had maintained their empire, it would never have impinged on European soil. The Chinese, however (who I believe outnumber Europeans collectively), as well as the people of the Pacific islands, didn’t find them so irrelevant, and their treatment by the Japanese was much worse than what most European Gentiles had to put up with from the Germans. Certainly in terms of the natural resources they were bringing under their control, they were becoming potentially extremely powerful. Unless only the European experience counts, I can’t understand that viewpoint.
    As for why the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor: they intended to attack the Phillipines, which would have brought the U.S. into the war anyway. So they decided that it was smart to get rid of as many of the ships and planes as they could, ahead of time.

  11. coturnix said: I understood BWV to have said that Land Lease DID matter (and the weapons not so much).
    Correct, the economic assistance helped tremendously, but the Russians were very adept at building their own weapons. Soviet war production, particularly in tanks was comparable to that of the US.
    The big point about WW2 in Europe was that the main theater was the East and the Soviets won it by out-fighting the Germans and paid a horrendous cost in doing so. They did not win due to weather, supply, Hitler’s incompetence or some other factor. This is not saying the USSR won the war single-handedly as other nations played vital roles.
    (and all this comes from someone who voted a straight Republican ticket in 2004)

  12. Even with only a marginal familiarity with WW II, one should be aware that the Soviets were upset with the delays of their western allies in opening the western front in Europe. The North Africa adventure was due in large part to Churchill and his theory of the soft underbelly of Europe.
    While the contributions to the overall victory of the Soviets are usually overlooked in the West and especially in the US, it’s also absurd to say that the US contribution to the overall victory was small. After all, the US was the only power truly fighting a two-front war, even though the European war took precedence over the Pacific war (not the other way around).
    I believe that the Soviet tanks were technically inferior to those of the Germans, although quite good in their own right. But as Stalin was reputed to have said, quantity has a quality all its own.

  13. I believe that the Soviet tanks were technically inferior to those of the Germans, although quite good in their own right.
    Depends how you define it. The Tiger and Panther tanks (and their variations) were the best heavy and medium tanks in the war in terms of tank to tank combat. However they were complicated designs that were mechanically unreliable and difficult to build in mass. The T-34 was superior in this regard, as its design simplicity allowed huge production by the Soviets and its combat effectiveness was matched by its reliability and ease of maintenance.

  14. Kristjan Wager

    After all, the US was the only power truly fighting a two-front war

    I’m fairly sure that Germany was fighting a two-front war.

  15. “After all, the US was the only power truly fighting a two-front war”
    So was the Commonwealth including Australia and India.
    Lend lease was critical in supplying trucks and raw materials (especialy fuel and aluminum for aircraft)but Soviet tank production was immense. They had seven factories dedicated to armour and produced 16,000 in 1944 alone. The British used much US equipment but much of that was actually produced in Canadian factories.

  16. I have the benefit of a father with a PhD in history and a focus on WWII.
    About 1/4th of all Commonwealth munitions were American produced. The US supplied all but 20 of the train locomotives the Soviets used to move troops, fuel, food, muntions, etc throughout the war. And while Soviet tanks fought Nazi tanks, those Soviet tanks were supplied with convoys of American trucks carrying Americna fuel and American food, and American munitions. The only source of aviation fuel for the Soviet air force was America or captured German planes. They didn’t capture very many planes.
    Many Soviets died of hunger in WWII, maybe millions of them. It is estimated that, as hungry as everyone was, without American supplies they would have been too hungry to fight. Indeed, in 1945 some estimates are that as much as 80% of Soviet calories came from America. The US also supplied virtually all of the boots worn by Soviet soldiers, the cotton for their uniforms, and the wool for their famous greatcoats.
    In short, the cargo planes, cargo ships, food, fuel, ammunition, uniforms, boots, barracks, trains, freight cars, machine guns, trucks, tractors, motorcycles, explosives, telephones, coppor and aluminum used by the Soviet Army was provided by America – they made everything else themselves.
    North Africa was the primary objective of the initial allied attacks by Britain and then America because the pressure had a two-fold purpose. The prevention of German seizure of oil supplies in the Middle East and the creation of ports for an attack against the Med coast of Europe. If left alone, Germany would have eventually taken Gibraltar and the Arab oil fields, allowing them to fortify the Atlantic Wall until there was no chance to start a ground offensive in Europe. If North Africa had not been, no Sicily and Italy. No Sicily and Itlay, no Western front to take pressure off the Soviets.With more troops ‘free’ in the West, no delay to Barbarossa. No delay to Barbarossa, and the Caucasus oil fields are German, and the Soviets lose in 1944-1946. Also, the spreading of German and axis troops to Italy allows Normandy to work, opening two ground fronts in the West, further releiving pressure on the Soviets.
    Japan was far from a sideline. This ‘minor nuisance’ had conquered a territory larger than Europe and North Africa before 1941 and were violently oppressing a population many times larger than all of Europe. Once they had secured the rubber, metal, and oil resources they were after in the Pacific, Australia and New Zealand would have fallen quickly. Without American involvement in the Pacific the Japanese intended to conquer India and move West through the Middle East with strong naval support until they linked up with the rest of the Axis in the Levant. The Japanese also would have spent even more time slapping around the Soviets in the Far East (there being a lot of bad blood between Japan and russia), opening at least one (Irkutsk) and perhaps three (also more ground war fronts for the Soviets to face in addition to the Nazi push.
    Did anyone win WWII alone? Nope. But most of the winners were shooting American bullets and eating American food while they fought.
    Just like the American Revolutions: did America have better equipment than the Brits? No. Better soldiers? No. Even George Washington was only as good as the generals he fought (which really surprised them). We won that war through logistics, too.

  17. Deep thought wrote:
    “The Japanese also would have spent even more time slapping around the Soviets in the Far East ”
    Lacking competitive tanks and unskilled in the operational deployment of armor, the Japanese were crushed by the Soviets in 1939 at Khalkin Gol and again toward the end of the war in Manchuria. So soundly were the Japanese defeated that Japan abandoned any further designs against the USSR. Soviet intelligence in 1941 learned this and therefore was able to transfer its Pacific coast Siberian units to the west in time for the Moscow counteroffensive.
    I also question the claim that American machine guns were predominantly used. The Soviets manufactured more than twice as many machine guns as Germany, and Lend Lease only delivered 131K machine guns to the USSR (all from Wikipedia)

  18. John "birther" Samford

    I was researching the number of boots shipped to the Soviets from the USA and came across this thread.
    There are some misrepresentations here that I fell obligated to correct.
    First on the list is that the Red Army was the most advanced army in ’43.
    Pure Horse Manure! The Soviets were fighting on Russian soil until ’44. Their tactical doctrine still consisted of the human wave frontal assault.
    The military advance that stands out from WW2 is tactical air power. The side that controlled the air over the battlefield NEVER lost. They didn’t always win, but they didn’t lose the battle either. This was especially true in the East because of the distance the front covered.
    The Soviets, despite having better equipment, were unable to dislodged the Nazi’s before ’44 because they could not establish aor control. When they did in ’44 it was because the US Army Air Corp had forced the Nazi’s to put 80% of their fighters in Germany to try and stop the USAAC.
    After the P-51 went operational in numbers, the Germans had no chance. That was after April of ’44 google ‘Big Week’).
    A. Galland has the best slant on that, since he was the General in charge at that time. Read “The First and the Last’. It is much better then “Black Cross, Red Star” which is about 25% propaganda.
    The Soviets and the Nazi’s were both masters of propaganda, which is normal for a Socialist State.
    Look at the United Socialism of America (USA).
    There has been 13 planed attacks by terrorists on US Soil this year (2009) 11 were foiled by good intelligence work. One succeeded. The Usurpers response is to pretend there have been no attacks. Propaganda at work.
    This thread started in 2005. If I had posted then that Unemployment would be between 11% and 20%, that the US government would have taken control of General Motors and a good bit of the Financial Markets, as well as Housing and was now attempting to take over the Medical Industry, you would consider me a nutbag.

  19. John "birther" Samford

    I was researching the number of boots shipped to the Soviets from the USA and came across this thread.
    There are some misrepresentations here that I fell obligated to correct.
    First on the list is that the Red Army was the most advanced army in ’43.
    Pure Horse Manure! The Soviets were fighting on Russian soil until ’44. Their tactical doctrine still consisted of the human wave frontal assault.
    The military advance that stands out from WW2 is tactical air power. The side that controlled the air over the battlefield NEVER lost. They didn’t always win, but they didn’t lose the battle either. This was especially true in the East because of the distance the front covered.
    The Soviets, despite having better equipment, were unable to dislodged the Nazi’s before ’44 because they could not establish aor control. When they did in ’44 it was because the US Army Air Corp had forced the Nazi’s to put 80% of their fighters in Germany to try and stop the USAAC.
    After the P-51 went operational in numbers, the Germans had no chance. That was after April of ’44 google ‘Big Week’).
    A. Galland has the best slant on that, since he was the General in charge at that time. Read “The First and the Last’. It is much better then “Black Cross, Red Star” which is about 25% propaganda.
    The Soviets and the Nazi’s were both masters of propaganda, which is normal for a Socialist State.
    Look at the United Socialism of America (USA).
    There has been 13 planed attacks by terrorists on US Soil this year (2009) 11 were foiled by good intelligence work. One succeeded. The Usurpers response is to pretend there have been no attacks. Propaganda at work.
    This thread started in 2005. If I had posted then that Unemployment would be between 11% and 20%, that the US government would have taken control of General Motors and a good bit of the Financial Markets, as well as Housing and was now attempting to take over the Medical Industry, you would consider me a nutbag.

  20. John "birther" Samford

    I was researching the number of boots shipped to the Soviets from the USA and came across this thread.
    There are some misrepresentations here that I fell obligated to correct.
    First on the list is that the Red Army was the most advanced army in ’43.
    Pure Horse Manure! The Soviets were fighting on Russian soil until ’44. Their tactical doctrine still consisted of the human wave frontal assault.
    The military advance that stands out from WW2 is tactical air power. The side that controlled the air over the battlefield NEVER lost. They didn’t always win, but they didn’t lose the battle either. This was especially true in the East because of the distance the front covered.
    The Soviets, despite having better equipment, were unable to dislodged the Nazi’s before ’44 because they could not establish aor control. When they did in ’44 it was because the US Army Air Corp had forced the Nazi’s to put 80% of their fighters in Germany to try and stop the USAAC.
    After the P-51 went operational in numbers, the Germans had no chance. That was after April of ’44 google ‘Big Week’).
    A. Galland has the best slant on that, since he was the General in charge at that time. Read “The First and the Last’. It is much better then “Black Cross, Red Star” which is about 25% propaganda.
    The Soviets and the Nazi’s were both masters of propaganda, which is normal for a Socialist State.
    Look at the United Socialism of America (USA).
    There has been 13 planed attacks by terrorists on US Soil this year (2009) 11 were foiled by good intelligence work. One succeeded. The Usurpers response is to pretend there have been no attacks. Propaganda at work.
    This thread started in 2005. If I had posted then that Unemployment would be between 11% and 20%, that the US government would have taken control of General Motors and a good bit of the Financial Markets, as well as Housing and was now attempting to take over the Medical Industry, you would consider me a nutbag.