June 06, 2009

D-day and World War II Context [written June 6, 2008]

June 6, 1944, H-Hour was 6:30 am. It was D-day

The assault was conducted in two phases: an air assault landing of American and British airborne divisions shortly after midnight, and an amphibious landing of Allied infantry and armoured divisions on the coast of France commencing at 06:30 British Double Summer Time.

The operation was the largest single-day invasion of all time, with over 130,000 troops landed on June 6, 1944. 195,700 Allied naval and merchant navy personnel were involved. The landings took place along a stretch of the Normandy coast divided into five sections: Gold, Juno, Omaha, Sword and Utah.

D-Day/normandy Invasion Casualties
United States: 1,465 dead, 5,138 wounded, missing or captured;
United Kingdom: 2,700 dead, wounded or captured;
Canada: 500 dead; 621 wounded or captured;

The combined deaths of this one battle are more than the fatal losses of America and its allies after five years of the Iraq war.

Nazi Germany: Between 4,000 and 9,000 dead, wounded or captured

By D-Day 157 German divisions were stationed in the Soviet Union, 6 in Finland, 12 in Norway, 6 in Denmark, 9 in Germany, 21 in the Balkans, 26 in Italy and 59 in France, Belgium and the Netherlands. However, these statistics are somewhat misleading since a significant number of the divisions in the east were depleted; German records indicate that the average personnel complement was at about 50% in the spring of 1944.

the Importance of the Soviet Union in winning World War 2
Not to diminish the great effort of the USA in WW2 and the great sacrifice of D-day, but it is important to know the historical contribution of the Soviet Union in WW2.
A great deal of importance for the success of D-day has been placed on tricking Hitler into placing more of his troops at Calais. It was also important that the 12th Panzer division did not move quickly into the conflict. Without the eastern front drain and commitment of divisions there would have been more armor and divisions all over France and everywhere else.

At the beginning of June 1944 the 12th Panzer division was declared ready for combat operations. The Division's tank strength at this time was 81 Panther ausf A / G and 104 Panzer IV ausf H / J tanks. The division was also equipped with Jagdpanzer IV tank destroyers, three prototype Wirbelwind flakpanzer vehicles, along with a number of 20 mm, 37 mm and 88 mm flak guns, Hummel, Wespe and sIG 33 self-propelled guns and regular towed artillery pieces.

Tanks on the east front peaked at 5,202 in November 1944.

So a huge credit for a successful invasion is that Soviets had regrouped from losses in 1941 and turned things around in 1942.

The Soviets lost 26 million people in the war. About 11 million of those were military losses. The Red Army lost 3 million men in the summer of 1941 (killed or missing). They lost about 4.5 million in the last 6 months of 1941.

Stalins Keys to Victory by William Dunn details the amazing recruitment effort to rebuild and replace the Red Army three times over 18 months.

The United States lost 418,500 people over the course of World War 2.

The Eastern front was the largest theater of war in history and was notorious for its unprecedented ferocity, destruction, and immense loss of life. More people fought and died on the Eastern Front than in all other theaters of World War II combined. With over 30 million dead, many of them civilians, the Eastern Front has been called a war of extermination.

Over the course of WW2, the US mobilized an army of 100 divisions.

The Germans had mobilized 400 divisions.
The Soviets had mobilized 700 divisions.

The Soviet losses in 1941-1943 would not have been so severe if Stalin had not purged his experienced military officers in 1938.
The Soviets might not have been able to motivate and recruit so successfully for the defence of Mother Russia if not for the brutality and harsh treatment of the nazis against the one third of Russia that they conquered in 1941.
The Soviet wars preceding WW2 left a larger reserve of military veterans to rebuild the Red Army after the devastating initial losses.
The Americans helped supply gear with the lend lease program for trucks etc.. but the Soviets made their own guns and tanks. Factories the American engineers helped build in the 1930s. The soviets had learned the lessons of mass production to only build as good as you need. Tanks only lasted about 6 months before being destroyed. So it did not matter if engine was poorly made and would breakdown in 2-5 years. The Tank would not last that long.

The recruitment and production effort to get the people and weapons put together while fighting the most fierce battles in history is an interesting and informative study.

The USA probably could still have won WW2 if the Soviets had been defeated and not been able to regroup after 1941 or lost Moscow and Stalingrad, but it would have been far more costly and the USA would have to have an army 4-6 times larger than the one they did. Or the US would have had to wait until 1945 when they developed the nuclear bomb.

Operation Barbarossa, the initial German invasion of the Soviet Union. Germany had 4.5 million men.

In 1941, the Soviet armed forces in the western districts were outnumbered by their German counterparts, 4.3 million Axis soldiers vs. 2.6 million Soviet soldiers. The overall size of the Soviet armed forces in early July 1941, though, amounted to a little more than 5 million men, 2.6 million in the west, 1.8 million in the far east, with the rest being deployed or training elsewhere

Soviets: At least 802,191 killed, unknown wounded, and some 3,300,000 captured.

Battle of Stalingrad

Germans: 750,000 killed or wounded, 250,000 captured
Soviets: 700,000 killed, wounded or captured, 40,000+ civilian dead

The Battle of Moscow

Germans: 248,000–400,000 casualties
Soviets: 650,000–1,280,000 casualties

Battle of Kursk

Germans: 50,000 dead, wounded, or captured
Soviets: 500,000 dead, wounded, or captured

Autumn and winter 1943 on the eastern front

Battle of Crimea 8 April 1944 - 12 May 1944

Soviet: 85,000 all causes
German/Romanian: 97,000 all causes

The Germans were already getting pushed back quite a ways by D-Day. On the US side, by June 4th 1944 all of Italy had been captured (campaign started with invasion of Sicily July 1943) and before that North Africa.

Belorussian Offensive. June 22, 1944 Two weeks after D-day.

Germans: 300,000-400,000 killed, wounded and taken prisoner.
Soviets: 60,000 KIA/MIA, 110,000 WIA/sick


Sven Ortmann said...

Some additions;
Both German and Russian division quantity doesn't tell much.
Both countries used the remainder of smashed divisions to create new ones.
Division sizes varied a lot.

You mentioned that the divisions on the Eastern front were depleted by mid-'44. that's correct. But many divisions elsewhere (including many in the west) were very limited in their capabilities. Many such divisions were for occupation missions or for quite stationary coastal defence only.
They had some good and many rather poor (below infantry division capability) divisions in the West in mid-'44.

I launched a mini-article on the true turning point of WW2 on my blog and got fierce reactions. The idea that the war was already won at the time when American forces arrived (again) seems to provoke some U.S. Americans a lot.

Hitler had lost by late '41 in my opinion, several weeks before Axis powers declared war on the USA.

Martins said...

Unnecessary war,R.I.P
"I can hope than it was last war,were brother against father fight in separated side"

bw said...


I don't know about lost by 1941 that would mean lost once they launched Barbarossa. If after the initial success Hitler had listened to his generals and taken Moscow that might have demoralized the Russians. And if the Germans had done some more to effect the re-recruitment and resistance of the Russians or had gotten to the production facilities so what were to become the Russian tanks were producing German gear. That would have changed things a lot. Another couple of things would have been to avoid street to street fighting in Stalingrad and minimized it in Moscow. Bombing and sieging so that German troops were conserved then Germany would have been in a far better position. But however well the Germans avoid the major mistakes that still leaves 1945 when the nuclear bomb is developed. Historically they made a lot of wrong choices there and were several years behind in their program.

bw said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Towards infinity said...

hi, while i generally like your blog i'd like to add something...

the assumption that the USA would have won the war in 45 with the atom bomb is flawed in that it took the material (u238) stowed away on a german sub en route to japan to build the hiroshima bomb. so if germany would have capitulated a little later the german sub would not have surrendered to the US and japan would have had the atom bomb first. Let alone germany.

Sven Ortmann said...

@towards infinity;
That story has been debunked already, the captured material was low-grade and only a fraction of what's needed for a nuke.

My focus is on the inability to deliver a knockout blow in 941 and the serious loss in capability in the first months of Barbarossa, especially the extreme losses and degradation of motor vehicles.
Operations as in 1941 were not really possible in 1942 any more, the Southern offensive of 1942 advanced as far as it did because Stalin allowed it to create a trap.

Anyways; the turning point of WW2 is usually being set to mid-'42 to mid-'43, well in advance of the Normandy landing.

bw said...

I agree that it turned in 1942 or 1943. And that the Germans losses to the Soviets were key. The German path was relatively set once they were deep into Barabarossa

Lee said...

The turning point was Dec. 10, 1941 when Hitler declared war on the US. Had he not done so, then it would've been almost impossible for FDR to keep up the Lend Lease program. The American public would not have liked the idea sending vast quantities of material to a European war we were not involved in while our troops slugged it out in the Pacific.

Around 90% of the explosives used by the USSR in WWII came from the US. This is everything from powder for bullets to explosives for artillery and tank shells. Over 100,000 Studebaker trucks were sent to the USSR. The Red Army rode into Berlin on Studebakers.

And what would the air war against Germany had looked like without the 8th air force? The Luftwaffe could've had most of its aircraft in the East. Air supremacy over the plains of Western Russia would've been as decisive then as it was over the sands of Iraq.

RKV said...

A couple of factual points relative to the former Soviet Union and it's conduct of WW2. 1) It started out on the side of the Germans in order to divide Poland (Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact) 2) the USSR then invaded it's neighbor Finland in late 1939 under false pretenses and 3) Stalin had crippled his military by murdering near 50% of his officer corps for political reasons. Yeah lots of Russians died fighting the Nazis. Without the help of the Americans they would have died in greater numbers. Don't let's gove the Soviets any more moral authority than they actually earned, given their behavior towards their neighbors before and after the war. In short, God Damn Stalin.

bw said...


I know that the Soviets started off with a non-aggression pact with the Nazis. Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.
Aug 1939 June 22, 1941

There is no claim that Hitler and Stalin did not start out trying to work together or at least not try to fight each other.

Also, the article already pointed out the problem of the purge of military offices and how it caused the initial very poor results in early battles (millions dead on the Russian side)

D-day June 6 ,1944. So The Soviets and Nazi were fighting for a long time before D-day.

It was not a matter of morality that the Soviets/Russians fought the Nazis. It was a matter of survival. Although Stalin could have surrendered, and perhaps more Russians might have lived but Stalin would likely have been killed.

If either the Soviets or the Americans did not have the other then victory probably would still have been possible but yes it would have meant more deaths. More deaths for the Soviets to win by themselves or more deaths for the Americans to win by themselves.

Several million more dead Americans soldiers and raising an army two to four times the size of the army that they did raise.

neil craig said...

The battle of Stalingrad (winter of '42-'43) is traditionaly thought of as the turning point & I temd to agree with that.

I don't think the US could have defeated a victorious Germany just with the Bomb. The Germans had sarin nerve gas which, ton for ton, is not as deadly as nukes but is up there & easier to make. Best they could have got is peace & MAD, which with Hitler is not cheerful option. Abouit 80% of German troops were on the eastern front so doing it without the Russians was a non-starter.

I don't see that Stalin had much choice over the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. It wasn't an alliance but simply an agreement not to fight each other - something Chamberlain was clearly hoping for. With the British (& French in train) refusing a defencive alliance with the USSR the only options were the neutrality Stalin went for & a full alliance.