May 11, 2020

President Donald Trump claimed last week that the US and Britain had won World War II. This was a shameless lie and distortion of the facts.

Many Americans and Canadians like to believe their nations won the war in Europe and give insufficient recognition to the decisive Soviet role. Most Europeans would rather not think about the matter. By contrast, Russians know that it was their soldiers who really won the war. They remain angry that their military achievements are ignored by American triumphalists and myth-makers.

Not only did Stalin’s Soviet Union play the key role in crushing Nazi Germany, its huge sacrifices saved the lives of countless American, British and Canadian soldiers. Were it not for the USSR’s victory, Nazi Germany might be alive and well today.

Let’s do the numbers. The Soviet armed forces destroyed 507 German divisions and 100 allied Axis divisions (according to Soviet figures). These latter included the pan-European Waffen SS whose largest numbers came from Belgium, Holland, Scandinavia, Italy, Romania, Hungary, Finland and a division from Spain.

Soviet military historians claim their forces destroyed 77,000 enemy planes, 48,000 enemy tanks and armored vehicles. The Red Army accounted for 75-80% of Axis casualties in World War II.

In the process, 1,710 Russian cities, 70,000 towns and villages, 31,850 factories and 1,974 collective farms were destroyed. Add 84,000 schools, 43,000 libraries and 65,000 km of railway.

The leading Russian military historian Dmitri Volkogonov revealed during the Gorbachev years that Russia’s total losses from 1941-1945 were 26.6 to 27 million dead. Ten million of them were Soviet soldiers dead or missing. Compare this to the total US dead in the European theater of 139,000.

No one likes to admit it was Stalin who defeated Nazi Germany. Stalin killed far more people than Adolf Hitler, including 6 million Ukrainians liquidated in the early 1930’s and four million Muslims during the war. The Soviet gulag was grinding up victims well into the 1950’s.

Today, seven decades later, we are barraged with films and reports about Germany’s concentration camps while Stalin’s far more extensive and lethal gulag is ignored. Roosevelt spoke warmly of Stalin as “Uncle Joe.” Churchill kept silent.

When American, British and Canadian troops landed at Normandy in June, 1944, they met Germany forces that had been shattered on the Eastern Front and bled white. Under strength German units had almost no gasoline and were low on ammunition, tanks and artillery.

Equally important, the Allies had absolute air superiority over the Western European battlefields. Under strength German units could only move at night – when they could find fuel. By 1944, both Germany and Japan were crippled by a calamitous lack of fuel. Planes could not fly, tanks and trucks could not move, and warships were forced to stay in port.

The reason Germany had no air cover at Normandy was because most of the once potent Luftwaffe had been destroyed on the Eastern Front, its best pilots killed, and aviation fuel scarce. Germany’s advanced ME262 jet fighter that should have swept the skies was grounded because of fuel shortages.

Had Germany’s Wehrmacht and Luftwaffe not been largely destroyed in Russia, the Normandy D-Day invasion would likely have been pushed into the Channel. Britain may have been invaded well before June, 1944. Hitler’s foolish notion that Germany and the British Empire should be allies saved the beaten British Army in France in 1940, allowing it to escape across the Channel while leaving its French allies in the lurch.

By the time the Allies established themselves in France, they outnumbered degraded German forces by 2:1. At least 67,000 German soldiers died in the Normandy operation. In a heartbreaking but little-known statistic of war, 6.7 million German horses were killed on both fronts.

Soviet Ukraine bore the brunt of the war, losing some 5 million soldiers and 6 million civilians – roughly half of total Soviet losses.

By April, 1944, Germany still maintained 214 divisions on the Eastern Front facing the advancing Soviet and just 60 divisions (mostly under strength, many only brigades in reality) on the Western Front.

At that time, both Roosevelt and Churchill lavished praise and thanks on the Soviet Union, admitting its “gigantic effort” in defeating Hitler’s Germany. Today, however, we have chosen to forget who really won the war in Europe.

Just as much, we have totally ignored the huge Soviet contribution to the war in the Pacific Theater. The US Navy swept the seas of the Imperial Japanese Navy in a series of brilliant actions that rate among the greatest feats in naval history, but Japan still held large parts of China and Manchuria.

On 9 Aug, 1945, the Soviets unleashed one of the war’s largest campaigns. Some 1.57 million Red Army troops in 89 divisions, backed by 27,000 guns, 5,500 tanks, and 3721 warplanes stormed south in a giant, 2,500-km long arc from Outer Mongolia to Korea. Soviet tank armies raced across desert, mountain ranges and forests in a giant pincer movement that enveloped Japan’s Manchurian-based 600,000-man, 25 division Kwantung Army.

In only eleven days of blitzkrieg, the once-feared Kwantung Army – Japan’s largest – was crushed. Soviet forces reached Port Arthur in northern China, much of Manchuria and right up to Korea’s 38th parallel. Five years later, a proxy war between the US and Soviet Union would begin over divided Korea.

The shattering of the Kwantung army is believed by some historians to have contributed to Japan’s surrender. Other historians suggest that America’s use of two nuclear weapons against Japan was a hasty effort to make it surrender before the Red Army landed in Japan.

While making it plain that the western democracies have no kudos for Soviet leader Stalin, and disapprove of Vladimir Putin’s machination in Ukraine and Crimea, it should still have been possible to acknowledge the mighty Soviet contribution to our victory in World War II. At the very least, Russia’s valiant soldiers deserve a sharp salute from us. They defeated Nazi Germany and saved many of our men from death.

Copyright Eric S. Margolis 2020

This post is in: Russia, Soviet Union, World War II


  1. studiedhistory says:

    Stating that Russia defeated Germany is a seriously flawed statement that oversimplifies the end of WWII in Europe. While Russia’s role is often overlooked it can easily be overestimated. Let’s consider the role that the US played in Russia’s military during WWII. First, the entire Russian logistics system was based on Ford trucks supplied in total by the US. This modern logistics system outmatched the German’s predominantly horse-drawn logistics system. Second, the complete overhaul of Russian industry by US experts enabled the Russians to adopt the latest mass production techniques for its fabled armored divisions including the T-34 which was for the most part a US design. Next, the German military and its economy were devastated by Allied air attacks which were both US and UK led. Without this devastating effect, it is likely that Russia would have had a much more difficult opponent to face. Finally, the Germans faced two fronts and this required them to divide their forces. Without this division, it is unlikely the Russians could have defeated the Germans. These were just the leading reasons that stating the Russians single-handedly defeated the Germans was incorrect.

  2. Eastern Rebellion says:

    All of the Allied powers played an important role in defeating the Axis powers. Here are the facts: Adolf Hitler started the war by attacking Poland. The only reason that the Soviet Union ended up in the Allied camp was that Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union (at a time when the two nations were signatories to a non-aggression pact and were tacit allies). By default, Great Britain and the Soviet Union now had a common enemy. On December 7th, Imperial Japan attacked Great Britain and the United States. On December 11th, Nazi Germany declared war on the United States. There was no obligation for Nazi Germany to declare war on America. Due to complete incompetence on the part of the Soviet Union, the Wehrmacht was able to inflict catastrophic casualties on the Red Army, and advance deeply into European Russia. It would take almost 4 years and millions of casualties for the Wehrmacht to be defeated on the Eastern Front. The Western Allies were able to fight a different war than the Soviet Union. They did not have to fight a war of attrition involving millions of soldiers. They were able to use machinery instead of people and wait until Germany was weakened before they landed at Normandy. The main reason for landing at Normandy was not to defeat Nazi Germany (it was obvious that she had already lost), but to ensure that when they met the Red Army, it would be in Central Europe and not the English Channel. In the summer of 1944, the cream of the Wehrmacht was in Northern France. All of her best divisions were there. Check the German Order Of Battle. The Western Allies faced highly trained and motivated troops in a very confined area, and the fighting was very intense and bloody. The Allied soldiers were brave and deserve our thanks and credit. I am a Canadian, and to this day our soldiers are honoured for liberating Holland. In 1945, the Nazis were staving the Dutch to death and had persecuted them unmercifully. It was the Canadian Army that freed them and saved them, at the cost of many lives.

    • Simplified a bit… gets murkier when you realise that the allies gave Poland to Russia at the end of the war… this somewhat diffuses the idea that Germany invading Poland was the ‘real’ reason for starting the war. Another ‘fly in the ointment’, Britain and France were concerned about the degree of mechanisation the Germany was undertaking and the effect this would have on their economies…

      You should also realise that the actions of Japan on December 7 were the result of a strangle hold embargo the US had placed on Japan. Pearl Harbor seemed to be a natural response… people often look at the winner’s side of the story.

      I think history is a little fuzzier… and, we may never know the truth.


  3. JonABCA says:

    Eric it is as simple as this, many people do not want to read things. They do not read history books about WW1 or WW2 or any other period of history for that matter. All they know is that their dead relatives died to give them freedom and that they mourn the deaths on remembrance day and veterans day. The other problem is that the USSR was the country that everyone actually hated. It is kind of funny how all the allies came to be allied in the first place and how the two countries that finished the war were not the ones that started it. Adolf Hitler had stated his wishes for living space in the east but nobody today thinks about the fact that he needed the western border secure before he did this. In the end it does not matter, Nazi Germany was defeated and the USSR fell apart. The problem is all the lies and distortions it creates can come back to haunt us. Too bad the people in the USA cannot figure out a better way to deal with this, but oh well.

  4. Joe from Canada says:

    Thank you, again, Mr. Margolis, for this nugget of clarification. There is a series on Netflix at present entitled “ The Untold History of USA”. This adds to the pictures presented here.
    Are the drums of fascism beating closer each day, with each denial of science, reason, and tolerance?

  5. There is nothing America hates more than to give credit to ANYONE but themselves. Ask any American and they will say WWI and WWII were won by America and America alone with no help from anyone. America lliberated the death camps and never did anything but good.
    The idea the American Corporate Empire was in many ways worse than the Nazis is something they’ll never admit.

    • Americans now believe they won the war of 1812. They forget that the Whitehouse was burned by British troops and President madison had to flee for his life.

  6. I seem to recall a couple of years back, for VE day, the Russians weren’t invited by the Brits, the French or Americans… a real symbolic ‘slap’.

  7. sigerico says:

    “done better to have lost the war”

  8. sigerico says:

    This is not actually correct. The German army could have defeated the Red Army had Churchill and Roosevelt not been covertly supplying the Russians with military equipment that the Germans were systematically destroying. I just saw an article describing how one Panzer knocked out 50 Russian tanks. It was the duplicitousness of Churchill and Roosevelt that led to the downfall of the Third Reich and the enslavement of half of Europe under Bolshevism. That was the real enemy against which Hitler was fighting with Operation Barbarossa, and we should have supported him, not opposed him. We’ve been paying the price ever since. Everything Hitler did was perfectly justifiable. We the Allies are the evil actors in this tragedy. General Patton said we’d been fighting the wrong enemy, and Ian Smith, prime minister of UDI Rhodesia and Spitfire pilot shot down twice said we would have done to have lost the war. German troops were welcomed as liberators and described as “angels” when they entered Ukraine and freed the people from the Bolshevik yoke. They stopped the trains sending people from the Ukrainian villages to the Siberian gulags and reopened the churches.

    • 9 million murdered in Hitler’s death camps and you claim it was justified? German troops were cheered as they entered Ukraine. Then the SS death squads followed and murdered thousands. Only someone unaware of what took place under NAZI rule would state such things.

      My 16-year-old aunt stood in front of my grandfather when a German Captain ordered his men to shoot my grandfather. Luckily the men were German soldiers not Nazis and refused the order saying they won’t kill a young girl and they made sure the Captain understood he’d better not try to cross that line.

      • Most people do not understand the difference between nazi soldiers and German soldiers. Nazi’s were fanatics while most German soldiers were highly disciplined and didnt rampage through communities killing and murdering as they went. The peril of committing atrocities was usually met with a firing squad as a German soldier. Having said that, it also must be understood that war can bring out the best and the worst in people.

  9. The Russian involvement was brought to my attention in 1965 by a bearded British professor from the U of Southampton. Like so many conversations with Ken McLachlan, I have no recollection of what prompted them.
    Until that point, I was aware that WWII was won by the Brits and the Americans, with a little assistance provided by the Canadians. I had no idea of Russian involvement, other than they were a party to the war.
    Ken also informed me that at the beginning of the war that Russia and Germany had entered into a mutual defense agreement; I have not checked this out, but have no reason to doubt it. He also mentioned why it had been ‘shelved’ but the reason escapes me.
    Ken also informed me that the German parliamentary voting records were available (50 years back, anyway) and it could be determined which candidate or area had voted and to ‘what end’. He mentioned that the Germains kept meticulous records for parliamentary votes.
    That’s about all I can add… not being a history or war ‘buff’.

  10. peter mcloughlin says:

    If we are to avoid a third world war it is essential we are truthful about history, as Eric Margolis argues. It is important to remember that what followed World War II, the Cold War, was a time of peace (or relative peace). Since 1991 we have been moving toward a state of total war. The period 1945-1991 is near its end and just like the 19th century Concert of Europe finally collapsed in 1914, and Treaty of Versailles in 1939, we are on the precipice of yet another global catastrophe.

  11. I have now realised the extent to which this affects us. It seems to me that having taken all the credit for protecting the world against the Nazis, Western military force and all that goes with it has been easily portrayed as the most necessary expense, however immense. It is all that stands between us and a variety of terrible fates. Anything it is pointed at, is, by some form of induction, the new Hitler.
    It has taken a virus to demonstrate the folly of this, and what in fact would protect the population a hell of a lot better.

  12. Based on Trump’s actions and comments – it looks like Russia might have to crush fascism just one more time.

    • Very keen observation you hake here. May I add, that the thousands of the brightest Nazi scientists and engineers were brought to the US to continue, what they were doing for Nazi Germany. Germany went as far as it did because of the “Blitz” factor. I saw them marching in in Nay 10 1940 and as a young boy was awestruck by the display of might, equipment, speed and above all discipline. I remember their perfect goose-step marching. They were all over my village before we even realized a war had broken out. They kept coming into my father`s store and in no time everything was sold out. Yes, they paid for everything they bought, albeit with German money. Learning German became mandatory in grade school, which was not that hard. I remember what was called “the Feldgrau”, which was the color of the regular German army. They were very friendly and respectful. My dear mother was sick and bedridden and the captain ordered all soldiers out. We did not have to make room for any of them, out of respect for my Mom. The Waffen SS were the real mean bastards and funny how big a perentage of them were not German but from our own country. Their atrocities I will never forget. Every country in Europe had its Quislings. I was glad when we got liberated, because of the shortage and quality of food. The German soldiers did become very aggressive and violent in the last 2 years of the war, because they wanted to go home like any other soldier and they had come to realize, that it was game over for them. The Germans were masters of propaganda, a very important weapon, only to be outdone by the Americans today.

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