Remember the Russians on D-Day


Every five years, D-Day celebrations unnerve me a bit. The heroism and gallantry are unquestioned, but the historical significance for the course of WWII and scale of sacrifice are always exaggerated. I feel like we overcelebreate this war, because we are somewhat uncomfortable with the morality of so many others we have fought – not just Vietnam of course, but the Indian Wars, the Spanish-American War, or Iraq 2. Indeed I bet Americans know more about Hitler than George III. For a good examination, try here. Consider also:

1. The staggering size of the Eastern Front is too often overlooked by Americans. Estimates vary, but somewhere around 20 million Soviet citizens died fighting (or otherwise being butchered by) the Nazis. That is about 14% of the Soviet population of the time. By contrast about 200 thousand Americans died in Europe, about .15% of the US population at the time. That means 100 times as many Soviets died fighting the Nazis as Americans. Something like 70 thousand Soviet villages were torched or otherwise eradicated as the Nazis conquered around 20% of the Soviet land mass. Consider that in a one month battle at Kiev in 1941, over 600,000 Soviet soldiers were killed or captured; had anything like this happened to American ground forces in North Africa or Western Europe, the domestic cry for a separate peace would have been irresistible. Conflict on a such as scale hadn’t been seen since the high days of the Golden Horde, and the US was a late and minor participant. It dwarfs even the one US experience of massive combat on US territory – the civil war.

2. The USSR had essentially stopped the Nazi drive by the fall of 1943. Stalingrad, the turning point, was over by February of 1943 (as was El Alamein, a British victory, in late 1942). The last major German offensive around Kursk in the summer of 1943 was halted. The enormous Soviet offensive of 1944 dwarfed anything the Western allies could put on the continent that same year. This event would have proceeded without the Allied invasion. To be sure, an unknown counterfactual is how the USSR would have fared if the Wehrmacht had not been forced to prepare for a western landing. Furthermore, allied bombing obviously took its toll. But nonetheless, the FDR administration was quite content to allow the Nazi and Soviet totalitarians to exhaust each other.

3. The anglophone leadership (Canada, Britain and the US) realized by 1943, that this war, as Stalin famously said, was unlike any other in that the victor’s political ideology would imposed as far as his tanks could get. Patton knew this, which is why he wanted to drive on Berlin in 1945 and agitated to provoke a postwar conflict with the USSR while it was still exhausted. Hence, the allies waited to land. Stalin wanted a second front as early as 1942, but the English-speaking powers were content to play off-shore balancer – allowing the USSR to exhaust itself (so its postwar power would be that much weaker) and the Nazis to exhaust themselves too (so that the eventual Allied landing and eastward push would be that much easier).

This was excellent strategy. It husbanded Allied resources and allowed to two potential opponents to weaken each other. Churchill, Ike, Bradley and others were under no illusions about the brutality of Soviet governance and were willing to allow the Nazis to bleed the Soviets white. It also kept American casualties low, insuring a continued US domestic consensus to stay in the war. But this intelligent realpolitik clashes badly with the moral imperative of fighting fascism and the overtly moral way we celebrate US involvement against the Nazis. Watch Band of Brothers or Saving Private Ryan, and contrast that with the strategic logic of waiting to land until mid-1944 so that the western land war war would be easier and Stalin wouldn’t be able to march to the Atlantic.

4. I didn’t really realize this much until I went to Russia to learn the language and travelled around. The legacy of the ‘Great Patriotic War’ is everywhere. Everyone lost someone, and frequently in brutal circumstances Americans can’t imagine. Every Russian guide you get will tell you how Americans don’t know much about war, because we were never invaded, occupied, and exterminated. The first time I heard that, I just didn’t know what to say. You can only listen in silent horror as the guides tell you about how the SS massacred everyone with more than a grammar school degree in some village you never heard of before, or how tens of thousands of those Kiev PoWs starved or froze to death because the Wehrmacht was unprepared for such numbers and the Nazi leadership just didn’t care. Just because Stalin was awful, that does not mitigate the enormity of Soviet suffering or their contribution. Remember that the next time you hear about how America saved Europe from itself, or watch some movie lionizing the average GI, or play a video game depicting the relatively minor Battle of the Bulge as a turning point. If Speilberg really wants to make a great WWII epic, how about one about the eastern front?

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10 thoughts on “Remember the Russians on D-Day

  1. I am SOOOOO glad to see such a great post like this. I am from Russia, and it is make me sick when Americans try to prove to me that they won WWII. Thank you!!!!

    • When I was 7 years old, the Red Army troops enter my city of Graudenz presently located in Poland. I was amazed by the amount of tracks carrying American names.
      That was the time when I first learned the English words such as: Studebaker, Dodge, Ford, Chevrolet, and Jeep.
      Then I learned words such as UNRA, jam, orange, marmelade, spam and more.

      Here are some facts that they did not tell you about it in Russia.

      Lend-Lease was the name of the program under which the United

      States of America supplied the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, China, France

      and other Allied nations with vast amounts of war material between 1941 and 1945.

      A total of $50.1 billion (equivalent to $759 billion at 2008 prices) worth of supplies were

      shipped: $31.4 billion to Britain, $11.3 billion to the Soviet Union, $3.2 billion to France

      and $1.6 billion to China.

      The USSR was highly dependent on rail transportation, but the war practically shut

      down rail equipment production: only about 92 locomotives were produced.

      2,000 locomotives and 11,000 railcars were supplied under Lend-Lease. Likewise, the

      Soviet air force received 18,700 aircraft, which amounted to about 14% of Soviet

      aircraft production (19% for military aircraft).

      Although most Red Army tank units were equipped with Soviet-built tanks, their

      logistical support was provided by hundreds of thousands of U.S.-made trucks. Indeed by

      1945 nearly two-thirds of the truck strength of the Red Army was U.S.-built. Trucks such as the Dodge 3/4 ton and Studebaker 2½ ton, were easily the best trucks available in their

      class on either side on the Eastern Front. American shipments of telephone cable,

      aluminum, canned rations, and clothing were also critical.

      US deliveries to USSR

      Delivery was via the Arctic Convoys, the Persian Corridor, and the Pacific Route. The

      Pacific Route was used for about half of Lend-Lease aid: by convoy from the US west

      coast to the Soviet Far East, via Vladivostok and the Trans-Siberian railway.

      After America’s entry in the war, only Soviet (or Soviet-flagged) ships were used, and there was some interference by Japan with them.

      The Alaska-Siberia Air Route, known as Alsib, was used for delivery of nearly

      8,000 aircraft, air cargo and passengers from 7 October 1942

      • Yes, it was a great business – supply both sides, make huge money and join one side when there is really no doubt about who is winner.

    • Americans (like me) typically don’t deny Russian sacrifices during WWII. However, when DDay occurred, there were still over 150 German Army divisions inside Russia. Russia had to be supplied 15 MILLION pairs of boots for its ground forces…..all by the USA. Soviet Soldiers typically commented that their favorite wartime food was “American canned meant.” Even Stalin said privately that without American help, the Soviet Union could have easily fallen to the Nazis.

      Without American help, Russia likely would have lost the war to Germany. That is just a simple, logistical fact.

      • The U.S. had the luxury of being able to choose whether they wanted to fight the nazis or not, and that of time to prepare their soldiers and tactics. The Russians had to build up their military with the nazis shoved up to their livers. The U.S. had an ideal platform to invade from in Great Britain. Had Britain fallen to the nazis, they would not have been able to hit the beaches like on d-day. And the 150 German Army divisions you refer to were shooting as they were running back to their reich. Oh, and if the U.S. hadn’t provided boots, somebody else would have. All great military bodies have foreign suppliers. Did you know that there are essential parts of the F-16 that can only be made in a plant in Sweden, for example? And let’s not talk about what she said, he said in private. If they were so private we wouldn’t be talking about “what they said” here.

        • The Russians couldnt “build up their Army” without American supplies of steel, ammunition, clothing and equipment. And the US had been supplying Russia with these supplies for quite some time before the US even entered the war.

          And no, no other country would’ve provided Russia with those supplies, as the US was the ONLY country in the world capable of mass producing such supplies in that fasion. By “someone else would have”….who would that be? Britain? France? Finland? Who? Japan? Nada…..the US supplied all those nations except for Japan with military supplies. You’re an idiot if you think Russia would have survived without the US.

          As for your arrogant comment about “he said she said”…..get real…..Stalin aides wrote about Stalin’s comments after his death. It’s not he said she said….its fact. Something you obviously do not have a grasp of.

        • Oh, and the US didnt firs attack the Nazis by invading Europe from England….what an idiotic “what if” statement. WHAT IF the US hadnt supplied Russia with arms, supplies, food to feed their army? Russia was not capable of feeding a 10 million man Army….and would’ve starved without US aide. Even TODAY in Russia….Vladimir Putin was found to have been feeding a large part of the Russian Active Army rations of horse/dog meat. Even in an armed conflict today, the US could simply wage a war of attrition against Russia and likely win in a year or two. US forces today are clearly better trained, better equipped, better fed and better skilled. Russia’s Army is 40% Muslim, and they’re naturally cowards in battle.

  2. Another well know facts. Just before the battle of Kursk 350 American tanks were delivered via Persia to the Russian army along with the teams of trainers, engineers
    and translators.

    But to know the whole extent of US help to USSR one must dig in history and find conveniently forgotten facts like the one Der Spiegel released not too long ago:

    Albert Kahn and the Decline of Detroit

    Photo Gallery: 35 Photos
    Yves Marchand, Romain Meffre / Steidl VerlagUntil the mid-20th century, Detroit was the most significant industrial town in the world, and Albert Kahn was its architect. The son of German immigrants built factories and sky scrapers like they were coming off a conveyor belt. And then, just as quickly as his city grew, its downtown began to decay. SPIEGEL ONLINE presents photos of the ruins.

    The old white-haired man was awarded the medal for outstanding service during wartime and TIME magazine praised him enthusiastically: Albert Kahn’s contribution to the defeat of enemy powers is greater that that of most others, a journalist wrote in 1942. But the 73-year-old man had never seen the front line during the World War II. He fought, so to speak, from his desk in an office in Detroit.

    Albert Kahn was an architect. His airports, naval bases and factories housed a large amount of American armaments. No one developed, planned and built more quickly, more efficiently or more economically that he did. He earned his war medal at the drawing board. Kahn, the son of an immigrant rabbi from Germany, was the architect of modernity — and of modern war.

    It was no accident that his office was located in Detroit, a metropolis that had grown into one of the most important industrial towns in the world by the beginning of the 20th century. It was a center of modern capitalism and the world capital of automobile production. This is where Henry Ford established his Highland Park factory and created the production line delivering that most-desired of consumer goods, the Model T Ford. It was here the mass-production pioneer found many copycats. Detroit became the army’s biggest supplier during World War II; it became known as the “armory for democracy.” The city’s rise seemed unstoppable, and so did the rise of its chief builder, Albert Kahn.

    Factory Maker

    The architect of modern Detroit began his career in 1907, when he was commissioned to design a new plant for luxury automobile producer Packard Motors. Instead of choosing traditional materials like wood and stone, Kahn opted for a concrete construction, which was not only fireproof but also allowed for large, light-filled practical space. Soon Henry Ford noticed these architectural qualities, and engaged Kahn for an innovative project.

    Ford wanted to put everything under one roof, and Kahn pulled off something revolutionary in the village of Highland Park (now surrounded by, but separate from, Detroit): a four-story factory flooded with natural light which could accommodate up to 70,000 workers. Assembly-line production was a symbol of modern times, and Highland Park became the place where “the 20th century was born,” as historian Bob Casey put it. When the factory became too small, Kahn designed new premises for Ford just south of Detroit — the River Rouge Complex, which opened in 1927 and held 90,000 workers. It was the biggest industrial plant in the world at the time.

    The Ford plants were the result of a perfect symbiosis: The auto manufacturer had found his perfect builder in Kahn. His talent for erecting factories faster than anyone else grew from a clever combination of engineering knowledge and tight business organization — not so different from car manufacture. Kahn carried the principles of mass production into the art of architecture. His Detroit office became a factory-planning factory. As soon as he signed a new job, the team swung into motion, not just drawing up building plans but simultaneously sourcing contractors and gathering estimates for materials. Kahn built factories like they were coming off an assembly line.

    The Car Shapes the City

    “When I started out,” Kahn said later, “architects only designed museums, cathedrals, monuments and stately houses. Factory buildings were jobs for the office helpers. Now I am still the office helper who designs factories, and honors have not affected that.”

    Building factories did not damage Kahn’s reputation. Quite the contrary. The architect erected more than 1,000 buildings for Detroit automakers, including the General Motors building, the company’s headquarters and the largest office building in the world at the time when it was finished — the 30-story Fisher Building became the landmark of the city. Kahn and other star architects of the early 20th century, such as Whitney Warren, Charles Wetmore, Daniel Burnham and Elsie Sardine created a skyline using a range of different historic styles. They decorated their skyscrapers with marble columns, extravagant ornaments and gilded roofs.

    Job seekers swarmed to Detroit. The economic boom had made the town one of the richest in the world, and its architecture reflected that wealth. Rows of elegant villas went up along the elm-lined avenues. Public transport — and above all the arrival of the automobile — shaped the modern town.

    The Stalin Contract

    Even the leader of the Soviet Union was impressed by Detroit’s development. The dictatorial power monger Josef Stalin saw in all this industrialization a way to release his agricultural nation from its backwardness — and hired the architect. Kahn erected more than 500 factories for the Soviet leader in just two and a half years.

    He began with the Stalingrad “Felix Dzerzhinsky” tractor factory in 1929-30, a factory that would play a special role years later in the war against the invading German army. The battles around the industrial complex were up to that point the hardest for the Nazis, with the heaviest losses. The tractor factory became the site of the decisive Battle of Stalingrad, which became a turning point in World War II.

    Detroit’s rise as an industrial metropolis continued after the war. Almost two million people were living in the city at the start of the 1950s. Thanks to the good wages to be earned in the automotive industry, the American dream of home ownership was within reach for many people. But “Motor City” had already passed its peak.

    The first signs appeared, in fact, in the ’50s. The US government was concerned that important industrial centers would be targets for nuclear attacks. It encouraged businesses to move their production bases outside of the largest towns. Highways banded the new sites into small towns and suburbs. Staff in the old factories was reduced as life organized itself around these new business centers.

    Exodus from Detroit

    Racial unrest in 1967 contributed to a shift of the white population out of downtown Detroit. Many moved to the suburbs. The city’s population shrank in the ’70s and ’80s as jobs were lost to competition from Germany and Japan. Jobs on the edge of town could only be reached by people who owned a car. Modern achievement became an existential problem.

    By then the good times were over for this once-fêted metropolis of modernity. Within half a century Detroit lost almost a million people, or half of its population. Many inner city buildings, including the United Artists Theater and the majestic train station, were abandoned. When the last tenants moved out of some apartment blocks, the heating was simply turned off and the electricity disconnected. Water leaked into the empty buildings, frost cracked the walls and columns, and the window panes shattered. The result is an almost gothic vision of decline.

    Thirty-five per cent of the inner city has become uninhabitable. French photographers Yves Marchand and Roman Meffre have documented its ruins at the start of the 21st Century, and their book of photos (now published in Germany) shows the end of an era. Detroit’s architect, Albert Kahn, was not around to witness the damage — or even end of the war. The 73-year-old died in December 1942, a few months after his award for military service landed on his drawing board.

  3. Pingback: It’s Time to De-Russianize the BRICS — UPDATE: Response to My Critics | Robert Kelly — Asian Security Blog

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