Could the Russians have defeated Germany by themselves?

An article in The Times newspaper over the weekend reported that a majority of Russians think that their country could have defeated Germany in World War 2 without any help from the Western Allies.

Could they, I wonder?

Hitler’s invasion of Russia

In June 1941 the Germans launched Operation Barbarossa: the invasion of the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union was taken completely by surprise by the attack, and was entirely unprepared for it. Vast numbers of its troops were captured in the first months of the war. It took the Soviets until the end of the following year to stop the German onslaught and turn the tables on the invaders.

The Battle for Stalingrad, 1942: RIA Novosti archive, image #44732 / Zelma / CC-BY-SA 3.0

All through 1943 and half of 1944 they steadily pushed the Germans back. In June 1944 the American and British Allies at last launched a major invasion of German-held France, and started advancing on Germany from the West. By May 1945 the Germans had been squeezed back to a few streets in Berlin, and one or two other isolated pockets, and were forced to surrender.

The War Hitler wanted

What if the British and Americans (and the French) had never entered the Second World War, and the Russians had had to face the Nazi forces alone? This is what Hitler had wanted before the war. If he had had his way, could he have succeeded?

On the face of it, it seems likely that he would have done. Firstly, of course, is the fact that the Germans would have been able to throw all their forces into the invasion, rather than keep hundreds of thousands of troops stationed in western Europe to face a possible invasion from the Americans and British. The Soviets would not have had anything like the same numerical advantage that they did in fact enjoy.

Air Power

This would not only have been for ground troops, but for air power as well. The Allied bomber campaign would never have materialised, and the Germans would not therefore have had to keep the bulk of their fighter force at home. The Russians would therefore probably not have achieved the command of the air that they did, and this would have enabled the Luftwaffe to cover the German land forces much more effectively. This would have been an important factor: in the Italian campaign the Americans and British were able to push superior numbers of German troops back due to Allied superiority in the air.

 

American bombers over Germany: NARA FILE #: 208-YE-7

Supplies and Resources

Secondly, the Russians would not have benefitted from the stream of supplies coming in by sea from Britain and America which was turned on just a couple of months after the initial German attack. It is true that the Russians themselves produced such battle-winning weaponry as the T34 tank, better than anything the Germans had, but what the Allies were able to supply in abundance (amongst many other things) were jeeps and lorries. These allowed the Red Army to keep its troops well equipped and supplied, and gave it a much greater degree of mobility than would otherwise have been the case.

Thirdly, in the real world a huge drag on the German war effort was the shortage of raw materials, above all oil. With western countries standing on the sidelines, trade with them would presumably have continued as before the war. This would have relieved the Germans of such resource constraints.

No doubt there were other factors that can be listed, but even these three, taken together, may well have tipped the balance in Germany’s favour. However…you never quite know with wars. They have an uncanny knack of throwing up surprises!

By Peter Britton