Monday, 15 June 2015

Common Questions: A Matter of Ratios

"We estimated that the offensive will start on January 12th, 1945. The Russian advantage was 11:1 in infantry, 7:1 in tanks, 20:1 in artillery. Evaluating the enemy as a whole, it would not be excessive to count 15 times more forces on land and 20 times more in the air. I do not underestimate the German soldier. He is an excellent warrior, and can be thrown into battle against an enemy with five times the numbers without hesitation. With proper control, due to his brilliant qualities, he negated this numeric advantage and won." - Heinz Guderian, Panzer Leader

In various discussions, this 5 to 1 ratio shows up quite a bit, either as a ratio of casualties or a ratio of required advantage to defeat a German force. Sometimes it is more, sometimes it is less, but 5 being a nice round number it is repeated quite often to illustrate the claim that the Allies only conquered Germany with the might of industry and "human waves", despite superior German technology and soldiers.

However, these claims seldom hold any actual numbers or evidence behind them. Let us briefly explore the feasibility of this claim.

Despite being a much larger country, the Soviet Union did not possess a proportionally larger population. The German census in 1939 counted a population of about 79 million. The Soviet census in 1937 counted about 162 million people. Assuming that both countries could raise similar proportions of fighting men, it becomes quite clear that a 5:1 casualty ratio is simply not possible here, as the Wehrmacht could simply kill literally every single Soviet citizen with ease. Glantz's essay The Soviet-German War 1941-1945: Myths and Realities gives some more numbers:

Date German forces in theater Red Army forces in theater
June 1941 3,117,00 2,680,000
June 1942 2,152,000 5,313,000
July 1943 2,786,400 6,724,000
July 1944 1,562,400 6,425,000
April 1945 1,960,000 6,410,000

As you can see, the estimate was correct. The Red Army never had a 5:1 advantage over the Germans, not even towards the very end. If Guderian's mythical soldiers were capable of taking on a force five times their size, they could have won at any point during the war, and won soundly. 

Ok, maybe the ratio was not as high as 5:1, but common belief still holds that the Wehrmacht dealt horrific losses to the Red Army and lost only when crushed under a mountain of corpses. Glantz also quite clearly illustrates that this is not true. While Soviet military casualties were quite horrible (14.7 million people), German casualties were also staggering: 10,758,000 lost on the Eastern Front. However, Germany did not fight alone. The Axis Minors fought with them, and adding up only Hungary, Italy, Romania, and Finland adds another 1,725,000 casualties to the German side, for a total of 12,483,000, or a ratio of 1.17:1. Quite a slim advantage.

Edit: it appears that many commenters believe that Glantz's numbers do not accurately represent the amount of Red Army forces and were purposefully chosen to minimize the number of troops available. Livejournal user buckina_new compiled a nice chart using Krivosheev's data about the number of men in the Red Army every quarter.

As you can see, the figure is more or less stable at around 6.5 million after the initial mobilization was complete, just like Glantz's data suggests. 


  1. Hahaha, what bullocks falsifying of statistics...

    1. For the most part, you can blame Glantz then, because the numbers actually are indeed from his essay. There is, however, a certain inequality because the Soviet figures were actually for "dead" while the German figures were for "Dead, missing or disabled."

  2. Actual numbers losses for the Wehrmacht on the Eastern Front, as reported by the OKW War Diary (Sept 1, 1939 to Jan 31, 1945)

    Eastern Front
    KIA 1,105,987
    MIA/POW 1,018,365
    WIA 3,498,059

    According to Krivosheev, Soviet military deaths were
    6,885,100 KIA or died of wounds
    4,559,000 were POW or MIA,
    22,326,905(!!!) were wounded.

    Soviet figures from Barbarossa to VE day, thus not including earlier Soviet warmaking against Japan, Finnland and Poland.

    1. Woah there, don't go grabbing numbers from different books. If you're going to use Krivosheev, use Krivosheev. If you're going to pluck different numbers that were obtained by different methodologies from different books, of course you're going to get inconsistent results.

      Для сравнения напомним (табл. 94), что безвозвратные людские потери Советских
      Вооруженных сил в Великую Отечественную войну (учтенные в оперативном поряд­
      ке по ежемесячным докладам из войск) составили 11 млн 444,1 тыс. чел. (списочного
      состава), а вместе с потерями войск наших союзников (76,1 тыс. чел.) они равны 11 млн
      520,2 тыс. человек. Следовательно, соотношение между немецкими и советскими без­
      возвратными потерями составляет 1 : 1,1

      For comparison, let me remind you (table 94) that irrecoverable losses in men in the Soviet Armed Forces in the Great Patriotic War (counted in monthly reports from the forces) total 11 million 444.1 thousand men (by roll call) and with the losses of our allies (76.1 thousand men) they total 11 million 520,2 thousand men. The ratio between German and Soviet permanent losses is 1:1.1.

    2. Are you sure? On the copy that's on the Internet, it says 1.3.

      Вторая мировая война, развязанная гитлеровцами, обернулась людской трагедией для многих стран и народов, в том числе для самой Германии и ее союзников. Достаточно сказать, что за период с 1 сентября 1939 г. по 9 мая 1945 г. вооруженные силы Германии потеряли убитыми и ранеными, по неполным данным, 13448,0 тыс. чел., или 75,1% от числа мобилизованных в годы войны, и 46,0% всего мужского населения Германии (на 1939 г.), включая Австрию. При этом на советско-германском фронте (с 22 июня 1941 г. по 9 мая 1945 г.) ее безвозвратные потери составили 7181,1 тыс. военнослужащих, а вместе с союзниками -- 8649,2 тыс. чел.

      Для сравнения напомним, что безвозвратные людские потери Советских Вооруженных Сил в Великую Отечественную войну (учтенные в оперативном порядке по ежемесячным докладам из войск) составили 11444,1 тыс. чел. (списочного состава), а вместе с потерями войск наших союзников (76,1 чел.), они равны 11520,2 тыс. чел. Следовательно, соотношение между немецкими и советскими безвозвратными составляет 1:1,3.

      For people who can't speak Russian (including me), Google Translate actually does seem to translate these passages reasonably.

    3. Well, its quite clear that the numbers have been cherry picked. I will trust the OKW's own loss reports, which again state, up to Jan 31, 1945 for the Ostfront
      KIA 1,105,987, MIA/POW 1,018,365, WIA 3,498,059.

      That's a far cry from your "10,758,000 lost on the Eastern Front", which I am sure involves some foul playing with statistics, probably lumping into the "loss" category all the wounded (what about multiple wounds..? counted more than once), killed and missing etc.

      Obviously when the Wehrmacht surrendered in 1945 it also added millions of PoWs in the blink of an eye to "permanent losses" (and in Soviet practice, civilians taken for save labour into USSR were sometimes put into the PoW category, to boost the numbers reported to Stalin - see the Siege of Budapest), which is hardly representative of how things were going in the past 4 years.

      The 1.1 million German military death and almost 7 million Soviet deaths (even though half a million of them on account to poor Soviet medical care), may they all rest in peace, or 3,5 million German wounded vs. 22+ million Soviet wounded is telling enough for the real loss ratios. The ratio of 1:1.1 is simply a nationalist bed-wetter's dream and does disservice the sacrifices made by Red Army soldiers.

      You are of course also cherry picking with the Guderian qoute. Good old G. was originally describing the situation as perceived on the Oder front, i.e. the final Berlin offensive in 1945, where the Red Army had massive *local* superiority, not that how many troops were deployed in the whole eastern front. The cause of this is well known - Stalin amassed troops there at the expense of the Southern front, whereas Hitler did the opposite, throwing his last reserves to keep the last oil fields in Zala and Austria.

    4. If you think he's a nationalist bed wetter, don't cite his figures. I keep telling you: use numbers gathered by the same historian, based on the same criteria.

      Also "I am sure involves some foul playing with statistics"... you didn't even read Glantz' essay before dismissing it as false? You're a funny guy.

    5. I am not dismissing Glantz or anyone else, but I do think that this article falls in the category of a blatantly obvious propaganda flick, and has no merit as a historical work. But as the statistical tricks it used had been thoroughly debunked, it may now rest in peace. :)

    6. Why are we using the consistently disproven and OKW numbers as comparison? Even in 1946 they were unacceptable statistics.

    7. The numbers that Glantz provide are:
      14,700,000 Soviets Dead, missing and captured.
      10,758,000 Germans Dead, missing or disabled.
      1,725,000 Axis Allies Dead, missing and captured
      14,700,000 /12.483.000=1.17:1 Soviets/Axis causality ratio.
      Don't look impressive... until you see that Soviet forces ,from 1942 until 1945, have a average superiority in theater of 2.5:1 soldiers, superiority in tanks, artillery, etc.

  3. David Glantz “ the war with Nazi Germany cost the Soviet Union at least 29 million military casualties”(dead, wounded and sick) “ The exact numbers can never be established, and some revisionists have attempted to put the number as high as 50 million”

  4. The usual cherrypicking of numbers.
    You take numbers of soldiers on a certian point of time, but you forget how many more new soilders the soviets needed to keep that number high.

    So this method is not very accurate. You should compare the casulties instead.

    The most recent study i found gives following numbers which allows a direct comparision:
    - 8,4 million casulties for the Soviets (only soldiers who died in combat or because of it)
    -2,7 million soldiers for the Wehrmacht (only combat casulties again, only eastern Front)

    Source is
    Christian Hartmann: Unternehmen Barbarossa. Der deutsche Krieg im Osten 1941–1945. C.H. Beck, München 2011, S. 115 f.;
    I can give you two more sources if you dont like that one.

    If you dont like these numbers however, please learn to deal with them anyway. These numbers are far from political correctness and sound very bad for the soviets side. However the reason for the ~1:3 ratio of casulties are numerous. And soviets being "inferior people" does not belong to them.

    1. Why would I be comparing casualties? Guderian claims that he can defeat an enemy with a 5:1 disadvantage. Casualties don't apply here.

      Also you accuse me of cherry picking, but you gladly ignore the casualties of Axis minors.

      Additionally, why only casualties? A soldier that is captures is just as out of the fight as one that was killed. Why ignore prisoners? Are you saying that the Red Army would have been a better army if they killed all Germans instead of letting them surrender? That's kind of ludicrous.

    2. Because several million soldiers surrendering on 8 May 1945 is not really representative how how combat went between 22 June 1941 - 7 May 1945?

      Axis minors? Meaning that Rumanian losses are still added as Axis losses, even after they changed sides, the same with Italy, and even their losses in the Libyan desert can somehow show the combat result of the Red Army? *giggles*

      In the meanwhile, I am trying to think of operations the Red Army had less or roughly equal losses in men and material as the Wehrmacht... even Bagration, despite massive superiority of the Red Army in men and material was a meat grinder for the Soviets, but they DID crush AGC in the end and captured a large number of prisoners.

    3. Maybe you should actually read the essay before dismissing the information in it, eh? Also yes, the war changed as it progressed, and the Red Army got much better at it. I already posted examples where the Germans were defeated despite having an equal or even superior force.Quit clinging onto your ancient "human waves" myth.

    4. The only one clinging to the "ancient human waves myth" is you. But lets see your explanation to those 33,7 million killed, prisoner or missing or wounded Red Army soldiers. What happened to them? Shot themselves?

      Exceptions do not prove the rule, unfortunately, and you are a classic example of someone who cannot see the woods from a tree and comfort yourself with falsified statistics and photos of retouched German tanks. :D

    5. Exactly, missing or wounded. Missing people turn up, wounded people get better. Krivosheev's record of permanent Soviet losses is a lot less than 33.7 million. I've seen even lower numbers (from Western historians, too).

      My statistics comes from Glantz. If you can prove him wrong, write to him, he'll be shocked and amazed at your excellent scholarship. Was it you whining about faked photos from archives before? How come you still didn't show me any evidence?

  5. "Why would I be comparing casualties? Guderian claims that he can defeat an enemy with a 5:1 disadvantage. Casualties don't apply here."
    Do numbers from certian days apply better? obviously that sample is less objective then casulties because its from single days. Casulties cover the entire period.

    "Also you accuse me of cherry picking, but you gladly ignore the casualties of Axis minors."
    Juristically and thus analytically the Volkstrum was part of the Wehrmacht. i do not ignore anything, if so, they study does. To know if it does, check it.

    "Additionally, why only casualties? A soldier that is captures is just as out of the fight as one that was killed. Why ignore prisoners? Are you saying that the Red Army would have been a better army if they killed all Germans instead of letting them surrender? That's kind of ludicrous."
    This is what you are saying. What i "said", stands above. Casulties is a more objective number, one reason is in this post, the other one in the post above.

    Prisoners is another good point anyway. The Source above gives:
    -3 Million in german prisons
    -1,1 million in soviet prisons

    So if anything, prisoners confirm the 1:3 ratio.

    1. What do days have to do with this? Guderian said he could defeat a force that had a 5:1 advantage over him. I showed that he could not. This has nothing to do with casualties. This is total numbers. You are the one that is trying to make it about casualties.

      Volksstrum is not an Axis Minor. Hungary, for instance, is.

      Casualties might be a more objective number in your head (objective how?), but Guderian was not talking about casualties.

      As for prisoners, according to Krivosheev: 799,982 Axis Minor prisoners were taken and 3,578,300 Germans, compared to 4,559,000 Soviets. This is not a 3:1 ratio.

    2. "What do days have to do with this?"
      You have to be kidding youself. Go up to your table in your post, and read the first column of ur table. For what does it give the numbers?

      "Objective How?"
      I gave you two reasons therefore. I even wrote that "this is why it is more objective". It couldnt be more obviously. next time just ask me, if you dont understand them.

      By the way, why do you bring up guderians statement up again and again?
      I showed in my first post already that i dont believe that 5:1 either.

    3. That's a month, not a day. The number is used to illustrate the order of magnitude of the forces at the time. If you think that there was a moment with a 5:1 advantage, you are welcome to specify it. It's plainly obvious that unless the Red Army somehow gets millions of new men overnight, there will not be a 5:1 advantage.

    4. The number was constant over the whole month? This is impossible. It has to be some sort of mean or the numbers of a specific day. Even if its the mean of that month, all the other month are missing and most importantly - it is not visible how many new soldiers were needed to keep that number high.

      Peter please read my Post again regarding the 5:1, you understood me wrong or didnt see that "dont".

    5. Reinforcements come in monthly, at best. The recruitment process goes in stages, it's not continuous, since you have to train the troops all at once. I know what you're implying, that the Soviets have a continuous stream of reinforcements to "fix" that ratio, but for them to achieve a total of 5:1 would mean completely replacing every unit in every battle. The casualties don't add up at all in this case.

    6. Peter i was never speaking of a 5:1 ratio (read my posts above).

  6. It will never shock me that some of these closet Nazis have the sheer amount of cognitive dissonance to write off anything dispelling negative myths about the USSR or even other allied powers in the war as mere propaganda despite the context, yet will flat out believe the most outright impossible genuine German propaganda as absolute historical fact, even when the numbers are cooked up by Goebbels little operation itself.

    Way to defend what's perhaps the worst criminal regime in modern history tied with Imperial Japan you retarded autists.

  7. I don't know why everyone is getting exercised over the 1:5 comment. At best this would apply only to combat elements in a locality. It would not apply to the sum of logistics, repair and combat troops of a front or operation. So comparing the overall numbers is meaningless.

    Bolshevik myths are not to be preferred over nazi myths. Nor a victorious criminal regime over a losing one.

    1. I didn't know that Glantz was a Bolshevik.

  8. Is possible to Soviet forces to achieve a 5:1 superiority ratio over axis forces, example:
    -Army A have 1000 soldiers;
    -Army B have 2500 soldiers;
    -The front have 1000 meters extension;
    Army B decide to attack army A, army A forces are deployed equally in all the front(1 soldier per meter), army B deploy forces in following order:
    a)250 soldiers in the 250 meters front of right(1 soldier per meter, 1:1 army B/ army A ratio);
    b)1000 soldiers in the 500 meters front of center(2 soldiers per meter, 2:1 army B/ army A ratio);
    c)1250 soldier in the 250 meters front of left(5 soldier per meter, 5:1 army B/ army A ratio);
    If army B is in defense he can split 2000 soldiers in front lines having a 2:1 ratio over army A and still keep a 500 soldiers in reserve.
    A military force don't need to have superiority in all places but only in the these of strategic importance.
    Second you numbers the only time Axis have a superior ratio is in 1941, and this is only a 1,16 ratio superiority, for 1942 onward the ratio change to 2,46 in 1942 to a 3,27 ratio in 1945 in soviet favor.

    1. Maneuvering your forces is a part of warfare. If your forces cannot concentrate on where the fighting is, then they aren't much use, which is why mechanization was so important. Germany got really, really good at it. Obviously Guderian isn't talking about sitting still in a uniform defensive line and still winning. He didn't get nicknamed "Fast Heinz" for that.

  9. Good article.

    I've developed a hypothesis: it's that bad contentions like this, proclaimed loudly by German commander after German commander ("The German soldier can defeat the enemy even outnumbered 5:1", that the Germans inflicted 4:1, 5:1, 7:1, 8:1, etc tank losses on the Soviets during the 1943-45 period, etc, still proclaimed loudly by Wehrmacht aficionados on the internet) played a major, detrimental, role during the war on the conduct of German operations in the East. They did so because one A. Hitler believed them.

    Hitler was no idiot; he could count. If you read his diatribes against his commanders, he repeated time and time again during 1943 and 1944 and 1945, that the Russians must be near the end of their strength and resources, that "they were not like the giants of antiquity, who gained strength each time they fell down", that German units must contest each and every foot of ground to "bleed" the Russians white every step of the way on the defense, etc. Hitler believed that the reasons his commanders started crying out on the need to voluntarily retreat was that they had simply seen too much blood and horror (he once rebuked von Manstein for having his HQ too close to the front for this reason) and were panicking and had lost their nerve.

    Hitler thought that what was happening was something much akin to what happened in the US Civil War; where Lincoln went through commander until he found those (Grant, Sherman) who could "face the arithmetic" and realize that the battles they fought were hurting their Confederate opponents proportionately worse than they were hurting their own.

    And you know what? If all this information that the Germans claim about the relative losses and fighting prowess between the German and Soviet sides were true, Hitler WOULD HAVE BEEN ABSOLUTELY CORRECT. The Soviets would have exhausted themselves. But they didn't. What you see instead is (by and large) gradual reduction in German strength (both manpower and hardware) and a gradual increase in Soviet strength through the 43-45 period.

    (Note: The slight Soviet reduction in manpower late in the war was indeed in part due to a manpower squeeze, true, but also in part because the Soviets were demobilizing combat units into training units; they were shifting from fighting a "poor man's war" (which consumes manpower) to a "rich man's war" (which replaces consuming manpower with consuming munitions and hardware, like the Americans and British did. The Soviets fired off almost four times more artillery ammunition out of just the Magnuszew and Pulawy bridgeheads alone during their winter 1945 offensive than they used during ALL the Stalingrad campaign!!)

    In short, Hitler's decision-making was wrongly influenced by the fact that German commanders and German intelligence gave him false information about relative losses. There is evidence (some of it on this site) that German commanders both overclaimed the losses they inflicted on their enemies on all fronts and underreported their own casualties to make themselves look good to higher-ups. Taken at face value, if all these German claims were true, the war of attrition should have worked in the Germans' favor and they should have won the war. The fact that they didn't and in fact the war of attrition worked against them should make everyone dismiss these claims as untrue. But some myths die hard, apparently.

  10. 10 mio german losses on the Eastern Front? Laughable.

    The official death card index lists 3.1 mio killed service personal (all theatres, all causes, including non combat and natural death) during ww2. There are further undeclared cases in the general card index (Wehrmacht, SS, Volkssturm) of ca. 2 mio. still missing soldiers who failed to reappear again, a large number of them is presumed to be dead, too. If You split the difference, it´s 4 to max. 5 mio. losses, a part of them not against the SU.

    The SU´s own Card Index of armed forces personal 1941-45 lists 14 mio. male and female service personall which either died or failed to reappear to reclaim their bank accounts/ property (have never been seen again since april 45).

    Total losses of the SU were between 26.7 mio and 44 mio. (incl. civilians and natural deaths).

    And btw, June 1945 soviet forces number was not 6 mio but twice as much: 12.8 mio (11.4 mio active service, 1 mio in hospital, 0.4 mio civilian employees), which leads me to think that the whole statistic -as presented here- is taken out of context.

  11. The original premise of this article, that once mobilized the Russians had a decent but not overwhelming manpower superiority over the Germans, matches most of what I have read over the years, and this is entirely from Western sources. To this also must be added an advantage in quantity of material, and (dare I say it) quality, too, in terms of tanks at any rate. This did not happen overnight, of course.

    Guderian's boast must be taken in context. He was certainly proud of his men, particularly the panzer troops, who had indeed achieved much in the face of Soviet offensives. But in the actual event the Russians had little difficulty breaking through, except in the Fourth Army sector, where defensive specialist Gotthard Heinrici had anticipated the attack. Heinrici, incidentally, had no difficulty standing up to Hitler's toadies, Guderian and even Hitler himself when they were being unrealistic. He famously asked Himmler (at that particular point his immediate superior officer): "If you want these men to die, why don't you just shoot them yourself?" His nickname, "Giftzwerg", translates to "Poison Dwarf". Getting back to Guderian, not everything he said should be taken as gospel, either. When I read Panzer Leader, I fell out of my chair laughing when I came to the sentence: "Tanks do not belong in infantry divisions." The U.S. Army, which I seem to recall achieved a certain modest success against the Germans in 1944 and 1945, routinely attached a battalion of tanks to most infantry divisions, and generally a battalion of SP tank destroyers too, from The Big Red One all the way down to the hard-luck 92nd Infantry Division. The G.I.s in the same were well pleased with the results, nor where there any complaints from a certain general named Patton, who knew somewhat about tanks and rather believed in combined arms doctrine. (Admittedly, they had the tanks.)

    Also, at the beginning of 1945 there were very few Axis allied troops left, mainly the Hungarians and Vlasov's contingent. The Romanians and Bulgarians had switched sides, Italy and Finland had surrendered, and the Spanish division had gone home on Franco's orders. So there were some Croatians, Slovaks and a few lesser contingents like a regiment of French volunteers, Dutch SS and the like. Not a large number.