Blogs > Liberty and Power > Who Really Won the Second World War?

Nov 5, 2006 3:13 am

Who Really Won the Second World War?

Not the Brits, theirs was a small contribution. The Americans—well, yes, in large part. But more than either of those, the Soviet Union made the greatest contribution. Norman Davies presents the revisionist case to a wider audience here.

"After talking at Cambridge recently about the preponderance of the eastern front and the scale of the Red Army’s triumph, I was accosted by an angry young British historian. 'Don't you realise that we were pinning down 56 German divisions in France alone,' he said. 'Without that the Red Army would have been heavily defeated.' What is less acknowledged is that without the Red Army pulverising 150 divisions, the allies would never have landed.

"The attack on the Third Reich was a joint effort. But it was not a joint effort of two equal parts. The lion's share of victory in Europe can be awarded only to Stalin’s forces and it is a fantasy to believe that he was fighting for justice and democracy."

Norman Davies' new book, Europe at War 1939-1945: No Simple Victory (Macmillan) has just been published in the UK. American readers will have to wait until next year for the book unless they order it from Britain. You can read extracts from an interview with Davies here and an extract from the book here.

Readers may also be interested to learn about Davies' other new book, Europe East and West (London: Jonathan Cape), a collection of essays, where he argues for a comprehensive view that challenges Western stereotypes and no longer ignores the history and experience of Eastern Europe. Among other issues, he proposes a revision of the misunderstood Allied victory in 1945 that parallels his Europe at War 1939-1945 discussed above.

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Mark Saini - 11/6/2006

It certainly is revisionist to many people, and could have a useful perspective on current events. This idea that we should 'trust' the US/UK combine is deeply ingrained, allowing invasions in the name of bringing democracy and freedom. Blair and the current US leadership do selfconsiously model themselves on Churchill at times.

It also raises the point that democratic countries may not be really capable of prosecuting wars. No stomach for it. Can only dicatorship can defeat another?

Mark Brady - 11/6/2006

I don't imagine that Norman Davies would deny your point. That said, the Red Army made the largest contribution to the defeat of Nazi Germany in the war that was actually fought.

M.D. Fulwiler - 11/6/2006

It's hard to make a case that the Allies would not have ~eventually~ overwhelmed the Nazis even without Stalin. Truman would have eventually incinerated the entire country of Germany with atomic bombs if he needed to.

Tim Sydney - 11/5/2006

Although US material support to the allies was significant it can be over-estimated. Non-US allied production is often assumed to be minor. It was not.

Compare these Soviet armoured vehicle production figures, see here to comparable US figures, see here. Armoured vehicles production would seem to be an important metric for the war in europe's east especially.

This wiki article (see
here) gives some comparative quantities but maddeningly it doesn't seem to describe the actual units being measured. If the figure is related to capital expended, presumably much of the high US count is due to America's specialisation in the production of high cost munitions (ie aircraft and warships), something that is reflected in US armament production today.

US production was perhaps more important because it "tipped the balance" rather than "out-weighed" the efforts of other participants.

Tim Sydney - 11/5/2006

It's interesting to note that most retrospective commentary on the debate over US intervention in WW2 ends up accusing the isolationist factions for being overly pessimistic in their assessment on the risks war would have had on the maintenance of America's free institutions. The isolationists also stand accused of being narrow minded parochial pessimists.

Yet the US didn't enter WW2 until six months after the Russo-German war began. FDR would have taken America to war in WW2 before that date had it not been for isolationist opposition.

Had the US entered before the start of Hitler's drive to the East, Berlin certainly would have delayed or cancelled their eastern assault. As a result US human casualties and economic costs would have been substantially higher than the 400,000 or so war dead the US did experience. We know Russia actually lost 10 million uniformed dead. Had Stalin not entered the war until 1944 or so (as he was planning to do) the US may have experienced millions of dead and the higher costs would have reduced the prospects of any immediate post-war economic boom. In short the pessimistic predictions of the isolationists were a "near miss" not a failure.

Indeed had a long US-German war sapped the west, a late entrant Russia may have also had a substantial lead in the Cold War.

Mark Brady - 11/5/2006

I quote from Davies' article:

"American industrial output was one of the marvels of the war; and all members of the allied coalition, including the Soviet Union, benefited greatly from it.

"Nonetheless, the Third Reich was not brought to its knees by bombers and blockades. Both the German military and the German civilian population proved remarkably resilient. Hitler’s continental fortress had to be reduced inch by inch by soldiers on the ground. And here the Red Army excelled."

Mark Brady - 11/5/2006

It's revisionist in the sense that many students and even, it seems, scholars ignore or downplay the role of the Red Army. See the exchange that Davies had with an "angry young British historian" quoted in my post.

Keith Halderman - 11/5/2006

What Davies have to say about the arms and other supplies provided to the Russians by the West?

Alexander Wolfe - 11/5/2006

Is that so revisionist though? I've enjoyed reading the history of WWII since I was a child, and I know that several authors (of their own accord or quoting leading figures of the period) state flat-out that the Nazis were defeated primarily by the tremendous arms of the Soviet Union. I would think that this is a point that bears some repeating to students of WWII, but I'm not sure if it's revisionist. But what I think others think about WWII could be off of course.