VDH UltraHistorian’s Corner: Some Mythologies of World War II: Part Four:

One-Dimensional Versus Global War

If in 1939–41, Moscow had sent Nazi Germany huge deliveries of cereals, wheat, soybeans, 100,000 tons of cotton, nearly a million tons of oil and ores and minerals essential to German industry, it would be unable to divert some of such aid to its new friends in its new fight against its old friend. It was a characteristic of the Soviet Union between 1939 and spring 1945 to honor its agreements with Nazi Germany and Japan, but eventually not those it signed with its benefactors Britain and the United States.

Much of the bombing effort over Europe remains shrouded in controversy. Yet general agreement puts fighter and bomber losses at nearly 80,000 planes and well over 100,000 lost British and American bomber and fighter airmen. A clearly failed bombing campaign of 1942–43 led to eventual air superiority by late 1944, and by 1945 air supremacy and the de facto destruction of the industrial and transportation base of the Third Reich. By almost any rubric used, the air campaign had a direct effect on the Eastern front, whether through the removal of some 10,000 lethal German artillery pieces to be used as flak guns to protect German cities, the redeployment of entire ground support airwings to be used against Allied bombers over Europe, the destruction of German rail hubs critical for resupply in the East, and the loss of German fuel and industrial production at the very time the Soviet Union was ramping up its own output.

The Soviets could not and would not fight the Japanese until August 9, 1945, three weeks before Tokyo’s surrender. Prior to that date, American warships for nearly four years had witnessed the surreal transit of Soviet-flagged merchant ships leaving West Coast ports, laden with key supplies for the Red Army steaming unscathed through Pacific war zones where the Americans and Japanese were engaged in ferocious island wars. Imagine an analogous farce: something like the Americans—at war with Japan but not Germany, and under terms of a German-American non-aggression pact—sending aid to their allied Soviets in a mutual fight against the Japanese, but with impunity over German rail lines through fierce Soviet-German fighting on the Eastern Front.

What allowed the Red Army to destroy the Wehrmacht in the East and weakened it everywhere else, was the ability to focus its entire manpower and industry on a single front ground war. But to be allowed that leeway, Russia was assured that others would alone handle Axis Japan and Italy, and keep both the sea-lanes and skies open, so critical for aiding Moscow. The Soviets, who unlike their allies did not fight a two-front war until the last three weeks of the conflict, did not worry about enemy submarines and surface ship interrupting their supply lines, or about conducting strategic bombing.

Moscow detailed its material needs, and in almost every case the Allies complied. Diplomatically, the Allies were far more flexible than was Moscow. Only rarely did Churchill remind Stalin that Russian fuel, food, and metals had helped Hitler in his attempt to incinerate Britain. And only seldom did the Americans remind the Soviets that their three serial non-aggression pacts with Germany, Italy, and Japan had empowered America’s enemies, both before the U.S. entry into the war and, in the case of Japan, during the war itself. After all, when London burned or American ships were sunk in the Pacific, Russia either aided the incineration or ignored the sinking; when Moscow was threatened, Anglo-American aid flowed.

As far as technologies and intelligence that helped win the war, Soviet state-of-the-art armor and artillery played a considerable role. But strategically, to win a global war and achieve unconditional surrender, the British and the Americans relied on mass-produced Liberty and Victory cargo ships, radar, sonar, napalm, escort-, light- and fleet-aircraft carriers, landmark four-engine bombers like the Boeing B-29 and the British Avro Lancaster, and ultimately the atomic bomb. These were all innovative technologies and breakthroughs in mass production and design unmatched by any power in World War II.

Of course, at no time before or after September 1 did either the Americans or the British sign a non-aggression pact with any Germany, Italy, or Japan; Stalin at one time or another did with all three Axis powers.

Finally, could Russia have defeated the Axis on its own? Likely not. The Third Reich would have deployed an additional 60 divisions on the Eastern front, suffered no damage to its heartland from bombing, worried little about transferring key German air and ground units to occupied Western Europe, and likely would have recruited even more troops from its occupied domains while counting on the help of the Japanese and the Italians. The Red Army would have found no sources of foreign aid or supply.

Was the converse true? Could the British Empire and the Americans alone have defeated the Axis after June 1940? The answer was probably yes, but at an exorbitant cost, and largely through even greater sacrifices in the air to achieve fighter and bomber supremacy over Berlin, Rome, and Tokyo. We should remember at war’s end, the U.S. achieved a greater GDP than all the other major five enemy and friendly powers together. Its navy was not just the largest in the world, but larger than all the navies of the world combined. Despite its smaller population, the American military peaked at about 12.2 million men and women, just slightly smaller than that of the larger Soviet Union. America produced by 1945 over 95 percent of the world’s aviation fuel, and dwarfed Russian military output in every category of weaponry except tanks and artillery pieces; it produced nearly three times the number of fighters, bombers, and cargo planes as the U.S.S.R.

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  1. It was a characteristic of the Soviet Union between 1939 and spring 1945 to honor its agreements with Nazi Germany and Japan, but eventually not those it signed with its benefactors Britain and the United States.

    There’s a perverse pragmatism at work there… seemingly, because you fear your enemy but not your allies and therefore, you can abuse your friends and let them pay the price, you will honor your commitments to your enemies.

    And you do that with the clear intention that after 1945 the enemies that you call ‘friends’ will have their turn in your cross hairs.

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