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I've read somewhere that the ratio of Soviet to German casualties on the eastern front was 1.4 for the whole war. But what about data for different stages of the war? (this ratio wasn't constant after all) Is there an analysis which explains the fluctations in that ratio in terms of major battles, offensive/defensive tactics, weapon developments etc.?

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10 Answers 10

As I understand it, the ratio of Soviet to Axis losses was something like 6 or 7 to 1 in 1941, perhaps 2 to 1 in 1942, and (close to) 1 to 1 in the latter part of the war. This includes not only German losses, but those of allies (principally Hungarians, Romanians, and Italians.) So Soviet to German totals would be higher.

The Germans got off to a strong start in the first six months with relatively few casualties. If they had continued at that pace, they would have won the war. In 1942, the casualty rates of about 2 to 1 represented a rough equilibrium, of Soviet vs. Axis forces. After that, the Soviet loss rate, approaching 1 to 1, was less than their preponderance of manpower, which is why they ultimately won.

In 1941, the Germans had the advantages of surprise, preparedness, superior tactical doctrine. In 1942, the Germans had lost the first two advantages, but their superior doctrine made the difference. By 1943, the Soviet forces had caught up, in some cases overtaken the Germans in quality of equipment, and doctrine, to a sufficient degree to be able to win with a 2- to -1 numerical advantage, like Grant and the North against Robert E. Lee and the South in 1864-5.

(Only the effect of being on the defensive allowed the Germans to inflict losses as slightly greater than a 1-1 rate.)

Editorial note: I inserted the bold-faced text in the above paragraph in response to another answer below regarding historian Trevor Nevitt Depuy's study on the relative combat effectiveness of the Soviet and German armies. Within its scope, that answer appears to be substantially correct (due to the Soviets' numerical advantage), without being inconsistent with my (revised) answer.

Example: The Soviets start with 10 million men against 5 million for the Germans. Each army inflicts 1 million casualties on the other. The "ratio of losses" (per the question) is 1 to 1, but the Germans have a 2 to 1 advantage in combat effectiveness because they inflicted the same 1 million casualties using half as many men. If the ratio of Soviet to German losses were 1.25 million to 1.00 million (slightly more than 1 to 1), the ratio of German to Soviet combat effectiveness would be 2.50 to 1, in line with DePuy's calculations.

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Anixx: Soviet casualties were closer to 20 million, at least according to this source. goodreads.com/book/show/414302.A_War_to_Be_Won –  Tom Au Jan 30 '12 at 18:35
The official figure of army losses declassified in 1993 according the Russian ministry of defense is even smaller: 8 860 400 of total losses, of which killed in action 5 226 800, dead in hospitals due to injury 1 102 800, dead of other causes or shot 555 500. –  Anixx Jan 30 '12 at 19:10
It is thought that Germany lost 3 605 000 without counting captured and 442 000 dead POWs, together with the allies the figure thought to be 4 273 000 without captured and 580 000 dead in capture. These figures do not count those POWs who returned from Soviet capture after the war, naval casualties and other (non-eastern) theaters of the war. –  Anixx Jan 30 '12 at 20:09
@Anixx "Offical" Soviet numbers aren't very accurate. They likely don't include various civilians impressed into service (aka People's Militia), partisans, convicts, paramilitary forces like interior ministry troops/police and others. In Leningrad the Soviets pressed men as old as 80 into service. –  duffbeer703 Jan 30 '12 at 20:23
They definitely do not include partisans, but also definitely include people's militia, convicts and interior troops. By the way, regarding German casualties it is essentially impossible to make any estimations for 1945, at that time they has no statistics and the whole armies were surrendering (whether or not it is fair to count surrendering armies of a capitulating state as "casualties" is another question). –  Anixx Jan 30 '12 at 20:29

The Red Army was not an effective fighting force in the beginning, for many reasons. (Including the fact that Stalin had just slaughtered the officer corps) The early days of the war were largely a one-sided affair, where the German Army's biggest challenge was dealing with tens or hundreds of thousands of surrendering Soviet troops. As time progressed, the Soviets regrouped and pushed back.

The Russian front was a massive conflict. Leningrad was under siege for nearly 3 years. The Battle of Stalingrad grinded on for months and killed over 2 million. Kursk was an epic battle the was the turning point of the war. From that point forward, the Germans were on the defensive, and engaged in a long battle of attrition, all of the way back to Berlin.

I've never seen an accounting for casualties in a ratio form. There is plenty of data to calculate your own -- over 30 million were killed in this front of the war.

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In an effort to ensure your post doesn't become fodder for Nationalists and Neo-Nazis, don't confuse Dupuy's conclusions. He did not conclude that the Germans were "man for man" better but rather that their leadership was better, particularly at the NCO level right up to the General Staff level. This is the primary reason, he concludes, that the German soldier fought with a higher effectiveness than their counterparts.

It was NOT because Germans were some kind of supermen.

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Definitely +1, although this is more of a comment than an answer. & Welcome to the site! –  Felix Goldberg May 13 '13 at 7:42
Welcome to the site! A citation would help those of us who aren't as immersed in the evidence as you and Nick are. –  Mark C. Wallace May 13 '13 at 10:38

Who ever wrote this is wrong:

"In 1941, the Germans had the advantages of surprise, preparedness, superior tactical doctrine. In 1942, the Germans had lost the first two advantages, but their superior doctrine made the difference. By 1943, the Soviet forces had caught up, in some cases overtaken the Germans in quality of equipment, and doctrine. Only the effect of being on the defensive allowed the Germans to inflict losses as slightly greater than a 1-1 rate."

In fact according to: "Number predictions and war" by Depuy Germany remained man to man superior not just to the Western allied armies right up to the end of the war but considerably so to the USSR. Even by at Kursk Germany had a 256% fighting effectiveness advantage to the soviets, 1 German soldier was equal to 2.56 soviets in fighting ability.

By 44, this advantage had dropped to 180%, one German soldier being equal to 1.8 soviets. Depuy study is exhaustive, and just goes to show this guy above does not know what he is talking about. Oh by the way Depuy factored in the defensive advantage the Germans had, this figure is minus that advantage. So on an even field basis, 100 German were equal to 180 Soviets. The soviets won because of overwhelming numbers, Hitler's stupidity and the second front, THE USA!

Soivet battlefield losses in 44, 5,000,000. German losses 1,100,000. German losses are considerably less, obviously this guy is getting his figures from some Russian BS history book like wikipedia.

(WW2: Allies mobilized against Germany 40.4 million, Germany Mobilized 12.5 million. Allied casualties 23 million, German 10.1 Million. Score effectiveness Allied .25, German 1.84. Which means one in four Allied soldiers inflicted a casualty on the Germans, while each German averaged nearly two Allied casualties. Even after Depuy adjusted for defense posture the German score rating was 1.42. Which was five times as great as the Allies. Scource: Depuy, "Numbers Predictions & War")

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I've read years ago Dupuy's encylopedia of military biography, which is great, but all this number juggling is rather fishy and seems a bit superficial... –  Felix Goldberg May 11 '13 at 10:45
My advice is read the book, the study is very extensive and was undertaken for the department of defense. –  nick May 12 '13 at 0:40
My advice is read the book, the study is very extensive and was undertaken for the Department of Defense. This is backed up by the fact that the Allies in nearly all their victories required a massive materiel advantage, and even then when aided by Hitler, it was still slow going and tough. This attests to a man for man advantage on the Germans part. –  nick May 12 '13 at 0:48
@nick: Finally someone on this question with a basic understanding of the conflict. –  Pieter Geerkens Oct 25 '13 at 3:31
@nick: Your point about DePuy's calculations on relative combat effectiveness is well taken, but it is not inconsistent with my (revised) answer, because of the Soviets' numerical superiority. The example showed how the casualty ratios could be close to 1- to -1, and the Germans have a combat effectiveness of 2 to 1 (or more), because they inflicted similar numbers of casualties using half as many men. –  Tom Au Oct 26 '13 at 17:36

During the first three months the Soviet losses were about a million/month. They surrendered, because they wanted to fight against the SU. But Hitler refused them and they were all annihilated. Even Himmler was against such wastes.

Very interesting period was also during the 1942 spring-summer advance of Germans. There raised an anticommunist rebellion in the eastern Ukraina and Cossacks regions of Russia. So, the SU troops escaped before the advance of Germans. Almost no losses on the both sides...

The whole military losses of Germans was about 4.5 millions. Official military losses of SU - about 10 millions. so, no 1.4, but 2.2. (wiki) And other evaluations have much greater numbers for SU, up to 60 millions. I am not sure in that number, but the first one is obviously not real - with 3 mill only surrenderers during the first 3 months and 2.4 the next three, it is impossible to have 10 mill losses for the whole 4 - years war. Maybe, official "military losses" include only documented KIA. And in SU he, whose death was not documented as KIA, automaticaly were Lost In Action. And counted as traitors.

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@Anixx right about Vlasov personally. As about absolute majority, it was from village. And hated the soviet power for "collective farms". They expected Hitler to cancel "kolchozes". He refused... And had the same people reaction as Napoleon with slavery in 1812. About people fighting against communism, read Shambarov. Very interesting. –  Gangnus Feb 1 '12 at 16:39
Gangnus, well this is perhaps a perspective from your grandfather's village where people hated the USSR (was it a Russian village by the way?). My grandfather told me different things. Indeed many people surrendered in the beginning of the war, but not because they wanted to fight against their motherland, but either because they thought that the USSR will loose the war or to save themselves in difficult circumstances. They also thought they will be treated humanely as the Germans did during WWI. Once the people learned what the Germans did to the POWs the number of surrenders decreased a lot. –  Anixx Feb 1 '12 at 20:50
@RobertLee. Yes. In 1987 in Lvov I have spoken with one old man, who was "taken" at the start of the war in the western Ukraine, as all men with high (not higher!) education. All of them were shot in the cells. He escaped because he fall and lied under the dead bodies - for three days. NKVD heroes didn't have time to check their work. He wept as a child when he told about this - 46 years after the thing happened! Normally Ukrainians didn't spoke with Russians o such themes, but I participated in Chernobyl liquidation and they took me as one of themselves after it. –  Gangnus Feb 2 '12 at 8:10
So what? People were crying in N.Korea now, too. Eating bark from the trees because of hunger and crying for a good chief, because the next one could be worse. The second reason was: they were expected to cry. So they had to. When 4 years later Staliv was taken from the Mausoleum and criticized, only Georgians protested. The love was too short, eh? –  Gangnus Feb 2 '12 at 9:27
Oh, yes, so I could feel free to rebel, no gases now? Only the whole family to different camps for a word against the state? How humanic! And about the grain not taken by army, explain it to millions of dead because of the hunger organized (admitted by Molotov) in Ukraine and Cossack regions in 30-ties. –  Gangnus Feb 2 '12 at 9:41

The vast majority of German soldiers were killed, taken POW or otherwise incapacitated on the Eastern front. The Soviet to Axis loss ratio was 1.3:1 and the USSR outproduced Germany in every weapons system throughout the war.

According to meticulous post-Soviet archival work (G. I. Krivosheev in Soviet Casualties and Combat Losses), the total number of men (and in the Soviet case, about 1mn women) who passed through the armed forces of the USSR was 34,476,700 and through Germany's was 21,107,000. Of these, the "irrevocable losses" (the number of soldiers who were killed in military action, went MIA, became POWs and died of non-combat causes) was 11,285,057 for the USSR, 6,231,700 for Germany, 6,923,700 for Germany and its occupied territories, and 8,649,500 for all the Axis forces on the Eastern Front. Thus, the total ratio of Soviet to Nazi military losses was 1.3:1.

Also, out of 5.2 million prisoners taken by Axis on Eastern Front 3.6 million died, and out of 5.4 million of Axis prisoners taken by Soviets only 824 thousand died, which also affects the total numbers of casualties. Axis' losses estimates were slacking in 1945 as power of Axis war machine was focused on keeping Soviets out of Germany, thus 8,649,500 Axis casualties is the lowest estimate.

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Do you have sources for this answer? –  American Luke May 14 '13 at 20:37
Believing the official Soviet/Russian figures (including General Krivosheev's) is beyond naive. –  sds Oct 24 '13 at 17:10

The term: "man for man" is that they achieved a better result on a per capita basis. However there is an interesting study mentioned in the book: "Blizkreig" by Len Deighton, of fighting in North Africa. Which showned that the Germans improvised better than their opposition and fought better when they lost their leadership and NCO's.

From Depuy's book:

"this suggests that part of the overall German superiority probably resulted from better utilization of manpower. The remainder could possibly be the result of such factors as more experience, greater mobility, better doctrine, more effective drill, superior leadership, or inherent national characteristics"

( source: page 63, Numbers, Predictions & War)

So it is probably very complex, involving many factors.

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The casualties figures are confusing. At the end of day, you will find the casualties numbers from USSR are more accurate than the ones from Germany. The total casualties for German Army stood at 5.3 million. It has adjusted from 3 million, to 4 million, and now to 5.3 million, which 4/5 are dead from eastern front. It was confirmed with numbers provided by the USSR earlier. USSR casualties are 8.8 million including over 1 million death of POWS. If have to include German Allies casualties for a comparison, that is another 1 million. So total military casualties are USSR 8.8 million VS Axis 6.3 million

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Could you please provide some sources to substantiate these numbers? –  Steven Drennon Jan 1 at 7:21

Soviet military war dead is now estimated at between 27-35 million. So somewhere between 9 and 10 to one in favour of the Germans.

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This number (27-35 million) includes civilians as well. Also your ratio does not account for the Germany's allies. –  Anixx Feb 16 '13 at 11:51
This answer would be much more useful if it referenced research. –  Mark C. Wallace Oct 24 '13 at 18:14
-1, the number includes civilians... –  Felix Goldberg Oct 26 '13 at 18:12

This is propaganda germans have clearly won.

The war the Germans won over all their enemies problem is that they were attacked from all sides. The Germans totally destroyed Russia — but in Russia it was the winter, not the Russian army, that destroyed the German supply of ammo, etc.

Just like Napoleon destroyed Russia but then the Russians burned down Moscow and waited in the back of Russia then the winter killed the French army.

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This answer would be greatly improved by both punctuation and research. Can you provide any evidence to support your assertions? –  Mark C. Wallace Oct 24 '13 at 15:50
Very poor answer - it sounds like it describes a game of Sid Meyer's Civilization and not actually history. (-1) –  Felix Goldberg Oct 26 '13 at 18:12

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