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 fluctuations in that ratio in terms of major battles, offensive/defensive tactics, weapon developments etc.?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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")
The whole military losses of Germans was about 4.5 millions.
Old data for official military losses of SU - about 6.8 millions KIA + 0.5 mil died + 4.5 mln captives.
The last data appeared in 2017. According to "Undying Regiment" data taken from the State Planning Committee now opened, the total number of lost people in the USSR in 41-45 was 52 mil. The natural number would be about 10 mil. So, the number of losses was counted as 42,000,000 people. Here are ALL losses, due to hunger, illnesses due to malnutrition, KIA, civilians killed, died in camps and other reasons. Of these, military losses consisted about 19 mil. These data is somewhat half-official now.
During the first three months the Soviet losses were about a million/month. They surrendered, because mostly they hated the SU. Many of them even wanted to fight against the SU. But Hitler refused to use 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, only captives...
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.
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
When following both German (eastern front) and Soviet official loss figures 22th June 1941 to 31 Decemberg 1944 we will get these figures:
Total German losses: 5 790 459 killed, wounded, missing
Total Soviet losses: 26 579 242 killed, wounded, missing
Loss rate: 1:4,59
(nobody knows what were German loss figures during last four months of 1945, official Soviet losses were 3 013 507)
E.g historian David Glantz have estimated that 14.7 million Soviet soldiers and partisans died while official Soviet loss figures are giving some 10 million military deaths)
Note: population rate between Greater Germany and Soviet Union was only about 1:2 favoring Soviet Union (84 million vs. 168-170 million based on most reliable estimates of population of both powers in 1939). Before the war there were estimated 10 million ethnic Germans living outside the Reich. Hundreds of thousands of those "Germanics" served either in Wehrmacht, Waffen SS or Luftwaffe. The man pool of Greater Germany was much bigger than historians tend to estimate.
The problem with many of the figures above are some talk German losses and others talk AXIS. A big mistake made in the Wests. Russians do not make that mistake. They know there were plenty of AXIS units from occupied Europe and from Italy and Hungary etc. One estimate I saw put those who fought on the Eastern Front for the AXIS as 2 Germans to 1 from another nations. Russians who have not been brainwashed like US understand they were fighting the AXIS. Not just Germany. There were without offending Western sensibilities may Army Units from occupied areas. Especially so regarding the SS. Hitler by about 1942/1943 could not find enough criminal types in Germany to undertake the the dirty work done by the SS. Many experts - especially Russian experts estimate as the war progressed the SS in general only comprised about 40% German. As you would expect not many Nations in occupied areas after the War were going to put up there hands and say some of the most vicious SS units came from our country. To ever get a good comparison the losses of the other AXIS nations on the Eastern front need to be factored in. Very difficult. Today most Russians feel closer to Germans than many other cultures because they understand this. All you can say reliably is at the beginning the USSR/AXIS loss rate was very high. By 1942/1943 with better leadership and better equipment it came down. Naturally of course the USSR was at a disadvantage taking back well defended occupied Cities etc. as they fought there way back to Berlin. Always the case. The army attacking highly defended areas usually takes greater losses than the defenders. Yes overall the USSR did lose more than the AXIS but nothing like Cold War propaganda in the West has tried to made out. They probably by the end had even reversed it all to there advantage thanks to there experienced hardened troops and equal if not better equipment coming up against new raw recruits with lesser equipment. You will never get the true figures. Better for many nations still to maintain the myth all there people stayed loyal and blame it all on the Germany. 5th Generation Australian.
The official figure of army losses declassified in 1993 according the Russian ministry of defense are: 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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
An interesting question. At the end of the day, it depends on who you ask: the idealogues or the historians. If you are talking about the purely military casualties, then:
According to the nazi sympathisers , it was 30mn Russians against 3mn Germans or whatever they're talking about. The problem is that due to the cold war, the German generals were sadly allowed to write the history of the eastern front in the fight against communism.
According to actual statisticians & historians who have worked on genuine military records (ref Overmans and Krivocheev), it were 4,2mn Germans and about 1mn Axis allies dead against 8mn Soviets. This does however misrepresent the casualties a bit, as it includes dead POWS and the Germans (in particular) had a habit of mass-murdering any Soviet POWs they found, and the Soviets weren't completely innocent either.
So something around 1.3 or so in total does seem reasonable, with the ratio going from well above that at the start, to below 1 towards the end of the war.