In his book "Tigers in the Mud", Otto Carius talks about his experiences in the western front (mostly spent inside the Ruhr Pocket) with great disdain. Some quotes:

We were used to an opponent the stature of the Russians; we were amazed at the contrast. During the war, I have never saw soldiers disperse head over heels even though virtually nothing was happening.

Tigers in the Mud, p214


Five Russians were more dangerous than Thirty Americans. We already noticed that in our few days in the western front.



Again the pace of the war surprised me, the Russians would never have let us have so much time! The Americans took so long to close the pocket, especially given that nobody around wanted to fight anymore. A well organized German corps could have closed the pocket in a week.

There are other disparaging remarks on the effectiveness of the American troops as well, in addition to sarcastic quotations of how fearful the American troops were. My question is, is this assessment fair?

Was Otto's experience of Americans due to the fact that the units around the Ruhr pocket 1) did not expect much resistance due to the aforementioned "nobody was fighting anymore" and so was very casual with their pace, and 2) were of a lower quality as Bradley sent his crack units to race to the Elbe and Austria?

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    I'd think part of it could be that he's comparing relatively green American units (and commanders) to battle-hardened Russian ones.
    – T.E.D.
    Dec 13 '15 at 22:49
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    Subjective question. People tend to fight a lot harder when bad things will happen to them and their family if they lose. The Americans treated Europe more as a picnic or looting expedition, than as an actual fight; few doughboys were willing to stick their neck out to get a few yards of territory which they knew they would get eventually anyway. If the Germans had invaded the United States they would have seen a COMPLETELY different type of soldier more terrifying than anything they could possibly imagine. Dec 14 '15 at 22:24
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    @TylerDurden: Yeah; right! Tell that to the poor doughboys on Omaha beach. Generalizing like that over the variety of conditions from Bastogne and Normandy to the Ruhr pocket is silly. Dec 15 '15 at 2:23
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    TylerDurden is absolutely correct. Americans in WWII Europe were fighting against an idea, for someone else's land and life. Russians were fighting for their own homes. Of course they were going to be better motivated.
    – CGCampbell
    Dec 18 '15 at 20:19
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    @TylerDurden Nice trolling attempt Oct 12 '17 at 19:48

You'll hear stuff like this from time to time, but really it is more just reflecting the US way of war. The Germans fought on the cheap, and they wanted to win fast, so they mixed it up. The US had the philosophy that there was always plenty of artillery or air support or tanks on call, so when resistance was hit, why not expend some shells before going in? The effectiveness was not in doubt, since despite all his sneering Otto was still the one inside the pocket. And if he had tried to drive out, he likely would have found the dominant Allied air support blowing his tank away without an infantryman having to lift a finger.

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    If you noted that Carius's first action on the Western Front was when his 512th Heavy antitank battalion was directed to the front on March 8, 1945. He thus missed the fighting in all of Normandy, Ardennes, Hurtgen forest and Remagen Bridge, where the Americans did in fact have motivation to win with lightly supported infantry. His impression of the 101st Airborne at Bastogne would certainly not have been in line with the comments given. Dec 18 '15 at 18:11
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    +1 for "Otto was still the one inside the pocket." The number of Americans lost, considering there were more than 8 million Germans killed or captured in the West, is so low it's surreal. The difference between fighting decisive engagements and achieving strategic goals, one wins the day, the other wins the war. Dec 18 '15 at 18:13

"The poorer the infantry, the more artillery it needs; the American infantry needs all it can get." French General Koechlin-Schwartz, speaking to U.S. General George S. Patton on two occasions. "The Patton Papers, 1940-1945"; George Smith Patton, Martin Blumenson; Houghton Mifflin (1972); pp.520-521

American troops were inexperienced and poor, especially in comparison with the German veterans who survived the Eastern front. What's so surprising here?

Additionally, as mentioned by @Oldcat, American forces had sufficient air support and artillery making infantry skills less critical.

On the other hand, Russian soldiers (and, to a lesser degree, officers, and, to even lesser degree, generals), were quite good, and better yet by the end of the war. They were second only to the German ones, and only until 1943 (1944?)

This seems to be obscured by the perceived poor performance of the Red Army against the Finns (remember, SU won the war despite the apauling conditions favoring the defenders) and horrible defeats that Red Army suffered at the hands of Wehrmacht in 1941-1942 (when the Wehrmacht was in the prime of its shape, battle hardened, experienced, supplied by almost the whole Europe).

See also my answer to another question.

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    Somehow, a French general trying to lecture the American general who ripped across France as quickly as the Germans did in 1940... and doing what the French general couldn't do, mainly evicting the German army... shows a fundamental flaw in reasoning.
    – tj1000
    Dec 5 '17 at 4:43
  • @tj1000: I like your comment, but the reality is that the US infantry was not as good at that time as that of Germany or Russia. One must always keep in mind that military might is a non-additive combination of all components (infantry, armor, artillery, aviation, navy, logistics - not necessarily in that order) and the US army was and is a superb fighting force, despite not always having as good an infantry as other forces.
    – sds
    Dec 5 '17 at 14:24
  • Well, those comments tend to come from the French (who lost), the Germans (who lost) and the Russians (who took an ungodly number of casualties). I recall reading the memoirs of a German soldier, who when he had been taken prisoner and was marched past a US artillery battery going full blast, said - that's how to fight a war. Not with soldier's lives, but with weapons, from a distance. In that respect, the US solders were the best because the fewest number of them died. Most soldiers who have been in combat would tend to agree on that point.
    – tj1000
    Dec 5 '17 at 16:05
  • @tj1000: that's exactly my point.
    – sds
    Dec 5 '17 at 16:13
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    @tj1000: The French lost, the Germans lost, the Russians took an ungodly number of casualties... and the Americans showed up after everyone had battered each other into a bloody pulp, had all the time in the world, nothing really at stake once they made landfall and got off the beaches, and didn't face an adversary they had to fear actually losing to, or had any specific axe to grind with.
    – DevSolar
    Feb 15 '19 at 15:28

This is one man's subjective view, albeit a professional's. And the guy was riding in a Tiger tank with an 88mm gun (or was it a "Jagdtiger" with a 128mm main gun?). And then he might just have faced infantry or inexperienced fresh units. At the beginning of the war in the Soviet Union, the Germans captured hundreds of thousands of soldiers, until the Red Army adapted it's tactics and training.

  • Exactly. Why would sensible soldiers go head-to-head with a tank, unless driven from behind by their own forces? You get out of the way, and call up the artillery. It might be instructive to compare WWII US infantry tactics to WWI, where millions were slaughtered in trench warfare that basically achieved nothing.
    – jamesqf
    Dec 5 '17 at 19:32

At a low level I doubt there would have been much difference between the average American/British/Russian/German soldier by early 1945 due to the simple fact that casualty rates were so high for all armies that they were scrounging up whoever could hold a rifle and point it in generally the right direction.

Really the primary difference between Eastern and Western fronts was that the former was more generally no-holds barred. If the other guy is pretty confident that you aren't taking prisoners he will fight that much harder...

Working your way up the chain the average US officer commanding a formation larger than say a battalion was likely less apt than his Russian or British counterpart, but that can be explained by the fact that in Europe the US Army didn't suffer from very many significant defeats after the unfortunate events at Kasserine Pass in 1943. Without the kind of "evolutionary pressure" that pushes the likes of a Montgomery and Zhukov to the top you can't expect excellence.

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    That's not quite true for the Western Allies. Even the critical Commonwealth Infantry shortage was more that the men available were directed to more sexy units like armor, artillery and the like rather than line infantry and there was a huge reluctance by the UK to start breaking up these units for the men inside them. The US had plenty of troops available.
    – Oldcat
    Dec 19 '15 at 0:57
  • Not according to the US Army. See pages 16-24 of usacac.army.mil/cac2/cgsc/carl/download/csipubs/….
    – Doug B
    Dec 21 '15 at 12:24
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    Sorry, -1. That's just wrong. The Germans were indeed reduced to using the Volksturm, alongside what remained of the regular army. But there was nothing like that on the Allied side. Oct 12 '17 at 7:10
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    Don't know that I'd hold Montgomery up as an example after Market Garden. And his failure to break out at Caen. And his inability to beat Patton to Messina, even though he had less than half the distance to travel. And pretty much anything after N Africa.
    – tj1000
    Dec 5 '17 at 4:47

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