I had read during past days some books and internet texts about the East front campaign, during WW2. I took some information out of that, and it is very surprising to me.

  • First, I read that Russian losses were far more important than what I expected. A ratio of 1 German infantryman to 6 Russians was claimed. The same for tanks, a little less for airplanes.
  • Second, this ratio comes from a tactical effectiveness so high that, even with such a slaughter in their forces, Russians do not manage to break enough of German forces to make them give up the fight
  • Third, two strategic situations are explained as followed:

1: 1942, at the end of the battle of Stalingrad: While German general Hoth is trying to save the 6th Army by a counterattack, he encountered heavy resistance. But the decisive factor is the Soviet offensive Little Saturn, which hampered the attack by threatening flanks and rears and forced Germans to deploy their forces. Source: Did the Torch operation help doom the Germans at Stalingrad?

2: 1943, battle of Kursk: The Germans are able to repell all Soviet counterattacks and destroy thousands of Russian tanks on both north and south sides of the battlefield. They come close to breaktrhough when the SS Panzerkorps break the third and last line of defense on the South. However, a Soviet offensive on the Don river force the Germans (Hitler and OKH decision, Manstein did not want) to stop the attack on Kursk and deploy some already engaged forces. However, the Russian offensive is entirely repelled with only a few (SS Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler, which is 1 panzerdivision out of 4 constituing the SS Panzerkorps) troops taken out of the South side of Kursk. Still, the Germans entirely withdraw to their position of 5th July (willingly because Soviet counterattacks still failed) and then are pushed back by the Soviet counteroffensives on Orel and Kharkov. Source: Roman Toppel, Kursk

There are plenty of explanations on why the Soviet army suffered so high losses and had that low tactival effectiveness against the Wehrmacht. I am ok with those explanations. What I don't understand is how an offensive, made by another part of the Red Army which is not more effective, and is equally repelled (for example on the Don in 1943), could have deny the Germans the possibility to continue their attacks? And continue to inflict those 1:6 casualties ratios?

Also, considering the commonly accepted force ratios (see wikipedia) in the battle of Kursk, how did the Soviet Army manage to keep an offensive stand?

The question behind those questions is also: are we really sure of those numbers of losses (which comes from latest studies on Russian archives), because I can't imagine at all how they have led Soviet army to a final victory on the East Front?

EDIT from comment: Actually I am not sure what I am asking, because I am not sure what I am trying to understand. I have two questions, each at different scales:

  • First, on local strategic scale: how is it possible that the offensives I mentioned stopped German actions, even if they were repelled with not that much German troops being distracted from German actions.
  • Second, over all the war: with a casualty ratio so high, how did Soviet union stood?- the casualty ratio is higher than the force ratio, so attrition war is supposed to have succeed for German side- how did Soviet troops maintained morale with that high casualties?
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    1:6 loss ratio is only for 1941. The ratio went down after that, converging to 1:1 by 1945.
    – sds
    Commented Dec 10, 2019 at 21:24
  • 2
    You mention Torch/Stalingrad, which seems very tenuous, but not the landings on Sicily, which may have been the main reason the Kursk offensive was abandoned.
    – Tomas By
    Commented Dec 10, 2019 at 21:30
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    Red Army achieve to manipulate German Army -> Is "to manipulate" the words you intended here? From the body of the text, it seems your question more about how the Red Army sustain these losses against the German Army?
    – Semaphore
    Commented Dec 11, 2019 at 7:38
  • I in fact intended to "manipulate". Besides how Soviet Union was able to fill the gaps caused by losses, I am wondering how the Red Army make the Germans fall back only by launching failed offensives. I edited the question Commented Dec 11, 2019 at 17:32

2 Answers 2


Don't take German sources at face value

While it is often said “History is written by the victors", in case of WW2 Eastern Front, for the Western audience history was written mostly by loosing side. Reasons for this are relatively simple, with the advent of Cold War and Iron Curtain former Soviet allies became enemies, and many of the former German officers (including generals) were now new NATO allies. Exploits of Wehrmacht (and to a lesser extent Waffen SS) against "Soviet horde" become useful example for prospective new world war. Therefore, memories and other documents coming from German side were often uncritically accepted as gospel. On the other hand, Soviet historiography was either unknown, or dismissed as crude propaganda. Truth however is somewhat different. While Soviets did engage in propaganda, and glossed over their worst defeats and blunders, Germans too were often lying and distorting the truth about their casualties, size of the enemy and damage inflicted. Only recently, with cross checking of data from both size, some glimpses of truth could be found. Now for your examples :

  • In late 1942, Soviets did encircle German 6th Army and parts of the 4th Panzer Army in Operation Uranus. Germans did launch relief effort Operation Winter Storm. You will not that Russian sources about this operation differ greatly from German ones. For example, Germans claim they attacked with 50 000 men and 250 tanks vs Soviet 150 000 men and 630 tanks. Soviets claim that Germans attacked with 124 000 man and 650 tanks against 115 000 man and 329 Soviet tanks. Anyway, relief effort ultimately failed, and subsequent Soviet offensive Operation Little Saturn practically wiped out remaining German allies and doomed German troops in Stalingrad. Soviet casualties were probably higher then German, but nowhere near 6:1 ratio. If you count in Romanians, Italians and Hungarians, Axis losses were actually substantially higher then Soviet ones.

  • In 1943 Kursk battles, Germans certainly did not destroy "thousands" of Soviet tanks there, unless you count in subsequent Soviet offensive operations like Operation Kutuzov and Operation Polkovodets Rumyantsev. If you count that in, German losses become great themselves, even if their "creative" accounting techniques were they numbered many AFV as repairable only to write them off later. These Soviet attacks were bloody and costly, but certainly not unsuccessful. There is one Soviet attack that Germans did repulse and that is first Mius offensive, but consequently they were forced to yield ground in second Mius offensive month latter. Overall, Germany lost initiative in the summer of 1943 and was constantly in retreat all the way to Berlin in 1945.

  • As for Germans breaking third and last Soviet line of defense during Kursk (near Prokhorovka) that is also a falsehood. As the map shows, Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler was at the tip of penetration, few kilometers from Prokhorovka on July 11, but they had 9th Guards Airborne division ahead of them in fortified position. These were tough airborne troops, much better trained and with higher morale then usual Soviet infantry. Despite heavy casualties, Soviets did hit hard LSSAH on July 12, and trough memories of Waffen SS officers like Rudolf von Ribbentrop you could see that Soviet tanks did get close to German tanks and half-tracks, even forcing Germans to ram tanks with latter. Consequently, Germans never took Prokhorovka station, as after July 12 it was reinforced with remaining troops of 5th Guards Tank Army. After Prokhorovka Germans did try some local offensives like Operation Roland somewhat westwards of Prokhorovka, but because of aforementioned deteriorating situation elsewhere (Mius,Orel, landings in Sicily ...) they had to redeploy their armored forces to other places.

Overall assessment of the situation would be that German to Soviet casualty ratio in late 1942 and 1943 is somewhere near 1:2, both for men and AFV . In some places Germans did achieve better casualty ratio, but in some places they actually lost more troops then Soviets did. Both sides tend to skip "bad examples" and emphasize only victories.

  • Thank you for this detailed answer. Would you have maybe more infos on the success factors for the Soviet 2nd Mius offensive? It seems to have been largely more successful than the 1st one or Kursk's fights Commented Dec 13, 2019 at 21:39
  • @totalMongot Mostly boils down on Germans already spending their panzer reserves in first offensive, and later in Operation Rumyantsev. Therefore, when second Mius operation started they could not counterattack and plug gaps in the line .
    – rs.29
    Commented Dec 17, 2019 at 19:17
  • so in that case, the Germans should have suffered huge losses on their panzers during the first offensive and operation Rumyantsev? Commented Dec 18, 2019 at 16:35
  • You get what I mean? At some point, the Germans should have suffered losses on a tactical plan, otherwise why would they loose ground/the war? Commented Dec 18, 2019 at 16:39
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    @totalMongot Germans were suffering constant attrition of their panzer forces from July 5th . Some sources claim that Das Reich and Totenkopf divisions lost more tanks during counterattack in 1st Mius offensive than in Zitadelle. . Nevertheless, it was not one tactical engagement, it was whole set of huge battles across whole Eastern Front that broke the back of German Army.
    – rs.29
    Commented Dec 18, 2019 at 18:24

In military science there is an important concept of “logistics.” This encompasses the strategic and operational capacity to ensure continued communications, supply, replacements, reinforcements and a line of retreat. Logistics is very linear: railways, rivers, road networks, ports, air ports and bridges are all linear. When these lines are retarded by partisans, threatened or cut the dependent forces will become less effective or (if unable to retreat) destroyed or surrender. Maintaining these lines of supply and communication are vital.

A failed secondary operation may successfully threaten a line it does not cut. “One more push” could cut the line, and the forces dependent may not be worth the risk.

Secondarily, a secondary offensive may lengthen or produce indefensible salients in a front. The defender, if able, would benefit from straightening the front by retreat and reducing the attackers ability to concentrate forces.

  • I understand the concept of logistics. But if a secondary offensive fails, how could it threaten the logistics line? There are still some possibilities of counterattacks. For example, during the Orel offensive, the Russians achieved a breakthrough but did not continue it to encircle or cut German lines. The Germans wait a few days before closing the gap with other troops. And then they fell back: why? Commented Dec 11, 2019 at 17:34
  • Cut versus threat of cutting. A failed advance that stalls forward brings the jump off point of a possible future advance closer to loc/los. It also leaves the new defences on unprepared lines of stalling and retreat. Commented Dec 12, 2019 at 1:05
  • Ok but when you know you have slaughtered your ennemy? When you are at the same time threatening many more troops on a much more vulnerable salient? The problem is that from your explanation, I can think that Soviets won from Kursk to Berlin only by threats... Commented Dec 12, 2019 at 16:19

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