WW2 Accomplishments and Cost

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As hostilities came to an end, the German war machine and the German nation were crushed to a degree never before experienced in modern times. With the prior surrender of Army Groups B, G, and H and with the steamroller advance of the Soviet armies, no organized military units remained at the time of the over-all surrender except in Norway and in Czechoslovakia and the Balkans. These were incapable of more than a week or two of resistance even had they chosen to prolong the fight. Though some jet fighter aircraft remained, the Luftwaffe was too demoralized even to make a final suicidal effort. What was left of the German Navy lay helpless in the captured northern ports. Hitler’s Germany was prostrate, beaten by powerful Soviet armies and by an Allied force that at war’s end totaled 4,581,000 men in a balanced air-ground military machine. Under Eisenhower’s command on V-E Day were nine armies, 23 corps, and 93 divisions and air strength totaling 17,192 planes. Since D-day in Normandy the Germans in the west alone had lost 263,000 dead, 49,000 permanently disabled, and 8,109,000 captured. Allied casualties were 186,900 dead, 545,700 wounded, and 109,600 missing ( some later declared dead and others later repatriated as prisoners of war).

Any analysis of the victory must begin with the stubborn refusal of Britain and the Soviet Union to yield early in the war when the odds against them appeared overwhelming, and it must include the vast contribution by the United States both in manpower and as the arsenal of democracy. United States troops comprised more than two thirds of Eisenhower’s command at the end of the war. During the last two years alone, American factories produced for the British 185,000 vehicles, 12,000 tanks, and enough planes to equip four tactical air forces; for the Russians, 247,000 vehicles, 4,000 tanks, and enough planes to equip two tactical air forces; and for the French, all weapons and equipment for 13 divisions and their logistical and air support. Thus, unlike the situation in World War I, when the American contribution was relatively small and merely provided the tilt in the balance of power, the reconquest of western Europe in World War II saw a predominant American contribution.

Though air power failed to prove the decisive instrument that its more outspoken prewar advocates had predicted, it was a major factor in the Allied victory. The naval role was vital as well, for without control of the sea lanes, Allied power could not have been concentrated in England, and without the landing craft, amphibious doctrine, and fire support provided by Allied navies, the assaults against the beaches of Normandy and southern France could not have been staged. But it was not until Allied ground troops fought their way to a juncture with the Russians that Germany’s will was broken.

Throughout the war, Hitler and much of the German nation put their faith in miracle weapons that never came. Postwar revelations have shown that the Germans had not advanced as far toward an atomic bomb as Allied intelligence had feared. The only spectacular accomplishments in miracle weapons were the V-1 (flying bomb) and the V-2 (supersonic rocket). Between June 1944 and March 1945, when the last of the launching sites were overrun, the Germans fired 18,300 V-1’s and 3,000 V-2’s, about equally divided between England and targets on the Continent, notably Antwerp. They inflicted 33,400 casualties in England and about 13,000 on the Continent, but never seriously affected the military campaign other than to divert antiaircraft troops and radar equipment to the defense of London and Antwerp.

In quality of weapons and equipment the greatest Allied advantage over the Germans was in heavy bombers and long-range fighters, an achievement never seriously challenged by the Luftwaffe despite the German development of the first supersonic rocket and the first jet-propelled aircraft. In all cases these came too late to affect the outcome of the war. In artillery, mortars, and machine guns both sides were relatively equal, though a technique of massed artillery fire used by the British and Americans was a noteworthy achievement. The Americans enjoyed some firepower advantage with a semiautomatic rifle, but a German machine pistol widely used in rifle battalions drew the respect of all Allied troops. German tanks throughout the war were superior to the Allied mainstay, the United States Sherman, both in armor and armament, and the German 88-mm. gun, effective against tanks, aircraft, and personnel, was the World War II equivalent of the French 75. American motor vehicles, particularly the highly serviceable two-and-one-half-ton truck, made the Allies markedly superior in the field of motor transport and were in a large measure responsible for fantastic Allied achievements in the field of logistics. The combined staff system of the United States and Britain provided a unity of command and purpose never approached on the Axis side.

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Landing in Normandy

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German Surrender

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