Fighting power of the German Wehrmacht (Part I) in the West (1944-45), on the Russian front, in the Polish campaign 1939, impact of tactics and weapons and the main causes of the superior German results.
What is fighting power?
In the military history there were always outstanding armed forces. The Greeks under Alexander the Great, the Romans under Caesar, the Mongols of the Genghis Khan, the French under Napoleon.
In part, the genius of the great leaders listed here played a role, but in all cases it was also a question of the organization of these armies.
For an army to be judged, the ultimate victory in a war can not be the decisive criterion at all, since an army, which is considerably outnumbered, can, of course, be defeated by masses of greater numbers.
Therefore, the strength of an army is the result of their quantity multiplied by the quality of their equipment and armament multiplied by the ‘fighting power’. The fighting power is the willingness and ability of the individual soldier to stand out in battle and also to die if necessary.
Although better weapons and larger numbers of soldiers can balance the fighting power to a certain extent, an army without fighting power is not worth much.
Fighting Power of the Wehrmacht in the West 1944-45
According to calculations by the US Army the results of the battles in WW2 were only possible, when the soldiers of the Wehrmacht – man for man and unit for unit – were 20 to 30 percent more effective than was the British and American forces they faced.
Extrapolating the individual soldiers against each other – and although the Wehrmacht was far lower in numbers – so the German troops that faced British and American troops cause approximately 50 percent higher losses than they suffer under all combat conditions.
This was accessible whether the Germans were in attack or defense, if they were locally in place with higher numbers or – what was the rule – in lower numbers, if they had air cover or not, whether they had won the battle or lost at the end.
These factors applied to all combat conditions. Where:
- Attack with the base factor of 1.0
- Defense with carefully selected positions and field of view: 1.3
- Defense from prepared positions: 1.5
- Defense from fortified field positions: 1.6
These factors mean that with exactly the same quality of the troops, e.g. 1,000 soldiers in prepared positions (factor 1.5) have the same combat value as 1,500 attackers.
Fighting Power of the Wehrmacht in the East
Even in the bitter years of defeats on the Russian front, the German combat effectiveness superiority over the Russians was even more pronounced. In the early days of the campaign in the east, one German division could take up with three Russian divisions of comparable strength and power. And, theoretically, under favorable defense conditions one German division could stand against no less than seven comparable Russian divisions.
In 1944 this superiority was still about 2:1, and one German soldier at the front caused an average loss of 7.78 Russians for one German casualty.
These figures need to adapted to the fact that the Wehrmacht in 1944 was almost always in the defense, had a relatively higher mobility and at this time the German weapons were better than the weapons of the Russians.
But even if you take into account these considerations, the ratio for the infliction of losses was more than 4:1 and the German combat performance in battle was – man by man – about more than 50% better.
This meant that the German soldier could still inflict about three times (3:1) as many casualties as a Russian in a man to man combat.
Fighting Power in the Polish campaign 1939
Moreover, from the available figures one could see, that the performance of the Polish army in 1939 was statistically better than the Russians in the later course of the war 1941-45.
In addition, the Poles suffered – unlike the Russians – under the disadvantage of limited space for retreats, and that they were attacked by the Russians in the back, although they had a non-aggression pact with them.
If we assume that the Poles were defending mostly and the defender has an advantage of 1.3, 100 Poles caused the Wehrmacht 0.4 losses per day. At the same time 100 Germans costs the Polish 1.52 casualties. This results in the infliction of casualties of a German superiority of almost 4:1, and on the basis of other statistical surveys from WW2 the combat performance superiority was almost 2:1 for the Wehrmacht.
Impact of tactics and weapons on the Fighting Power
The difference between the referred combat performance effectiveness at the beginning of this report (20-30% in the West, more than 50% in the East) and inflicted losses (50% in the West, 300% in the East because of the additional thoughtless mass assaults) is the result of the influence of the combat conditions (see factor above) and air support, but also the more improved equipment of the Wehrmacht (especially the Panzer V Panther against the Sherman tank, 88 mm Flak gun, Nebelwerfer rocket launchers, Sturmgewehr assault rifles, Panzerfaust and especially the MG34 and MG42 machine guns, the second one is still in use today) and has nothing to do with the fighting power of the individual soldiers or the individual units.
The fact that major strategic mistakes were done by Hitler and his Wehrmacht high command have not been interfered with this conclusion. The soldiers of the Wehrmacht fought unabated on for many years after all real hope for the ‘final victory’ in World War II was gone.
Their fighting power remained at the same level, whether in the victorious years of the blitzkrieg (lightning wars) or in the desperate and hopeless battles of Tunisia and Stalingrad. All this happened, although Hitler’s war in Germany was never popular.
Even in April 1945 the German units fought on unabated everywhere where the local tactical situation was at all bearable, so an Allied intelligence report for this month.
But just this constant outstanding performance in fighting power is the extraordinary of an outstanding armed force.
Even the fact of the final defeat in the Second World War does not diminish this performance, because this has nothing to do with the actual fighting power of an army, but had different reasons.
The main causes of the superior fighting power of the Wehrmacht
For the following comparisons to the fighting power, the US Army of WW2 was selected, since, besides the Wehrmacht, most of the documents and tried and tested statistical material are available.
It can not be the tendency to wage war, because since 1776 the USA has waged 13 wars over a total duration of more than 38 years – Prussia, the German Reich and Germany in the same period together 14 wars with a total duration of about 29 years.
Even until the beginning of the eighteenth century, Germans were not regarded as excellent soldiers. In the American War of Independence and still during the American Civil War, Germans were generally regarded as not very great soldiers.
The social status of the military:
The officers and soldiers career in the German Reich until the end of the Second World War had a much higher social status and attracted more qualified applicants than this was the case in the United States.
The German commanding principles until the present is the ‘order tactics’, which means that the commander is commanding to his subordinates what they have to do, but not the way they have to do it (a principle against which the self-declared ‘greatest war leader of all times’ – Adolf Hitler – regularly broke on the strategic level).
In the US Army there was a tendency to anticipate every possible situation in detail and order for everything in detail, and the view that war is a kind of ‘industrial management’.
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Proportion of combat troops
These are the actually fighting troops.
Combat troops (1939-1943):
|Date||September 1939||July 1941||June 1942||December 1943|
|German divisions total||106||203||239||278|
|Average strength per division on paper||16,626||13,900||13,500||13,000|
|Real average strength per division||16,626||13,800||11,836||10,453|
|Combat troops in divisions||90.7% infantry, 86.2% armored|
|Division slice: average strength on paper per division together with auxiliary troops (reserves, guards, wounded, sick and so on)||34,893||24,907||24,931||26,172|
|Division slice: real average strength with auxiliary troops||34,893||24,807||24,267||23,625|
Combat troops (1944-45):
|Date||June 1944||November 1944||April 1945||for comparison US Army (January 1945 in Europe)|
|German divisions total||255||260||260|
|Average strength per division on paper||12,500||12,500||11,500|
|Real average strength per division||12,155||8,761||9,985||13,400|
|Combat troops in divisions||89.4% Panzergrenadiers||88.9% infantry, 83.6% armored divisions|
|Division slice: average strength on paper per division together with auxiliary troops (reserves, guards, wounded, sick and so on)||27,401||26,583||21,895|
|Division slice: real average strength with auxiliary troops||27,056||22,844||20,380||43,400|
In 1945 each division of the Wehrmacht required about 50% less auxiliary troops as a U.S. division (ie 20,380 men per 9,985 soldiers division strength, with the U.S. Army 43,400 men per 13,400 soldiers division strength).
Ie the proportion of actual fighting troops in the Wehrmacht was much higher than in the U.S. Army.
By concentrating the focus on the operational aspects of the warfare, the German army used relatively few forces for logistics, administration and organizational management, which could on the other hand have been too small.
CONTINUE HERE TO Fighting power Wehrmacht Part II
see also: German Fighting Power in World War One