The Arctic Convoys- WW 2

Hopefully the right forum.

I have been pondering about the usefulness of the Arctic Convoys to the Soviet Union and what they actually did achieve. Obviously they delivered some munitions and equipment, but at a frightful cost in men, ships and diversion of resources.

My question for debate- was the effort worth it? During the war the Soviet Union showed that it was able to mass produce vast amounts of equipment such as aircraft and tanks.

So, in reality, were the convoys really worthwhile?

That right there is something of a question. The Sovs eventually got their production in gear, but only by compeltely ignoring huge sectors of the economy. The massive (and I mean massive) allied shipments helped them sustain that. And when I say “sectors of the economy”, I’m ignoring civilians needs totally. They were pretty lax about most fo the things soldiers needed. As long as they were churning out tanks, nobody cared about boots. (I believe the allies supplied 11 million boots). And this is not to speak of the incomprehensible quantities of raw materials, which freed up huge amounts of labor for fighting.

But even making those tanks was probably only possible through the use of shipments. Without US and British resources, I highly doubt that the USSR could have stayed in the fight. It’s not a matter of manpower - they simply couldn’t have brought that manpower to bear. I definitely don’t believe they could have gone on the offensive. And remember that Germany was still attacking them as late as 1944. Russia was bad at actual fighting, and able to win only through attrition, but they were really goood at winning. Still, they needed a lot of support, mostly the U.S. and British tying down large bodies of troops in several sectors, to make headway.

I can’t speak for anything else on that site, but the list is accurate.

Soviet production of tanks was wonderful, but they never would have survived without US trucks.

Totally worth it.

Hmmm- a lot is made of the battle of El Alamein where 11 Divisions of British troops defeated the Germans (a lot were Dominion troops). There were 82 Russian/ Soviet Divisons fighting at Stalingrad at the time. I don’t think the Allies were tying down huge bodies of German trrops at that time. Of course, later they did in Italy and after Normandy, but the Germans were pretty well shot then.

Sorry- missed this- you mean as in supplying logistics? ( I think I misread it the first time as the trucks transporting the tanks).

The Americans supplied one meal per Soviet soldier per day of the entire war. The Soviet army used its own excellent tanks and guns, but it marched in American boots, and was fed American food from American trucks (500,000 deuce-and-a-half trucks alone).

Not to mention the incalculable moral support of aid coming in one’s darkest hour.

IMHO the convoys were necessary, but more effort should have been made to protect them. When I read about these convoys, I’m struck by the half-measures and lack of full military commitment.

Put the Atlantic carriers in there, for God’s sake, it’s not like you’re doing anything else with them. I know the US and Britain were worried about navel losses, but sometimes ya gotta stick your neck out if you’re asking other people to stick theirs out. The Merchies needed the help.

That’s the true tragedy of the convoys. It’s not like the Kriegsmarine was going to send a task force to shell New York. The convoys should have had escort the entire way from the beginning.

As Sailboat mentioned, US trucks, boots and Spam kept the Soviets in the war. Without that, they never could have survived. Stalin even said that Spam saved the Soviet Union.

I knew it! “Communism-in-a-can”

I’ve heard variously that 3 out of 4 dead German soldiers in WW2 died on the Eastern Front - anyone know the truth to that?

The answer to that is difficult. One way or another, that figure is very reasonable. It’s probably accurate for its rough level of estimation.

However, WW2 was so huge and so many records were lost that accurate info is hard to come by. Estimates of Germany’s total military losses vary from 2.5 to 5.5 million dead. Authorities have stated that the records are incomplete and can’t be accurately used to find the true number, but are onyl a guideline. Estimates of losses on the Eastern front range as high as 4.5 million.

Lend Lease aid also went through Persia (Iran) and Vladivostok (Soviet Far East port), but the infrastructure in those alternate locations was not as developed, IIRC.

The advantage of the Artic route was that it was the shortest (quickest) route from the UK (and the east coast US production centers) to the fighting front.

Cicero: In his book Delivered from Evil, historian Robert Leakey mentioned a meeting Stalin had with British and American representatives in the summer of 1941. He said Stalin told the USA it had already done more for the USSR than some belligerent allies had done in other wars.

It is also my opinion that the convoys were vitally important in showing the Soviets that the Commonwealth and the USA were with them all the way. Without the convoys, the Soviets might have made a separate truce, which was one of Churchill’s darkest nightmares, according to his memoirs.

This is a combination of cold war myth (Russians are incompetant brutes!) and German war machine fetishism (Wermacht penis envy). The Soviets outfought the Germans regularly in the second half of the war.

The cold war era myths were that elite German ubersoldiers were mowing down Russians by the gazillions, but that the Russians just inevitably swarmed them with human wave attacks. Sure, the German ubersoldiers might’ve killed 60 Russians each using only their dicks and a can opener, but it just couldn’t hold out in the end.

No, the reality was that by mid 1942, the operational skill of the Russians was vastly improved and between then and mid-1943 they were usually outfighting the Germans. The biggest numerical advantage the Russians ever had on the eastern front was 1.6:1 - which is a substantial advantage, but you’d think from the propoganda that the Russians outnumbered than 10:1 or 20:1.

Please. There’s argument and then there’s ludicrous exaggerations.

I agree and I don’t. The German army had massive transportation problems in the Eastern front, and this was possibly the single biggest problem which eld to their defeat. While it’s true the Sov’s had the rough numbers you suggest, they also were much more capable of bringing huge numbers to bear against small German forces. I’d argue that the Red Army developed into as a massive, national-scale guerrilla force. It wasn’t as mobile as they’d have liked, but it beat anything the Germans put into the field.

So yes, they had that operational skill (which is why I noted they were good at winning.) But they were rarely capable of fighting with roughly equal forces, which is what the Wehrmacht was set up to do. I don’t say that was a weakness: it was precisely why the Russians won! But it also wasn’t the same as having trained vets in a well-supplied and well-organized force.

Not in the air.

How is that ludicrous? The germans outfought and outplanned the Germans at many battles - the big ones are of course Stalingrad (particularly Operation Uranus) Kursk, and Operation Bagration.

And being able to to bring larger forces to bear locally is part of successful operational planning - part of the skill of fighting. If the Russians didn’t have massive numerical advantage, but managed to have superior forces at the important points at the decisive battles, that’s exactly what a good military should do.

The Russians were very skilled at deception - hiding their strengths, feint attacks, etc. They would get Germans to allocate their defensive resources and counterattacks in the wrong areas, and then hit them where they were weak. This wasn’t an intrinsic advantage they had - it’s something they did because they often planned better than the Germans.

It’s really the opposite. The Russians had large, centrally controlled forces that engaged in large scale battles.

They often did fight with (on a strategic scale) roughly equal forces. The Russians fielded massive numbers of men throughout the war, but they were not instantaneously available at any given time. During the first few months of the war, 5 million men were killed or captured. During the middle phases of the war, men were gradually being brought into the army from reserves in the east, from recruiting peasants into the army, etc. The Russians did not have a massive numerical advantage throughout the war - as I said, at best, it was 1.6:1, but for most of the war it was less.

Early in the war, they were absolutely unprepared, in terms of tactics, operational planning, and strategic considerations. Their officer corps had been devastated by Stalin’s purges, and while they had some modern, quality equipment, most of their troops were relatively ill equipped. They got absolutely stomped for the opening of the campaign.

But new, competant officers rose through the ranks to fill the gaps from the purges. They adapted their tactics and operational planning. They built better equipment, and supplied their soldiers better. They got better at deception, manuever, and conducting operations. The 1941 Red Army was a mess. The 1944 Red Army was arguably the most effective fighting force on the planet.

It’s because of the cold war that we perceive the Russians as we do. Both because we were more exposed to (west) German delusion about having only lost the war due to sheer numbers, and a desire to paint the Russians as an incompetant horde that could only attack in swarms and could not outfight us. Serious study on the subject shows that almost everything people think they know about the eastern front is a myth.

I agree that Russian forces fought better than American wargame designers have alleged. :slight_smile:

Soviet tanks and armored vehicles were superb (although note that American Walter Christie gets some credit for this). Soviet artillery was technically well-designed, plentiful, and usually well-supplied (the weakness here was the inflexibility of Soviet artillery doctrine; good in pre-planned assaults on fixed positions, poor at reacting to changing circumstances). Soviet airpower was adequate-to-good after the initial massacres.

I think it was German General Von Mellenthin who described Soviet infantry something like: “From the beginning they were first class fighters. Over time, they learned and became first-class soldiers.” (I’m unable to find an exact citation online, that was from memory).

However, Soviet mid-level and high command were another story, often very ineffective against the Germans. Some of the victories you cite were won specifically because the German leadership erred, not because the Soviets were especially well-led – particularly Stalingrad, which was a series of increasingly worse decisions by Hitler, overriding the better instincts of the General Staff and the front-line forces.

The Soviets eventually became world-class at delivering heavy combined-arms attacks on fixed points – which is why the defining part of German General Manstein’s operational method was to break contact at the first sign of a serious attack starting, and leave the prepared zone of Soviet fire, allowing the usual shattering artillery attack to fall on empty trenches. The Soviets would typically be unable to adjust on the fly into pursuit without becoming disordered. Manstein would open distance and then turn, seeking to strike at unprotected flanks or units which had become separated during the pursuit.

Hitler’s “stand fast – no retreat” orders paralyzed this approach and played to the Soviet strengths.

However, I do agree that on the whole, and especially if we’re not talking leadership, Soviet forces were better than we usually credit, and let’s not forget one of the main reasons they took such heavy casualties was that they faced the best the Germans had to offer for years of hard and bitter point-blank fighting.

edit: and I totally agree with this:


Because you’re exaggerating what I said.

Ahhhh… let me put it this way. I study logistics. Logistics is part of building a winning organization. It helps support sales and marketing.

It is still not the same as sales and marketing. Those are the front-line. I am the backend.

I agree. That’s why I argued they developed the Red Army as a massive, go-anywhere guerrilla force capable of outnumbering the opponent whereever needed.

It’s really the opposite. The Russians had large, centrally controlled forces that engaged in large scale battles.

That does not argue against my point. Mao controlled his forces very tightly, but they grew into a huge force. The Soviets didn’t have enough to completely machanize, but they trained to move and manuever around relatively static German forces.

Who’s this “we”, White Man?

The convoys were important. The USSR would have has a harrder time holding the line without the supplies from the US. And probably would have signed a seperate pease, releassing large number of troups.

Life for the merchant sailor was rough. 80% of the ships in the early convoys were sunk before reaching port. Tha ment with a 200 ship convoy only 40 made it to port. Some merchant sailors ended up joining the army because it was safer.

And out government did not treat the merchant sailor very well. If a Navy ship was sunk the servivors recieved 30 days leave, a merchant sailor was expected to ship out again when they got back to the US. If a Navy sailor lost a hand or leg they recieved a disiability payment for the rest of their life. A merchant sailor recieved $500 and that was it.

the convoyus were not escorted because there were not enough ships to properly escort them. In 1941 and 1942 I believe on the Alantic side there were only 1 or 2 carriers. There were not enough carriers to escort the convoys.

The biggest problem the Germans had was logistics. There was an accidental tank battle between the russians and the Germans. The Russians lost slightly mor tanks than the Germans. But the Germans had a hard time replacing them, the Russans did not.

I think I’d dispute your figures regarding losses. Overall losses were only just over 5 % (merchant ships). Of the early convoys those in 1941 didn’t lose a ship (from very quick research).

Even the infamous PQ 17 off 1942 lost “only” 66% of the merchant ships.

One point regarding the convoys is that they were suspended for around 8 months in both 1942 and 1943. It didn’t seem to impact on the Soviet fighting ability.