WWII and Americas Role

I thought that this might be a good debate. From my time reading the SDMB and seeing the various comments, I’ve seen, from time to time, a difference of opinion on Americas role in WWII, most specifically on what impact America had on the war in Europe. Most recently, there were a few digs by Europeans on this thread implying that Americans have some misconceptions on what we did and did not do during the war, and generally on our impact. If we have some misconceptions, I thought this would be a perfect chance to debate the issue and maybe clear the air some. So:

  1. Americans seem to think that, without their help (both in providing arms and equipment to the allied powers and in sending troops) that the war in Europe would of been lost to Germany. Is this a misconception or true? Please elaborate.

  2. Americans, especially the older generation that actually lived during those times, and fought ‘over there’ seem to think that Europe should be grateful for our help in their war (this is mostly anacdotal from my own grandfather who fought with the 101st in Europe and his buddies I’ve talked too). Is this a fair assessment of Americans attitude? Is it fair for them to expect gratitude from the Europeans? Is that gratitude even deserved, or could Europe of won their war against the axis powers nicely without our butting in?

  3. Its been brought up several times that America didn’t enter the war until late in the game (from the Europeans perspective) and that they were basically just there for the kill. Is this a fair assessment of Europes attitude? Is it a fair assessment of the actual facts? On the Americans side, the perception is that the war was generally nearly over for Europe when we entered (Most of Europe conquered, only Britan and Russia holding out and then only by a thread). Is this incorrect? Was the war turning around before American intervention?

  4. Is the fighting ability of the American troops sent over also disputed in comparison to those of the other allies over there? (I don’t have the link atm, but I remember several people saying that Americans didn’t really do much as far as the fighting goes, and weren’t really very effective compared to the other allies…this would certainly be a matter of contention as most Americans percieve the opposite).

  5. What other misconceptions of the war do Americans have from a Europeans perspective? (hopefully this is a good catch all for other points I’ve missed from a Europeans perspective…please feel free to add any I missed).

I hope that this turns out to be an interesting and informative debate. I’m not a historian myself, I’ve only been interested in WWII as I had relatives that fought (and some died) over there and in the Pacific. One request I have though…please, lets have no Bush references in this debate. It seems almost automatic that SOMEONE will ALWAYS bring him into whatever is being debated, no matter how irrevelant it is to the debate (I think its nearly a law of the board that the longer a debate goes, the more assured that someone will bring him or the administration up).

Thanks all for your participation,

Largely a misconception. The war with Germany was won and lost in the East. The vast majority of German casualties were on the eastern front, and the majority of forces were in the East, even after the invasion of Normandy. While the US did provide a very large amount of material aid to the USSR, it is conceivable that the USSR could still have won without the aid, or at least fought Germany to a draw (debateable, of course). If the USSR had fallen, winning the war against Germany would have boiled down to the a-bomb. An invasion would have been pretty much gaurunteed to fail.

The Soviet Winter counteroffensive had started 2 days before Pearl Harbor, so it sort of had begun to turn. Of course, Germany picked up the initiative again come summer, a pattern that repeated itself until 1943. There was still a whole lot of war left when the US got fully involved. Prior to full involvement, the US had been in what essentially was an undeclared naval war with German U-boats throughout the summer and fall of 1941.

As a rule, US combat troops performed poorly when they first went into action. Army’s have to learn from their own mistakes; learning from the mistakes of others tends not to happen very well. The British, for example, already had over two years worth of mistakes to learn from by the time the US army became involved in action. A lot of the British high command took longer to accept the fact that American troops were no longer greenhorns than was actually the case. Alexander, in particular, comes to mind - but contrary to a lot of popular history, Montgomery doesn’t.

  1. There is very good reason to believe that Germany would have won the war without American economic assistance. If you take away direct military intervention it is quite likely that the Soviet Union would eventually have worn down Germany and defeated it, at least in part because they still could not defeat the UK. But the war likely would have lasted quite a bit longer - without the invasion of France and annihilation of Army Group West in 1944, without the massive disruption and terrible cost of heavy bombing (especially to the Luftwaffe), without the bleeding of men throughout Africa and Italy, the Germans would have had a lot more men and material to throw at the Red Army.

Absent economic aid, however, it is quite unlikely Germany could have been defeated. The Soviets were heavily dependent on Allied aid to keep their war effort going. The amount of aid provided boggles the imagination; if you can imagine any peice of equipment, any supply, any raw material that you could ever possibly need, from planes to pencils, from tanks to typewriters, the USA provided it. Two thirds of the Red Army’s truck fleet were made in the USA. Enough rations to feed the entire Red Army for a year were made in the USA. Let’s see you run a modern army without food or trucks.

Great Britain, to a lesser extent, also owes a lot to “Lend-Lease.”

  1. Europeans ARE grateful for the help that the United States extended them. They are also grateful to the British, Canadians, etc. Whether or not American fighting men were needed is not the point; they went there, fought and died, and are well memorialized in Europe. This does not mean European states should kowtow to the American government in perpetuity. After all, Americans were long greateful for French assistance during the War of Independence, going so far as to name stuff after French generals, but the USA doesn’t kowtow to France.

  2. It is indisputably true that the United States did not enter the war until about halfway through. It is equally obvious that they did so because they were attacked. It’s a pretty simple matter of historical fact. I must admit I am unfamilar with the attitude that the US entered just “for the kill,” since that makes no sense at all. Germany was winning the war in December 1941; if the USA wanted to enter late for an easy kill they could not have picked a worse time to do it.

  3. I don’t think anyone doubts that the U.S. Army was initially inferior to the active belligerents at the war’s beginning. Thsi was especially true in terms of its initial meetings with the Germans, who demonstrated vast superiority in every respect - look up the Kasserine Pass debacle.

That’s understandable, since at the time the US Army had not been in serious combat for some time and had been severely cut back during the itnerwar years. Major organizational chances had to be made in the first year of conflict - equipment, orders of battle, and tactical and strategic organization were all changed quite a bit. These lessons had in many cases already been learned by the British, at elast; the Russians were still mostly getting the shit kicked out of them, but that changed very quickly.

However, once those lessons had been learned, the U.S. Army was every bit as effective as its allies. What emerged in 1944 and 1945 was a mean fightin’ machine. I see no evidence at all to suggest its performance in Italy and Western Europe, or the Pacific for that matter, was in any way generally inferior to Commonwealth or Soviet forces. Patton’s drive across France culminating in the encirclement at the Falaise Gap is especially instructive as an example of American skill.

I would argue that the skill and technological disadvantages of the USAAF and U.S. Navy were much less pronounced than that of the army. There was some learning and catching up to do, but not like the U.S. Army went through. There was a rude shock in terms of finding out that a lot of fighter aircraft were badly outmatched by Axis fighters, but that was resolved quickly. The performance of the Navy against Japan in May and June of 1942 would leave you hard pressed to say the Navy wasn’t an effective fighting force.

  1. I think Americans, British and Canadians universally are inclined to forget that the main theatre of the war was the Eastern Front. Of course, that can be taken too far to other way, too; I’ve heard people say the Western Fron had no effect at all on the war, which is insane, and it was fashionable for awhile to claim that the bombing campaign did not hurt Germany at all, which is completely at odds with the facts. But certainly, most people do not seem to comprehend the astounding scale of the Eastern Front, and how much of Germany’s army and air force was destroyed there.

The other misconception with respect to the Eastern Front is that Russia won only because it swamped Germany with men and tanks. Actually, nothing could be further from the truth; Soviet victories started piling up when the Soviets started learning hard lessons from their defeats. They got BETTER at fighting the war, and that’s why they turned the tide. The Soviets, like the USA, massively changed their organizational and strategic doctrine in the wake of early defeats, and they hugely improved their army from a technological perspective.


  1. I am not a historian either but I would like to see the material that shows that Russia was only hanging on a thread (Stalingrad comes to mind to support the contrary).

Anyway, the red army did quite a good job to kick my grand-grandfather’s ass (who died as POW in russia). I don’t think the Russians needed American help, as the red army from the east and the English/Americans from the West were racing each other towards Berlin trying to be faster than the other.

My opinion: If the americans hadn’t been in, the Russians would have finally occupied whole Europe. This could have been one of the most important motives for the US to enter the war. No cite, personal opinion.

  1. The outcome of the WWII and the fact that US soldiers died in this war does not mean that the Europeans need to support all american wars, especially not if they violate international law. You have not been attacked, even if your Administration and the media tries to make you belief that Iraq was behind 911.

  2. The guys who did this ungraceful thing at the french cemetry were not really representative of the french population. If you (as Americans) don’t want to be measured by your own weirdos (KKK, white supremacy comes to mind) then you also should be careful about generalisations against others.

By Poland’s standards, France and Britan didn’t enter the war until late in the game. It’s a question of perspective. The US did ship huge amounts of war material to its allies in WWII. US troops fought in Africa, Italy, France, Germany, etc. Not to mention the Pacific Theater.

US ground troops were limited by the Sherman tank in Europe. The “Ronson” could not stand toe-to-toe with the better German tanks. Well, it could and did at the cost of many lives. German eighty eights would penetrate the frontal armor like butter. OTOH, air superiority, superior logistics, and mobility make up for a lot. I don’t get the criticism. This has all been dissected in detail by thousands if not millions of Americans. It has to be one of the most studied areas of history.

Patton’s end run off the beach forming the Falaise pocket and subsequent German defeat wasn’t important? The victory at Midway wasn’t significant?

While Kursk, Sevastapol, Leningrad, and Moscow don’t get enough attention in US history it is no big secret that the biggest battles (armored anyway) of the war were between the Soviets and Germans 1941-1944. OTOH, I don’t recall getting much help from the Soviets (or Europe) in defeating the Japanese Empire. UK excepted, as usual.

On the key question, yes, US involvement in the war was crucial. Allowing the Germans to overwhelm the Soviets would have changed world history in ways so dramatic I can’t even begin to spin out the possibilities. US assistance helped Great Britan significantly also. Of course, both the Soviets and British made heroic, Herculean efforts in many cases. Soviet tanks were excellent. Soviets sacrificed themselves by the tens of millions, when Stalin or incompetent leadership hadn’t sacrificed them already. British commandos, Bletchley Park, Bomber Command, and Fighter Command are legendary.

OTOH again, huge clouds of B-17s over Germany in broad daylight had some effect also.

  1. American assitance was extremely beneficial to winning the war in the European theatre but the common American misconception was that it was absolutely vital. Soviet forces did the lionshare of the work in defeating the Nazis and without the British it would of been nigh on impossible for the Americans to join the European theatre.

Of course I hate this ‘what if…’ scenarios because in truth it’s impossible to say with any degree of real certainty what would of happened, but the Nazi empire’s fate was sealed when the Wehrmacht rolled into Russia and imperial overstretch.

Also Beagle Britain and France entered the war when Poland did (i.e. when it was invaded) though there was the few month-long period known as the ‘phoney war’ succeeding this.

Thank you for your replies.


I think you misunderstood me (or more likely my statement was confusing). I wasn’t saying that the perception of some was that American got INTO the war for the kill, just that they happened to be there at a time when the kill was eminent. My impression of those making the statement was that Americas involvement was not needed, that things were well under control, and that we were just there for the kill and tried to take all the credit.

My (admittedly limited) understanding of the Eastern Front was that Germany came several times within a hairs breath of taking Moscow and knocking the Russians pretty much out of the war (though I never understood why just taking the capital would necessarily put them out of the war). That Stalin asked the allies to open up other areas of operations (Africa, Italy, Western Europe) to take the pressure off of the USSR so they wouldn’t collapse. And that the supplies, as you said, were pretty much vital to the USSR and Britan in helping them continue to fight…that without said supplies the Red Army would not of been able to go on.


Well, that didn’t take long…shorter time than I though. I guess it IS an axiom on this board to just HAVE to bring up Bush, the administration, or GW2/911 into EVERY discussion. We aren’t debating this. Certainly, Americas attitude predates all these things, and Europes too. THAT is what we are debating here. Please go grind your ax on any of the miriad other screeds out on this board about that subject.

Another thought occured to me reading through RickJay’s excellent post: What is the European perception of the Pacific campain. They almost never mention it. Is it percieved as being lesser, or not important? Is that because it didn’t really effect Europe so much? I know that the British and Austrailians and Canadians participated in the Pacific campaign, but I think (I could be wrong) that America did the majority of the fighting there. I also seem to recall that the allied powers convinced America to throw most of its support to fighting in Europe first, and that we did that.


IMO this is vital … you started this thread because of a dicussion in the thread “why hate the french”.

The real reason why this discussion is done, is the discussion whether the Europeans owe something to the Americans.

But you started the thread, if you say it’s off topic, it’s off topic…

From MC Master of Ceremonies

This isn’t meant to be a dig, but my understanding (maybe wrong) is that France and Britain didn’t actually DO anything to help the Poles, other than declair war, and that THAT is what the ‘phoney war’ really was to those two powers…just basically sitting there and snarling at the Germans but doing nothing substantial. Is this not so?

I will conceed that many Americans are ignorant of the USSR’s role in WWII. For myself, I know that the Russians fought hard and sacrificed themselves in unheard of numbers. I also know that, as far as the T35 goes (and their IS models later) they have very superior equipment to what the Americans had. I think without the Russians, the war would of been lost. But I ALSO think that, without the Americans the war would of been lost. Both were vital, as well as the British involvement…I also think that without the British, the Russians would of lost the war, and that America would of been isolated and alone. What gets under my skin is that, instead of pointing out that all three powers (as well as those other powers like the Canadians and Austrailians) were VITAL to defeating the axis powers, many Europeans try and down play our role. Maybe they do this because some Americans do the same thing to them (especially to Russia/USSR).

Personally, I think this down playing of Russia/USSR’s role in WWII is because we became antagonist so shortly after the conclusion of the war. I haven’t heard many people putting down Britains efforts in the war, or down playing THEIR role. As to the French, maybe I misunderstand their impact on events. Were they more of a factor (were they VITAL) to the war effort and victory? Were they more of a factor than say the other conquered European powers? Again, I’m not trying to be antagonistic here, I really want to know.


With regards to the Pacific campaign, there were indeed lots of Commonwealth and British troops involved. Remember the Bridge on the River Kwai? The feeling on the part of the British was that the Japanese needed to be kept out of India, and that Australia needed to be secure. Both of these objectives were achieved by fighting more or less a holding action. Japan was not regarded as being bent on world domination, and could be dealt with after Germany was defeated.

From flonks

I started the thread because people were debating America’s role in WWII, and the misconceptions Americans have about their role. I wanted to give a forum for Europeans to bring out those misconceptions and for Americans to be able to counter. I didn’t feel that the previous OP was the right forum, as the OP was Why Hate the French.

I’m asking for the mechanics behind the difference of opinion between Europeans and Americans perceptions of the war. What DID America do in the war? What DIDN’T they do? What misconceptions DO Americans have? WHat misconceptions do Europeans have reguarding what America did or did not do? I’m NOT asking about current politics, or why America feels betrayed about what France did, etc etc ad nausium. There are plenty of threads out there (ungodly amounts if you want my opinion) endlessly debating this, over and over and over again.

So, here is your forum to tell WHY Americans are wrong about their perceptions about WWII.

One final time, just for clarity: I’m not asking if Europeans should kowtow to America on everything from a sense of gratitude about what we did during the war. Ok?


This board continues to surprise me. Though I responded in the linked thread that U.S. help was needed to liberate France, I was not being totally truthful.

I believe Germany would have been defeated without U.S. help at all, even economic. Germany had virtually no chance of winning WWII. They did extremely well, much better than they should have. Their armed forces did well and the Allied forces were flawed initally.

However, people tend to underestimate Great Britain. GB was producing near or even exceeding Germany on much equipment even as early as 1941. GB was no slouch in WWII and I think people think of GB as the ‘weak sister’ or something.

GB and the Soviet Union would have, IMHO, taken down Germany. It would have taken longer. There would have been even more devastation. GB and the Soviet Union would not have been in the position and/or have the desire to rebuild Europe leaving Europe much more impoverished.

There also would have been a much more severe economic impact. U.S. committed to rebuilding Europe after WWII. I think U.S. doesn’t get enough credit for this. The U.S. could have walked away and left a devastated Europe to fend for themselves. Instead, the U.S. helped much of Europe get back on its feet. Critics could point out self-interest in that it was to have a buffer between the Soviet Union and the U.S. but this just doesn’t ‘jive’ completely. The U.S. also helped Europe because it was ‘the right thing to do’, IMO.

As for France and Europe being endebted to the U.S. today for these actions…poppycock. For the U.S. to wish this demeans the action of the U.S. in WWII and after. They owe the U.S. nothing but the respect that the act deserves. Taking down flags and diminishing the U.S. role in WWII and the rebuilding is to trash that respect and is despicable.

As for France, I do not understand completely the dislike of the French/U.S. relations. Emotionally, I do think it is because France can’t come to grasp with their loss of superpower status. It saddens me because France and the U.S. should be the closest of friends.

The latest round of anti-French-ness coming over the U.S., I feel, will be serious and long lasting. It seems the French people have disliked U.S. citizens for quite some time. Anti-french feelings in the U.S. has never seemed to be serious (more joking) in the past but now…there seems to be a real dislike of the French.

Maybe it is all for the best…The French have disliked us, now maybe they should get a taste of the U.S. not liking them for awhile…

It still all makes me a bit sad. France and the U.S. should be close friends. :frowning:

Slight hijack, but I’m a bit surprised that the Falaise Gap has come up a couple of times as an example of American/Western Allied skill. It was not a successful encirclement; it was a minor victory snatched from the jaws of greatness. Over 200,000 German troops escaped encirclement and lived to fight another day because the Allies didn’t close the gap in time. Personally, I tend to fault Bradley and Eisenhower for over cautiousness. While they did leave behind a lot of heavy equipment, enough troops escaped to form the backbone of the forces that stopped the Allies once the logistical strain from the Normandy beaches grew to be too much. The encirclement and destruction of Army Group B in the Ruhr in March/April 1945 would be a much better example of American/British skill.

IMO (but it’s difficult to say what people think exactly) : it’s essentially perceived as being remote.

I think so.

No, it is wrong to say American military support was vital as by when they became actively involved on the ground in Europe the Germans were already defeated. America’s economic support to Britain and Russia probably played a more vital role that it’s military action.

The Phony war was a time of mobilization (though Britain had been preparing for war since the Sudetanland), with both sides waiting to see what the other would do.

Essentially true, excepted for the operations in Norway. AFAIK, the allied didn’t think they were ready for an offensive (and the germans didn’t think so, either, so everybody waited), though, IIRC, one was planned for the autumn of 1940.
I remember some testimonies about the “phoney war” where people were saying that at the Franco-German boundary, soldiers on both side eventually stopped to care about being facing each other, and would for instance do their laundry right in front of the ennemy lines because it was a more convenient spot, without firing at each other or even being ordered to do so.

Unfortunately, I don’t have my books on me, but, in my estimation, if the Germans had taken Gibraltrar, and the US had not proceeded with Lend-Lease, the UK would have been out of the running fairly soon. The Soviets could have been ground down and starved, leaving a negotiated settlement with Hitler in control of most of western europe. It’s very possible, with just a few changes.

Not certain, by any stance, but I can easily see it happening.


I am not a historian…

However, this just doesn’t sound right. I think shipping in the Med stopped for awhile and I fail to see why GB couldn’t just ship it another way. Longer and more inconvenient, yes, but hardly the collapse of GB.

I think this is far from the truth – at least in Operation Barbarosa (1941), the Germans were severely disadvantaged against Russia. Between the Germans’ inexperience with the extreme cold of the Russian winter, their too-rapid advance and stretched supply lines, and the Russians’ advantage of fighting from a defensive posture, it was a minor miracle the German forces even made it through the winter at all. While I’m not a war historian, the notion that the Germans were within a hair’s breath of taking down the Russians flies against everything I’ve ever read on the subject.

I’ve read this statement many, many, many times on american boards. But i’m wondering on what exactly this opinion is based. I mean, the vast majority of the french population was born after the war, and even a long time after it. People have for the most part no memory of, for instance, the colonial empire, and, as far as i can’t tell no longing for it. There’s really no "good ol’ times " feeling attached to this period. So, why exactly do so much american people think France has an issue with having lost its superpower status?

Beside, france, is as much of a power as you can get if you except the “superpower” category. One of the largest economies, one of the most powerful military, one of the most influential diplomacy. So what exactly would french people feel they’re lacking?