Fighting Power of the Wehrmacht

Germany-flagComparison to US Army 1939-1945

Fighting power of the German Wehrmacht (Part I)

The last cigarette for Wehrmacht soldiers

The last cigarette for Wehrmacht soldiers before an assault during the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944.

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 (for assaults with the usual factor of 1.0 – in the defense in carefully selected positions with view by a factor of 1.3 – in prepared defense positions 1.5 – in fortified defense positions by a factor of 1.6) 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.

t_arrow1see also: German military performance according to HERO database.

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 fighting power in battle was – man by man – about more than 50% better.

Moreover, from the available figures you could see, that the performance of the Polish army in 1939 was statistically better than the Russians in the later course of the war. 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 assumes 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 casaulties. 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 fighting power superiority was almost 2:1 for the Wehrmacht.

t_arrow1see also: German military performance on the Russian Front.

The difference between the referred 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, 400% in the East because of the additional thoughtless mass assaults) but also results probably from 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. 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.


The main causes of the superior fighting power of the Wehrmacht

It can not lead to the inclination for wars, because since 1776 the U.S. were involved in 13 wars over a total period of more than 38 years – Prussia, the German Empire and Germany over the same period a total of 14 wars lasting total of about 29 years.

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.

Commanding principles:
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’.


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 paper16,62613,90013,50013,000
Real average strength per division16,62613,80011,83610,453
Combat troops in divisions90.7% infantry, 86.2% armoured
Division slice: average strength on paper per division together with auxiliary troops (reserves, guards, wounded, sick and so on)34,89324,90724,93126,172
Division slice: real average strength with auxiliary troops34,89324,80724,26723,625
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 paper12,50012,50011,500
Real average strength per division12,1558,7619,98513,400
Combat troops in divisions89.4% Panzergrenadiers88.9% infantry, 83.6% armoured divisions
Division slice: average strength on paper per division together with auxiliary troops (reserves, guards, wounded, sick and so on)27,40126,58321,895
Division slice: real average strength with auxiliary troops27,05622,84420,38043,400

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.

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Fighting Power: German and U.S. Army Performance, 1939-1945 (Contributions in Military History) (Paperback)


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CONTINUE HERE TO Fighting power Wehrmacht Part II

see also: German Fighting Power in World War One


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19 Comments

  1. Could you please provide the sources for you analysis? Is it a Dupuy book?

    • 1) Martin van Creveld: Fighting Power
      2) Trevor Nevitt Dupuy: A Genius of War

      • The works of Crevold and Dupuy are not official US Army sources. Both are members of a collection of Anglo-American writers collectively known as the Cult of the Wehrmacht who have accepted the German barrative on why they lost. Trevor Dupuy’s work has been challenged in the weighting it gives certain factors including Allied airpower. The debate on the relative combat effectiveness between Allied units (and particularly American as the war went on) and German is one which is not settled by any means.

        • The main sources (book) of Creveld was originally written 1979-1980 as a official technical study commissioned by US Department of Defense, as there were at that time the American forces in disrepair.
          Even the Osprey book ‘The US Army in World War II’ comes in the parts which covers it to the same conclusions.

        • Creveld is a Dutch-Israeli historian who lost members of his family in the Holocaust…he is neither Anglo nor American…

  2. iirc germans lost at least 5 millions (dead+POWs before capitulation) in the East while russians lost about 11 millions (some of them to german allies) ncluding surviving POWs. That’s nowhere near even 1:4 for the whole war and especially wrong for 1944 considering that russians suffered majority of their losses in the 1st half of the war, and germans in the 2nd half.

    • The Russian military losses were nearly 13,600,000 killed (incl. 2,600,000 deaths of POWs) + 6,000,000 captured and missing in WW2. Germany total 3,500,000 killed; 3,400,000 captured and 5,000,000 wounded.
      Its easy mathematics: if any army is outnumbered 1:4 and inflicts the same number of casualties as the stronger army, the fighting power superiority for the outnumbered army is 4:1.

    • You seem to be ignoring the aspect of the studies that looked at combat casualties. Casualties can be inflicted by just setting in a foxhole getting frost bite which in the first winter of the Eastern war were many. I believe if I recall what I read correctly, it was casualties suffered and inflicted in both defensive actions and offensive actions. Quoting gross numbers of losses, includes the tens of thousands of casualties that might have been suffered after said combat actions ended.

  3. So Germany won. And all these documents and documentary , capitulations and and decapitations defeats and retreats, Pancers and cancers all are red propaganda; look, Germany , the victor, modern powerful and Russia even does not exist any more…

    • Have a loook just to the tank strengths on the Russian front plus the supplies from the Western Allies plus German and Axis forces used in the West and the outcome of the struggle can be easy calculated, even with the much lower Russian fighting power:


      But this means not, that it’s not honourable how the Russian soldiers sacrifice their lifes for their victory.

      • While we admire the ability of the average Ivan to lay down his life for the communist party, it does not mean we have to accept that he did it with open arms. After perestroika took place, the West was privy to information on failed Soviet offensives that cost 250K men, not once but on more than one occasion. To me that calls into question the “genius” of the soviet general staff and the luminaires hailed as the vanquishers of the Reich, latter day, Alexander Nevsky’s. We all know that Zhukov and Chuikov, Timoshenko and others knew they would feel the nuzzle of a gun against the back of their heads if they failed. This tends to make one profligate with others lives when your own life depends on success. We all know that Stalin cared not a wit for the average man’s life if it could be used as a means to an end. He starved 20 million Ukrainians to death to achieve collectivization of agriculture, so what was another 13 million to stay in power?

    • What a weak reply. This article is about fighting power. The US lost 60 thousand soldiers in Vietnam while the Vietcong lost 400 thousand to a million. While being military the superior force, the US still lost the Vietnam war. (Same goes from the Korea War). Look beyond the propaganda, mate! Dupuy masterfully made the case for the German army.

      By the way: The Soviets lost more than 13,6 million. During the Perestoika year Russian historians suggested that the military dead were north of 20 million, even as much as 40 million. In Putin’s russia that is again a great taboo and it’s politically incorrect to point out how Stalin wasted his own men. Instead it is a doctrine that just 8 million soldiers died. The remaining dead are simply declared civilians. Voila, soviet science at its best.

  4. Cracks me up about what made the German army superior except for numbers. It basically (my summary) states that the US officers top down were micro-managers and that orders were passed down in the German army then left to the individual field commanders how to accomplish the order. American mindset still does not understand the power and value of empowerment. In government and industry, control is the philosophy we hang on to. We even have superb examples within our armed services. The elite fighting squads like the Seals and such have much more freedom than does the military as a whole.

    It’s pretty simple if you want to be successful be a leader who empowers your people to succeed. Truly empowers not half measures of “talking the talk” but actually taking the risk of allowing others to manage the situation and training them so they can do it without you.

    • You say the US officers were top down micro-managers but the real truth is that from the bottom up, American NCOs from corporals up acted with more autonomy, better communications and more access to artillery and mortar support. This confounded German officers who expected NCOs and junior officers to do nothing more than see that their orders were carried out. An American officer would (and still does) consult closely with his NCOs to ensure everyone knows everyone else’s roles and capabilities and can react on the fly to changes in the tactical situation. Most Wehrmarcht officers would never even think of asking an enlisted man for tactical advice.

      As far as the much larger proportion of support troops in the US Army than any other, these men were truck drivers, mechanics, commo dudes, and medics who provided the world standard in maneuver, communications, and survivability to the US Army. These capabilities are called Force Multipliers because their impact goes well beyond their numbers. We rolled across Europe so quickly that entirely new techniques in logistics had to be dreamed up on the spot to keep everything moving. The Wehrmarcht still had more horses than trucks by V-E Day. They never had a chance once we secured a beachhead in Normandy and soon after at Marseilles..

  5. The German army was superior to all armies in the world at the time (US included), by a large margin. People who don’t acknowledge this fact are either ignorant or in denial due to patriotic agendas. And this is coming from someone whose ancestors suffered a lot from Germans during that war.

  6. I’m skeptical of the analysis, but I’d take a 1:1.2 combat effectiveness for US forces 1943-45 in ETO vs. the Germans. The Russians and the Brits had 3 years of on going operations and still didn’t match that effectiveness.

    I think it’s fair to say that there was a real problem with the quality of NCOs and Jr
    officers in the US Army. Micromanagent was a result of that. US infantry and armor tactics were still pretty rudementary and flawed by the time the army got to the Rhein. This was largely overcome by the US having the best artillery corps in the war (with the possible exception of the Finns) and of course superior air support.

    • American artillery was more mobile, larger caliber, longer ranged, better supplied, and once proximity fuses were finally approved for use in Europe (the delay coming from a fear of the technology falling into German hands) utterly devastating in effect. Accuracy and mass on target are incredibly wonderful to have but having nearly all of those shells also exploding at optimum height is nothing less than a platoon leader’s wet dream and the Wehrmarcht’s nightmare from the Battle of the Bulge onward.

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