Fighting Power of the Wehrmacht

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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.

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.

t_arrow1see also: German military performance according to HERO database.

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.

t_arrow1see also: German military performance on the Russian Front.

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 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 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 particularly good 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.

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 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% armoured
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% armoured 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 possibly 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


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32 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.
      See also (esp for 1944): Performance on the Russian Front
      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..

      • No matter how americans try to llustrate their military forces as superior and victorious over the german army in 1945 – the fact will remain, that they fought an enemy, who was running out of resources, and at the end with far less possibilities to mount up an adequate fighting force in quantity, especially concerning the time factor – against the allied forces, who gained more more military superiority. The german-austrian fihgting power was supported by an about 100 Million people strong industrial complex – the allied military effort was supported by a people at least 3 to four times as numerous, and a landareal of 100 times as big.
        So how can Americans ever talk of heroic victory – if they suround a single enemy with a power ot their own, of at least 4 times as strong, and also together with several other allied super-forces. Secondly the americans let other forces like the russians do the dirty work, for the major part of the war and joined the man to man fight, near at the end when it was seenm that Germany would definetly loose, and fought against under age soldiers, some of them children and on the other side, old men.

        It will certainly never be the case, of a heroic victory for americans , but rather a pathetic display. As a native German i can only say; it is sad that the world theatre at that time was already run completely by the power of the finance jewery, and that allied goverments at that time were already completely under the control of this power, and had fallen for it.
        which had secretly no other goal than to let all christian culture countries fight against each other to death, and this is still their goal today.

        • Despite the reflexive genuflecting toward the German military of WW2 — some, of which is deserved, admittedly — the fact remains that the Germans entered into two world wars they couldn’t win — and they should have known that. Expecting to score knockout blows by blitzkrieg tactics — or some other type of unrivaled brilliance — and underestimating the enemy, is pretty “pathetic” in itself….

        • ” that they fought an enemy, who was running out of resources, and at the end with far less possibilities to mount up an adequate fighting force in quantity, especially concerning the time factor”

          Well, the Germans failed to prevent that, didn’t they. Thus, the Germans failed. You can’t separate these factors from the war itself or Germany’s warfighting capacity. They failed miserably.

          “it is sad that the world theatre at that time was already run completely by the power of the finance jewery”

          Seek professional help for this idiotic bigotry. Hitler and his Aryan henchmen destroyed Germany and are to blame, not the Jews he victimized.

      • Not to mention the almost impossible task of supplying an army group from Normandy by truck traffic alone. No army in the world could have done what the American Army did in the race across France. Trucks scavenged from nearly every non-front line unit as well as the transport units of the Army Service Force kept the crippling mechanical losses due to attrition from making the effort unsupportable. “The Road to Victory: the story of the RedBall Express” is a good read from both the historical and technical standpoint about the GMC trucks used.

        • The US also unloaded small locomotives on the beach in Normandy, and later full-size ones, and other rolling stock, at the port of Cherbourg.

          There’s a photo I’ve seen online of a locomotive being pulled up the beach by a tractor.

          When I saw that was when I realized how all-encompassing and thoroughly planned the invasion was. I guess I’d never thought about Allied use of railroads in Europe, but if I had I would have guessed they would have used whatever European rolling stock was available. But then, much of that rolling stock was probably taken by Germany.

          • Or been destroyed by the USAF and RAF prior to D-Day in Operation Transportation. The complete destruction of the French transportation network, road bridges, RR yards and bridges worked for us prior to the landings and against the allies when the breakout and dash across France began necessitating the four or five Red Ball one way loops for truck traffic to keep the front supplied.

  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.

  7. GeneralFrozenMud

    The none winter period of war has been won by wehrmacht (they know why to avoid it – 39, 40), the latter has been lost, all of them (41, 42, 43,44). Show me any single winter, that germany did not avoid or lost. Period.

  8. Well, they didn’t fight in the Winter of 1939-40 because Poland had been defeated. They didn’t fight in the winter of 1940-41 because Norway, Belgium, the Netherlands and France had been defeated. It’s hardly “avoiding winter” when you don’t fight because you’ve won

    Winter of 1941-42 the German offensive stalled…but your ignoring the the fact that the Russian winter offensive met with little success and included the destruction of the Soviet second shock army and another in the south at Kharkov. Around Moscow the red army pushed the Germans back a maximum of 70km at the cost of massive casualties.

    So I would hardly call the winter of 1941-2 a German defeat or Soviet victory.

    At Stalingrad in 1942-43 the winter had nothing to do with the German defeat. The Germans had tunnel vision and failed to see or listen to warnings of Soviet Forces building up. Then of course, Hitler failes to allow withdrawl sentencing the Army to death

    So you simply can’t say that the Germans couldn’t fight in winter.

  9. I feel the german army(Wehrmacht) man to man was superior to allies man to man cause the german fighting soldiers were groomed to fight since they were young boys from 10 years old upward the whole german culture was geared towards a military mindset and for the individual soldier to be tough and obey orders. Not to mention there superior weapons the german soldier had to work with. If the german army had to fight american army one to one it would have defeated the american army or the war would have lasted much longer probably till 1948 to 1950. think about it the germans held off america, great britain, france, the neatherlands, In the west with superior air power and the giant russia in the east for four years 1941, 1942, 1943, 1944, and was defeated one quarter into 1945. that singular german army must have been the greatest fighting force of all time. if you would have replaced any allied country with the germans i dont think they would have performed better than the Wehrmacht. I am a proud american veteran that has loved military history since I was a little boy and I tell the truth as i see it. One country literally fighting the whole world by itself not to mention japan in the pacific with the americans i have to give the credit to the german army soldier as the best indiividual soldier of all time.

  10. Just a few comments with regard to comparison of training in the US Army and the Wehrmacht.

    The US system of training revolved around a battery of tests that judged the recruits as to their technical abilities. This then determined whether they would go on for more specialized Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) training such as engine mechanic, intelligence, radio school and so on. During this period the cream was separated from the milk in various stages. The US Army Air Corps got first choice on a lot of the higher scoring candidates as did the various technical support organizations such as the Army Service Forces which contained the Quartermaster Corps and a host of other support organizations. Then more were siphoned off by the various volunteer organizations: Airborne, Rangers, Special Service Force for example.

    This led to the situation that the “best and the brightest” did not end up at the sharp end of the spear. That is a popular fiction even to this day. Yes, bright and capable officers did volunteer to be in the infantry and armor, but the average infantryman was what was left in the barrel after the higher IQ individuals had been drained off. Tankers on average fared better because of their higher technical ability. Later in the war Anti-aircraft battalions were disbanded and the men used as replacements. This might have added a new influx of brighter more highly educated individuals into the line infantry units.

    Today the US Army tries to alleviate that drain by affording soldiers the opportunity to take Ranger and other specialized training, and then return to their parent unit. They refer to it as “leavening the bread” concept. While there is still the 75th Ranger Regiment, there are many more Ranger Qualified troopers scattered throughout the Army taking and teaching the skills they learned to their line units.

    While the Germans and English continued to use the old district based training and recruitment battalion to supply replacements to its parent regiment in the field. The US pretty much discarded it after WWI. In the US Civil War a town who raised a regiment found that after a bitter engagement, that an entire generation of its young men had been killed. National Guard units, which are really state militia units were still pretty much along those lines and in WWI some divisions found that they had regiments of men from a single close knit community. Regular Army units were drawn from recruits from across the country. During the war most units received replacements from replacement depots which had no ties to any one area in the US. The one exception might have been the 442nd Infantry Regiment made up of volunteers from the American Nisei (Japanese Americans) from the internment camps.

    There is undeniably a morale and esprit benefit derived from the old regimental system.

    In Part IV of the Analysis of Fighting Power in the second paragraph, I believe the line should read: However, the available data show that the German fighting power value OVER the Russians was far superior than that OVER the Western Allies, though not as pronounced as the fighting power in World War One.
    In both cases the use of the word “of” gives the line a completely different meaning than what I think is intended.

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