A recent reader letter took exception to columnist Richard Cohen's contention that the Soviet Union, and not the United States, won World War II. Cohen's remark is tricky, so this may help clarify: The United States was not yet officially involved in the war when 4 million German and other Axis troops invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941. For the next two years, while the U.S. was (rightfully) preoccupied with the Pacific, the Soviets lost Kiev, Minsk, Smolensk and other key cities. German forces were on the doorstep of Moscow, and laid punishing siege to Leningrad and Stalingrad.
It was at the latter city, late in 1942, that Soviet troops rallied. They encircled, trapped and destroyed Germany's Sixth Army, an earthshaking victory that signaled the beginning of the end of the war in Europe. The U.S. helped divert German forces and materiel from the Eastern Front during 1942 and 1943 with landings at North Africa and Sicily, respectively. However, by the time of the June 6, 1944, D-Day landings of American and British troops at Normandy, France, Germany's capability to resist was severely diminished. Round-the-clock Anglo-American bombing of German cities contributed to this, but the death blows against Germany had already been delivered, and they came from the Soviets.
In the end, the numbers help tell the tale. In profound sacrifice, nearly 420,000 American servicemen gave their lives in World War II. The Soviet Union lost about 25 million troops and civilians. The Soviets may not have "won" the war, but they bore the brunt of the fighting in Europe, and ground down the purportedly invincible German war machine. Unimaginably vast stretches of Soviet territory were destroyed, and the Soviet people suffered the loss of an entire generation of young men.
David J. Hogan
World War II Chronicle