The extent to which the Allies assisted and supported each other remains a disputed point in WWII history. Debates about who should take the credit for winning the war continue to this day.
Russians are very sensitive about any attempts to undervalue the Soviet Union’s contribution to the victory and the Red Army’s pivotal role in the defeat of the Nazis.
The Soviet Union suffered massive human and material losses, which were far more substantial than the other Allies had to face. The Red Army lost 7,863,000 servicemen compared to 416,000 American soldiers, 286,000 British and 253,000 French servicemen.
The Soviets often criticized the other Allies for taking too much time to open the second front, for their refusal to jointly provide European security in the prewar years, and for the sudden shift to confrontation once the war was over.
The Western Allies had their own complaints as well. Sadly, the sides slightly overlooked the cultural rapprochement and how their joint fight against the Nazis had brought them together and showed how much they have in common, which heavily contributed to postwar history.
It is also important to separate the political and the military aspects in this historical dispute. The sides can hardly ever reach an agreement on their political roles in bringing an end to the war, and will continue criticizing the Munich Agreement, the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, the westward expansion of the U.S.S.R. and the Winter War between the Soviet Union and Finland.
Conversely, it is far easier to overcome differences on the military aspect. Originally, each side had its own strategic goals. The Soviets wanted to prevent, or at least delay a land war with the Nazis and then defeat them on land, expel them from Soviet territory and completely destroy them.
The United States and Britain, which did not have to face the Nazis on land, sought to take advantage of the Reich’s vast spending on the war and wanted to attain military and economic dominance over Germany. As the country would grow weaker, the western Allies planned to transfer the war to its territory and finish it there.
Unlike the other Allies, the Soviet Union could not afford to wait as every single day of the war claimed people’s lives, and the occupants had to be destroyed as soon as possible. But the western Allies had time on their side. And this is the root of all mutual complaints - the West delayed the second front to accumulate resources, while Moscow considered it betrayal and unfair play as it had to bear the brunt of the war on its own. However, it is important to remember that the western Allies could not have had any other strategy for numerous reasons, starting from the poor shape of their armed forces at the beginning of the war and the system of political decision-making.
Yet, regardless of their different approaches, the Soviets, British and Americans did a common cause in the end. The Soviet Union certainly had the honor of destroying the land forces of the Reich. Four years of face-to-face confrontation completely disabled 75% of Germany’s land forces and half of the Luftwaffe units.
The Soviets were the first to step on the enemy’s territory and the first to reach and storm its capital, Berlin, after victories in Budapest, Konigsberg and Vienna, the mainstays of the Nazis.
The winner in a war is traditionally the one who has won the enemy’s land and killed or captured its soldiers. The Soviet Union fully matches the description and has the right to claim leadership among the winning countries.
However, the question is whether the USSR would have won the war on its front if it hadn’t been for the Allies’ naval and aerial strikes and their land operations as well as Lend-Lease supplies to the Soviets.
It is not always the best way to formally assess the war in the west and east by simply comparing human losses. True, it didn’t take as many Nazi soldiers to fight the British Navy in the west as to combat Soviets in the east. Yet, the western Allies prevented huge amounts of good steel, diesel fuel, radio and electronic equipment for the German Kriegsmarine submarines from reaching the Eastern Front.
The Allied fleet and military cargo convoys also blocked the Germans’ attempts to shift resources from the Atlantic theater of war to the Eastern Front.
Similarly, the Allied aerial strikes on the Reich cities were very good at distracting Luftwaffe planes from attacking the Soviets, despite criticism of their insignificant effect. From 1943, Germany had to engage at least a third of its Luftwaffe forces on its territory to combat strategic aerial strikes. If it had not been for the Allied bombings, the Red Army would have had to deal with far more Luftwaffe groups and it is hard to say how it would have affected the war on the Eastern Front.
The fights in the Pacific theater of war did not directly involve the Soviet Union, and the Allies treated the Pacific front as secondary, because liberation of Europe was at the top of the agenda. Still, the fights against the U.S. Army, Marines and Navy and their allies in the Pacific and in Southeast Asia prevented Japan from giving any support to Germany in its war against the Soviet Union whatsoever.
Japan’s inability to join attacks on the Soviet Union allowed the Soviets to lift their forces from Siberia and the Far East to the front, which helped tremendously to defend Moscow and other cities.
Lend-Lease supplies played their role, too. Western supplies either substantially complemented Soviet production or fully met Soviet needs in certain types of products. This is particularly true of supplies in aluminum, powder, heavy transporters, radio and electronic equipment. Though not very expensive, these supplies were vitally important for the Soviet Armed Forces. For example, Soviet mobile troops widely used western-made automotive material in the second half of the war. U.S. Studebaker trucks made it easier for Soviet troops to break through the Nazi defense. Western aluminum was used in Soviet aircraft building and for diesel engines for tanks and self-propelled systems.
And most importantly, hats off to the courage of those British, American, Canadian and other seamen who risked their lives delivering military cargoes to the U.S.S.R., and praise to those hard-workers who produced the items in their honest desire to help the ally. The tragic and romantic history of sea convoys, above all polar convoys, attracts many researchers in modern Russia.
The Allies’ victory over the Nazis had paramount importance in bringing the countries closer in the humanitarian and cultural areas. In the 1930s, the U.S.S.R. and the West had treated each other as total enemies to the point that the Soviets were seriously prepared for a possible war with a united “western” coalition, from Berlin to London, while the West was deeply concerned about a possible union between the U.S.S.R. and the Third Reich.
But the joint efforts to fight the Nazi ogre broke the estrangement and brought to the fore the main human notions of the good and the bad. This atmosphere that set in during the summer of 1941 and united the Allies in the face of the terrible threat persisted in postwar years and stopped the countries from demonizing each other. It is quite possible that this mutual respect and understanding established during the war saved the world from a nuclear war afterward.