How the US lost the War of 1812

 Yes.  We lost.  The ground war went very badly from the US point of view.  The Canadian militia were pretty tough and their Indian allies were a real problem since they thought that prisoners were there for their entertainment.  Hey!  Some of our Indian ancestors were probably in the British force, but the real story were the British Army Regulars.  They dominated every battlefield except New Orleans and maybe Lundy's Lane.  These stunted little men from the slums of the English industrial towns and the blighted lands of the Scottish enclosures and crofts were much better soldiers than anything the US had at that time.

These soldiers had been fighting in Europe for a generation.  As Clausewitz wrote, there is nothing that so perfects an army as actual war.

At sea, the situation was quite different as I suppose we all know.  The American heavy frigates did well against the Royal Navy.

The fictional Napoleonic era British soldier "Richard Sharpe" said of himself that he "was born in a whorehouse and hoped to die in the Army."  His character is an accurate depiction of the kind of men who beat the United States in that war.  pl

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59 Responses to How the US lost the War of 1812

  1. Medicine Man says:

    I’ve read a couple of Bernard Cornwell’s books; I rather enjoyed them. Sean Bean, depicted above, did a credible job of playing Sharpe in the TV adaptations, although I didn’t find them as good as the books.
    On topic though; the funny thing is Col Lang, the wiki page you link to makes the war of 1812 sound like a draw.

  2. EGrise says:

    Having one’s capitol burned is a pretty good sign that one didn’t do very well.

  3. wsam says:

    Ha!!! I am grinning from ear to ear.
    I think the relevant point is the 20 years the British Army had spent fighting revolutionary French armies and then Napoleon. Towards the end of the war, British regulars were shipping straight from the Iberian Peninsula to Upper Canada. As you wrote these were battle hardened men (who also got beat in New Orleans).
    The American side needed a quick end to the war.
    They did have early success and if that had been successfully capitalized on most of present day Southern Ontario would likely be part of the United States. Additionally, if the American side had concentrated their forces on Montreal or Kingston, they potentially could have taken control of the lower St Lawrence and Lakes Ontario and Erie, cutting Britain’s North American holdings in half – isolating the Niagara region and Britain’s Indian allies who ranged further south into Ohio.
    The real losers were Britain’s native allies, many of whom eventually moved to Upper Canada (Ontario) and settle along the Grand River – where their land claims to this day remain contentious.
    Ironic, because part of the conflict’s appeal for the American side was to free the Ohio valley from interference from un-cooperative natives (who it was thought were controlled by the British) and open it up to settlement. Which is what resulted: Britain being in no mood for more war and expenditure and didn’t really go to the mat for the natives when negotiating the conflict’s end.

  4. Bobby Murray says:

    Thank you Col. Lang. I know our capital was burned early on. And that I don’t recall any battles that the US won save for what you mentioned.
    In regards to Andy Jackson – who harbored an intense hatred for the British. As a youth during the Revolutionary War, Jackson was a courier for the Americans and was captured and slashed with a saber by a British officer for refusing to shine the officer’s boots. He pretty much lost his entire family during the war and rightly or wrongly – blamed the British. That said, Old Hickory was probably the wrong guy for the British to run up against in New Orleans. The moral? If there is one – some wounds never heal. I am fully aware I am not telling you anything you don’t know Colonel but to me I always thought it was another example that prisoners of war should be treated humanely.
    Kind Regards,

  5. ked says:

    I’m sure the Brits were very good for the reasons you point out. But I also understand that our land campaign in the Northwest Terr. & against Canada was poorly planned & inept in leadership, training, and logistics.

  6. Patrick Lang says:

    Well, yes. That’s most of being a capable force. pl

  7. Patrick Lang says:

    To the extent that most Americans know anything about that war, they know of the naval war and New Orleans. They think it was a draw.
    How many Canadians (or Americans)know anything about the Mexican War? It was a very interesting thing. Scott’s landing at Vera Cruz was quite astonishingly modern. pl pl

  8. FDRDemocrat says:

    Colonel –
    Not sure how you can say the USA was “defeated” in the War of 1812 when you consider the reasons why it was fought and the political situation. The USA was basically dragged into war by a combination of British behavior on the high seas and western USA citizens hungry for land. The New England states were against war with Britain and continued trading with Blighty during the war. Due to our Jeffersonian ideals, the USA had barely what you could call an army and blue water navy, aside rom the aforementioned heavy frigates.
    As with the north at the beginning of the US Civil War, the US in the 1812 war started with abysmal leaders. This was beginning to improve by wars end, e.g. Winfield Scott. We mainly fought the war with militia, but bear in mind the US was on the attack most of the war and I would imagine the Canadians and their Indian allies were at their best defending their home turf. Look what happened when in turn the British went on the attack, e.g. New Orleans. On paper, in terms of quality of troops and armaments, the British should have swept into New Orleans like their did into Washington DC. It is harder to attack than defend.
    As to the burning of DC, that was a short-lived raid, not any meaningful occupation. Napoleon burned Moscow in 1812 but that hardly turned his campaign into a victory. Ditto for the Brits burning of DC.
    But back to the political reasons for the war. The British expected to push the US around and had nothing but disdain for their former colonial subjects. At the end, in the Treaty of Ghent, Britain had to swallow a bitter pill by treating us as equals. Britain dropped the right of impressment and agreed to treat us properly under international law. And they had to pack away their plans for governing New Orleans.
    So no, 1812 was not a defeat. Militarily it was a standoff, in that each side failed in its invasion of the other. Politically it was a US victory on the terms on which the war started, which was to be treated as an equal by Her Majesty’s Empire.

  9. Patrick Lang says:

    I suppose you know all about the US/Canadian Special Service Force?
    I knew one of these guys long after, a real p—-k. pl

  10. Patrick Lang says:

    We were roundly defeated in several battles in Michigan and Indiana or some such place (former Virginia posession). pl

  11. scott s. says:

    I would think the Battle of Lake Erie might be considered at least as important as the actions of the USN’s frigates. My understanding is the historian’s typical “take away” is the poor performance of the US Army’s officer corps, and the establishment of a military academy as a corrective, the fruits of which were observed in the Mexican War.
    What I would like to see is a history looking at the actions against the natives as campaigns in the context of a larger “long war” which at times involved offensive military efforts and at others defense cordons (after removal).

  12. Patrick Lang says:

    you have read the old “Wars of the United States” series of books. Several volumes deal with these subjects. pl

  13. SubKommander Dred says:

    I am very familiar with the exploits of Richard Sharpe and his Greenjackets (North American Volunteers I think was their official name, although only one of them was an actual Yank.) In fact, though you and the fictional Lt Col Sharpe (“Waterloo” made him a colonel in the service of the Dutch), I can’t help but think you both would be someone I wouldn’t want to mess with on a battlefield.
    Pete Deer

  14. mike says:

    Well I understood the Limeys burned down DC as reciprocation for our burning down the British Colonial Parliament buildings. It was done the year before the burning of DC in what is now Toronto.
    And the Brits only lasted one day in DC. It was a raid – quick and simple – they had to retreat within 24 hours. Also much of the damage in DC was done inadvertently by Americans who burned the Navy Yard to keep it out of British hands.
    I think we also kicked some British butt at the Battle of Baltimore – the land battle, not Fort McHenry. The Maryland militia faced down 5,000 British veterans of the Napoleonic wars and made them back off. They killed the British General Bobby Ross who had ordered the burning of DC.
    Not sure I trust wikipedia regarding the War of 1812. Seems like it was written up by Churchill or maybe John Cleese.

  15. Patrick Lang says:

    This is better than I expected. Go for it. Mexico next. pl

  16. Yohan says:

    To me, whether a war is won or lost has much more to do with the political outcomes of the conflict than on who won this battle or that.
    The US won almost all “battles” in Vietnam, but it cannot be said that the US defeated North Vietnam. Likewise, when you look at the political ramifications of 1812, the outcome was a draw.

  17. lina says:

    Lost the War of 1812? That’s not what they taught us in history class in K-12.
    I love Richard Sharpe, but he was/is fiction.
    What say you about Pvt. Thomas Keith of the 78th Highlanders? Now there was a British soldier.
    (same period, different war).

  18. PeterHug says:

    OK, I feel compelled to add my two cents’ worth here –
    First, as regards the actions in the field: scott s is absolutely right – the Battle of Lake Erie really has to be seen as a major US victory. As a result of Perry’s destroying the British fleet on Lake Erie (and I really think that this is the ONLY time an entire British fleet has been eliminated in a single battle, with the possible exception of the sinking of the Prince of Wales and the Repulse in WW II), the British were unable to operate effectively anywhere east of the Niagara Penninsula, south of the Lakes. That has to count as a strategic defeat of the highest order. AND it was delivered by a 28-year-old who had first had to build his fleet (and the shipyard to BUILD the fleet) from scratch.
    I won’t go into the infantry actions, except to observe in passing that there is a clear improvement in the quality of the Regular Army units (especially those trained by Winfield Scott) over the course of the war – and by the end of the war it’s clear that US Army Regular units, under competent command, could match any British unit (whether they had extensive experience in the Penninsula or not), just fine.
    Second, setting aside the question of the battlefield results, and looking only at the higher-order outcomes (which really is something I hate to do, because it minimizes or at any rate discounts the hell that people go through for these results); one important outcome for the US of the war was that Tecumseh’s Indian Confederation was destroyed, and the pernicious British influence to the west of the Northwest Territories was removed. This really opened up these areas to aggressive US colonization…which would NOT have been possible without the war.
    Third, the war was the conflict that catalyzed the development of the US Army as a professional force. It began the career of Winfield Scott; which let inevitably to the success of the Mexican War and to the deployment of the Anaconda Plan as the keystone in the Union victory in the Civil War.
    Finally, I do agree with you that the US didn’t “win” the war – although the strategic realignment resulting from the war allowed us free reign on a third of the North American continent. However, I don’t think that the British “won” it by any means either – at best, they fought it to a draw. The real winners (in my opinion) are the Canadians. Their exploits, heroism, and military successes (I think) are a large part of what gave them a coherent national identity and started them on the path towards seeing “Canada” as a nation, and not as a colony of Great Britain.
    At any rate, having said all that, I must finish with the observation (possibly slightly silly) that all that effort and misery, pain, and suffering on the part of so many – has somehow resulted in a North American continent that may not be perfect (and we have a huge obligation to the past, to try to make it better) – but which nevertheless remains an example to all the rest of the world. (I’m tempted to invoke “City on the Hill” imagery, but that would probably be maudlin, presumptive, or both.)
    Peter Hug

  19. helpless dancer(drouse) says:

    The American frigates did do well in a couple notable single ship actions. That is when they were able to slip the british blockade. OK, here come the dreaded phrase, I wrote a paper about this in college, but. Whereas the american navy had problems just getting to sea, american privateers, sailing ships of the type we would call a boston clipper, were able to evade the blockade at will. There were a veritable plauge of them and they disrupted british trade immensely. The land war being pretty much a wash, the King’s privy counsel persauded him to agree to a treaty that returned to pretty much to the state of things prior to the war. You see the King’s advisors were major stockholders in things like the East India Shipping Company and they were losing money hand over fist.

  20. Did not both “Sharpe” and technology changes in infantry weaponary in the first two decades of the 19th Century hold some glimmer of changes afoot or ahand of infantry tactics and strategy? Was the War of 1812 the last of the Brown Bess Musketry wars fought by the British?

  21. PeterHug says:

    Correction (obvious) to my post – after the Battle of Lake Erie, the British were unable to operate WEST of Niagara…
    Speaking of east, the naval contest on Lake Ontario is actually fascinating – neither side was willing to try for a conclusive battle (understandably so, given the stakes), so they engaged in an unrestrained building war. By the end of the war, both sides were building (or had built) first-rate ships-of-the-line on Ontario as big as anything Nelson had at Trafalgar.

  22. FDRDemocrat says:

    Colonel –
    Aside from the British raids on Washington and attempt to conquer New Orleans, the battles of 1812 were fought close on either side of the US-Canadian border. And both sides had victories, e.g. some US and Canadian towns were burned.
    Canadians are justly proud of how they defended their lands. But let’s be real – the US was hardly a military machine in 1812.
    The leverage the US gained by putting up a fight in 1812 meant that later on we had leverage on things like the Oregon question, Monroe Doctrine, freedom of the seas (interestingly later on one of the reasons we went to war in 1917 as an ally of Britain).
    I surprise myself at how jingoist I sound here, since I am usually more cognizant of the downsides of Manifest Destiny, e.g. the poor way native Americans and African-Americans were treated, the injustice of the war with Mexico, etc.
    But I could not believe my ears that the war of 1812 was being called a US defeat.

  23. Jan F says:

    Just a note- the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, NY was established in 1802, a decade before the War of 1812. It was not established as a result of the War of 1812. It is true that the Mexican War was the test of combat that “proved the worth” of the new academy, with West Point graduates preforming very well. It is interesting to compare the performance of the U.S.Army, especially the officer corps, between the War of 1812 and the later Mexican Wer. The U.S. Army was actually potentially outmanned in a number of battles which were won by the Yanks.

  24. Pat and Everyone,
    I have a few points to make.
    The main American war aim was to take Canada. The failure (on land) to do so was primarily due to the fighting of Canadian militia with minimum help from the few British Army units available. Since we declared war with the aim of acquiring all or part of Canada and failed to do so, it is fair to say that we lost.
    On the other hand, the naval victory on Lake Erie, I believe one of the two most decisive fleet actions in our history, (the other being Midway) solidified the result of the Revolutionary War in determining our northern border.
    After Napoleon’s defeat in 1814, the British Army was able to release units for service in North America, hence the Chesapeake, Lake Champlain, and New Orleans battles.
    The war ended because of the British blockade, which was effective, and American privateers preying on British trade, which were also effective. The Treaty of Ghent was a return to the status quo ante-bellum.

  25. My take from the Wikipedia article is that the war was OBE – Overtaken by Events. Neither side really won nor lost in a strategic sense when considering the immediate goals of the war. But it does look like the always inevitable unintended consequences happened to fall into our favor. In other words, we were lucky.
    On a personal note, my great-great-great-grandfather Thomas, the son of a Rev War veteran, served in the NC militia during the War of 1812.
    Take that all you Limeys and Canucks!

  26. mike says:

    I have got to agree with Peter Hug. Winfield Scott was a a troop leader and tactician excellence against the Brits. And later he was a great strategist. He gets too little credit for his strategy in the Civil War. Without Anaconda it is doubtful that Grant could have prevailed against the Army of Northern Virginia.
    As for the fictional Sharpe and the riflemen in the Peninsular War: I always felt that Wellington derived some of his tactics from Brit “lessons-learned” from Dan Morgan and Nathaniel Greene during the American Revolution. Prior to the napoleonic Wars, Wellington had served in India under Cornwallis and many other British veterans of the war in America. Wellington’s use of several lines of skirmishers and Portuguese militia in front of his Brit regulars at Torres Vedras seems to be right out of the playbook of the American Victory at Cowpens.

  27. Patrick Lang says:

    Scott was one of the greatest figures in American military history. He mentored (in the true sense of teaching) many of the great killers of the Civil War. An auto-didact he traveled around with a shelf of books on military subject with which he taught his officers.
    His campaign in Mexico was a masterpiece.
    The Treaty7 of Guadalupe-Hidalgo was excessively generous. pl

  28. VanD says:

    “The American heavy frigates did well against the Royal Navy.”
    They chose their battles well. In an even fight …, please see:
    Note that I’ve taken pains to provide an american source and not wikipedia.
    Also, a good sea story:

  29. greg0 says:

    The first book in the series, Sharpe’s Rifles, was the best IMO.
    No one has mentioned the cowardly General Hull. His fear of Indians and incompetence kept his forces from any aggressive actions beyond reaching Detroit. His mysterious surrender got him courtmartialed for treason and cowardice. Sentenced to death for cowardice, he received a Presidential pardon.
    My reference is Allan Eckert’s Gateway to Empire – LOTS on early Chicago, William Henry Harrison’s treaties, and Tecumseh.

  30. Russ Wagenfeld says:

    Although it lacked the drama of the other two battles, the Battle of Manila Bay was also one of the most important naval battles in our history because it led to a dramatic increase in American interests and involvement in the Far East.

  31. Harry says:

    Probably the predominate view among historians is that the war was a draw. One of the most recent books on the war, The War of 1812 in the Age of Napoleon by Jeremy Black, appears to support the view that it was a draw. Jeremy Black is a prominent British historian. One of major US historians on this war, and this time period in general, is Donald Hickey. In his 2006 book Don’t Give Up the Ship!: Myths of The War of 1812 Hickey states his opinion that the US lost because it failed to achieve its initial goals concerning impressment and maritime rights of neutrals. He does not believe that the US went to war to annex Canada.
    The Wikipedia article on this war is not bad and will soon be adding a section on the opinions of historians as to who won or lost. Many people seem to have strong opinions/prejudices about this relatively unknown war.

  32. jerseycityjoan says:

    Ah, the Sharpe series on Masterpiece Theatre — brings back very pleasant viewing memories from the 1990s.
    Maybe someone here could say a few words about how realistic the battle scenes were. The big set-pieces were done in an unusually leisurely fashion which made a big impression on me at the time. The soldiers walked in columns across grass at a normal pace, and the camera let you see that in more or less real time. It was a fascinating unimpeded view that made me realize how rarely — if ever — I’d seen anything like it.
    Another question about wartime realism: Band of Brothers was on over the holidays. At home we discussed whether WWI could be filmed in a similar fashion. Our conclusion was no, no one could bear to see WWI portrayed with that kind of scope and realism, trench warfare was just too awful. Would enjoy hearing other thoughts on that.

  33. @PeterHug,
    I’m currently reading Lords of the Lake about the forgotten backwater of 1812-1814 – Lake Ontario. If you haven’t read it, it is a pretty impressive piece of scholarship. It still amazes me how quickly both forces were able to build virtual first-rate navies from scratch in what was a real wilderness.
    As for why the war (which the USA declared first)? To me, it was about simple respect. The USA could no longer accept the trepidations of the RN on the high (and coastal) seas as well as Britain’s proxy fighting inside the Northwest Territory by their native allies. They fought for respect, and if they also captured Canada, that would be (actually was expected) icing on the cake.
    And at the strategic level, the results would auger for American success.
    One must wonder though, if the USA had conquered Lower Canada, how restive that territory, full of United Empire Loyalists might have been. I suspect it might have resembled the Utah Territory for much of the later 19th Century.

  34. mike says:

    SP –
    James Fenimore Cooper, the early 19th century novelist – fought against the Brits on Lake Ontario as a Midshipman with the US Navy. Unfortunately he did not write of those experiences. He did write many more novels of the sea than he ever wrote about Hawkeye and the Mohicans. He also wrote quite a few non-fiction articles on the Navy including a history of the USS Constitution.

  35. different clue says:

    This post and all the comments are a major reason why I come here…to learn things I know nothing about.
    All I knew about the War of 1812 was what I remember from grade school; impressment of our sailors into the British Navy, the burning of Washington, and our gaining of the national anthem. Now I know more, including knowing how much there is to know.

  36. Patrick Lang says:

    The War of 1812 business here has been amusing. Particularly so is the clear difference of judgment about this war that continues to exist between Canadians and US Americans. pl

  37. mike says:

    PS –
    The Soviets (unlike us and the rest of our allies) also only had a single front war to fight. They kept a non-aggression pact with Japan even after the defeat of Germany up until Hiroshima when they finally decide to jump in and rape Manchuria.

  38. confusedponderer says:


    The Soviets (unlike us and the rest of our allies) also only had a single front war to fight

    On that single front the Soviet Union lost about 11 million soldiers and a total of about 27 million people during the war, almost half of all World War II deaths.
    They fought the bulk and cream of the German war machine. The sheer scope of the battles in Russia, especially Kursk or later Operation Bagration, is staggering. The Soviet Winter counter-offensive of 1941 involved attacks over along a front of 1,000 kilometres length.
    In face of such odds it is silly, just silly, to say the Russians only fought on ‘just one’, ahem, transcontinental front.

  39. WILL says:

    VanD alludes to the engagement b/n the American frigate Chespeake and the British Shannon.
    ” There were half a dozen naval battles between a Royal Naval and a United States Navy vessel of equivalent rate in 1812 and early 1813. The Americans won every time, primarily because although the British and American ships were of the same rate, they were not of the same size or power. In each case the American ships were substantially larger than the British vessels and had a heavier broadside (the Americans had a main battery of 24 pounder long guns compared with the smaller 18 pounders mounted on the British ships).
    Matters changed when Shannon defeated Chesapeake as it attempted to evade the blockade of Boston, Massachusetts. Although Chesapeake was a slightly larger craft and had a substantially larger crew, gunnery was Broke’s area of expertise, and the crew of Shannon were exceptionally well drilled.[3] Chesapeake was disabled by gunfire, boarded and captured within 15 minutes of opening fire. 56 sailors on Chesapeake were killed, including its Captain, James Lawrence, and 85 wounded. Lawrence’s last words were reported to be the command, “Don’t give up the ship”. On the Shannon, 24 were killed and 59 wounded, including Broke who sustained a serious head wound while leading the boarding party.”
    Wikipedia Philip Broke

  40. mike says:

    cp –
    I have to admit that on that single eastern front, the Soviets were very gung-ho in protecting their homeland. Not sure though that I agree about your statement that “they fought the bulk and cream of the German war machine”. I always understood that at least half of the Axis divisions on the eastern front were Hungarian, Romanian, Italian and others. They all folded like soft tortillas unless they were up against civilians.
    As far as calling that a “transcontinental” front, what are you speaking of? They only fought from east to west. True it extended from Leningrad to Stalingrad. But that distance seems insignificant to me compared to the fronts that Americans fought on in Africa, Europe, Burma, the Pacific, and the Southwest Pacific. And that does not even count the naval battles. It seems like propaganda to me to say the Soviets fought a transcontinental war. They call it “World” War 2 for a reason. But it seems that the Soviets only fought in one small corner of that “world” conflict.

  41. different clue says:

    As I think about what the men and forces of 1812 did, they did it all in a world before oil or natural gas, mostly without coal, without electricity. And essentially without steam engines.
    The British got their armies here by hand. We and they each constructed a fleet’s worth of ships-of-the-line by hand. No chain saws, no table saws, no high speed routers, no power drills.
    Civilization existed before fossil fuel. Civilization may yet persist after fossil fuel.
    It will be smaller, slower, and poorer; but it will still be civilization.

  42. confusedponderer says:

    the Russian front extended in from northern Norway into the Murmansk area at the Arctic circle and throughout Eurasia into the Caucasus. That’s a lot of terrain to cover.
    The routine intensity of the fighting at the Eastern front was probably greater than what the Allies faced in many of their their key battles. They didn’t call the eastern front ‘the meat grinder’ for no reason. There were accusations between German generals who had served in the east that their colleagues who fought in the west were ‘spoiled’ by the comparatively ‘light fighting’.
    Just to give you an idea:
    So the US lost 12.000 KIA + 33.000 non combat losses at Okinawa and 6.800 dead at Iwo Jima and in 120.000 Normandy? Tough battles. That’s a lot of casualties.
    But compare, and that are just snippets:
    Facing the best equipped, led troops the Wehrmacht had to offer, the Russians in Operation Zitadelle lost 177.847 troops and killed 54.182 Germans. That was a draw. They lost again 863.303 in the Battle of Kursk, against 170.000 killed on the German side. Kursk was a major Russian victory.
    That’s more losses than the US had in all the aforementioned battles out together, in just two major operations.
    The Russians soldiers bled white the Wehrmacht, especially with the Battles of Kursk and Stalingrad. Americans often don’t see that.
    And as for bulk and cream, the troops that were decisive were the Germans, not their Axis allies. What the Allies met in the west was not the best Germany had to offer, often under strength and often with second rate equipment unsuitable for use in the East. The Allies could count themselves lucky to have the Russians binding the bulk of the Wehrmacht.
    And I have yet to hear of a battle in Russia that was won for the Axis because of a non-German general. Axis troops contributed, but their troop effectiveness was limited due to their very scarce equipment, obsolete weaponry and tactics. The Wehrmacht ran the show.

  43. Neil Richardson says:

    “I have to admit that on that single eastern front, the Soviets were very gung-ho in protecting their homeland. Not sure though that I agree about your statement that “they fought the bulk and cream of the German war machine”. I always understood that at least half of the Axis divisions on the eastern front were Hungarian, Romanian, Italian and others. They all folded like soft tortillas unless they were up against civilians.”
    Well “the bulk and cream” did shift to Normandy after D-Day. That’s irrefutable as Cobra breakout and the subsequent series of engagements (Mortain, Falaise, etc) destroyed Wehrmacht’s mobile reserves (9 Panzer divisions including Leibstandarte, Das Reich, Hitler Jugend, Panzer Lehr, etc). However what is also fairly well established is the fact that 75 percent of Wehrmacht’s manpower had been deployed on the eastern front for much of the war after 1942. That also correlates roughly to inflicting around 70-75 percent of 5.3million German casualties during the war.
    D-Day didn’t alter the key outcome of the war namely the defeat of Germany. What it did change was the shape of postwar Western Europe. Had Overlord failed, one could counterfactually posit that the Red Army perhaps would’ve reached Berlin (or the smoldering remains of it) by 1946 at the latest. However it would’ve taken the Western Allies another 9months to a year to launch a second attempt in northern France or to ship follow-on forces to southern France after Anvil which could’ve taken even longer as Blaskowitz again proved to be a very competent general despite a long layoff from field command. After Bagration (some say even after Kursk as that was the last time the Ostheer held initiative) Germany could only delay the Red Army’s advance toward Oder not stop it. And by this time the Soviet operational art was reaching its peak as Manstein had admitted in his memoir. Without Allied forces on the Rhein in 1945, we probably would’ve dropped the first atomic bombs on Berlin. IMHO that would’ve merely hastened the collapse even if the Germans could have been able to stop the Red Army advances before Oder by August 1945.

  44. Patrick Lang says:

    You obviously know WW2. A few nitpicks.
    I have never thought of the Waffen SS as part of the Wehrmacht. My understanding is that this government funded party militia had all its own training, recruiting and command relationships. The Waffen SS was under the opcon of OKW and subordinate field commands of the Heer as necessary, but subject to withdrawal from that opcon at the discretion of the Reichsfuehrer SS (Himmler). This was a matter of unhappiness with some Heer (Army) comanders because when that occurred the Waffen SS were sometimes used in support of non-military suppressions of populations, etc.
    In the list of units that you mention only one, “Panzer Lehr” is a Army division.
    Actually the “Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler” was an armored regiment within the larger structure of the 1st SS Panzer Division “Adolf Hitler.” pl

  45. Patrick Lang says:

    Yes, terrain matters but not absolutely. For example, in the American Civil Wat, IMO a Confederate capture of Washington, DC would have led to a peace unfavorable to the North.
    Nevertheless, you seem to have missed the point which is that success or failure in the Marja campaign will be decisive HERE in the US. pl

  46. Harry says:

    Back to the original topic some may find the results of this opinion survey to be interesting.

  47. Neil Richardson says:

    Dear Col. Lang,
    Those are fair points and I probably should’ve been more careful before firing off a quick post. I could’ve mentioned other Heer divisions such as 2nd Pz, 21st Pz, 116th Pz. I guess the reason why I had generalized and used Wehrmacht was due to these Waffen-SS units coming under the opcon of not only Heer field commands, but also the OKW (Oberkommando der Wehrmacht). I think the reason why I thought of Waffen-SS divisions first was for the simple fact that they were stronger formations in comparison to their Heer counterparts (other than Grossdeutschland and Lehr). As for Leibstandarte, I also probably should’ve used the acronym LSSAH instead. However, by Feb 1943 the entire LSSAH as a regiment had been enlarged to Pzgrenadier division which later converted into Pz division. I’ve seen historians refer to 1st SS Panzer as Leibstandarte (Max Hastings and John Keegan) or Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler (Anthony Beevor).
    As for the tensions between the Waffen-SS and Heer, I agree completely as the former were given higher priority in manpower as well as materiel replacements and were usually kept closer to authorized strengths at the expense of the latter. However by 1943 or certainly 1944, I’m not sure if there was that much tension at armee level and below. The Waffen-SS divisions were fire brigades and unlike Heer commanding generals (e.g., Guderian, Rundstedt) who would face dismissal after disobeying a Hitler order, Waffen-SS generals could and did get away with such decisions. In fact Manstein praised Hausser for disregarding Hitler’s order and saving the SS Pz Corps at Kharkov. Sepp Dietrich similarly had disobeyed several orders.
    The subject of the Heer’s complicity, acquiescence or implicit approval of not only the Waffen-SS but also the Allegemeine-SS activities on the eastern front has been a recent topic of historiographical debate (e.g., Omer Bartov). I’d probably defer here as I’m not nearly as well informed on it as I should be.

  48. Patrick Lang says:

    Is this a long term interest?
    There was also a social class problem between Heer and Waffen SS officers. Not too many “von” prefixed names in the SS. There were some senior Waffen SS “officers” who had gone over to the new service from the Heer to get out from under a glass ceiling in the 30s. Hausser was, I believe, one of these. Bittrich, the corps commander at Arnhem had been an army officer. IMO it was easier for von Manstein to approve of Hausser and Bittrich than Sepp Dietrich.
    And then if you consider a man like LTG Frido von Senger und Etterlin, (a tertiary of the Order of St. Benedict) you can see that relations must have been pretty frosty with the at least nominally Nazi SS.

  49. Neil Richardson says:

    “And as for bulk and cream, the troops that were decisive were the Germans, not their Axis allies. What the Allies met in the west was not the best Germany had to offer, often under strength and often with second rate equipment unsuitable for use in the East. The Allies could count themselves lucky to have the Russians binding the bulk of the Wehrmacht.”
    I’m not sure if I would agree with this characterization. Certainly on D-Day some of the static Heer divisions were using anything that could move (even old French infantry tanks), but by D+12 strong formations such as Hitler Jugend were already on the line in strength. The bloody trail of Das Reich has been noted by historians for decades. By July, most of the elite mobile reserves were concentrated in Normandy. The Soviet maskirovka was one crucial factor that contributed to the success of Bagration. However there were other critical aspects as the OKW didn’t have enough mobile reserves to cover both the center and the south. In addition, the Allied bomber offensive as well as the Big Week in 1944 had decimated the Luftwaffe fighter force. That allowed the Soviets to enjoy air supremacy during Bagration.
    As for second rate equipment, I think the British veterans (esp. the survivors of Villier-Bocages and Totalize) and the US veterans of Luettich would disagree with that assessment. Partly due to some self-serving Wehrmacht generals after the war, there’s been mischaracterization of the quality of American fighting men in the European Theater of Operation (especially criticisms against infantrymen). Michael Doubler and others have tried to correct the wrong assessments of historians such as Russell Weigley that have persisted for decades. I’ve had the opportunity to speak to many Wehrmacht veterans in the early 1980s when I was at Bad Kissingen. Almost all who’d faced both the Red Army and the US Army on the western front were in agreement that our artillery was more effective even though the Soviets had greater quantity. (US Army was just better at massing fires very quickly and our counterbattery capabilities were unmatched) And tactical air interdiction was incomparable. And anyone who’d studied Arracourt would also realize that American tankers were as good as any German tankers during the entire war. (German Panzertruppen also cracked when they first came upon T-34s and KV-1s in the early years of Barbarossa. And unlike the German tankers in 1944, those Soviet tankers were mostly untrained kids who lacked radio communication. And as any tanker worth his salt would tell you, it’s not necessarily the quality of a mount but the crew who generally are more important in the outcome of an engagement)
    I don’t really think the disproportionate casualty rate of the Red Army factors into this equation. As someone a lot smarter than I had once pointed out, you win a war by making the other poor dumb b—d die for his country. I had already pointed out that 70-75 percent of German casualties were suffered on the eastern front. However I don’t think the war on the west was as easy as you’d hinted here. Because the distance to Germany from Normandy was shorter than that from Ukraine, Hitler had to mass his mobile reserves. And even after the debacle after the breakout, Hitler chose to use his last bit of armored reserves in the West at Ardennes. That used to be one of prevailing sources of complaints among German veterans who thought he should’ve used them to stop the Red Army from reaching Oder. The Red Army paid for their victories with blood. Western Allies suffered proportionately less casualties (other than Huertgen Forest) because we were better at combined arms operations.

  50. Bob Bernard says:

    The US Navy saved the day in more than battles at sea. In addition to Commodore Perry on Lake Erie, an equally critical battle was won by Commander (later Commodore) McDonough at Plattsburg on Lake Champlain.
    Not being able to control Lake Champlain caused the British to call off a planned northern invasion with troops fresh from the penninsular wars.

  51. confusedponderer says:

    I readily concede that you’re more knowledgeable than I am on the subject.
    What I wrote was based on what I knew, ‘gefährliches Halbwissen’ so to say, and in particular to counter what I perceived to be mike’s assertion that the US carried the brunt of the fighting in WW-II. I don’t buy that, and the casualty rates and intensity and scope of fighting in Russia suggest otherwise.

  52. mike says:

    confused ponderer –
    I never made an assertion that “…the US carried the brunt of the fighting in WW-II” as you seem to claim that the Soviets did.
    Also your statement of the 860,000 Soviet casualties at Kursk has been debated and is in question. Some have claimed it was only 33% to 40% of that figure. Check out the dispute section on Wiki regarding Kursk.
    It is also worth mentioning that at Kursk the Soviets had:
    1] a 2.5 to 1 superiority in troops
    2] a 2 to 1 superiority in tanks
    3] a 4 to 1 advantage in artillery (not quite hubcap to hubcap but an average of one tube every 40 meters)
    4] a 1.2 to 1 advantage in aircraft
    If they lost over 800,000, then they certainly deserved to.
    BTW although for the most part the Italians and Romanians had withdrawn by then, the Hungarian light divisions were still a significant portion of the Axis OB. The Soviets – like the Brits in North Africa – were very good at finding and attacking the points in the German line that were manned by Axis allies.

  53. confusedponderer says:

    let me rephrase: My point is that I think that your dismissive attitude, as in – ‘if they had so many losses with these force ration they deserved them’ – towards the Russian efforts doesn’t do their contribution to the Allied victory in WW-II justice.
    Doing that leads to you overestimate the US(British) contribution.
    I don’t known if that correctly describe what you think, but it is certainly the feeling I got from what you wrote.

  54. Patrick Lang says:

    Something else that I think I should say is that I think the Heer was generally better led than the Waffen SS. Was there an SS Kriegs Akademie? pl

  55. Neil Richardson says:

    Dear Col.Lang,
    “Something else that I think I should say is that I think the Heer was generally better led than the Waffen SS. Was there an SS Kriegs Akademie?”
    I would concur given the number of competent generals among division, corps, army and army group commanders in the Heer. IMHO it speaks to the depth and quality of general officers in the Heer that Hitler was able to retire Guderian, Bock, Rundstedt (several times), Manstein and many others such as Hoepner, Hoth and Blaskowitz (who was exiled to garrison duty) without seriously crippling the force. To my knowledge a very limited number of Waffen-SS officers had attended the Kriegsakademie (in terms of staff and technical training, they’d attend Heer schools as well). As you know the Kriegsakademie and Generalstab education were pretty much the exclusive domain of Junkers in the Reichsheer especially given the small size of the officer corps prior to 1933. IIRC Rommel was given a spot only in 1935 after the expansion while Guderian had never attended. I don’t know how well they’d done, but given the institutional differences I’d suspect not many were successful. In addition, IIRC the courses were shortened (compared to two years during peacetime) as the Waffen SS grew from a relatively small force of about three divisions to nearly a million men. Hausser did his best to try to transform the Waffen SS into a professional force, but their early record in 1939-41 was mixed. Those who’d risen to senior leadership such as Dietrich, Felix Steiner and Keppler were hardly competent especially in contrast to their counterparts in the Heer such as Model, Rommel, Manteuffel, Balck, Brandenberger and Raus. Hausser was held in high esteem by Manstein and Rommel, but he seems to be one of few exceptions among senior officers.
    At tactical level I’m not sure if field grade and company grade leadership was weaker in contrast to that of the Heer though after they had bled enough. By 1943 just by sheer attrition (and Waffen-SS units had higher casualty rate than comparable Heer units on average) tactically competent NCOs and junior leaders who’d survived were promoted (e.g., Otto Baum, Kurt Meyer, Peiper, etc) to make up for the lack of professionally trained officers among the first generation of Waffen-SS. These men were younger than even James Gavin or Robert Frederick when they’d assumed regimental and divisional command. I remember Charles Sydnor describing some of the Heer generals’ complaints during the early period of Barbarossa that Waffen-SS units were wholly lacking in tactical competence as frontal assault seemed to be their only solution to every problem. I’ve wondered if the fanaticism of the Waffen-SS suited Germany’s needs better in the last two years of fighting withdrawals on both fronts. Despite some early successes during the second Ardennes offensive (which was hardly surprising given enormous local superiority in the sector), I don’t believe the 1st and 2nd SS Panzer Corps were that impressive against green and reconstituting divisions of the US VIII Corps or against the 101AB and 10AD at Bastogne. While lack of tactical and operational sophistication could seriously undermine an offensive, fanaticism perhaps could be a substitute in defensive operations up to a point.

  56. Patrick Lang says:

    Astonishing analysis. My compliments. pl

  57. mike says:

    ponderer –
    My apologies if I came across as dismissive of the Soviet effort during WW-II. I thank God that they eventually took our side when Hitler lost his marbles and broke the Soviet/Axis alliance. Without the eastern front, of course it would have been a completely different war.
    My point is and has been all along that they did not win the war by themselves. Without our lend-lease and other outright gifts of war material, I do not believe that they would have won Stalingrad or Kursk or elsewhere. I believe that you are the one that has overestimated the Soviet contribution when you earlier said that they had already won the war prior to the Normandy landings.

  58. Pat Lang and everyone,
    How this got to the German Army and Barbarossa from the War of 1812 seems a little serendipitous, however I’d like to make a few points on the new subject. On the subject of who won the war, you all should remember that at the time of the Normandy invasion, the Red Army was already up to the pre-war Polish border. The Russians had defeated the Wehrmacht at Moscow, Stalingrad, Kursk and had destoyed Army Group Center. They had pushed the front back to the start lines of 22JUN41. By the time of the breakout from Normandy they were up to what is now the Polish eastern border and up to the outskirts of Warsaw. My points are that the war in the east was effectively decided by the time of Normandy and that the period of time when the Wehrmacht was decisively engaged in the west was only from June ’44 until the end. The end was hastened by alternating crises and requirements in the East and west, but the Red Army defeated Germany. Who “won” the war? We did. The Soviet Union was bled white and much of it destroyed, Germany even worse, Britain exhausted and virtually bankrupt, the continental nations destitute, so began the period of overwhelming American power.

  59. mike says:

    WPF –
    Yes and when they (the Soviets) reached the Polish border. They stopped and let the SS finish off the Polish Uprising.
    As to who defeated Germany? It was not the Red Army alone. It was mostly Stalin’s Pledge of Neutrality to Japan which allowed the Red Army to fight on a single front. Without that pledge, the Japanese never would have attacked Pearl Harbor. It was also Wendy the Welder and Rosie the Riveter who provided the lend-lease war material to Stalin. It was (arguably) the 8th and 15th Air Forces and British Bomber Command.
    And probably Hitler’s insanity and interference in operational matters had something to do with it. He overrode Manstein’s decisions at Kursk and withheld air support there because of the allied invasion of Sicily. Churchill and many historians, Keegan among them, and supposedly Hitler himself claim that if the British and the Greek Resistance hadn’t stopped the Italian invasion of Greece therefore requiring the deployment of 680,000 German troops, 1,200 tanks, and 700 aircraft to Greece, the war would have taken a different course. The Germans then could have beat the Russian cold by a month or more and conquered Leningrad and Moscow. There would have been no Stalingrad.

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