March 10, 2015

1943. Estimating the Red Army Death Toll So Far

The Soviet Union's Heavy Casualties
Red Army soldiers walk along Khreshchatyk in Kiev on November 7, 1943 (Photo by Arkady Shaikhetsource)
Bill Downs made a similar report on Soviet casualties that drew the attention of Nazi officials. The parentheses indicate text that did not pass Soviet censors for military security or propaganda reasons.

(For more, see the complete 1943 Moscow reports.)
Bill Downs

CBS Moscow

March 24, 1943

Red Army forces are less than sixty miles from Smolensk at two points east and northeast of that German stronghold, and they are driving hard. The fighting on this front west of Moscow is beginning to assume the same bitter character that marked Nazi resistance in the early days of the Russian winter offensive.

The German defense against this two-pronged drive on Smolensk is heaviest on the northern armies on the approaches to the district center of Dukhovshina. Dukhovshina is only thirty-three miles northeast of Smolensk on the main highway leading from Smolensk to Rzhev.

The second Russian spearhead pressing toward Smolensk is on the railway directly east of that city. Here the Red Army is only some fifteen miles away from the important railroad town of Yartsevo.

This morning's communiqué announced that in the Dukhovshina sector the Russian forces have captured a German fortified line of great tactical importance. But the Germans have strong forces in this area and are counterattacking violently. Despite this, however, in the past two days some eighty inhabited points have been taken by the Soviet troops, and their advance continues.

(At the present rate of the Red Army advance, it would appear that the Battle of Smolensk is not far off.)

For the first time in many months, there has been an official statement from the Soviet government concerning the number of casualties the Red Army is suffering in this present fighting.

These facts were given in a special bulletin from the Soviet Information Bureau, which took occasion to deny recent German claims of a Russian defeat during a big counterattack in the area between the Donets and the Dnieper rivers.

The Germans claimed that this attack was launched on February 19 (and then took care to name the Russian regiments who allegedly were wiped out.)

The Soviet Information Bureau branded this German report as pure Nazi invention. The government agency said that the report was a German coverup for the failure of the Nazis to create a "German Stalingrad" in the recent Axis counterattack in the Donbass and Kharkov sectors.

(The Information Bureau said that, despite the fact that the Germans brought in fresh reinforcements from Western Europe, they did not succeed in getting any revenge for their defeat at Stalingrad. "The Red Army waged bitter fights and inflicted severe losses on the enemy,") the announcement said, "Our forces withdrew on the order of the high command to new defensive lines and thus frustrated the German plans."

Then the Information Bureau said that during this fighting retreat to the new lines on this Donets river, the Red Army lost 36,722 men in killed or missing. The German losses in the same fighting, the Information Bureau said, were less than 50,000 men.

This is a very fair figure. It means that for every five men the Germans lost in their counteroffensive, the Russians lost a little over three and a half men.

At this ratio of 3.5 to 5—which would not necessarily hold for all the fighting on the Russian front—you can estimate the total Russian losses since the war began. The Soviet government says that some four million Germans have lost their lives in Russia during this war.

Then it follows that, according to the comparative losses during the German counterattack, 2,936,000 Red Army men have died in defending their country during this fighting. But I must point out that this figure is based merely on one small fact from one small sector of the Russian front.

But whether the figure is larger or smaller, 2,936,000 men lost in the cause of democracy gives the Allies of Russia something to think about—and throws new light on Russia's desire for a second front.