I am slowly slogging my way through Lloyd Clark's excellent Kursk: The Greatest Battle. If I describe it as a 'slog' it is not a criticism of Mr. Clark's literary style which is clear, precise and intelligent but simply the difficulty of taking in military operations on a scale never seen before and, thank God, never since. To give us some idea of the scale, Mr. Clark informs us that:
While the Normandy landings during the summer of 1944 did mark a major turning point in the war in Europe, we should remember that by the end of that year, 91 Allied divisions in northwest Europe faced 65 German divisions across a 250-mile front, while at the same time in the east, 560 Soviet divisions fought 235 German divisions across 2,000 miles. [My emphasis]
In a straight line that is roughly the distance from Narvik to Sicily. As for that part of the Eastern Front involving the battle for Kursk in 1943:
[It] eventually occupied four million men, 69,000 guns and mortars, 13,000 tanks and self-propelled guns and almost 12,000 aircraft.
Not that we failed to do our bit! At the time, 1943, the Soviets were out-producing the Germans in virtually every respect but even so the German shortfall was:
[E]xacerbated by the British and American Lend-Lease scheme, under which commodities including agricultural machinery and industrial plant as well as thousands of tanks, aircraft, jeeps, trucks, boxes of ammunition and other material essentials arrived through the ports of Murmansk, Archangel and Vladivostock. [...] Stalin disliked having to rely on 'the charity' of the Western Allies,but later secretly confessed, 'If we had had to deal with Germany one-to-one we would not have been able to cope because we lost so much of our industry.' The plan was slow to get going but by 1943 it was providing 17% of Soviet aircraft, nealry 16% of guns and ammunition and 14% of vehicles.
As a boy I still remember vividly meeting, briefly, a man in his mid-thrities who was totally bald, in fact his entire face was hairless. My mother told me that he had been in the Merchant Navy on the 'Russian run' and his hair had fallen out due to the strain. The casualties were enormous in those northern waters with the Germans having command of the long Norwegian coast and the crews knew that if hit by a torpedo they would live for about two minutes in the icy waters.
Today there is plenty to complain about in this rackety old world of ours but it is worth remembering from time to time that things have been worse - indescribably worse.