Originally published at: http://timeghost.tv/were-us-marines-tougher-than-elite-german-troops-in-ww2/

I keep on seeing comparisons between elite soldiers trying to assess who was tougher, harder to kill, more effective, or most resilient. I think it sort of misses the point a bit… all soldiers are human. So this is how I answered that question on Quora. Read Spartacus Olsson‘s answer to Were US Marines tougher…

Woohoo, the logon seems to be working now. Thanks for sorting that out folks.

If you look at just about any unit in any army with any kind of reputation for toughness, one thing that seems to be common is that they all had a degree of selectivity about their recruits. Be it British commandos, Waffen SS or US marines, they all to some extent at least got to pick the best manpower. That’s got to help.

At least in the case of the Waffen SS as well, the quality of those recruits was beginning to drop off as casualties took their toll. Leibstandarte, Das Reich and Totenkopf were all rebuilt from virtually nothing several times over and by the end of the war there were over 30 Waffen SS divisions. I think it’s unlikely that the fighting qualities of your average panzergrenadier in the 17th SS division in the Battle Of The Bulge would have been a match for soldiers from Leibstandarte at Kursk, for example.

1 Like

Good point that cements even more that no matter what army they belonged to, they were human beings that suffered the consequences of war.

I think that the comparison between US Marines and the Waffen SS is a bit like the comparisons between the Tiger and the Sherman, in that… they’re both fundamentally flawed propositions. Humans, and machines as well, are not standardized clones, we don’t have stats or numbers that can quantify how good we are at something, and how well a unit of either men or vehicles perform will differentiate all the time.

If you have the exact same person run a race two times under identical conditions, they will be slightly faster one time and slightly slower the other. Real life isn’t a computer game where there are quantifiable levels of skill at everything.

A US Marine could beat a Waffen SS soldier, and a Waffen SS soldier could beat a US Marine. But neither was inherently superior to the other. Who would win would be determined by the un-cool, but vitally important stuff behind the front lines:

Who has access to better equipment at this moment? Who has ammunition? Who has gotten more sleep? Who has eaten better for the last few weeks? Where are they fighting? Who is the individual? And, even, who is luckier?

Warfare isn’t a video game where you can pit up two Computer-controlled bots with quantifiable stats and predict who will win beforehand just based on those stats. In reality, everyone is different, everyone is a unique human being.

So yeah, in general, I think these sorts of comparisons are wrong in their very thesis, because they assume that you can quantify the skill of a group of people, when you really can’t.

On burnout and combat fatigue, I think the Allies did a far better job of managing this than the Axis. Experienced American pilots would rotate back to the States after completing their tour of duty and marines in the Pacific did (IIRC) three landings before being sent back home. By comparison, Japanese or German servicemen just stayed at the front until the burnt out or got wounded or killed. I’ve read accounts of veteran Japanese pilots in the South Pacific who just kind of checked out mentally and ended up not caring if they got killed or not. Needless to say they didn’t last much longer.

Being a bit nitpicky, a marine would likely be somewhat better at doing an opposed amphibious landing than a Waffen SS panzergrenadier, but I’m not sure he’d be much use for taking on a Soviet tank army on the Eastern front.

Going a bit off topic now, but there has been a fair amount of revisionism about the good old Sherman in recent years. If you’ve got an hour or so, this makes for interesting viewing.

While you’re correct about the pilot rotation comparison, and I cannot say for the Japanese forces, it’s not quite correct to say that the Wehrmacht in general was worse in handling combat fatigue. In fact the Germans had adopted rotation practices that kept their soldiers shorter times on the front and gave them more leave time than the Allies, where the Brits were especially miserable at rotation management. The rotation principles the Germans implemented are congruent with modern military management ideals. That being said, as the war wound on, by late 1944 this doesn’t apply any longer due to a depletion of reserves.

That’s interesting. I didn’t know that about leave in the Wehrmacht. I think you hit on an important point though about how availability of manpower affected things like leave and rotation.