Outside Britain, Europeans tend to say it was the United States that contributed most to winning WWII – and relatively few credit the USSR
Next week will mark the 70th anniversary of VE day, the day Nazi Germany officially surrendered in the Second World War. Commemorations are being held across Europe, but in some cases may be overshadowed by tension between the West and Russia over the conflict in Ukraine. The snub of Moscow’s VE Day event by many world leaders also evokes the Cold War, which divided the the Western Allies from the Soviet Union soon after World War Two ended.
YouGov recently conducted a poll in seven European nations, including France, Britain and Germany, as well as the United States, and asked respondents whether the US, the United Kingdom or the Sovient Union (USSR) contributed most to the defeat of Germany in WWII. The survey finds that no more than 27% in any of the countries believed the USSR contributed most, and in six out of the eight countries surveyed the US was the most popular response.
The poll also reveals the likely influence of nationalism in how history is remembered. Americans were the most likely to think the US contributed most, while British people were the most likely to say it was the UK. Few responded that it was another country besides the three listed, but 4% of Germans did, and many of them wrote in “Germany” or "Germany itself" – suggesting a belief that the Third Reich was its own downfall. Germans are also the most likely to cite the Soviets (at 27%), who were the first of the Allies to arrive in Berlin in 1945, but more Germans (37%) nevertheless point to the US instead.
The findings contrast dramatically with a survey conducted by a French polling institute in May 1945, which found that 57% of the French public believed that the USSR contributed the most in the Second World War, compared to 20% for the US and 12% for the UK. A poll conducted in 2009 also found that 63% of Russians believed that the USSR could have won the war on its own.
There are some hints in YouGov's poll that memories of the Cold War may be a factor. Americans aged 18-29 were the age group most likely to credit the USSR, though they still prefer the US by 36% to 16%. However Americans 65 and up, who would have mostly come of age during the heart of the US-Soviet rivalry, pick the US over the Soviet Union by 66% to 9%, a much wider margin.
Among historians the verdict is mixed. While it is acknowledged that Soviet soldiers contributed the most on the battlefield and endured much higher casualties, American and British air campaigns were also key, as was the supply of arms and equipment by the US under lend-lease.
See the EuroTrack results here
See the US results here