Untrue Historic "Facts" It’s Time to Erase
Untrue Historic “Facts” It’s Time to Erase

Untrue Historic “Facts” It’s Time to Erase

Khalid Elhassan - September 8, 2020

Untrue Historic “Facts” It’s Time to Erase
Red Army attack. Pinterest

7. A Myth Belied by Statistics

The Wehrmacht did inflict disproportionately high losses on the Red Army. However, the main source of this disparity is captured Soviet soldiers during German offensive operations. In 1941, for example, the Soviets, who were on the defensive and reeling from a surprise massive attack, lost five million men, most of the prisoners, to the Germans’ one million casualties. It was a 5:1 loss ratio in the Germans’ favor.

Casualty statistics rely upon the human wave myth. When the Soviets shifted to the offensive – when you would expect them to make the most use of “human wave” attacks – their casualty ratio against the Germans actually improved dramatically. During 1942-1945, when the Soviets were on the offensive, the loss ratio dropped to less than two to one. Other than the catastrophic 1941, when the Soviets were caught off guard, they suffered approximately 8 million casualties, while inflicting 5 million upon the Germans – a 1.6:1 ratio.

Untrue Historic “Facts” It’s Time to Erase
Red Army soldiers marching into a captured Budapest in 1945. Radio Free Europe

6. The Red Army Rarely Conducted Massed Attacks

Although there are some documented cases of mass attacks by Soviet forces during WWII, they were few. Far from being terrifying human waves that overwhelmed German divisions with bodies until they ran out of bullets’, they consisted of encircled Soviet troops desperately attempting to break out. Either that, or local militia with no military training and thus not knowing any better, trying to slow down the Germans. The notion that massed attacks were standard Red Army practice is just a myth.

The actual Soviet offensive operations that shattered German defenses were modern combined arms attacks, executed with integrated infantry, artillery, and armor. They did attempt to concentrate troops for the maximum superiority of numbers possible at the key point. However, nothing about that was unique to the Soviets. Concentration of forces to achieve maximum local superiority at the decisive point is what all armies try to do when attacking.

Untrue Historic “Facts” It’s Time to Erase
Red banner raised over the Reichstag and a wrecked Berlin in 1945. Rare Historical Photos

5. Overwhelming Soviet Numerical Superiority Was Also a Myth

The myth of the Soviet military’s reliance on human wave attacks in WWII goes hand in hand with the myth that the Soviets enjoyed an overwhelming manpower superiority, which enabled them to afford such wasteful tactics. However, when the Germans attacked in 1941, they enjoyed an initial numerical superiority of 3.8 million men against 2.6 – 2.9 million Soviets. Eventually, the Soviets managed to gain numerical superiority, but for most of the war, it remained at less than a 2:1 advantage.

That only began to change when the Soviets regained the vast territories initially overrun by the Germans. The manpower in the Nazi-occupied territories had been unavailable to the Red Army, but liberation changed that. Between access to fresh manpower reserves, and the Western Allies’ invasion of Europe, which forced the Germans to divert troops from the Eastern front, the Soviets finally began to enjoy an overwhelming numerical advantage.

Untrue Historic “Facts” It’s Time to Erase
The last Western Roman Emperor, Romulus Augustulus, surrendering the imperial insignia to Odoacer. About History

4. The Myth that the Roman Empire Fell in 476 AD

It is often bandied that the Western Roman Empire fell in 476 AD. While that year is usually viewed as that empire’s traditional end date, the notion that it came to an end in 476 is a myth. The empire’s end was actually a gradual process, not an abrupt one. Contemporaries hardly noticed that anything special had happened in 476. What did actually happen that year was that a military strongman, Odoacer, beat another military strongman, Orestes, to become the power behind the throne – Western Roman emperors having long since been reduced to puppets by then.

Odoacer then forced Orestes’ son, the sixteen-year-old Emperor Romulus Augustulus, to abdicate. Augustulus’ imperial regalia was sent to the other Roman emperor, in Constantinople, who confirmed Odoacer as ruler of Italy in the now-sole Roman Emperor’s name. On the ground, little changed in Italy or the rest of the Western Roman Empire. Most people who lived in 477 would not have noticed anything particularly different from 476.

Untrue Historic “Facts” It’s Time to Erase
The Empire of Alexander the Great. Encyclopedia Britannica

3. The Myth That Alexander the Great Conquered History’s Greatest Empire

Alexander the Great was one of history’s greatest conquerors, widely credited with conquering history’s greatest empire until then. The man was undoubtedly great, but his empire’s size was not the greatest to date. When Alexander died in 323 BC, history’s largest empire until then was still the Persian Empire. The map above is of Alexander’s empire at its greatest extent. The map below is of the Achaemenid Persian Empire under Darius the Great (490 BC).

Untrue Historic “Facts” It’s Time to Erase
The Persian Empire under Darius the Great. Wikimedia

Alexander’s and Darius’ empires mostly overlap. However, the territory that Darius did not rule in Greece and Thrace is more than made up for with territories he ruled in Arabia, Central Asia, Libya and the Caucasus, that Alexander never conquered. All in all, the difference amounts to about 300,000 square kilometers in favor of the Persian Empire at its peak: 5.5 million square kilometers, vs 5.2 million for Alexander’s realm. It took another two and a half centuries after Alexander’s death before the Achaemenid Empire’s size record was finally bested, by China under the Han Dynasty.

Untrue Historic “Facts” It’s Time to Erase
“River of Blood” plaque at The Trump National Golf Club. Houston Chronicle

2. The “River of Blood” Myth

People visiting the Trump National Golf Club in Northern Virginia might come across a bit of Civil War history that few had ever heard of. Situated between the 14th hole and the 15th tee in one of the courses is a plaque attached to a flagpole overlooking the Potomac River. Above a Trump family crest and President Trump’s full name is an inscription that reads:

Many great American soldiers, both of the North and South, died at this spot. The casualties were so great that the water would turn red and thus became known as ‘The River of Blood.’ It is my great honor to have preserved this important section of the Potomac River“. The plaque designates that portion of the Potomac as “The River of Blood”. As seen below, there is a good reason why few had ever heard of that engagement: it is a myth.

Untrue Historic “Facts” It’s Time to Erase
A Civil War battle. Science Source

1. “Were They There?

There is a solid consensus among Civil War scholars and historians that there is no battle or “River of Blood” designation associated with the Trump National Golf Club. When challenged about the accuracy of the plaque, however, Trump was adamant. As he put it, the area was: “a prime site for river crossings. So if people are crossing the river, and you happen to be in a civil war, I would say that people were shot – a lot of them“.

Unfortunately, scholars remain unconvinced and refuse to accept the point-at-a-landmark-and-speculate method as valid historic corroboration. When informed that historians disagreed with his River of Blood myth, Trump retorted: “how would they know that? Were they there?


Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading

Ancient History Encyclopedia – Fall of the Western Roman Empire

Carley, Michael J. – End of the Low, Dishonest Decade: Failure of the Anglo-Franco-Soviet Alliance in 1939 (1993)

Clark, Alan – Barbarossa: The Russian-German Conflict, 1941-1945 (1985

Cracked – 5 Historical Landmarks (That Are Total Frauds)

Cracked – 5 People You Didn’t Realize Were Fictional Characters

Encyclopedia Britannica – Montezuma II

History Collection – Popular Historic “Facts” That Are Actually False

Ericson, Edward E. – Feeding the German Eagle: Soviet Economic Aid to Nazi Germany, 1933 – 1941 (1999)

Glantz, David – When Titans Clashed: How the Red Army Stopped Hitler (1995)

GQ, June 20th, 2019 – A Dirty, Rotten, Double Crossing (True) Story of What Happened to the Italian American Mob

Japan Talk – 8 Common Ninja Myths

Lane Fox, Robin – The Search For Alexander (1980)

Military History Now – Enter the Ninja: Facts and Myths About Japan’s Most Mysterious Warriors

Montefiore, Simon Sebag – Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar (2004)

New York Times, March 17th, 2017 – Debunking a Myth: The Irish Were Not Slaves, Too

Rolling Stone, August 17th, 2017 – Donald Trump’s Golf Course Plaque Honors Fake Civil War Battle

Smithsonian Magazine, August, 2004 – In Search of William Tell

Southern Poverty Law Center – How the Myth of Irish Slaves Became a Favorite Meme of Racists Online

History Collection – Historical Facts Accepted as Real For Many Years

Tank Encyclopedia – Medium Tank M4 Sherman

Wikipedia – Lend-Lease

Wikipedia – St. Bernard (Dog)

History Collection – Popular Historical Myths That People Think Are Fact