The Workers' and Peasants' Red Army,[a] frequently shortened
to Red Army,[b] was the army and the air force of the Russian
Soviet Federative Socialist Republic and, after 1922, the Union of
Soviet Socialist Republics. The army was established immediately after
the 1917 October Revolution. The
Bolsheviks raised an army to oppose
the military confederations (especially the various groups
collectively known as the White Army) of their adversaries during the
Russian Civil War. Beginning in February 1946, the Red Army, along
with the Soviet Navy, embodied the main component of the Soviet Armed
Forces; taking the official name of "Soviet Army", until its
dissolution in December 1991. The former official name Red Army
continued to be used as a nickname by both sides throughout the Cold
Red Army provided the largest land force in the Allied victory in
the European theatre of World War II, and its invasion of Manchuria
assisted the unconditional surrender of Imperial Japan. During
operations on the Eastern Front, it accounted for 75–80% of
Waffen-SS suffered during the war and
ultimately captured the Nazi German capital, Berlin.
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ul display:none Contents
2.1 Russian Civil War
Polish–Soviet War and prelude
2.4 Doctrinal development in the 1920s and 1930s
2.5 Chinese–Soviet conflicts
Winter War with Finland
2.7 Second World War ("The Great Patriotic War")
5.1 Ranks and titles
5.2 Military education
5.4 Soldier crimes
6 Weapons and equipment
7 See also
11 External links
In September 1917,
Vladimir Lenin wrote: "There is only one way to
prevent the restoration of the police, and that is to create a
people's militia and to fuse it with the army (the standing army to be
replaced by the arming of the entire people)." At the time,
Imperial Russian Army
Imperial Russian Army had started to collapse. Approximately 23%
(about 19 million) of the male population of the
Russian Empire were
mobilized; however, most of them were not equipped with any weapons
and had support roles such as maintaining the lines of communication
and the base areas. The Tsarist general
Nikolay Dukhonin estimated
that there had been 2 million deserters, 1.8 million dead,
5 million wounded and 2 million prisoners. He estimated the
remaining troops as numbering 10 million.
Guards unit of the Vulkan factory
Imperial Russian Army
Imperial Russian Army was being taken apart, "it became
apparent that the rag-tag Red Guard units and elements of the imperial
army who had gone over the side of the
Bolsheviks were quite
inadequate to the task of defending the new government against
external foes." Therefore, the
Council of People's Commissars
Council of People's Commissars decided
to form the
Red Army on 28 January 1918.[c] They envisioned a
body "formed from the class-conscious and best elements of the working
classes." All citizens of the Russian republic aged 18 or older were
eligible. Its role being the defense "of the Soviet authority, the
creation of a basis for the transformation of the standing army into a
force deriving its strength from a nation in arms, and, furthermore,
the creation of a basis for the support of the coming Socialist
Revolution in Europe." Enlistment was conditional upon "guarantees
being given by a military or civil committee functioning within the
territory of the Soviet Power, or by party or trade union committees
or, in extreme cases, by two persons belonging to one of the above
organizations." In the event of an entire unit wanting to join the Red
Army, a "collective guarantee and the affirmative vote of all its
members would be necessary." Because the Red
Army was composed mainly of peasants, the families of those who served
were guaranteed rations and assistance with farm work. Some
peasants who remained at home yearned to join the Army; men, along
with some women, flooded the recruitment centres. If they were turned
away they would collect scrap metal and prepare care-packages. In some
cases the money they earned would go towards tanks for the
Council of People's Commissars
Council of People's Commissars appointed itself the supreme head
of the Red Army, delegating command and administration of the army to
the Commissariat for Military Affairs and the
College within this commissariat.
Nikolai Krylenko was the
supreme commander-in-chief, with
Aleksandr Myasnikyan as
Nikolai Podvoisky became the commissar for war,
Pavel Dybenko, commissar for the fleet. Proshyan, Samoisky, Steinberg
were also specified as people's commissars as well as Vladimir
Bonch-Bruyevich from the Bureau of Commissars. At a joint meeting of
Bolsheviks and Left Socialist-Revolutionaries, held on 22 February
1918, Krylenko remarked: "We have no army. The demoralized soldiers
are fleeing, panic-stricken, as soon as they see a German helmet
appear on the horizon, abandoning their artillery, convoys and all war
material to the triumphantly advancing enemy. The Red Guard units are
brushed aside like flies. We have no power to stay the enemy; only an
immediate signing of the peace treaty will save us from
Russian Civil War
Further information: Russian Civil War
Hammer and plough cockade used by the
Red Army from 1918 to 1922,
when it was replaced by the hammer and sickle.
Russian Civil War
Russian Civil War (1917–1923) occurred in three periods:
October 1917 – November 1918: From the Bolshevik Revolution to the
First World War
First World War Armistice, developed from the Bolshevik government's
nationalization of traditional
Cossack lands in November
1917. This provoked the insurrection of
General Alexey Maximovich Kaledin's
Volunteer Army in the River Don
region. The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk (March 1918) aggravated Russian
internal politics. The overall situation encouraged direct Allied
intervention in the Russian Civil War, in which twelve foreign
countries supported anti-Bolshevik militias. A series of engagements
resulted, involving, amongst others, the Czechoslovak Legion, the
Polish 5th Rifle Division, and the pro-Bolshevik Red Latvian Riflemen.
January 1919 – November 1919: Initially the White armies advanced
successfully: from the south, under General Anton Denikin; from the
Admiral Aleksandr Vasilevich Kolchak; and from the
northwest, under General Nikolai Nikolaevich Yudenich. The Whites
Red Army on each front.
Leon Trotsky reformed and
Red Army repelled
Admiral Kolchak's army in June,
and the armies of General Denikin and General Yudenich in
October. By mid-November the White armies were all almost
completely exhausted. In January 1920 Budenny's First Cavalry Army
1919 to 1923: Some peripheral battles continued for two more years,
and remnants of the White forces continued in the Far East into 1923.
At the start of the civil war, the
Red Army consisted of 299 infantry
regiments. The civil war intensified after Lenin dissolved
Russian Constituent Assembly
Russian Constituent Assembly (5–6 January 1918) and the Soviet
government signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk (3 March 1918), removing
Russia from the Great War. Free from international war, the Red Army
confronted an internecine war against a variety of opposing
anti-Communist forces, including the Revolutionary Insurrectionary
Army of Ukraine, the "Black Army" led by Nestor Makhno, the
anti-White and anti-Red Green armies, efforts to restore the defeated
Provisional Government, monarchists, but mainly the
White Movement of
several different anti-socialist military confederations. "Red Army
Day", 23 February 1918, has a two-fold historical significance: it was
the first day of drafting recruits (in
Petrograd and Moscow), and the
first day of combat against the occupying Imperial German
Leon Trotsky in military dress, wearing also the budenovka hat,
symbol of the
Red Army (1918)
On 6 September 1918 the Bolshevik militias consolidated under the
supreme command of the
Revolutionary Military Council of the Republic
(Russian: Революционный Военный Совет,
romanized: Revolyutsionny Voyenny Sovyet (Revvoyensoviet)). The
first chairman was Leon Trotsky, and the first commander-in-chief was
Jukums Vācietis from the Latvian Riflemen; in July 1919 he was
replaced by Sergey Kamenev. Soon afterwards Trotsky established the
GRU (military intelligence) to provide political and military
Red Army commanders. Trotsky founded the
Red Army with an initial Red Guard organization and a core soldiery of
Red Guard militiamen and Chekist secret police.
Conscription began in June 1918, and opposition to it was
violently suppressed.[page needed] To
control the multi-ethnic and multi-cultural
Red Army soldiery, the
Cheka operated special punitive brigades which suppressed
anti-communists, deserters, and "enemies of the
state". Wartime pragmatism allowed the
recruitment of ex-Tsarist officers and sergeants (non-commissioned
officers, NCOs) into the Red Army. Lev Glezarov's special
commission recruited and screened them. By
mid-August 1920 the Red Army's former Tsarist personnel included
48,000 officers, 10,300 administrators, and 214,000 NCOs.
At the civil war's start, ex-Tsarists made up 75% of the Red Army
officer-corps,[page needed] who were employed
as military specialists (voenspetsy, ru:Военный
Bolsheviks occasionally enforced
the loyalty of such recruits by holding their families as
hostages.[page needed] When the civil war
ended in 1922, ex-Tsarists constituted 83% of the Red Army's
divisional and corps commanders.
Vladimir Lenin, Kliment Voroshilov,
Leon Trotsky and soldiers,
Red Army used special regiments for ethnic minorities, such as the
Dungan Cavalry Regiment commanded by the Dungan Magaza
Red Army also co-operated with armed Bolshevik Party-oriented
volunteer units, the Части особого назначения
– ЧОН (special task units – chasti osobogo naznacheniya – or
ChON) from 1919 to 1925.
The slogan "exhortation, organization, and reprisals" expressed the
discipline and motivation which helped ensure the Red Army's tactical
and strategic success. On campaign, the attached
Punitive Brigades conducted summary field courts-martial and
executions of deserters and slackers. Under
Yan Karlovich Berzin
Yan Karlovich Berzin the
Special Punitive Brigades took
hostages from the villages of deserters to compel their surrender; one
in ten of those returning was executed. The same tactic also
suppressed peasant rebellions in areas controlled by the Red Army, the
biggest of these being the Tambov Rebellion. The Soviets
enforced the loyalty of the various political, ethnic, and national
groups in the
Red Army through political commissars attached at the
brigade and regimental levels. The commissars also had the task of
spying on commanders for political incorrectness.
Political commissars whose Chekist detachments retreated or broke in
the face of the enemy earned the death penalty.[citation
needed] In August 1918, Trotsky authorized General Mikhail
Tukhachevsky to place blocking units behind politically unreliable
Red Army units, to shoot anyone who retreated without
permission. In 1942, during the Great Patriotic War
Joseph Stalin reintroduced the blocking policy and penal
battalions with Order 227
Red Army controlled by the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist
Republic invaded and annexed non-Russian lands helping to create the
Polish–Soviet War and prelude
Soviet westward offensive of 1918–19
Soviet westward offensive of 1918–19 occurred at the same time
as the general Soviet move into the areas abandoned by the Ober Ost
garrisons. This merged into the 1919–1921 Polish–Soviet War, in
Red Army reached central Poland in 1920, but then suffered a
defeat there, which put an end to the war. During the Polish Campaign
Red Army numbered some 6.5 million men, many of whom the Army
had difficulty supporting, around 581,000 in the two operational
fronts, western and southwestern. Around 2.5 million men and
women were immobilized in the interior as part of reserve
The XI Congress of the Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks) (RCP (b))
adopted a resolution on the strengthening of the Red Army. It decided
to establish strictly organized military, educational and economic
conditions in the army. However, it was recognized that an army of
1,600,000 would be burdensome. By the end of 1922, after the Congress,
the Party Central Committee decided to reduce the
Red Army to 800,000.
This reduction necessitated the reorganization of the Red Army's
structure. The supreme military unit became corps of two or three
divisions. Divisions consisted of three regiments. Brigades as
independent units were abolished. The formation of departments' rifle
Doctrinal development in the 1920s and 1930s
After four years of warfare, the Red Army's defeat of Pyotr
Nikolayevich Wrangel in the south in 1920
allowed the foundation of the
Union of Soviet Socialist Republics
Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in
December 1922. Historian John Erickson sees 1 February 1924, when
Mikhail Frunze became head of the
Red Army staff, as marking the
ascent of the general staff, which came to dominate Soviet military
planning and operations. By 1 October 1924 the Red Army's strength had
diminished to 530,000. The list of
Soviet Union divisions
1917–1945 details the formations of the
Red Army in that time.
In the late 1920s and throughout the 1930s, Soviet military
theoreticians – led by Marshal
Mikhail Tukhachevsky – developed
the deep-operations doctrine, a direct consequence of
their experiences in the Polish-Soviet War and in the Russian Civil
War. To achieve victory, deep operations envisage simultaneous corps-
and army-size unit maneuvers of simultaneous parallel attacks
throughout the depth of the enemy's ground forces, inducing
catastrophic defensive failure. The deep-battle doctrine relies upon
aviation and armor advances with the expectation that maneuver warfare
offers quick, efficient, and decisive victory. Marshal Tukhachevsky
said that aerial warfare must be "employed against targets beyond the
range of infantry, artillery, and other arms. For maximum tactical
effect aircraft should be employed en masse, concentrated in time and
space, against targets of the highest tactical
Soviet tanks in the Battle of Khalkhin Gol, August 1939
Red Army deep operations found their first formal expression in the
1929 Field Regulations, and became codified in the 1936 Provisional
Field Regulations (PU-36). The
Great Purge of 1937–1939 and the
Purge of 1940–1942 removed many leading officers from the Red Army,
including Tukhachevsky himself and many of his followers, and the
doctrine was abandoned. Thus at the
Battle of Lake Khasan
Battle of Lake Khasan in 1938 and
Battle of Khalkhin Gol
Battle of Khalkhin Gol in 1939 (major border clashes with the
Imperial Japanese Army), the doctrine was not used. Only in the Second
World War did deep operations come into play.
The Red army was involved in armed conflicts in the Republic of China
during the Sino-Soviet conflict (1929), the Soviet Invasion of
Xinjiang (1934), when it was assisted by White Russian forces, and the
Xinjiang rebellion (1937). The
Red Army achieved its objectives; it
maintained effective control over the Manchurian Chinese Eastern
Railway, and successfully installed a pro-Soviet regime in
Winter War with Finland
Further information: Winter War
Red Army soldiers display a captured Finnish banner, March 1940
Winter War (Finnish: talvisota, Swedish: vinterkriget, Russian:
Зи́мняя война́)[e] was a war between the Soviet
Union and Finland. It began with a Soviet offensive on 30 November
1939—three months after the start of World War II and the Soviet
invasion of Poland, and ended on 13 March 1940 with the Moscow Peace
League of Nations
League of Nations deemed the attack illegal and expelled
Soviet Union on 14 December 1939.
The Soviet forces led by
Semyon Timoshenko had three times as many
soldiers as the Finns, thirty times as many aircraft, and a hundred
times as many tanks. The Red Army, however, had been hindered by
Soviet leader Joseph Stalin's
Great Purge of 1937, reducing the army's
morale and efficiency shortly before the outbreak of the
fighting. With over 30,000 of its army officers executed
or imprisoned, most of whom were from the highest ranks, the Red Army
in 1939 had many inexperienced senior
officers.:56 Because of these factors, and
high commitment and morale in the Finnish forces,
Finland was able to
resist the Soviet invasion for much longer than the Soviets expected.
Finnish forces inflicted stunning losses on the
Red Army for the first
three months of the war while suffering very few losses
Hostilities ceased in March 1940 with the signing of the Moscow Peace
Finland ceded 11% of its pre-war territory and 30% of its
economic assets to the Soviet Union.:18 Soviet losses on
the front were heavy, and the country's international reputation
suffered.:272–273 The Soviet forces did not accomplish
their objective of the total conquest of
Finland but conquered
significant territory along Lake Ladoga, Petsamo and Salla. The Finns
retained their sovereignty and improved their international
reputation, which bolstered their morale in the Continuation War.
Second World War ("The Great Patriotic War")
Further information on
Great Patriotic War
Great Patriotic War (term): Great Patriotic
Further information on Eastern Front (World War II): Eastern Front
(World War II)
Soviet gun crew in action during the Siege of Odessa, July 1941
In accordance with the Soviet-Nazi
Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact of 23
August 1939, the
Red Army invaded Poland on 17 September 1939, after
the Nazi invasion on 1 September 1939. On 30 November the Red Army
also attacked Finland, in the
Winter War of 1939–1940. By autumn
1940, after conquering its portion of Poland, the
Third Reich shared
an extensive border with USSR, with whom it remained neutrally bound
by their non-aggression pact and trade agreements. Another consequence
of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was the Soviet occupation of Bessarabia
and Northern Bukovina, carried out by the Southern Front in
June–July 1940 and Soviet occupation of the Baltic states (1940).
These conquests also added to the border the
Soviet Union shared with
Nazi-controlled areas. For Adolf Hitler, the circumstance was no
dilemma, because the
Drang nach Osten
Drang nach Osten ("Drive towards the
East") policy secretly remained in force, culminating on 18 December
1940 with Directive No. 21, Operation Barbarossa, approved on 3
February 1941, and scheduled for mid-May 1941.
When Germany invaded the
Soviet Union in June 1941, in Operation
Barbarossa, the Red Army's ground forces had 303 divisions and 22
separate brigades (5.5 million soldiers) including 166 divisions
and brigades (2.6 million) garrisoned in the western military
districts. The Axis forces deployed on the
Eastern Front consisted of 181 divisions and 18 brigades
(3 million soldiers). Three Fronts, the Northwestern, Western,
and Southwestern conducted the defense of the western borders of the
USSR. In the first weeks of the
Great Patriotic War
Great Patriotic War the Wehrmacht
Red Army units. The
Red Army lost millions of men as
prisoners and lost much of its pre-war matériel. Stalin increased
mobilization, and by 1 August 1941, despite 46 divisions lost in
combat, the Red Army's strength was 401 divisions.
The Soviet forces were apparently unprepared despite numerous warnings
from a variety of sources. They suffered much damage in
the field because of mediocre officers, partial mobilization, and an
incomplete reorganization. The hasty pre-war forces
expansion and the over-promotion of inexperienced officers (owing to
the purging of experienced officers) favored the
combat.[page needed] The Axis's numeric
superiority rendered the combatants' divisional strength approximately
equal.[f] A generation of Soviet commanders (notably Georgy
Zhukov) learned from the defeats, and Soviet victories in
the Battle of Moscow, at Stalingrad, Kursk and later in Operation
Bagration proved decisive.
Ivan Konev at the liberation of Prague by the
Red Army in May 1945
In 1941, the Soviet government raised the bloodied Red Army's esprit
de corps with propaganda stressing the defense of Motherland and
nation, employing historic exemplars of Russian courage and bravery
against foreign aggressors. The anti-Nazi
Great Patriotic War
Great Patriotic War was
conflated with the
Patriotic War of 1812
Patriotic War of 1812 against Napoleon, and
historical Russian military heroes, such as
Alexander Nevski and
Mikhail Kutuzov, appeared. Repression of the Russian Orthodox Church
temporarily ceased, and priests revived the tradition of blessing arms
To encourage the initiative of
Red Army commanders, the CPSU
temporarily abolished political commissars, reintroduced formal
military ranks and decorations, and introduced the Guards unit
concept. Exceptionally heroic or high-performing units earned the
Guards title (for example 1st Guards
Special Rifle Corps, 6th Guards
Tank Army), an elite designation denoting superior
training, materiel, and pay. Punishment also was used; slackers,
malingerers, those avoiding combat with self-inflicted
wounds cowards, thieves, and deserters were disciplined
with beatings, demotions, undesirable/dangerous duties, and summary
NKVD punitive detachments.
Marshals Zhukov and Rokossovsky with General Sokolovsky leave the
Brandenburg Gate after being decorated by Montgomery
At the same time, the osobist (
NKVD military counter-intelligence
officers) became a key
Red Army figure with the power to condemn to
death and to spare the life of any soldier and (almost any) officer of
the unit to which he was attached. In 1942, Stalin established the
penal battalions composed of gulag inmates, Soviet PoWs, disgraced
soldiers, and deserters, for hazardous front-line duty as tramplers
clearing Nazi minefields, et cetera. Given the
dangers, the maximum sentence was three months. Likewise, the Soviet
Red Army personnel captured by the
especially harsh. Per a 1941 Stalin directive ordered Red Army
officers and soldiers were to "fight to the last" rather than
surrender; Stalin stated: "There are no Soviet prisoners of war, only
traitors. During and after World War II freed POWs went to
special "filtration camps". Of these, by 1944, more than 90% were
cleared, and about 8% were arrested or condemned to serve in penal
battalions. In 1944, they were sent directly to reserve military
formations to be cleared by the NKVD. Further, in 1945, about 100
filtration camps were set for repatriated POWs, and other displaced
persons, which processed more than 4,000,000 people. By 1946, 80%
civilians and 20% of POWs were freed, 5% of civilians, and 43% of POWs
were re-drafted, 10% of civilians and 22% of POWs were sent to labor
battalions, and 2% of civilians and 15% of the POWs (226,127 out of
1,539,475 total) were transferred to the Gulag
Red Army victory banner, raised above the German Reichstag in May
Monument to the Red Army, east Berlin
During the Great Patriotic War, the
Red Army conscripted 29,574,900
men in addition to the 4,826,907 in service at the beginning of the
war. Of this total of 34,401,807 it lost 6,329,600 killed in action
(KIA), 555,400 deaths by disease and 4,559,000 missing in action (MIA)
(most captured). Of these 11,444,000, however, 939,700 rejoined the
ranks in the subsequently liberated Soviet territory, and a further
1,836,000 returned from German captivity. Thus the grand total of
losses amounted to 8,668,400.This is the
official total dead, but other estimates give the number of total dead
up to almost 11 million men, including 7.7 million killed or
missing in action and 2.6 million
POW dead (out of
5.2 million total POWs), plus 400,000 paramilitary and Soviet
partisan losses. The majority of the losses, excluding
POWs, were ethnic
Russians (5,756,000), followed by ethnic Ukrainians
(1,377,400). However, as many as 8 million of the
34 million mobilized were non-Slavic minority soldiers, and
around 45 divisions formed from national minorities served from 1941
Female Red army soldier in Uzbek SSR
The German losses on the Eastern Front consisted of an estimated
3,604,800 KIA/MIA within the 1937 borders plus 900,000 ethnic Germans
and Austrians outside the 1937 border (included in these numbers are
men listed as missing in action or unaccounted for after the
war)[page needed] and 3,576,300 men reported
captured (total 8,081,100); the losses of the German satellites on the
Eastern Front approximated 668,163 KIA/MIA and 799,982 captured (total
1,468,145). Of these 9,549,245, the Soviets released 3,572,600 from
captivity after the war, thus the grand total of the Axis losses came
to an estimated 5,976,645.[page needed]
Regarding prisoners of war, both sides captured large numbers and had
many die in captivity – one recent British figure says
3.6 of 6 million Soviet POWs died in German camps, while 300,000 of
3 million German POWs died in Soviet hands.
In 1941 the rapid progress of the initial German air and land attacks
Soviet Union made
Red Army logistical support difficult,
because many depots, and most of the USSR's industrial manufacturing
base, lay in the country's invaded western areas, obliging their
re-establishment east of the Ural Mountains. Until then the Red Army
was often required to improvise or go without weapons, vehicles, and
other equipment. The 1941 decision to physically move their
manufacturing capacity east of the Ural mountains kept the main Soviet
support system out of German reach. In the later stages of
the war, the
Red Army fielded some excellent weaponry, especially
artillery and tanks. The Red Army's heavy KV-1 and medium
Wehrmacht armor, but in 1941 most Soviet
tank units used older and inferior models.
Military administration after the
October Revolution was taken over by
the People's Commissariat of war and marine affairs headed by a
collective committee of Vladimir Antonov-Ovseyenko, Pavel Dybenko, and
Nikolai Krylenko. At the same time,
Nikolay Dukhonin was acting as
the Supreme Commander-in-Chief after
Alexander Kerensky fled from
Russia. On 12 November 1917 the Soviet government appointed Krylenko
as the Supreme Commander-in-Chief, and because of an "accident" during
the forceful displacement of the commander-in-chief, Dukhonin was
killed on 20 November 1917.
Nikolai Podvoisky was appointed as the
Narkom of War Affairs, leaving Dybenko in charge of the Narkom of
Marine Affairs and Ovseyenko – the expeditionary forces to the
Russia on 28 November 1917. The
Bolsheviks also sent out
their own representatives to replace front commanders of the Russian
After the signing of Treaty of Brest-Litovsk on 3 March 1918, a major
reshuffling took place in the Soviet military administration. On 13
March 1918 the Soviet government accepted the official resignation of
Krylenko and the post of Supreme Commander-in-Chief was liquidated. On
14 March 1918
Leon Trotsky replaced Podvoisky as the Narkom of War
Affairs. On 16 March 1918
Pavel Dybenko was relieved from the office
of Narkom of Marine Affairs. On 8 May 1918 the All-Russian Chief
Headquarters was created, headed by
Nikolai Stogov and later Alexander
On 2 September 1918 the
Revolutionary Military Council (RMC) was
established as the main military administration under Leon Trotsky,
the Narkom of War Affairs. On 6 September 1918 alongside the chief
headquarters the Field Headquarters of RMC was created, initially
headed by Nikolai Rattel. On the same day the office of the
Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces was created, and initially
Jukums Vācietis (and from July 1919 to Sergey Kamenev).
The Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces existed until April 1924,
the end of Russian Civil War.
In November 1923, after the establishment of the Soviet Union, the
Russian Narkom of War Affairs was transformed into the Soviet Narkom
of War and Marine Affairs.
Further information: Formations of the Soviet Army
Red Army flag, since the Soviet ground forces never had
an official flag.
At the beginning of its existence, the
Red Army functioned as a
voluntary formation, without ranks or insignia. Democratic elections
selected the officers. However, a decree of 29 May 1918 imposed
obligatory military service for men of ages 18 to 40. To
service the massive draft, the
Bolsheviks formed regional military
commissariats (voyennyy komissariat, abbr. voyenkomat), which as of
2006 still exist in
Russia in this function and under this name.
Military commissariats, however, should not be confused with the
institution of military political commissars.
In the mid-1920s the territorial principle of manning the
Red Army was
introduced. In each region able-bodied men were called up for a
limited period of active duty in territorial units, which constituted
about half the army's strength, each year, for five years.
The first call-up period was for three months, with one month a year
thereafter. A regular cadre provided a stable nucleus. By 1925 this
system provided 46 of the 77 infantry divisions and one of the eleven
cavalry divisions. The remainder consisted of regular officers and
enlisted personnel serving two-year terms. The territorial system was
finally abolished, with all remaining formations converted to the
other cadre divisions, in 1937–1938.
The Soviet military received ample funding and was innovative in its
technology. An American journalist wrote in 1941:
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in American terms the Soviet defence budget was large. In 1940 it was
the equivalent of $11,000,000,000, and represented one-third of the
national expenditure. Measure this against the fact that the
infinitely richer United States will approximate the expenditure of
that much yearly only in 1942 after two years of our greatest defence
Most of the money spent on the
Red Army and Air Force went for
machines of war. Twenty-three years ago when the Bolshevik Revolution
took place there were few machines in Russia. Marx said Communism must
come in a highly industrialized society. The
their dreams of socialist happiness with machines which would multiply
production and reduce hours of labour until everyone would have
everything he needed and would work only as much as he wished. Somehow
this has not come about, but the
Russians still worship machines, and
this helped make the
Red Army the most highly mechanized in the world,
except perhaps the German Army now.
Like Americans, the
Russians admire size, bigness, large numbers. They
took pride in building a vast army of tanks, some of them the largest
in the world, armored cars, airplanes, motorized guns, and every
variety of mechanical weapons.
BT-7 tanks on parade
Under Stalin's campaign for mechanization, the army formed its first
mechanized unit in 1930. The 1st Mechanized
Brigade consisted of a
tank regiment, a motorized infantry regiment, as well as
reconnaissance and artillery battalions. From this humble
beginning, the Soviets would go on to create the first
operational-level armored formations in history, the 11th and 45th
Mechanized Corps, in 1932. These were tank-heavy formations with
combat support forces included so they could survive while operating
in enemy rear areas without support from a parent front.
Impressed by the German campaign of 1940 against France, the Soviet
People's Commissariat of Defence (Defence Ministry, Russian
abbreviation NKO) ordered the creation of nine mechanized corps on 6
July 1940. Between February and March 1941 the NKO ordered another
twenty to be created. All of these formations were larger than those
theorized by Tukhachevsky. Even though the Red Army's 29 mechanized
corps had an authorized strength of no less than 29,899 tanks by 1941,
they proved to be a paper tiger. There were actually only
17,000 tanks available at the time, meaning several of the new
mechanized corps were badly under strength. The pressure placed on
factories and military planners to show production numbers also led to
a situation where the majority of armored vehicles were obsolescent
models, critically lacking in spare parts and support equipment, and
nearly three-quarters were overdue for major maintenance.
By 22 June 1941 there were only 1,475 of the modern T-34s and KV
series tanks available to the Red Army, and these were too dispersed
along the front to provide enough mass for even local
success. To illustrate this, the 3rd Mechanized
Lithuania was formed up of a total of 460 tanks; 109 of these were
newer KV-1s and T-34s. This corps would prove to be one of the lucky
few with a substantial number of newer tanks. However, the 4th Army
was composed of 520 tanks, all of which were the obsolete T-26, as
opposed to the authorized strength of 1,031 newer medium
tanks. This problem was universal throughout the Red
Army, and would play a crucial role in the initial defeats of the Red
Army in 1941 at the hands of the German armed forces.
Red Army tactics in World War II
Battle of Stalingrad
Battle of Stalingrad is considered by many historians as a
decisive turning point of World War II
War experience prompted changes to the way frontline forces were
organised. After six months of combat against the Germans, the Stavka
abolished the rifle corps which was intermediate between the army and
division level because, while useful in theory, in the state of the
Red Army in 1941, they proved ineffective in practice.
Following the decisive victory in the
Battle of Moscow
Battle of Moscow in January
1942, the high command began to reintroduce rifle corps into its more
experienced formations. The total number of rifle corps started at 62
on 22 June 1941, dropped to six by 1 January 1942, but then increased
to 34 by February 1943, and 161 by New Year's Day 1944. Actual
strengths of front-line rifle divisions, authorised to contain 11,000
men in July 1941, were mostly no more than 50% of establishment
strengths during 1941, and divisions were often worn down,
because of continuous operations, to hundreds of men or even less.
On the outbreak of war, the
Red Army deployed mechanised corps and
tank divisions whose development has been described above. The initial
German attack destroyed many and, in the course of 1941, virtually all
of them,(barring two in the Transbaikal Military District). The
remnants were disbanded. It was much easier to coordinate
smaller forces, and separate tank brigades and battalions were
substituted. It was late 1942 and early 1943 before larger tank
formations of corps size were fielded to employ armour in mass again.
By mid-1943, these corps were being grouped together into tank armies
whose strength by the end of the war could be up to 700 tanks and
The Bolshevik authorities assigned to every unit of the
Red Army a
political commissar, or politruk, who had the authority to override
unit commanders' decisions if they ran counter to the principles of
the Communist Party. Although this sometimes resulted in inefficient
command according to most historians[who?], the Party
leadership considered political control over the military absolutely
necessary, as the army relied more and more on officers from the
pre-revolutionary Imperial period and understandably feared a military
coup. This system was abolished in 1925, as there were by that time
enough trained Communist officers to render the counter-signing
Ranks and titles
Main article: Military ranks of the Soviet Union
Red Army abandoned the institution of a professional officer
corps as a "heritage of tsarism" in the course of the Revolution. In
Bolsheviks condemned the use of the word officer and
used the word commander instead. The
Red Army abandoned epaulettes and
ranks, using purely functional titles such as "Division Commander",
Corps Commander" and similar titles. Insignia for these
functional titles existed, consisting of triangles, squares and
rhombuses (so-called "diamonds").
In 1924 (2 October) "personal" or "service" categories were
introduced, from K1 (section leader, assistant squad leader, senior
rifleman, etc.) to K14 (field commander, army commander, military
district commander, army commissar and equivalent). Service category
insignia again consisted of triangles, squares and rhombuses, but also
rectangles (1 – 3, for categories from K7 to K9).
On 22 September 1935 the
Red Army abandoned service
categories[clarification needed] and introduced personal
ranks. These ranks, however, used a unique mix of functional titles
and traditional ranks. For example, the ranks included "Lieutenant"
and "Comdiv" (Комдив, Division Commander). Further complications
ensued from the functional and categorical ranks for political
officers (e.g., "brigade commissar", "army commissar 2nd rank"), for
technical corps (e.g., "engineer 3rd rank," "division engineer"), and
for administrative, medical and other non-combatant branches.
The Marshal of the
Soviet Union (Маршал Советского
Союза) rank was introduced on 22 September 1935. On 7 May 1940
further modifications to rationalise the system of ranks were made on
the proposal by Marshal Voroshilov: the ranks of "General" and
"Admiral" replaced the senior functional ranks of Combrig, Comdiv,
Comandarm in the
Red Army and
Flagman 1st rank etc. in the Red
Navy; the other senior functional ranks ("division commissar,"
"division engineer," etc.) remained unaffected. The arm or service
distinctions remained (e.g. general of cavalry, marshal of armoured
troops).[page needed] For the most part the
new system restored that used by the
Imperial Russian Army
Imperial Russian Army at the
conclusion of its participation in World War I.
In early 1943 a unification of the system saw the abolition of all the
remaining functional ranks. The word "officer" became officially
endorsed, together with the use of epaulettes, which superseded the
previous rank insignia. The ranks and insignia of 1943 did not change
much until the last days of the USSR; the contemporary Russian Army
uses largely the same system.
Artillery School, Chuhuyiv, Ukraine,
Main article: Soviet military academies
During the Civil War the commander cadres were trained at the Nicholas
General Staff Academy of the Russian Empire, which became the Frunze
Military Academy in the 1920s. Senior and supreme commanders were
trained at the Higher Military Academic Courses, renamed the Advanced
Courses for Supreme Command in 1925. The 1931 establishment of an
Operations Faculty at the
Frunze Military Academy
Frunze Military Academy supplemented these
courses. The General staff Academy was reinstated on 2 April 1936, and
became the principal military school for the senior and supreme
commanders of the Red Army.
Further information: Case of Trotskyist Anti-Soviet Military
Red Army marshal Mikhail Tukhachevsky, who was executed during the
Great Purge in June 1937.
The late 1930s saw purges of the
Red Army leadership which occurred
concurrently with Stalin's
Great Purge of Soviet society. In 1936 and
1937, at the orders of Stalin, thousands of
Red Army senior officers
were dismissed from their commands. The purges had the objective of
Red Army of the "politically unreliable elements,"
mainly among higher-ranking officers. This inevitably provided a
convenient pretext for the settling of personal vendettas or to
eliminate competition by officers seeking the same command. Many army,
corps, and divisional commanders were sacked: most were imprisoned or
sent to labor camps; others were executed. Among the victims was the
Red Army's primary military theorist, Marshal Mikhail Tukhachevsky,
who was perceived by Stalin as a potential political
rival. Officers who remained soon found all of their
decisions being closely examined by political officers, even in
mundane matters such as record-keeping and field training
exercises. An atmosphere of fear and unwillingness to take
the initiative soon pervaded the Red Army; suicide rates among junior
officers rose to record levels. The purges significantly
impaired the combat capabilities of the Red Army. Hoyt concludes "the
Soviet defense system was damaged to the point of incompetence" and
stresses "the fear in which high officers lived." Clark
says, "Stalin not only cut the heart out of the army, he also gave it
brain damage." Lewin identifies three serious results: the
loss of experienced and well-trained senior officers; the distrust it
caused among potential allies especially France; and the encouragement
it gave Germany.
Stalin with marshal Blyukher among
Red Army military personnel
Recently declassified data indicate that in 1937, at the height of the
Red Army had 114,300 officers, of whom 11,034 were
dismissed. In 1938, the
Red Army had 179,000 officers, 56% more than
in 1937, of whom a further 6,742 were dismissed. In the highest
echelons of the
Red Army the Purges removed 3 of 5 marshals, 13 of 15
army generals, 8 of 9 admirals, 50 of 57 army corps generals, 154 out
of 186 division generals, all 16 army commissars, and 25 of 28 army
The result was that the
Red Army officer corps in 1941 had many
inexperienced senior officers. While 60% of regimental commanders had
two years or more of command experience in June 1941, and almost 80%
of rifle division commanders, only 20% of corps commanders, and 5% or
fewer army and military district commanders, had the same level of
The significant growth of the
Red Army during the high point of the
purges may have worsened matters. In 1937, the
Red Army numbered
around 1.3 million, increasing to almost three times that number
by June 1941. The rapid growth of the army necessitated in turn the
rapid promotion of officers regardless of experience or
training. Junior officers were appointed to fill the ranks
of the senior leadership, many of whom lacked broad
experience. This action in turn resulted in many openings
at the lower level of the officer corps, which were filled by new
graduates from the service academies. In 1937, the entire junior class
of one academy was graduated a year early to fill vacancies in the Red
Army. Hamstrung by inexperience and fear of reprisals,
many of these new officers failed to impress the large numbers of
incoming draftees to the ranks; complaints of insubordination rose to
the top of offenses punished in 1941, and may have
exacerbated instances of
Red Army soldiers deserting their units
during the initial phases of the German offensive of that
By 1940, Stalin began to relent, restoring approximately one-third of
previously dismissed officers to duty. However, the effect
of the purges would soon manifest itself in the
Winter War of 1940,
Red Army forces generally performed poorly against the much
smaller Finnish Army, and later during the German invasion of 1941, in
which the Germans were able to rout the Soviet defenders partially due
to inexperience amongst the Soviet officers.
In Lithuania army personell robbed local shops From the
fall of East Prussia, Soviet soldiers carried out large-scale rapes in
Germany, especially noted in
Berlin until the beginning of May
1945.They were often committed by rear echelon
Weapons and equipment
See also: Tanks of the interwar period § Soviet Union, Tanks in
World War II § Soviet Union, and List of equipment of the
Russian Ground Forces
Soviet Union expanded its indigenous arms industry as part of
Stalin's industrialisation program in the 1920s and
Corps Administration (Red Army)
German mistreatment of Soviet prisoners of war
^ Russian: Рабоче-крестьянская Красная
армия (РККА) Raboche-krest'yanskaya Krasnaya armiya (RKKA)
^ Красная армия (КА)code: rus promoted to code: ru ,
Krasnaya armiya (KA)
^ 15 January 1918 (Old Style).
^ 8 February became "
Soviet Army Day", a national holiday in the
^ The names "Soviet–Finnish War 1939–1940" (Russian:
Сове́тско-финская война́ 1939–1940) and
Finland War 1939–1940" (Russian:
Сове́тско-финляндская война́ 1939–1940)
are often used in Russian
^ The Axis forces possessed a 1:1.7 superiority in personnel, despite
the Red Army's 174 divisions against the Axis's 164 divisions, a 1.1:1
^ Davies, Norman (5 November 2006), "How we didn't win the war . . .
Russians did", Sunday Times, Since 75%–80% of all German
losses were inflicted on the eastern front it follows that the efforts
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Wikimedia Commons has media related to Army of the Soviet Union.
Fronts of the
Red Army in World War II1938–40
Moscow Defence Zone
Moscow Line of Defence
Moscow Reserve Front
Maritime Group of Forces
1st Far Eastern
2nd Far Eastern
WorldCat Identities (via