The Workers' and Peasants' Red
Рабоче-крестьянская Красная армия
(РККА), Raboche-krest'yanskaya Krasnaya armiya (RKKA), frequently
shortened in Russian to Красная aрмия (КА), Krasnaya
armiya (KA), in English: Red Army, also in critical literature and
folklore of that epoch – Red Horde,
Army of Work) 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 (Red October
or Bolshevik 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
Army is credited as being the decisive land force in the
Allied victory in the
European theatre of World War II
European theatre of World War II and it's
invasion of Manchuria contributed heavily to the ultimate
unconditional surrender of Imperial Japan. During operations on the
Eastern Front, it accounted for 75 – 80% of casualties the
Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS) suffered during the war and ultimately
capturing the Nazi German capital, Berlin.
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
6 Weapons and equipment
7 See also
11 External links
Guards unit of the Vulkan factory
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, the
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.
While the 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.[a] 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 Army.
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
Aleksandr Myasnikyan as deputy. 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
Military insignia of the Red Army, 1919–1924.
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
November 1917 nationalization of traditional
needed] This provoked the insurrection of General Alexey Maximovich
Army in the River Don region. The Treaty of
Brest-Litovsk (March 1918) aggravated Russian internal politics. The
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 saw the White armies
successfully advancing: from the south, under General Anton Denikin;
from the east, under
Admiral Aleksandr Vasilevich Kolchak; and from
the northwest, under General Nikolai Nikolaevich Yudenich. The Whites
defeated the Red
Army on each front.
Leon Trotsky reformed and
counterattacked: the Red
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 entered Rostov-on-Don.
1919 to 1923
At the war's start, the Red
Army consisted of 299 infantry
regiments. Civil war intensified after Lenin dissolved the 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 loose alliance of
anti-Communist forces, comprising the Revolutionary Insurrectionary
Army of Ukraine, the "Black Army" led by Nestor Makhno, the anti-White
and anti-Red Green armies, and others. 23 February 1918, "Red Army
Day", has a two-fold historical significance: the first day of
drafting recruits (in
Petrograd and Moscow); and the first day of
combat against the occupying Imperial German Army.[b]
On 6 September 1918 the Bolshevik militias consolidated under the
supreme command of the
Revolutionary Military Council of the Republic
– Russian: Революционну Военну Совет,
translit. Revolyutsionny Voyenny Sovyet (Revvoyensoviet). The
first Chairman was Leon Trotsky. 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
intelligence to 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
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 советник). The
Bolsheviks occasionally enforced the loyalty of such recruits by
holding their families as hostages.[page needed] At war's end
in 1922, ex-Tsarists constituted 83% of the Red Army's divisional and
Vladimir Lenin, Kliment Voroshilov,
Leon Trotsky and soldiers,
Army used special regiments for ethnic minorities, such as the
Dungan Cavalry Regiment commanded by the Dungan Magaza Masanchi.
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
K. Bērziņš 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. In August 1918, Trotsky authorized
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. He also
introduced penal battalions.
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
which the Red
Army reached central Poland in 1920, but then suffered a
defeat there, which put an end to the war. During the Polish Campaign
Army numbered some 6.5 million men, many of whom the
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 armies.
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 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 importance."
Soviet tanks in the Battle of Khalkhin Gol, August 1939
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
Army soldiers display a captured Finnish banner, March 1940
Winter War (Finnish: talvisota, Swedish: vinterkriget, Russian:
Зи́мняя война́)[c] 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 Treaty. The
League of Nations
League of Nations deemed the attack illegal and expelled the Soviet
Union on 14 December 1939.
The Soviet forces 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 crippled 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 themselves.:79–80
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 War
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 (6.8 million soldiers), including 166 divisions and
9 brigades (3.2 million soldiers) 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
Wehrmacht defeated many Red
Army units. The Red
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
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.[d] 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 execution by
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.[page needed] Given
the dangers, the maximum sentence was three months. Likewise, the
Soviet treatment of Red
Army personnel captured by the
especially harsh. A 1941 Stalin directive ordered the suicide of every
Army officer and soldier rather than surrender; Soviet law
regarded all captured Red
Army soldiers as
traitors.[page needed] Soviet PoWs whom the Red Army
liberated from enemy captivity usually were sentenced to penal
battalions.[page needed] Since April 1943 the osobists
belonged to Smersh.
Order No. 270 was also passed, urging soldiers
to "fight to the last."
Army victory banner, raised above the German Reichstag in May 1945
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.[page needed] 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
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 to 1943.
Donetsk at «Immortal regiment», carrying portraits of
their ancestors who fought in World War II.
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. 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.[page needed]
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 Southern
28 November 1917. The
Bolsheviks also sent out their own
representatives to replace front commanders of the Russian Imperial
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
Army flag, since the Soviet ground forces never had an
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
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:
Even in American terms the Soviet defense 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 defense
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 labor 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
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
Corps in 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
Army in 1941 at the hands of the German armed forces.
See also: Red Army's tactics in World War II
War experience prompted changes to the way frontline forces were
organized. 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
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, authorized 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 on continuous operations
to hundreds of men or even less.
On the outbreak of war the Red
Army deployed mechanized 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 armor 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 50,000 men.
Fronts of the Red
Army in World War II
Moscow Defence Zone
Moscow Line of Defence
Moscow Reserve Front
Maritime Group of Forces
1st Far Eastern
2nd Far Eastern
The Bolshevik authorities assigned to every unit of the Red
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 some American 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
Memorial to the Red
Army in Prague, Czech Republic
Main article: Military ranks of the Soviet Union
The early 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 RKKA 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 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.
Kursants (cadets), Red
Artillery School, Chuhuyiv, Ukraine, 1933
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
Stalin with marshal Blyukher among Red
Army military personnel
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
cleansing the 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.
Recently declassified data indicate that in 1937, at the height of the
Purges, 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
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, where Red
Army forces generally performed poorly against the much smaller
Finnish Army, and later during the German invasion of 1941, in which
the German were able to rout the
Russians defenders partially due to
inexperience amongst the Russian officers.
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 industrialization program in the 1920s and 1930s.[citation
Corps Administration (Red Army)
German mistreatment of Soviet prisoners of war
^ 15 January 1918 (Old Style).
^ 8 February became "Soviet
Army Day", a national holiday in the USSR.
^ 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 historiography.
^ 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
^ "Дмитро Донцов: Перед розвалом
червоної орди – Народні блоги".
pravda.com.ua. Retrieved 27 January 2017.
^ 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
of the western allies accounted for only 20%–25% .
^ Lenin, Vladmir Ilich, "Tasks of the Proletariat in our Revolution",
Collected Works, 24, Marx 2 Mao, pp. 55–91, retrieved 29 May
^ Wollenberg, Erich, The Red Army, Marxists FR, retrieved 28 May
^ a b c "Appendix 1 – The Scheme For A Socialist Army", The Red Army
(decree), The Council of People's Commissars, 15 January 1918,
retrieved 28 May 2010 .
^ Seventeen Moments, Soviet History, archived from the original on 27
December 2013 .
^ Siegelbaum, Lewis. "1917: Red Guard into Army". Seventeen Moments in
Soviet History. Archived from the original on 27 December 2013.
Retrieved 21 January 2014. The Red Army's soldiers, overwhelmingly
peasant in origin, received pay but more importantly, their families
were guaranteed rations and assistance with farm work.
^ Shaw 1979, pp. 86–87.
^ Bonch-Bruyevich, Mikhail (1966), From Tsarist General to Red Army
Commander, Vezey, Vladimir transl, Progress Publishers,
p. 232 .
^ a b Erickson 1962, pp. 72–3.
^ Krasnov (in Russian), RU: FST Anitsa, archived from the original on
4 June 2008 .
^ Lototskiy, SS (1971), The Soviet Army, Moscow: Progress Publishers,
p. 25 cited in Scott & Scott 1979, p. 3.
^ a b Suvorov, Viktor (1984), Inside Soviet Military Intelligence, New
York: Macmillan .
^ Scott & Scott 1979, p. 8.
^ Read, Christopher (1996), From Tsar to Soviets, Oxford University
Press, p. 137, By 1920, 77 per cent the enlisted ranks were
^ Williams 1987: 'Conscription-age (17–40) villagers hid from Red
Army draft units; summary hostage executions brought the men out of
^ a b Chamberlain 1957, p. 131.
^ Erickson 1962, pp. 31–34.
^ Efimov, N (c. 1928), Grazhdanskaya Voina 1918–21 [The Civil War
1918–21] (in Russian), Second, Moscow, p. 95 , cited in
Erickson 1962, p. 33.
^ a b Williams 1987.
^ a b Overy 2004, p. 446: ‘at the end of the civil war,
one-third of Red
Army officers were ex-Tsarist voenspetsy.’
^ Situating Central Asian review. 16. London; Oxford: The Central
Asian Research Centre in association with the Soviet Affairs Study
Group, St. Antony's College. 1968. p. 250. Retrieved 1 January
^ Khvostov, Mikhail (1995). The
Russian Civil War
Russian Civil War (1): The Red Army.
Men-at-arms series. 1. Osprey Publishing. pp. 15–16.
ISBN 9781855326088. Retrieved 2014-10-27. Only volunteers could
join, they had to be aged between 14 and 55 and of fanatic loyalty –
communists, idealistic workers and peasants, trade union members and
members of the Young Comm[...]unist League (Komsomol). Chasti osobogo
naznacheniya units fought in close co-operation with the
played an important part in the establishment of Soviet rule and the
defeat of counter-revolution. They were always present at the most
dangerous points on the battlefield, and were usually the last to
withdraw. When retreat was the only option, many chonovtsi stayed
behind in occupied areas to form clandestine networks and partisan
detachments. Compare spetsnaz.
^ Daniels, Robert V (1993), A Documentary History of Communism in
Russia: From Lenin to Gorbachev, UPNE, p. 70,
ISBN 978-0-87451-616-6, The
Special Punitive Brigades also
were charged with detecting sabotage and counter-revolution among Red
Army soldiers and commanders.
^ Brovkin, Vladimire (Autumn 1990), "Workers' Unrest and the
Bolsheviks' Response in 1919", Slavic Review, 49 (3): 350–73,
^ Erickson 1962, pp. 38–9.
^ Volkogonov, Dmitri (1996), Shukman, Harold, ed., Trotsky: The
Eternal Revolutionary, London: HarperCollins, p. 180 .
^ Richard Pipes, The Formation of the Soviet Union, Communism and
^ Erickson 1962, p. 101.
^ Erickson 1962, pp. 102–7.
^ Compare: "Russian Civil War". Britannica Concise Encyclopedia.
Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc. 2008. p. 1655.
ISBN 9781593394929. Retrieved 2018-01-02. The last White
stronghold in the Crimea under PYOTR WRANGEL, Denikin's successor, was
defeated in November 1920 [...].
^ Erickson 1962, p. 167.
^ Habeck, Mary R (2003), Storm of Steel: The Development of Armor
Doctrine in Germany and the Soviet Union, 1919–1939, Cornell
University Press, ISBN 0-8014-4074-2 .
^ Compare: Lauchbaum, R. Kent (2015). Synchronizing Airpower And
Firepower In The Deep Battle. Pickle Partners Publishing.
ISBN 9781786256034. Retrieved 2018-01-02. Marshal Mikhail N.
Tukhachevski stated that aerial warfare should be 'employed against
targets beyond the range of infantry, artillery, and other arms. For
maximum tactical effect aircraft should be employed in mass,
concentrated in time and space, against targets of the highest
^ Lin, Hsiao-ting (2010), Modern China's Ethnic Frontiers: A Journey
to the West, p. 58 .
^ Барышников, ВН; Саломаа, Э (2005).
Вовлечение Финляндии во Вторую
Мировую войну: Крестовый поход на
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Retrieved 3 November 2009.
^ Ковалев, Эрик (2006). Зимняя война
балтийских подводных лодок (1939–1940
гг.): Короли подплава в море червонных
валетов (in Russian). Военная Литература.
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^ М. Коломиец (2001). Танки в Зимней войне
1939–1940 [Фронтовая иллюстрация] (in Russian).
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^ Александр Широкорад (2001). Зимняя
война 1939–1940 гг. [Предыстория Зимней
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^ Glantz 2005, pp. 61–62.
^ Glantz 2005, p. 181.
^ Merridale 2006, p. 157: ‘Red
Army soldiers who shot or
injured themselves to avoid combat usually were summarily executed, to
save the time and money of medical treatment and a court martial’.
^ Toppe, Alfred (1998), Night Combat, Diane, p. 28,
ISBN 978-0-7881-7080-5, The
Wehrmacht and the Soviet Army
documented penal battalions tramplers clearing minefields; on 28
Wehrmacht forces on the Kerch peninsula observed a
Soviet penal battalion running through a minefield, detonating the
mines and clearing a path for the Red Army.
^ Tolstoy 1981: ‘Stalin's Directive 227, about the Nazi use of the
death penalty and penal units as punishment, ordered Soviet penal
^ a b Tolstoy 1981.
^ The Lesser Terror: Soviet State Security, 1939-1953
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century: losses of the Armed Forces. A Statistical Study] (in
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spravochnik (in Russian), Moscow, ISBN 5-93165-107-1 .
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^ a b Overmans 2000: ‘It seems entirely plausible, while not
provable, that one half of the missing were killed in action, the
other half however in fact died in Soviet custody.’
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^ Glantz 2005, p. 717 note 5.
^ Knickerbocker, HR (1941). Is Tomorrow Hitler's? 200 Questions On the
Battle of Mankind. Reynal & Hitchcock. p. 93.
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II, I: The Deadly Beginning, George Nafziger, pp. 2–3 ,
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^ Glantz, p. 35.
^ Glantz 1998, p. 117.
^ Glantz 2005, p. 179.
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^ Rappaport, Helen (1999-01-01). Joseph Stalin: A Biographical
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^ a b c d e f g h Merridale 2007, p. 70.
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^ Lloyd Clark (2011). The Battle of the Tanks: Kursk, 1943.
Grove/Atlantic, Incorporated. p. 55.
^ Eyal Lewin (2012). National Resilience During War: Refining the
Decision-making Model. Lexington Books. pp. 259–60.
^ Ilai Z. Saltzman (2012). Securitizing Balance of Power Theory: A
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