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The State of the Red Army on June 22, 1941

on Wed, 11/22/2017 - 21:28

When Germany invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941 Hitler's minions confronted a Soviet military establishment very much in flux. On the one hand, the Red Army was huge - having added four million men to its ranks in the previous three years. On the other hand, Stalin's purges had greatly undermined the doctrinal and leadership basis that had put the Red Army on the path to perhaps being Europe's preeminent military force by the end of the 1930s. In addition to suffering shortages of experienced, well trained officers the Red Army had, much like the Wehrmacht, armed in breadth but not depth.

Soviet armored units lacked adequate numbers of modern tanks, as well as the logistical means and spare parts to support the vast stocks of increasingly obsolete and poorly maintained tanks (nearly a third of the BT-series such as those pictured here and other 1930's era tanks in Soviet armored formations needed significant repairs to be fully operational) filling out the Soviet tank park. For instance, by June 22, 1941 the Red Army had created 29 mechanized corps (a newer formation formed in haste following the Wehrmacht's overwhelming successes in 1939-1940). However, in terms of equipping what should have been powerful formations there had been notable shortfalls. A mere four of these mechanized corps possessed even three quarters of their establishment strength, no less adequate numbers of modern T-34 and KV-1 tanks.

In terms of supporting these maintenance heavy mechanized corps, no less the vast numbers of rifle corps forming the Red Army's bulk, on the eve of the German invasion the Red Army was supposed to have 836,000 motor vehicles and tractors/prime movers on hand. Instead, it could only marshal 314,200 such vehicles on its books with only 77% of those were even in running condition. Among other things, this meant that the basis for supporting mobile operations was almost completely lacking - a huge problem given the comparative advantages enjoyed by the Wehrmacht in fighting a war of maneuvour. Again this shows where sheer numbers hardly tell the whole story. After all the Red Army's tank park numbered approximately 22,600 armored fighting vehicles - dwarfing the Wehrmacht's. But how many of these tanks really could be used? Or for that matter, how well could the Red Army even fight, given shortages in trucks were far from the only problem.

For instance, of the Fronts facing off against the Axis forces amassed on the Western Soviet Union's borders few had more war material than did the Southwestern Front. And yet, for all of that on the eve of war the Southwestern Front was short of such basic weapons as rifles and sub-machine guns (lacking 119,633 such small arms) no less actual machine guns (short 9,278 MG's of all classes). Given shortages such as these, as well as comparable shortfalls in anti-tank guns, mortars, and anti-aircraft weapons, what we see in June of 1941 is a German war machine better equipped than it's ostensibly much larger foe. Thus, though the Red Army fielded 5.7 million men in 27 armies containing 29 mechanized corps, 62 rifle corps, four cavalry corps and five airborne corps further broken down into 303 divisions and countless smaller units - many of these units were not only partially equipped but still forming up. In addition, the majority had notable weaknesses in trained manpower and leadership, no less antiquated and inadequate command and control. 

As for Soviet airpower, the Red Army had 20,978 aircraft in its inventory. Of those 13,211 were combat ready in June of 1941. Regardless, of the 7,133 aircraft deployed in the Western Soviet Union only twenty percent were modern designs (such as the MiG-3, Yak-1, LaGG-5 fighters or Pe-2 light bomber and IL-2 attack aircraft). Moreover, of the Red Army's 22,600 tanks far too few were modern T-34 and KV-1 models. That said, in the first five months of 1941 some 1,503 of the 1,684 tanks rolling from Soviet factories were in fact T-34 and KV-1's.In addition, the Red Army could put 2.9 million into the field along it's long western border further backed by six armies, sixteen rifle corps, four mechanized corps, 83 divisions, and a plethora of smaller units from the internal military districts and Far East with hundreds of thousands of reservists being called up by the month (with 793,000 called up in May and June alone). What's more, as early as April of 1941 the Red Army's westernmost military districts (Fronts after the onset of hostilities) had already started accumulating a secondary operational reserve near the Dvina and Dnepr Rivers. This reserve stood at nine divisions by June 22nd with nineteen more gathering in the weeks to come and forming a second defensive echelon. Nevertheless, even in considering the massive numbers of men and machines the Red Army could throw into the field quality appears to have had an impact of its own - as would be demonstrated in the initial months following the German invasion.



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