Rethinking the So-Called Soviet 'Russian' Juggernaut

Much has been written about Soviet dominance, both militarily and economically, during World War II. So goes once it was able to absorb the pummeling it took in the early rounds from Nazi Germany's blitzkrieg, she pulled herself up by her boot straps an sent forth legions of furious sons to fight. Moreover, to hear it told from many today "Soviet" has become synonymous with Russian. That is not the case, of course. The Soviet Empire, like any empire, was made up of many ethnicities and the multi-ethnic make up of the Soviet Red Army mirrored that of its society. 

For example, consider this excerpt from "How Russia blunted the German blitzkrieg"
Eight out of 10 German soldiers killed during World War II died fighting the Russians. That is, Russia eliminated more than 6 million German soldiers [emphasis is mine].
Now chew on this: between 1939 and 1941, the German blitzkrieg – or lightning war – defeated Poland, Denmark, Norway, Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg, France and the 380,000 soldiers of the British Expeditionary Force stationed in France. Hitler then unleashed the same blitzkrieg against Russia. On June 22, 1941 more than 200 Axis divisions, comprising two million men plunged into a front 3200 km broad. Yet by winter of that year the Red Army was lashing furious counterattacks that would make the besiegers the besieged.
Russia won the most mechanised war in history because it was able to out-produce Germany in a war of economic attrition. Russian production outweighed that of Germany in virtually every war item – tanks, self-propelled guns, field guns, machine guns, mortars, combat aircraft, rifles, carbines. Only in shipbuilding did Soviet industry fail to compete.
More remarkable is the fact that the Russian advantage was at its greatest in 1942, writes military historian Arvo L. Vecamer writes in A Germany-Soviet Military-Economic Comparison. “Just when its struggle against the Wehrmacht for the military advantage was at the most intense, the Red Army was receiving combat aircraft at twice the rate of delivery to the enemy, and 3 or 4 times the flow of most other types of ground forces’ armament. After 1942 the pace of German war production accelerated, but Germany’s context had already changed to one of commitments multiplying out of control and an inexorable unfolding of defeat.”
The amount of dead Germans referenced by apologetic historians to elevate Soviet prowess falls flat. Remember that this is the same Soviet military that suffered from Stalin's debilitating purges during the 1930s and an embarrassing and costly invasion of Finland. The Finland army with only 200,000 fighting men, which 20 percent would die within three months, exposed the Red Army for what it was: an uncoordinated, badly led, poorly equipped and technologically inefficient behemoth.

Returning back to the high German death totals reinforces the last point. The causality figures were so high (the Red Army suffered 10 to 14 million dead during this time) because of the repetitive and costly indecisive battles year after year on the Eastern Front. The Read Army could never seize the initiative and rout the German Wehrmacht, despite having superior numbers and closer supply lines.

It is here where the common tails are told of Soviet economic resilience. How in wartime, the Soviet Union was able to rebuild entire industries and move others deeper east to safer areas, while fending off the German advance. There is some truth here but not nearly enough for it to stand on its own. Mostly, it has become myth.

The truth is the Allies, led mostly by America, supplied and equipped the Red Army with materials and war machinery to help turn the tide in the East. The complete list of aid for the Soviets can be found here. It included the following items:

Trucks: 427,284
Tanks and Combat Vehicles: 13,303
Aircraft: 11,000
Bombers: 3,000
Anti-Aircraft Cannons: 8,000
Motorcycles: 35,170
Ordnance Service Vehicles: 2,328
Radar Systems: 400
Petroleum Products (gasoline and oil): 2,670,371 tons
Explosives: 300,000 tons
Field Radios: 40,000
Foodstuffs (canned meats, sugar, flour, salt, etc.): 4,478,116 tons
Locomotives & Railway cars: 13,000.
Tommy Guns (fully automatic machine guns): 135,000
Metal Cutting Machine Tools: 400,000

Consider this contrasting point from military historian Arvo L. Vecamer who writes:
Russia was the single most important factor in the defeat of Germany. “Germany essentially lost the Second World War on the Eastern Front” and the key to that loss can be directly attributed to the fact that Russia was able to supply its army with the needed materials while the German economic system could not. 
Russia had built up a much more effective and reliable economic infrastructure since the 1920’s when compared to the German economy. Vecamer explains it was more optimally geared for mass production of simple, yet reliable (military) goods and products. Throughout World War II, Russian military forces never really suffered from serious supply problems. Russian production centres continued to pour out what was needed on the front lines. But the Germans often suffered from supply shortages.
On this point, the historian left out the fact that Allied cooperation freed the Soviet Empire from enormous strain, and, perhaps, even collapse. The West was weakening Nazi Germany militarily and economically at sea and air, and signaled the beginning of the end with Allied invasion of Europe, which set up the second front in the West.

Moreover, Allied bombing had picked up the pace by 1943 and by 1944 and '45, Germany's industrial ability was unable to sustain a two-fronted, prolonged war. Not to mention, the unreasonable demands made on a dwindling German manpower that had to both produce and fight.

The British nationalist A.K.Chesteron comments on Anthony C. Sutton’s study Western Technology and Soviet Economic Development, 1917 to 1930:
"So far from Russia’s pulling herself up by her own boot-laces, as Communist propaganda would have us believe, almost all of the projects of the First Five Year Plan were designed by American companies. At least ninety-five percent of the industrial structure received Western assistance, the agreements to grant concessions having been reached by the Russian Congress of Councils of the National Economy as early as December 1917" (p 69-70) 
"In the development of the Russian iron and steel industry, Britain’s huge Lena Goldfields Ltd. Obtained a concession to operate blast furnaces and steel works in the Urals, where a German firm, Bergman, was busy restoring metal plants and manufacturing heavy machinery, together with guns, shells, and small arms for export. Lena Goldfields also re-opened the pre-war Ridder mine complex for the production of lead-zinc. The powerful Deutsche Bank of Germany provided long-term loans. Bryner & Company (U.K.) contributed to meet Soviet foreign exchange through the export of zinc concentrates and two years after the period covered by Sutton a smelter built by Lena produced thirty-four per cent of the total Russian output of zinc." (p 70-71)
The Soviet Red Army was a worthy fighting force. No doubt patriotism ran high just as any side's would if invaded by a mortal enemy. However, Soviet contribution accounts for less than one-third of the total part of the Allied war machine against the Axis powers. And certainly, the "Russian" proportions is even less if taken as a single whole.

The Soviet Empire was then, just as the Russian Empire was during World War I, a vast but backward army where it was time and again humiliated and perished into a communist revolution. If it were not for Allied cooperation the Eastern Front might have ended markedly different, and perhaps closer to Nazi design.


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