The Soviet Army or Soviet Ground Forces (Russian: Советские сухопутные войска, romanizedSovetskiye sukhoputnye voyska, SSV)[3] was the main land warfare uniform service branch of the Soviet Armed Forces from 1946 to 1992.

Soviet Army
Russian: Советская армия
Ukrainian: Радянська армія[1]
Communist star with golden border and red rims.svg
Emblem of the Soviet Army
Founded25 February 1946
Disbanded14 February 1992
Country Soviet Union (1946–1991)
 CIS (1991–1992)
TypeArmy
RoleLand warfare
Size3,668,075 active (1991)
4,129,506 reserve (1991)
Nickname(s)"Red Army"
Motto(s)За нашу Советскую Родину!
(Za nashu Sovetskuyu Rodinu!)

"For our Soviet Motherland!"
ColorsRed and yellow
Equipment55,000 tanks[2]
70,000 armored personnel carriers[2]
24,000 infantry fighting vehicles
33,000 towed artillery pieces
9,000 self-propelled howitzers
12,000 anti-aircraft guns
Engagements
Commanders
Notable
commanders
Georgy Zhukov

Until 25 February 1946, it was known as the Red Army, established by decree on 15 (28) January 1918 "to protect the population, territorial integrity and civil liberties in the territory of the Soviet state." In Russian, the term 'armiya,' literally transliterating to 'Army,' was often used to cover the Strategic Rocket Forces first in traditional Soviet order of precedence; the Ground Forces, second; the Air Defence Forces, third, the Air Forces, fourth, and the Soviet Navy, fifth, among the branches of the Soviet Armed Forces as a whole.[4]

After the Soviet Union ceased to exist in December 1991, the Ground Forces remained under the command of the Commonwealth of Independent States until it was formally abolished on 14 February 1992. The Soviet Army was principally succeeded by the Ground Forces of the Russian Federation in Russian territory along with the rest of the Ground Forces in post-Soviet states.

After World War IIEdit

At the end of World War II the Red Army had over 500 rifle divisions and about a tenth that number of tank formations.[5] Their experience of war gave the Soviets such faith in tank forces that the infantry force was cut by two-thirds. The Tank Corps of the late war period were converted to tank divisions, and from 1957 the rifle divisions were converted to motor rifle divisions (MRDs). MRDs had three motorized rifle regiments and a tank regiment, for a total of ten motor rifle battalions and six tank battalions; tank divisions had the proportions reversed.

The Land Forces Main Command was created for the first time in March 1946. Marshal of the Soviet Union Georgy Zhukov became Chief of the Soviet Ground Forces in March 1946, but was quickly succeeded by Ivan Konev in July 1946.[6] By September 1946, the army decreased from 5 million soldiers to 2.7 Million in the Soviet Union and from 2 Million to 1.5 Million in Europe.[7] Four years later the Main Command was disbanded, an organisational gap that "probably was associated in some manner with the Korean War."[8] The Main Command was reformed in 1955. On February 24, 1964, the Defense Council of the Soviet Union decided to disband the Ground Forces Main Command, with almost the same wording as in 1950 (the corresponding order of the USSR Minister of Defense on disbandment was signed on March 7, 1964). Its functions were transferred to the General Staff, while the chiefs of the combat arms and specialised forces came under the direct command of the Minister of Defence (Soviet Union).[9] The Main Command was then recreated again in November 1967.[10] Army General Ivan Pavlovsky was appointed Commander-in-Chief of Ground Forces with effect from 5 November 1967.[6]

From 1945 to 1948, the Soviet Armed Forces were reduced from about 11.3 million to about 2.8 million men,[11] a demobilisation controlled first, by increasing the number of military districts to 33, then reduced to 21 in 1946.[12] The personnel strength of the Ground Forces was reduced from 9.8 million to 2.4 million.[13]

To establish and secure the USSR's eastern European geopolitical interests, Red Army troops who liberated eastern Europe from Nazi rule, in 1945 remained in place to secure pro-Soviet régimes in Eastern Europe and to protect against attack from Europe. Elsewhere, they may have assisted the NKVD in suppressing anti-Soviet resistance in Western Ukraine (1941–55) and the Forest Brothers in the three Baltic states.[14] Soviet troops, including the 39th Army, remained at Port Arthur and Dalian on the northeast Chinese coast until 1955. Control was then handed over to the new Chinese communist government.

Within the Soviet Union, the troops and formations of the Ground Forces were divided among the military districts. There were 32 of them in 1945. Sixteen districts remained from the mid-1970s to the end of the USSR (see table at right). Yet, the greatest Soviet Army concentration was in the Group of Soviet Forces in Germany, which suppressed the anti-Soviet Uprising of 1953 in East Germany. East European Groups of Forces were the Northern Group of Forces in Poland, and the Southern Group of Forces in Hungary, which put down the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. In 1958, Soviet troops were withdrawn from Romania. The Central Group of Forces in Czechoslovakia was established after Warsaw Pact intervention against the Prague Spring of 1968. In 1969, at the east end of the Soviet Union, the Sino-Soviet border conflict (1969), prompted establishment of a 16th military district, the Central Asian Military District, at Alma-Ata, Kazakhstan.[12]

Cold WarEdit

 
US tanks and Soviet tanks at Checkpoint Charlie, 1961

Throughout the Cold War (1947–1991), Western intelligence estimates calculated that the Soviet strength remained ca. 2.8 million to ca. 5.3 million men.[11] To maintain those numbers, Soviet law required a three-year military service obligation from every able man of military age, until 1967, when the Ground Forces reduced it to a two-year draft obligation.[16] By the 1970s, the change to a two-year system seems to have created the hazing practice known as dedovshchina, "rule of the grandfathers," which destroyed the status of most NCOs.[17] Instead the Soviet system relied very heavily on junior officers.[18] Life in the Soviet military could be "grim and dangerous:" a Western researcher talking to former Soviet officers was told, in effect that this was because they did not "value human life."[19]

By the middle of the 1980s, the Ground Forces contained about 210 divisions. About three-quarters were motor rifle divisions and the remainder tank divisions.[20] There were also a large number of artillery divisions, separate artillery brigades, engineer formations, and other combat support formations. However, only relatively few formations were fully war ready. Three readiness categories, A, B, and V, after the first three letters of the Cyrillic alphabet, were in force. The Category A divisions were certified combat-ready and were fully equipped. B and V divisions were lower-readiness, 50–75% (requiring at least 72 hours of preparation) and 10–33% (requiring two months) respectively.[20][21] The internal military districts usually contained only one or two A divisions, with the remainder B and V series formations. The Soviet system anticipated a war preparation period which would bring the strength of the Ground Forces up to about three million.[22]

Soviet planning for most of the Cold War period would have seen Armies of four to five divisions operating in Fronts made up of around four armies (and roughly equivalent to Western Army Groups). In February 1979, the first of the new High Commands in the Strategic Directions were created at Ulan-Ude.[23][24] These new headquarters controlled multiple Fronts, and usually a Soviet Navy Fleet. In September 1984, three more were established to control multi-Front operations in Europe (the Western and South-Western Strategic Directions) and at Baku to handle southern operations.

In 1955, the Soviet Union signed the Warsaw Pact with its East European socialist allies, establishing military coordination between Soviet forces and their socialist counterparts. The Soviet Army created and directed the Eastern European armies in its image for the remainder of the Cold War, shaping them for a potential confrontation with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). After 1956, First Secretary of the Communist Party Nikita Khrushchev reduced the Ground Forces to build up the Strategic Rocket Forces — emphasizing the armed forces' nuclear capabilities. He removed Marshal Georgy Zhukov from the Politburo in 1957, for opposing these reductions in the Ground Forces.[25] Nonetheless, Soviet forces possessed too few theater-level nuclear weapons to fulfill war-plan requirements until the mid-1980s.[26] The General Staff maintained plans to invade Western Europe whose massive scale was only made publicly available after German researchers gained access to National People's Army files following the dissolution of the Soviet Union.[27][28]

In 1979, the Soviet Union entered Afghanistan, to support its Communist government, provoking a 10-year Afghan mujahideen guerrilla resistance. After Soviet general secretary Mikhail Gorbachev realised the economic, diplomatic, and human toll the war was placing on the Soviet Union, he announced the withdrawal of six regiment of troops (about 7,000 men) on 28 July 1986.[29] In January 1988 Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze announced that it was hoped that "1988 would be the last year of the Soviet troops stay;" the forces pulled out in the bitter winter cold of January–February 1989.[30]

Dissolution of the Soviet UnionEdit

 
A Russian soldier of the 2nd Guards Tamanskaya Motor Rifle Division in Moscow, January 1992, a few weeks after the dissolution of the USSR. He is wearing the Soviet winter Afghanka uniform.

From 1985 to 1991, General Secretary Gorbachev attempted to reduce the strain the Soviet Armed Forces placed on the USSR's economy.

Gorbachev slowly reduced the size of the Armed Forces, including through a unilateral force reduction announcement of 500,000 in December 1988.[31] A total of 50,000 personnel were to come from Eastern Europe, the forces in Mongolia (totaling five divisions and 75,000 troops) were to be reduced, but the remainder was to come from units inside the Soviet Union. There were major problems encountered in trying to organise the return of 500,000 personnel into civilian life, including where the returned soldiers were to live, housing, jobs, and training assistance. Then the developing withdrawals from Czechoslovakia and Hungary and the changes implicit in the Conventional Forces in Europe treaty began to create more disruption. The withdrawals became extremely chaotic; there was significant hardship for officers and their families, and "large numbers of weapons and vast stocks of equipment simply disappeared through theft, misappropriation and the black market."[32]

In February 1989 Defence Minister Dmitri Yazov outlined five major points of planned military restructuring in Izvestiya, the Soviet official newspaper of record.[33] First, the combined arms formations, divisions and armies, would be reorganised, and as a result division numbers would be reduced almost by half; second, tank regiments would be removed from all the motor rifle (mechanised infantry) divisions in East Germany and Czechoslovakia, and tank divisions would also lose a tank regiment; air assault and river crossing units would be removed from both Eastern Germany and Czechoslovakia; fourth, defensive systems and units would rise in number under the new divisional organisation; and finally the troop level in the European part of the USSR would drop by 200,000, and by 60,000 in the southern part of the country. A number of motor-rifle formations would be converted into machine gun and artillery forces intended for defensive purposes only. Three-quarters of the troops in Mongolia would be withdrawn and disbanded, including all the air force units there.

The Armed Forces were extensively involved in the 19–21 August 1991 Soviet coup d'état attempt to depose President Gorbachev.[34] Commanders despatched tanks into Moscow, yet the coup failed. On 8 December 1991, the presidents of Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine formally dissolved the USSR, and then constituted the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). Soviet President Gorbachev resigned on 25 December 1991; the next day, the Supreme Soviet dissolved itself, officially dissolving the USSR on 26 December 1991. During the next 18 months, inter-republican political efforts to transform the Army of the Soviet Union into the CIS military failed; eventually, the forces stationed in the republics formally became the militaries of the respective republican governments.

After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the Ground Forces dissolved and the fifteen Soviet successor states divided their assets among themselves. The divide mostly occurred along a regional basis, with Soviet soldiers from Russia becoming part of the new Russian Ground Forces, while Soviet soldiers originating from Kazakhstan became part of the new Kazakh Armed Forces. As a result, the bulk of the Soviet Ground Forces, including most of the Scud and Scaleboard surface-to-surface missile (SSM) forces, became incorporated in the Russian Ground Forces. 1992 estimates showed five SSM brigades with 96 missile vehicles in Belarus and 12 SSM brigades with 204 missile vehicles in Ukraine, compared to 24 SSM brigades with over 900 missile vehicles under Russian Ground Forces' control, some in other former Soviet republics.[35] By the end of 1992, most remnants of the Soviet Army in former Soviet Republics had disbanded or dispersed. Military forces garrisoned in Eastern Europe (including the Baltic states) gradually returned home between 1992 and 1994. This list of Soviet Army divisions sketches some of the fates of the individual parts of the Ground Forces.

In mid March 1992, Russian President Boris Yeltsin appointed himself as the new Russian minister of defence, marking a crucial step in the creation of the new Russian armed forces, comprising the bulk of what was still left of the military. The last vestiges of the old Soviet command structure were finally dissolved in June 1993, when the paper Commonwealth of Independent States Military Headquarters was reorganized as a staff for facilitating CIS military cooperation.[36]

In the next few years, the former Soviet Ground Forces withdrew from central and Eastern Europe (including the Baltic states), as well as from the newly independent post-Soviet republics of Azerbaijan, Armenia, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan. Now-Russian Ground Forces remained in Tajikistan, Georgia and Transnistria (in Moldova).

Post-dissolution influenceEdit

After the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, a considerable number of weapons were transferred to the national forces of emerging states on the periphery of the former Soviet Union, such as Armenia, Azerbaijan and Tajikistan.[37] Similarly, weapons and other military equipment were also left behind in the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989.[37] Some of these items were sold on the black market or through weapons merchants, whereof, in turn, some ended up in terrorist organizations such as al-Qaeda.[37] A report in 1999 argued that the greatest opportunity for terrorist organizations to procure weapons was in the former Soviet Union.[38]

In 2007, the World Bank estimated that out of the 500 million total firearms available worldwide, 100 million were of the Kalashnikov family, and 75 million were AKMs.[39] However, only about 5 million of these were manufactured in the former USSR.[40]

EquipmentEdit

 
A U.S. assessment of the seven most important items of Soviet combat equipment in 1981
 
Soviet Army T-72A tanks during the 1983 October Revolution celebration in Moscow

In 1990 and 1991, the Soviet Ground Forces were estimated to possess the following equipment. The 1991 estimates are drawn from the IISS Military Balance and follow the Conventional Forces in Europe data exchange which revealed figures of November 1990.

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute reported in 1992 that the USSR had previously had over 20,000 tanks, 30,000 armoured combat vehicles, at least 13,000 artillery pieces, and just under 1,500 helicopters.[42]

Commanders-in-Chief of the Soviet Ground ForcesEdit

 
Soviet Army conscript's military service book.#1, Place of birth,#2 Nationality (i.e. ethnicity), #3 Party affiliation (i.e. the year of joining the CPSU), #4 Year of entering the Komsomol, #5 Education, #6 Main specialty, #7 Marital status. (Document number and the name are removed)

See alsoEdit

NotesEdit

  1. ^ "Открытка Слава Советской Армии! Слава Радянській Армії!". Archived from the original on 1 March 2020. Retrieved 1 March 2020. The Ukrainian language was officially used in Soviet Army postcards produced in Kiev, Ukrainian SSR, 1987.
  2. ^ a b c "Russian Land Combat Equipment". globalsecurity.org. Archived from the original on 8 April 2022. Retrieved 18 May 2022.
  3. ^ Thomas, Nigel (20 January 2013). World War II Soviet Armed Forces (3): 1944–45. Bloomsbury Publishing. ISBN 978-1-84908-635-6.
  4. ^ Suvorov 1982, p. 51.
  5. ^ Urban, Mark L. (1985). Soviet land power. London: Ian Allan. ISBN 978-0-7110-1442-8.
  6. ^ a b c Feskov et al 2013, p. 119.
  7. ^ P. Leffler, Melvyn (1 March 1985). "Strategy, Diplomacy, and the Cold War: The United States, Turkey, and NATO, 1945–1952". The Journal of American History. 71 (4): 811 – via University of Oxford.
  8. ^ Scott & Scott 1979, p. 142.
  9. ^ Nikolai Kormiltsev, The main command of the Ground Forces: history and modernity, Military History magazine, No. 7, 2005, pp.3-8.
  10. ^ Tsouras 1994, pp. 121, 172.
  11. ^ a b Odom 1998, p. 39.
  12. ^ a b Scott & Scott 1979, p. 176.
  13. ^ Armed Forces of the Russian Federation – Land Forces, Agency Voeninform of the Defence Ministry of the RF (2007) p. 14
  14. ^ Feskov et al 2013, p. 99.
  15. ^ Schofield 1991, pp. 236–237.
  16. ^ Scott & Scott 1979, p. 305.
  17. ^ Odom 1998, pp. 47–48, 286–289.
  18. ^ Odom 1998, pp. 290–291.
  19. ^ Odom 1998, p. 48.
  20. ^ a b Orr 2003, p. 1.
  21. ^ Isby 1988, p. 30.
  22. ^ International Institute for Strategic Studies 1987, p. 34.
  23. ^ Suvorov 1982, pp. 42–48.
  24. ^ Odom (1998) also discusses this development. Specific details on the Strategic Directions can be seen at Michael Holm, High Commands.
  25. ^ Suvorov 1982, p. 36.
  26. ^ Odom 1998, p. 69.
  27. ^ Odom 1998, p. 72-80.
  28. ^ Parallel History Project, and the documentation on the associated Polish exercise, Seven Days to the River Rhine, 1979. See also , Beatrice, 'Warsaw Pact Military Doctrines in the 1970s and 1980s: Findings in the East German Archives,' Comparative Strategy, October–December 1993, pp. 437–457
  29. ^ Schofield 1993, p. 108.
  30. ^ Schofield 1993, pp. 126, 203.
  31. ^ Odom 1998, pp. 273–278.
  32. ^ Odom 1998, p. 278.
  33. ^ Odom 1998, p. 161.
  34. ^ Odom 1998, pp. 305–346.
  35. ^ International Institute for Strategic Studies 1992, pp. 72, 86, 96.
  36. ^ Matlock 1995.
  37. ^ a b c Hamm 2011.
  38. ^ Lee, Rensselaer (1999) Smuggling Armageddon: The Nuclear Black Market in the Former Soviet Union and Europe. New York: St. Martin's Press, cited in Hamm, Crimes Committed by Terrorist Groups, 2011.
  39. ^ Killicoat, Phillip (April 2007). "Post-Conflict Transitions Working Paper No. 10.: Weaponomics: The Global Market for Assault Rifles" (PDF). World Bank. Oxford University. p. 3. Archived from the original (PDF) on 9 July 2016. Retrieved 3 April 2010.
  40. ^ Valerii N. Shilin; Charlie Cutshaw (1 March 2000). Legends and reality of the AK: a behind-the-scenes look at the history, design, and impact of the Kalashnikov family of weapons. Paladin Press. ISBN 978-1-58160-069-8
  41. ^ a b c d e f g International Institute for Strategic Studies 1991, p. 37.
  42. ^ SIPRI (December 1992). "Post Cold War Security in and for Europe" (PDF). Retrieved 25 August 2020.

ReferencesEdit

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit