The Red Army (Russian: Рабоче-Крестьянская Красная Армия, Raboche-Krest'yanskaya Krasnaya Armiya; RKKA (Workers’–Peasants’ Red Army) was the Soviet government’s revolutionary militia beginning in the Russian Civil War of 1918-1922. It grew into the national army of the USSR. Since 1946, after the Second World War, it was called the Soviet Army.
The 'Red Army' name refers to the traditional colour of the workers' movement. This represents, symbolically, the blood shed by the working class in its struggling against capitalism, and the belief that all people are equal. On 25 February 1946 (when Soviet national symbols replaced revolutionary national symbols), the Red Army was renamed the Soviet Army (Советская Армия, Sovetskaya Armiya). The Soviet Army was among the largest armies in history, from the 1930s until the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. This article covers the Soviet Ground Forces of the Red and Soviet Armies. See Soviet Armed Forces for a description of the entire armed forces of the Soviet Union.
The Russian Civil War (1917–23) occurred in two periods. The first period: October 1917–November 1918, from the Bolshevik Revolution to the First World War (1914–18) Armistice, developed from the Bolshevik government’s November 1917 nationalization of traditional Cossack lands. This provoked General Alexey Maximovich Kaledin’s Volunteer Army insurrection in the River Don region. Also aggravating Russian internal politics was the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk (March 1918). This allowed direct Allied intervention in the Russian Civil War, in which twelve foreign countries armed anti-Bolshevik militias. Combat was a series of small-unit actions among the Czechoslovak Legion, the Polish 5th Rifle Division, and the pro-Bolshevik Red Latvian Riflemen and others. The second period: January–November 1919, featured the White armies’ successful advances, from the south, under Gen. Anton Denikin, from the east, under Gen. Aleksandr Vasilevich Kolchak, and from the northwest, under Gen. Nikolai Nikolaevich Yudenich, that defeated the Red Army on each front. Trotsky reformed and counterattacked; the Red Army repulsed Gen. Kolchak’s army in June, and the armies of Gen. Denikin and Gen. Yudenich in October. By mid-November, the White Armies almost simultaneously became exhausted, and, in January 1920, Budenny's First Cavalry Army entered Rostov-on-Don.
To fight the six-year counter-revolutionary Civil War of the White Armies’, the Council of People's Commissars decreed the establishment of a formal army on 28 January 1918. At war’s start, the Red Army comprised 299 infantry regiments. Civil warfare 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 with a loose alliance of anti-Communist forces, comprehending the Revolutionary Insurrectionary Army of Ukraine, the “Black Army” lead by Nestor Makhno, the anti-White and anti-Red Green armies, and others. The 23 February 1923 “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.
On 6 September 1918, the Bolshevik militias consolidated under the supreme command of the Revolutionary Military Council of the Republic (Revvoyensoviet, Revolyutsionny Voyenny Sovyet), People’s Commissar for War (1918–24), Leon Trotsky, Chairman, and Ioakhim Vatsetis, Commander-in-Chief of the Red Army. Soon afterward he 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 policemen; conscription began in June 1918, and opposition to it was violently suppressed. To politically control the multi-ethnic and multi-cultural Red Army soldiery, the Cheka operated Special Punitive Brigades which suppressed anti-communism, deserters, and enemies of the state. Wartime pragmatism allowed recruiting ex-Tsarist officers and sergeants (non-commissioned officers, NCOs) to the Red Army. Lev Glezarov’s special commission screened and recruited; by mid-August 1920 the Red Army’s former Tsarist troops comprised 48,000 officers, 10,300 administrators, and 214,000 NCOs. At the Civil War’s start, ex-Tsarists comprised 75 per cent of the Red Army officer corps, who were employed as voenspetsy (military specialists), whose loyalty was occasionally ascertained with hostage families. At war’s end in 1922, ex-Tsarists constituted 83 per cent of the Red Army’s divisional and corps commanders.
The slogan Exhortation, Organization, and Reprisals expressed the discipline and motivation ensuring the Red Army’s tactical and strategic success. On campaign, the attached Cheka Special Punitive Brigades conducted summary field courts martial and executions of deserters and slackers. Under Commissar Janis Berzin, the Special Punitive Brigades took hostages from the villages of deserters, to compel their surrender; one in ten was executed. The tactic also suppressed peasant rebellions in Red Army-controlled areas. The loyalty of the political, ethnic, and national varieties of men composing the Red Army was enforced by political commissars attached at the brigade and regiment levels, and to spy on subordinate commanders, for political incorrectness. Despite such power, the political commissars whose Chekist detachments retreated or broke in the face of the enemy earned the death penalty. In August 1918, Trotsky authorized General Mikhail Tukhachevsky to place blocking units behind politically-unreliable Red Army units, to shoot them if they retreated without permission. In 1942, during the Great Patriotic War (1941–45), Joseph Stalin reintroduced the policy via penal battalions.
In 1919-1921 the Red Army was also involved in the Polish-Soviet war, in which it reached central Poland in 1920, but then suffered a defeat there, which put an end to the war. During the Polish campaign the Red Army numbered some 5.5 million men, many of which the Army had difficulty supporting, around 581,000 in the two operational fronts, Western and Southwestern. Around 2.5 million men were 'immobilized in the interior' as part of reserve armies.
After four years of warfare, the Red Army’s defeat of Wrangel in the south allowed the foundation of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in 1922. Historian John Erickson dates 1 February 1924, when Mikhail Frunze became head of the Red Army Staff, as the ascent of the General Staff, which dominated Soviet military planning and operations. By 1 October 1924 the Red Army’s strength diminished to 530,000. Divisions of the Soviet Union 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 Polish-Soviet War and Russian Civil War experience. To achieve victory, deep operations comprehend 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 in the hope 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.”
Red Army Deep Operations were first formally expressed in the 1929 Field Regulations, and codified in the 1936 Provisional Field Regulations (PU-36). The Great Purge (1937–39) removed many leading officers from the Red Army, including Tukhachevsky and many of his followers, and the doctrine was abandoned until the Second World War.
Per the Nazi–Soviet Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact (24 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 1939–40. 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. For Hitler, the circumstance was no dilemma, because  the 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 slated for mid-May 1941.
When Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, in Operation Barbarossa, the Red Army's ground forces had 303 divisions and 22 separate brigades (4.8 million soldiers), including 166 divisions and 9 brigades (2.9 million soldiers) garrisoned in the western military districts. The Axis deployed on the Eastern Front 181 divisions and 18 brigades (5.5 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 the Wehrmacht defeated many 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 unprepared Soviet forces suffered much damage in the field because of mediocre officers (cf. the purges), 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 Wehrmacht in combat. The Axis’s numeric superiority rendered the combatants’ divisional strength approximately equal. 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.
In 1941, the Soviet government raised the bloodied Red Army’s esprit de corps with propaganda eschewing class struggle for the defense of Motherland and nation, employing historic examplars of Russian courage and bravery against foreign aggressors. The anti-Nazi Great Patriotic War, was conflated with the 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 before battle.
To encourage the initiative of Red Army commanders, the CPSU temporarily abolished political commissars, re-introduced formal military ranks and decorations, and the Guards-unit concept. Exceptionally heroic or high-performing units earned the Guards title (e.g. 1st Guards Special Rifle Corps, 6th Guards Tank Army), an élite designation denoting superior training, matériel, and pay. Negative reinforcement also was used; slackers and malingerers avoiding combat with self-inflicted wounds  cowards, thieves, and deserters were disciplined with beatings, demotions, undesirable-dangerous duties, and summary execution by NKVD punitive detachments.
In that time, the osobist (NKVD military counter-intelligence officer) became a key Red Army figure with the power to condemn to death and to spare the life of any soldier and (most 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 treatment of Red Army personnel captured by the Wehrmacht was especially harsh. A 1941 Stalin directive ordered the suicide of every Red Army officer and soldier rather than surrender; Soviet law regarded all captured Red Army soldiers as traitors. Soviet PoWs whom the Red Army liberated from enemy captivity usually were sentenced to penal battalions.
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 KIA, 555,400 deaths by disease and 4,559,000 MIA (most captured). Of these 11,444,100, 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, being 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 to 1943.
The German losses on the Eastern Front comprised an estimated 3,604,800 KIA 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) 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. As regards 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.
Early in the Great Patriotic War, the Red Army fielded some excellent weaponry, especially artillery and tanks. The Red Army’s heavy KV-1 and medium T-34 tanks outclassed most Wehrmacht armor until 1943, but in 1941, most Soviet tank units used older models. The Soviet Air Force, though equipped with relatively modern aircraft, initially performed poorly against the Luftwaffe. The rapid progress of the initial German air and land attacks into the 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 half, obliging their reestablishment east of the Ural Mountains. Until then, the Red Army improvised much in lieu of normal weapons and equipment. At the end of the Second World War (1939–45), the Red Army was the largest army in history, possessing more tanks and artillery, and experienced soldiers, commanders, and staff than all other participant forces combined. From which perspective, the British Chiefs of Staff Committee rejected Prime Minister Churchill’s Operation Unthinkable (1945) as infeasible for deposing the Stalin government, expelling the Red Army from Europe, and destroying the USSR.
In 1946, the Red Army was renamed the Soviet Army, progressing from “revolutionary militia” to “regular army” of a sovereign state. Marshal Georgi Zhukov became Chief of the Soviet Ground Forces in March 1946, but was quickly succeeded by Ivan Konev in July, who remained as such until 1950, when the position of Chief of the Soviet Ground Forces was abolished for five years, an organisational gap that “probably was associated in some manner with the Korean War [1950–53]”. From 1945 to 1948, the Soviet Armed Forces were reduced from ca. 11.3 million to ca. 2.8 million men, a demobilisation controlled first, by increasing the number of military districts to 33, then reduced to 21, in 1946. Throughout the Cold War (1945–99), Western intelligence estimates calculated that the Soviet strength remained ca. 2.8 million to ca. 5.3 million men. To maintain said strength range, Soviet law minimally 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.
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 the (future) Warsaw Pact (1955–91) (the satellite states), and to protect against attack from Europe, the historical Russian fear. Elsewhere, they may have assisted the NKVD in suppressing anti-Soviet Western Ukrainian resistance (1941–55).
Soviet Army forces on USSR territory were apportioned among military districts. There were 32 of them in 1945. 16 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, 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 sixteenth military district, the Central Asian Military District, at Alma-Ata, Kazakhstan. In 1979, the Soviet Union entered Afghanistan, to support its Communist government, provoking a ten-year mujahideen guerrilla resistance.
After 1956, Premier 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. Nonetheless, Soviet forces possessed too few theater-level nuclear weapons to fulfil war-plan requirements until the mid-1980s.
From 1985 to 1991, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev attempted to reduce the Soviet Army’s financial straining of the USSR’s economy; he slowly reduced its size, and withdrew it from Afghanistan in 1989. Meanwhile, by the end of 1990, democratic revolutions had dissolved the Eastern Bloc, and Soviet citizens likewise deposed their government of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU). Unlike his Stalinist predecessors, Gorbachev did not attack the citizenry with the Soviet Army; political crises ensued, and the USSR declined into a (crisis of confidence) government emergency that metamorphosed into a Stalinist coup in summer of 1991.
After the 19–21 August 1991 Soviet coup d'état attempt to depose President Gorbachev, the Academy of Soviet Scientists reported that the armed forces did not much participate in the coup launched by the neo-Stalinists in the CPSU. 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. In the next eighteen 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 collapse of the Soviet Union, the Soviet Army dissolved and the USSR's successor states divided its assets among themselves. The divide mostly occurred along a regional basis, with Soviet soldiers from Russia becoming part of the new Russian Army, while Soviet soldiers originating from Kazakhstan became part of the new Kazakh Army. As a result, the bulk of the Soviet Ground Forces, including most of the Scud and Scaleboard Surface-to-surface missile forces, became incorporated in the Russian Ground Forces. By the end of 1992, most remnants of the Soviet Army in former Soviet Republics had disbanded. 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 defense, 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.
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, and Kyrgyzstan. Now-Russian Ground Forces remained in Tajikistan, Georgia and Transnistria.
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 May 29, 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 comprised 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 1937–38.
Under Stalin's campaign for mechanization, the army formed its first mechanized unit in 1930. The 1st Mechanized Brigade, consisting of a tank regiment, a motorized infantry regiment, and 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 NKO ordered the creation of nine mechanized corps on July 6, 1940. Between February and March 1941 another twenty would be ordered, and all larger than those of Tukhachevsky. Although, on paper, by 1941 the Red Army's 29 mechanized corps had no less than 29,899 tanks 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 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 June 22 1941 there were only 1,475 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 put this into perspective, 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. This fact would play a crucial role in the initial defeats of the Red Army in 1941 at the hands of the German armed forces.
War experience prompted changes to the way frontline forces were organized. After six months of combat against the Germans, STAVKA abolished the Rifle Corps intermediate level between the Army and Division level because, while useful in theory, in the inexperienced state of the Red Army, they proved ineffective in practice. Following victory in the Battle of Moscow in January 1942, the high command began to reintroduce Rifle Corps into its most 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 established 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 German attack battered many severely, and in the course of 1941 virtually all (barring two in the Transbaikal Military District) 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 in order to employ armor in mass again. By mid 1942 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.
At the end of the Great Patriotic War the Red Army had over 500 rifle divisions and about a tenth that number of tank formations. Their experience of war gave the Soviets such faith in tank forces that from that point the number of tank divisions remained virtually unchanged, whereas the wartime 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.
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. 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. The internal military districts usually contained only one or two A divisions, with the remainder B and V series formations.
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 the late 1970s and early 1980s new High Commands in the Strategic Directions were created to control multi-Front operations in Europe (the Western and South-Western Strategic Directions) and at Baku to handle southern operations, and in the Soviet Far East.
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, the Party leadership considered political control over the military necessary, as the Army relied more and more on experienced officers from the pre-revolutionary Tsarist period. This system was abolished in 1925, as there were by that time enough trained Communist officers that counter-signing of all orders was no longer necessary.
The early Red Army abandoned the institution of a professional officer corps as a "heritage of tsarism" in the course of the Revolution. In particular, the 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.
On September 22, 1935 the Red Army abandoned service categories 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"), for administrative, medical and other non-combatant branches.
The Marshal of the Soviet Union (Маршал Советского Союза) rank was introduced on the September 22, 1935. On May 7, 1940 further modifications to rationalise the ranks system were made on the proposal by Marshal Voroshilov: the ranks of "General" and "Admiral" replaced the senior functional ranks of Combrig, Comdiv, Comcor, 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). 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 epaulettes that 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.
During the Civil War the commander cadres were trained at the General Staff Academy of the RKKA (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 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.
The late 1930s saw the so-called Purges of the Red Army Cadres, which occurred concurrently with Stalin's Great Purge of Soviet society. In 1936 and 1937, at the orders of Stalin, thousands of Red Army 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, 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. Most historians believe that the purges significantly impaired the combat capabilities of the Red Army. However, the extent of the consequential damage attributable to them is still debated.
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 sacked. 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, 16 of 16 army commissars, and 25 of 28 army corps commissars.
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 experience.
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 year.
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.
The Ground Forces were manned through conscription for a term of service, based on the All-union service laws of 1925 and 1939 in the first decades of the Soviet Union. According to 1949 service law service terms were 3 years in the ground forces (and 4 years in the navy). The final 1967 military service law reduced the term of service from three to two years (3 years in the navy). A bi-annual draft in May and November was intruced then, also, replacing the annual draft in fall. This system was administered through the thousands of military commissariats (военный комиссариат, военкомат (voyenkomat)) located throughout the Soviet Union. Between January and May of every year, every young Soviet male citizen was required to report to the local voyenkomat for assessment for military service, following a summons based on lists from every school and employer in the area. The voyenkomat worked to quotas sent out by a department of the General Staff, listing how young men are required by each service and branch of the Armed Forces. The new conscripts were then picked up by an officer from their future unit and usually sent by train across the country. On arrival, they would begin the Young Soldiers' course, and become part of the system of senior rule, known as dedovshchina, literally "rule by the grandfathers." There were only a very small number of professional non-commissioned officers (NCOs), as most NCOs were conscripts sent on short courses to prepare them for squad or crew leaders and platoon sergeants' positions. These conscript NCOs were supplemented by praporshchik warrant officers, positions created in the 1960s to support the increased variety of skills required for modern weapons.
The Soviet Union expanded its indigenous arms industry as part of Stalin's industrialization program in the 1920s and 1930s.
Notable Soviet tanks include the T-34, T-54 and T-55, T-62, T-64, T-72, and T-80, as well as post-Soviet variants of the T-72 and T-80 such as the T-90 and T-84. Small arms used during the Second World War included, for example, the Mosin-Nagant Rifle, which was also used as a sniper rifle and the PPSh sub-machine gun. But, throughout the late 1950s to the 1970s, the primary infantry weapon was the AKM (derived from the AK-47), followed by the AK-74, as well as a number of general purpose and heavy machine guns.
The Soviet meaning of military doctrine was much different from U.S. military usage of the term. Minister of Defence of Soviet Union Marshal Andrei Grechko defined it in 1975 as 'a system of views on the nature of war and methods of waging it, and on the preparation of the country and army for war, officially adopted in a given state and its armed forces.' Soviet theorists emphasized both the political and 'military-technical' sides of military doctrine, while from the Soviet point of view, Westerners ignored the political side. However the political side of Soviet military doctrine, Western commentators Harriet F Scott and William Scott said, 'best explained Soviet moves in the international arena'.
The Red Army often gave support to the NKVD, which had as one of its functions the implementation of political repressions. The main function of the NKVD was to protect the state security of the Soviet Union, which was accomplished by large scale political repressions against "class enemies". As an internal security force and prison guard contingent of the GULag, the Internal Troops played a role in both political repressions as well as war crimes during the periods of military hostilities throughout the Soviet history. Particularly, they were responsible for maintaining the regime in the GULAG, and for conducting the mass deportations and forced resettlement of several ethnic groups that the Soviet regime presumed to be hostile to its policies and likely to collaborate with the enemy (Chechens, Crimean Tatars, or Koreans for example).
During World War II, a series of mass executions were committed by the Soviet NKVD against prisoners in Eastern Europe, primarily Estonia, Latvia, Poland, Lithuania, Romania, Ukraine and other parts of the Soviet Union as the Red Army withdrew after the German invasion in 1941 (see Operation Barbarossa). The overall death toll is estimated at around 100,000. There were numerous allegations of war crimes committed by Soviet armed forces, especially against captured Luftwaffe airmen during the initial phase of the war. NKVD Internal Troops were engaged alongside Red Army forces in combat, and NKVD units were used for rear area security, functioning as blocking units. In territory that was occupied, the NKVD carried out mass arrests, deportations, and executions. The targets included the members of non-Communist resistance movements such as the UPA in Ukraine, former Waffen-SS soldiers and "Forest Brethren" in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, and Polish Armia Krajowa. The NKVD also summarily executed many Polish military officer prisoners in 1939–41.
Soviet Destruction battalions were given wide mandate by the Soviet authorities to summarily execute any suspicious person. Thousands of people including a large proportion of women and children were killed, while dozens of villages, schools and public buildings were burned to the ground.
After the final repulse of the German invasion of the Soviet Union, Soviet troops entered Germany, Romania, and Hungary in late 1944. Red Army soldiers often executed surrendering or captured German soldiers. There were large number of accounts of war crimes by Soviet armed forces — plunder, the murder of civilians, and rape. In both Soviet and current Russian history books on the "Great Patriotic War" these war crimes are rarely mentioned.
War crimes by Soviet armed forces against civilians and prisoners of war in the territories occupied by the USSR between 1939 and 1941 — (Western Ukraine, the Baltic states, and Bessarabia in Romania) — and further war crimes in 1944–45 have been present in the consciousness of these countries ever since. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, a more systematic, locally-controlled discussion of these events has taken place.. This is also true of the territories occupied by Soviet forces in Manchuria and the Kuril Islands after the Soviet Union refused to renew its neutrality pact with Japan in August 1945.
People who hated communists used the name Red Army to describe any left wing group which they said was trying to promote communism and was paid for by the USSR.