Preparations for War

How well prepared for war was the Soviet Union in 1939?

The USSR had an army of some 1.8 million men stationed throughout the Soviet Union. This massive armed force suffered from a number of serious weaknesses. Stalin had purged the armed forces leadership throughout the 1930's, eliminating anyne whom he believed to pose a political threat to his leadership. As a consequence the Red Army lacked experienced leadership as many of the leading generals and officers had been stripped of their command, imprisoned or executed. The Red Army wasn't expected to be neded in major conflict against an industrial power in 1939 though. The negotiations of August 1939 between Molotov and Ribbentrop agreed a non agression pact. stalin knew that hitler could not afford, in 1939, to break this pact and face war on two fronts. This allowed time for development of forces and for experience to be gained through forced annexation of parts of Finland in 1939 -40.

The Soviet air force was sizeable. By 1936 the USSR was producing 3600 aircraft per annum. In 1939 the red air force began production of the Lavochkin LaGG-3 which had a range of 400 miles and a top speed of 350mph. This bomber was mass produced throughout the course of the war. Soviet Pilots also had the advantage of having flown in the short war against Japan in 1938. Mobilisation of the Soviet population following the German invasion of Poland led to mas production of a range of long range bombers and fighter planes. sheer weight of numbers, it was hoped, would overcome the technical deficiiencies encountered by many f the machines.


Russo-Japanese war - an overview of the development of the Soviet Armed forces from Revolution through to the beginning of Operation Barbarossa.

The Soviet airforce versus the Luftwaffe - an academic article from History Today that analyses the strengths and weaknesses of the Red Airfroce in comparison to that of the Luftwaffe.

Red Air Force - Spartacus entry for the Soviet airforce in the Second World War. Links to pages describing the different planes of the red Air Force.

Red Army - this entry in the Spartacus Encyclopedia illustrates the impact of the purges, outlines the size of the armed forces and provides a chronological framework that shows how the army developed throughout the war. useful source material is included at the foot of this page.