The reality of modernity - Motor vehicles in the Red Army

 One view - Forward detachment of a Tank Army sweeping across the Polish plains

One view - Forward detachment of a Tank Army sweeping across the Polish plains

The relative size

David Glantz has written extensively about the Motor-Mechanisation program of the Red Army in the Interwar Years to show the great efforts made by the RKKA to modernise. This was based on a mix of motor vehicles and tractors equipping the relatively small peacetime army. Once the threat of war loomed the Red Army expanded, finding like most European nations, the scale of the task was huge and not matched by the motor vehicle stocks or production capability of the civilian sector and so the army had to resort to mobilising vehicles from the civil economy. The common narrative as expounded in books like "The Roads to War" is that the numbers of vehicles rose steadily in the Red Army throughout the war and this led to increases in the tempo of its operations in 1944 and 1945.

Establishment of Red Army Vehicles Source GAVTU report
  22.01.1941 01.01.1942 01.01.1943 01.01.1944 01.01.1945 01.05.1945
Motor vehicles 272,605 316,485 404,553 495,904 621,284 664,455

This viewpoint is limited by the fact that it gives no indication of whether this is a sufficient number of vehicles to make a difference to a field army of 6 million or an overall size of 11 million personnel. For comparison, the British Armed Forces can be used as figures are supplied in the Official History "Fighting Support and Transport Vehicles" which for June 1940 gives the overall military fleet as 149,414 with 89,118 vehicles (excluding motorcycles) shipped over to the BEF in France which consisted of 400,000 men in 10 Divisions with a ratio of 4.5 men per vehicle. Around 80,000 of these vehicles were lost at Dunkirk but by using British, Canadian and American production facilities by October 1942, the British had a vehicle holding of 3,092,322 vehicles and motorcycles which gave them a military fleet of 827,893 (or 656,044 motor vehicles and 171,849 motorcycles). This fleet continued to grow so that by Jan 1945, the military fleet measured 1,275,697 motor vehicles excluding motorcycles with a total of 684,877 trucks and lorries. This fleet serviced an Armed Forces of 4.8 million personnel giving a ratio of 3.76 men per vehicle. Clearly the 621,284 vehicles of the 11 million strong Red Army was a long way from this fully motorised force with a ratio of 18 men per vehicle. Also the military fleet alone of Great Britain exceeded the entire stock of motor vehicles of the entire Soviet state.

Transport of the Red Army

In common with every other European army (other than the British Army,) the Red Army had to rely on extensive use of horses in addition to their motor vehicles. These armies reflected their heritage from the Great War and used railways for strategic/operational transport and supply, their motor fleet to link the railways with the field armies and then a mix of motor and horse-drawn vehicles to supply their unit transport and army supply units. Some armies such as the German concentrated a substantial proportion of their motor stock in specialised armoured divisions leaving their infantry divisions equipped with horses. [See DiNardo] The Red Army followed a similar pattern with horses fulfilling many of the roles of unit transport and pulling guns in the Rifle Divisions that made up the majority of the Red Army so that the motor vehicles could be concentrated in the Tank Armies and the Artillery Arm, particularly to equip the anti-tank gun units. The balance between the various type of transport and their deployment are given in Великая Отечественная война 1941 - 1945 гг.: Действующая армия [Great Patriotic War 1941-1945: The Operational Army]

Size of the RKKA on key dates of the Russo-German War
December 1941        
  field army STAVKA reserve military district total
Personnel 4,018,068 544,616 4,360,857 8,923,541
Motor Vehicles 197,678 3,420 110,457 311,555
incl. Trucks 152,383 2,977 79,802 235,162
Tractors 17,217 359 18,710 36,286
Horses 608,817 162,549 516,275 1,287,641
         
November 1942        
  field army STAVKA reserve military districts total
Personnel 6,605,498 202,965 3,800,620 10,609,083
Motor Vehicles 263,714 7,095 106,629 377,438
incl. Trucks 195,618 5,677 72,461 273,776
Tractors 21,107 250 15,165 36,522
Horses 781,759 18,238 249,436 1,049,433
         
January 1945        
  field army STAVKA reserve military districts total
Personnel 6,750,149 431,838 4,226,376 11,408,363
Motor Vehicles 366,959 20,362 145,279 532,600
incl. Trucks 268,428 14,423 96,493 379,344
Tractors 40,139 1,730 14,203 56,072
Horses 791,611 29,303 233,240 1,054,154

These totals at 6 months after the start, the mid point and end point of the war illustrate the changes in the Red Army's transport fleet. Overall the size of the armed forces grew until July 1943 and then found a stable level, while the number of motor vehicles doubled during the war, however the number of horses started to fall during the summer of 1942 until Jan 1944 when it began to recover. This was undoubtedly due to the heavy losses sustained and the limited stock of horses in agriculture after collapse in the horse population during Collectivisation in 1934 and the lands lost in 1941. Given that there were 4 horses for every truck (average load for Soviet trucks being 2000 kg,)  it can be estimated that horses provided half the transport lift for the Red Army during the war (a horse pulls 500 kg in draught,).

 Great Patriotic War 1941-1945: The Operational Army

Great Patriotic War 1941-1945: The Operational Army

The concentration of transport with the Field Army illustrates this point as the decline in horse numbers is later (October 1942 instead of May 1942) and the recovery starts earlier (July 1943 instead of Jan 1944) showing that horse reserves were directed to the Field Army and the Military Districts in the rear were stripped of horse transport while their number of trucks remained relatively constant. Trucks were not replacing horses in the Field Army, additional transport was being used whatever type it was and this reflects the overall low level of transport available to the Red Army throughout the war.

 Great Patriotic War 1941-1945: The Operational Army

Great Patriotic War 1941-1945: The Operational Army

Further Reading

This article has set out just a few of the issues relating to transport in general and motor transport in particular that faced the Red Army during the Soviet-German War 1941-45. A fuller discussion can be found in my article in the Journal of Slavic Military Studies (volume 31 issue 4) titled “Logistics of the Combined Arms Army – Motor Transport” http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13518046.2018.1521360 which is due for publication in October 2018.