Red Army 1939

Strength and organization of the Russian Armed Forces in 1939

Russian infantry with BT-7 tank

Russian infantry with BT-7 tank during the Mongolian fighting against Japan in 1939.

During 1939-40, the Red Army were undergoing a period of transition. New weapons and tactical ideas were being developed, but misguided and often stultifying central control meant that there was little sense of initiative or responsibility, and important advances in any sphere were often left in isolation. The excellent progress made in tank construction, for instance, was counterbalanced by the absence of an effective radio-communication system, without which tanks were severely restricted.

The Soviet Union placed great reliance on cavalry because of vast distances, poor road and rail communications and the inability of Soviet industry to provide vehicles for all of such a huge army.
The Soviet Union was divided into 13 military districts and 2 military commissariats.
The Army was essentially a standing army which was run by professional cadre, but it relied on conscription for the mass of its personnel. Men were liable for military service for a period of 22 years from the age of 20 to 41.
The peacetime strength of the army was estimated at 1,800,000 men, while mobilised strength could be as high as 11,000,000.

The baleful influence of Stalin over the Soviet armed forces during the 1930s culminated in the purges of 1938 which decimated the officer corps. Almost inevitably, the most able and outspoken officers were destroyed by the purges and this was a significant factor in the poor performance of the Red Army in the Winter War against Finland in 1939. It has been estimated that Russian casualties were about 200,000 men during this short campaign.


Rifle Division Cavalry Division Heavy Tank Brigade Light Tank Brigade
Total units 110 (including 23 Territorial divisions) 44 4 21
Infantry regiments 3 with 2,900 officers and men each 2 motorised rifle battalions (total approx. 1,900 officers and men) 2,745 officers and men 2,745 officers and men
Cavalry regiments 4
Total men 19,000 ? ? ?
Machine guns 417 (174 heavy 7.62mm Maxim, 243 light 7.62mm DT's) ? ? ?
Mortars 100+ (50 to 120mm) ? ? ?
Howitzers and Field guns 100 (12 x 152mm, 28 x 122mm, 42 x 76mm, 18 inf guns) c. 50 (76mm) 46 guns, self-propelled or moved by tractors 46 guns, self-propelled or moved by tractors
Anti-tank guns 72 (45mm) ? ? ?
Tanks 22 T-26, 16 T-37 64 (BT or armoured cars) 136 T-28 (one Brigade with 2/3 T-35s), 37 BT, 10 flame-thrower tanks 278 BT or 267 T-26
Lorries and tractors ? ? 521 521
Armoured fighting vehicles of the Red Army 1939:
Armored fighting vehicles Inventory
T-27 400
T-37 c. 2,400
T-38 c. 1,200
T-18M c. 400
T-26 c. 9,500
BT c. 5,300
T-28 488
T-35 c. 80
Total c. 19,768

Armoured Car Strength of the Red Army 1939: 2,594
Armoured Car Strength of the Red Army 1940: 4,819


Red Army Order of Battle in the Winter War 1939-40

Order of Battle against Finland
Army Location Rifle Divisions Tank Brigades
7 Army Western Karelian Isthmus 12 5
13 Army Eastern Karelian Isthmus 8 1
8 Army North of Lake Ladoga 6 (155, 139, 75, 56, 18, 168 Division) -
9 Army Karelian (in the 'Waist') 5 (122, 88, 163, 44, 54 Division) -
14 Army Petsamo (Arctic) 1 (104 Division) -
map of Winter War in Finland 1939-40

The Winter War with Russian attacks, Finnish counter attacks and territory lost by Finland after the peace of 1940.


Total Soviet Forces against Finland:
600,000 men, 32 divisions, 1,200 tanks
696 planes divided between the armies and 300 more in Estonia
2 battleships, 1 cruiser, 9 destroyers, 16 small warships, 11 submarines deployed by the Baltic and Arctic Fleets

Call of War
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