Joseph Stalin and the development of Tank Forces of the Red Army in the 1930’s - early 1940’s

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The author attempts to analyze the totality of ideas and opinions of I.V. Stalin on the development of tank weapons in the 1930s. Documents of RGASPI and RGVA archives were used as the sources. Influenced by a series of ‘military alarms,’ Stalin began to closely engage with issues of tank construction in the late 1920s, and initiated a large-scale program for equipping the Red Army with tanks. The program was to ensure the military-technical superiority of the USSR over its likely opponents, with the goal to compensate for the overall backlog. As the USSR was unable to create its own modern tanks, in 1930 the Soviet leadership purchased several dozen military vehicles abroad. Stalin personally controlled the procurement process, often intervening in the process; he also attended demonstrations of tests vehicles and decided on the number of tanks that were to be produced. At the same time he closely followed the technical innovations in foreign armies. The study of Stalin’s interest in tanks reveals that in the early 1930s, the Soviet leader thought of the tank weapon as an ‘asymmetrical alternative’ to overcome the broader gap in preparation for war. The present article analyses how Stalin read the documents that were sent to him; this analysis demonstrates that Stalin was more likely to seek confirmation for his existing views than to actually use the documents for coming to new conclusions. In general, Stalin’s ideas and opinions on tank issues were based on political, economic and logical considerations rather than on military expertise. One case in point is his support for M.N. Tukhachevskii when the latter called for the massive production of surrogate tanks based on tractors. In the mid-1930s, when the army had already received thousands of new tanks, Stalin shifted his emphasis from issues of equipment to the quality of the personnel, while at the same time demanding a simplification of machinery down to the level of a ‘crewman with skills that are just medium or even lower.’ But on the eve of the war, the Soviet leader again returned to the need for a qualitative and numerical growth of armored forces. Finally, Stalin analysed how tank forces were used during the Winter War against Finland and in the first years of war in Europe, but he remained unable to assess the strike potential of this weapon and its role in the future war with Nazi Germany.

About the authors

Aleksei A. Kilichenkov

Russian State University for the Humanities

Author for correspondence.

Doktor istoricheskikh nauk [Dr. habil. hist.], Professor at the Department of Contemporary History of Russia, Russian State University for the Humanities.

6, Miusskaya Sq., Moscow, 125993, Russia


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Copyright (c) 2019 Kilichenkov A.A.

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