World War II: Soviet War Economy


Figure 1.--

The Soviet Union because it was such a closed society is difficult to compare with other countries, but assessments suggest that it had a total national output roughly comparble to Germany (about $15 billion). The Soviet Union was, however, much less economically developed than Western Europe. And Soviet enterprises were extremely inefficent as we saw after the disolutiin of the Soviet Union decades later. Because of the larger population, percapita income was only a fraction of European levels and living standards even lower because of the inefficencies in the economy. Soviet statistics show continued economic expansion during the Depression years of the 1930s. We are unsure just how to interpret these ststistics. As a result of Stalin's policies, beginning with the First Five Year Plan (1928), the Soviet Union had significntly expanded heavy industry, but seriously weakened its agricultural base. American companies had helped expand Soviet production of cars and trucks, importabt in preparing for a mechnized war. And the Soviet Union even before the NAZIs seized power in Germany had concentrated on military production. An extremely large share of national output was being directed to the military, meaning that the country had the largest army in the world and heavily armed with modern weapons. Unlike the Germans, the Soviets had vast deposits of natural resources, especially oil. Obtaining raw materials, unlike the situation in Germany, was not a major factor in Stalin's decesion to ally himself and his country with Hitler and the NAZIs to launch World War II (1939). Stalin's calculation was based on power politics and ideology. The Soviet Union on paper was better prepared for war than most countries. But Stalin's purge of the Red Army has seriously weaked the country's military. And various strategic and domestic policies made the country dangerously vulnerable. In addition, while heavily armed, many Soviet weapons, especially tanks and aircraft, were obsolete, but kept in service. The Soviet Union after the German invasion (June 1941) suffered enormous losses in men and material. Some 4.5 million men were killed or captured. The Soviets managed to move important war industries east of the Urals beyond the range of Luftwaffe bombers. It took time, however, to being the industries back on line. They began forming large numbers of new divisions. There were enormous shortages, especially in 1942 as the war plants moved east were not yet back on line. While poorly trained at first, they managed to stop the vaunted Whermacht in its tracks--albeit deep in the country. Food proved a critical matter as the Germans occupied much of the riches farm land and major grain producing regions of the country. As the Soviets began to resume production, the United States began to deliver important Lend Lease shipments. The Soviet Union after Britain were the largest recipients of Lend Lease aid. As with Britain, Lend Lease was just a fraction of overall Soviet output, but it not only plugged in major defincies in the the Soviet war economy, but assisted the Soviets in increasing their production.

Pre-War Economy

The Soviet Union because it was such a closed society is difficult to compare with other countries, but assessments suggest that it had a total national output roughly comparble to Germany (about $15 billion). The Soviet Union was, however, much less economically developed than Western Europe. And Soviet enterprises were extremely inefficent as we saw after the disolutiin of the Soviet Union decades later. Because of the larger population, percapita income was only a fraction of European levels and living standards even lower because of the inefficencies in the economy. Soviet statistics show continued economic expansion during the Depression years of the 1930s. We are unsure just how to interpret these ststistics. As a result of Stalin's policies, beginning with the First Five Year Plan (1928), the Soviet Union had significntly expanded heavy industry, but seriously weakened its agricultural base. American companies had helped expand Soviet production of cars and trucks, importabt in preparing for a mechnized war. And the Soviet Union even before the NAZIs seized power in Germany had concentrated on military production. An extremely large share of national output was being directed to the military, meaning that the country had the largest army in the world and heavily armed with modern weapons.

Natural Resources

Unlike the Germans, the Soviets had vast deposits of natural resources, especially oil. In fact the Soviet Union had everything the Germans lacked and needed to wage war. A major but not the only war goal of the Axic countries was to obtain raw materaials. All three Axis members were countries with very limited natural resources. Germany's oly major natural resource was coal. Russia in sharp contrast had vitrtually all major natural resources. The Soviet Union was richly endowed with most of the resources the Germans most ardently coveted. And here none were more important than oil. The Soviers were no yet exporing large quantities of oil, except to NAZI Geramny under the terms of the NAZK-Soviet Pact, but its production satisfied domestic demand. The Soviets also had major coal resources. The country produced and had huge mineral resources, including asbestos, bauxite (aluminum), chromium, cobalt, cooper, diamonds, gold, iron, lead, manganese, phosphate, platinum, potash, silver, tin, tungsten, zinc, and many other minerals. And the Soviets had other resources that would become important as the war developed like uranium. Exploitation of these resources had begun during the Tsarist era. But the expanding Soviet industrial economy resulted in expanding mining operations. Autarky was a major Soviet policy ininitative which led to the Soviets develop domestic mining operaion for the needed mineral supplies. There were also major renewable resources. The most important was vast areas of some of the most fertile farm land in the world--th black soil regions of the Ukraine and adjact areas. It was acapable of prucing bvast quantoties of grain. This was for centuries Europe's breabasket. Stalin's collectivization program despite beginning the mechanization of Soviet agriculture, resulted in substantial declines in grain and meat production. Other renewable natural resources included timber, fish, and water. The one natural resource of military and industrial importanced that the Soviets lacked was runner. And for that reason the Soviets devoped a synthetic rubber indistry. At the time World War Ii broke out, it was the largest in th world. Obtaining raw materials, unlike the situation in Germany, was not a major factor in Stalin's decesion to ally himself and his country with Hitler and the NAZIs (1939). Obtaining those resources would have enabled Hitler to fight his wars in perpetuity.

War Calculation

Stalin's calculation was based on power politics and ideology. The Soviet Union on paper was better prepared for war than most countries. But Stalin's purge of the Red Army has seriously weaked the country's military. And various strategic and domestic policies made the country dangerously vulnerable. In addition, while heavily armed, many Soviet weapons, especially tanks and aircraft, were obsolete, but kept in service. The Soviet Union after the German invasion (June 1941) suffered enormous losses in men and material. Some 4.5 million men were killed or captured.

War Producrion

Stalin had built an industrial base, focusing on heavy industry, capable of producing war material on an immemse level. The Germans were not aware of the full Soviet potential, neither the quantity or the quality of Soviet production. Many factories were located beyond the Urals out of reach of the Germans and continued operating even as Barbarossa was unfolding. The Soviets managed to pack up and move whole factories east, where they could not be reached by the Luftwaffe's tactical bombers. Production at these factories was often iunitiated in the open air befotre buildings were erected. Some of these plants were brought to areas of the Soviet Union tht had not been heavily industrialized. A reader in Tajikistan writes, "Some of these plants were set up in Tajikistan durng 1941-42. Many displaced citizens were evacuated to Dushanbe as well. They arrived by train. This substantially increased the ethnic Russian population in Tajikistan and other Central Asian reoublics." Production at many of these factories, however, were not back to full production until 1943. Even so the output of these Soviet factories alone exceeded German production. This was not know at the time outside Moscow and not appreciated by Hitler and OKW. Thus when British and American production were added, it is clear to what extent Barbarossa had changed the strategic ballance netween the Allies and Axis. And it was not just in quantatative terms. Soviet war productin was rationalized. Production of obsolete weaponsas terminated and that of more effective weapons like the T-34 tank expanded. Soviet artillery was of a high standard. While the Red Air Force was devestated at the onset of Barbarossa because of obsolete planes, new planes like the Yak fighters (Yak 1, 7, and 9s) and the IL-2 Stormovek were high quality planes that in capable hands could and fid taken on the Luftwaffe. These planmes were also produced in enormous numbers. More than 37,000 Yaks were produced by the Russians, more than any other fighter in the War. As the Allied air assualt on Germany intensified in 1943 and the Luftwaffe had too pull back to defend German cities, the Germas also began losing their advantage in the air that they had during Barbarossa.

Moving Industry East

The Soviets managed to move important war industries east of the Urals beyond the range of Luftwaffe bombers. It took time, however, to being the industries back on line.

Forming New Divisions

After the massive losses of Barbarossa (1941), the Red army began forming large numbers of new divisions. The industryin areas not occupied by the Germand gave them the ability to minimally equip the new units. The Germans were unaware of how rapidly these new divisions could be formed and armed. The new units were not well traind or as well armed as the Germans, but Siviet commanders were beginning to become more effective in fighting the Germans. And the Germans had no idea that they even existed.

Shortages

There were enormous shortages, especially in 1942 as the war plants moved east were not yet back on line. While poorly trained at first, they managed to stop the vaunted Whermacht in its tracks--albeit deep in the country. Food proved a critical matter as the Germans occupied much of the riches farm land and major grain producing regions of the country. As the Soviets began to resume production, the United States began to deliver important Lend Lease shipments. This combination pemitted enormous increases in output.

Food

Food was a difficult problem in the Soviet Union before World War II. Stalin for both ideological and political reasons decided to collectivize agriculture once he was in full command of the Soviet state. He hoped collectivuization because it aklso meant mechanization would increase harbvests. It was one part of the First Year Five Year Plan to rapidly industrialize, The idea was to extract more grain from the peasantry to feed industrial workers in the expanding cities. When the Ukranian peasantry resisted, he orcestrated the Ukranian Famine. Millions perished, including the Kulaks--the most prosperous peasants. They were the most prosperous of course because they were the best farmers. And as a result, instead of increasing harvests, food production plumeted. Soviet agriculture never fully recovered. It was further hampered by another of Stalin's ideological initiatives--supporting Trotim Lysenko. Lysenkoism put back Soviet genetics, including developing hardy grain strains a generation. As a result food shortages existed in the Soviet Union before the German invasion. After the invasion, the food situation got much worse. Food was one of the most difficult problens faced by the Soviet Union during World War II. The phenomenal early successes of Barbarossa left the Germans in control of most of the best agricultural land of the Soviet Union--the highly productive black soil lands of the Ukraine and adjacent areas of Russia and Bylorussia. This had been one of the major attractions that had drawn Hitler to the East. Hitler believed that the vast tracts of productive land would feed the Reich during the War. It did not. It did meet the needs of the Whermacht, but very little food from the East reached German civilians. But it did deny food to the embattled Soviets, creating one of the Soviet regime's major problems. Thec Whermacht only fed the Soviets working for them. All other Soviets had to fend for themselves. No one really knows how mant Soviet citizens died during the War. Estimate generall range in the 25-30 million range. Some estimates are even higher. There were about 9 million military deaths. That number is fairly well accepted. Less clear is the mumber of civilian deaths. One of the leading causes of civilian deaths was starvation. The Germans starved civikians in the oxxupied areas and the Soviets Union simply did not have enough food to feed its population after the Germans occupied the Ukraine and other food producubng regions. We know that some 1 million Lenningraders starved. The numbers who starved outside Leningrad in iccupied and unoccupied regiions will never be known with any precissiion. Another 1-2 million surely starved. [Collingham, p. 317.] The actual total is probably higher, especially if you include causes that were brought on by starvation. While much of this occurred in the occupied area there are many reports of starvation in the unoccupied areas, bodies on thecstreets or peoopler collapsing as rthey worked in ae plabts. [Moskoff, p. 37.] One author contends that of war-related causes such as conditiins brought on or worsened by chromic malnutrition are considered, the death toll would be well over 30 million. [Miller, p. 284.]

Work Force

The German Barbarossa offensive created a huge manpower lossess. The Soviet losses were stunnin. Whole armies were destroted or captured as the German Blitzkrieg swept east--annastonishing 4.5 million men. As a result, every available man, unless involved in a critical activity, was drafted for service at the front. This meant much of the Soviet industrial work force. The workers had to be replaced and the primary replacements were women and youth, bith boys and girls. Women played a major role in the Soviet war effort. Unlike the Germans, Japanese and Western Allies, Soviet women played a not insignificant combat role. Some 0.8 million women served in the Soviet militarry, mostly Red Army medical units. Even so, women were involved in a range of combat roles, including pilots, snipers, machine gunners, tank crews, partisans, and many other combat roles. At first women volunteers wee turned away, but tghis soon changed with the maive losses at the front. Women were accepted in great numbers and prominently featured in Soviet propaganda. As the tide turned jn the Eadt, however, women were no longer seen in Soviet propanganda and at the end of the War were not preent in the Great Moscow Victory Parade. Despite the important military service, it was in industry tht Soviet women made their most important contribution ti the Soviet war effort. Most Soviet women replaced men in industry, transport, agriculture, and a range of other civilian roles. They worked double shifts to maximize the output of the factories which commonly operated 24 hours a day. At the end of the War, women made up over half the workers in heavy industry and some 80 percent of the work force in light industry. [Erickson, p. 53.] The other major group which filled in the places of workers ho volunteered or were drafted for military service were youth, mostly but not enirely teenagers. Here a factor was not just patriotism. A major problem for the Soviets was food supplies. The Germans during the first month of Barbarossa occupied much of the country's best agicultural land. Not only were Soviet citizens starved in German occupied areas, but some 1-2 million Soviets in the unoccupied areas died as a result of starvation and related illiness, and this does not include surrounded Lenningrad. [Collingham, p. 317.] Soviet children during the War received special rations when available, including milk. This changed when the child turnbed 12 years of age. Despite the caloric needs of teenagers, they received the lowest rations of any population group as they were reclassified as 'dependents'. The ration was so low that they faced starvation. The only way to survive was to become a worker. Workers received higher rations, epecially those involved in heavy industry. [Collingham, p. 329.] As a result boys below military age did their best to become industrial workers, especially jobs in heavy industry.

American Lend Lease

American Lend Lease was a huge bebefit to the Soviet war economy. It not only provided valuable equipment and food, it allowed Soviet industry to focus on areas it disell such as produce tanks and artillery and aange of small arms. It pluged in many gaps and weaknesses in the Soviet War economy. Barbarossa resulted in the destruction or capture of large numbers of locomotives. This sih=nificantly crimped Soviet transport system. Rail was rhe orimary way that goods were movedin the iviet Union. The road system s the Germans found as primitive. If Soviet heavy industry had been forced to build large numbers of locomotives, the productin of tanks would have been significantlky impaired at a critical time of the War. Anothger major contribution was trucks. While not as glamerous as tanks, trucks are a critical part of modern war. Without trucks, the infantry and supplies can not keep up with the tanks. American trucks gave the Red Army a mobility that the Whermacht could only have dreaned of the height if Blitzkrieg. Lend Lease also provided communications equipment, a significant Red Army weakness at the time of the War. Material was also important, especially aluminum. Without American aluminum, the Soviet production if aur craft would have been significantly impaired. Food was another vital American contribution. American spam was some of limited ration of meat recived by Red arm soldiers driving west after Stalingrad. Food was absoluteky critical vecauseso much of the country's best agriculural land was occupied by the Germans.

Sources

Collingham, Lizzie. The Taste of War: World War II and the Battle for Food (Penguin Books: New York, 1962), 634p.

Erickson, John. "Soviet women at war," in Jon Garrand and Carol Garrand, eds. World War II and the Soviet People: Selected Papers from the Fourth World Congress for Soviet and East European Studies Harrogate, 1990, (St. Martin's Press: New York, 1993), pp. 50-76.

Miller, James R. "Conclusion: Impact and aftermath of World War II," in Susan Linz, ed. The Impact of World War II on the Soviet Union (Rowman & Allanheld: Totowa, N.J., 1985), pp. 283-91.





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Created: 8:43 PM 1/30/2015
Last updated: 8:43 PM 1/30/2015