World War II: Soviet War Economy--Work Force


Figure 1.--These Soviet boys at the train station in an unidentified Soviet city have volunteered as industrial workers. They look to be about 12-14 years of age. With men needed at the front women and children replaced male workers in the industrial factories. Both patritism and the desire to be allocated higher food rations were factors in their decesion to volunteer. Presumably they are being sent to some of the factories in the East beyond the Urals. The photograph is undated, but we would guess was taken about January 1942.

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 massive 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 that Soviet women made their most important contribution to 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 who 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.

Operation Brbarossa

The Battle of Britain in many ways changed the course of the War. An invasion of Britain was impossible without air superiority. Hitler, fearing a cross-Channel invasion, decided that the only way to force the British to seek terms was to destroy the Soviet Union. He began shifting the Wehrmacht eastward to face the enemy that he had longed to fight from the onset--Soviet Russia. The nature of the War changed decisevely in the second half of 1941. The Germans invaded Russia in June 1941, launching the most sweeping military campaign in history. It is estimated that on the eve of battle, 6.25 million men faced each other in the East. The Soviets were surprised and devestated. Stalin ignored warnings from the British who as a result of Ultra had details on the German preparations. Stalin was convinced that they were trying to draw him into the War and until the actual attack could not believe that Hitle would attack him. The attack was an enormous tactical success. The Soviets were surprised and devestated. The Soviet Air Force was destoyed, largely on the ground. The Germans captured 3.8 million Soviet soldiers in the first few months of the campaign. No not knowing the true size of the Red Army, they thought they had essentally won the War. German columns seized the major cities of western Russia and drove toward Leningrad and Moscow. But here the Soviets held. The Japanese decission to strike America, allowed the Sovierts to shift Siberian reserves and in December 1941 launch a winter offensive stopping the Whermacht at the gates of Moscow--inflicting irreplaceable losses. The army that invaded the Soviet Union had by January 1942 lost a quarter of its strength. Hitler on December 11 declared war on America--the only country he ever formally declared war on. In an impassioned speech, he complained of a long list of violations of neutality and actual acts of war. [Domarus, pp. 1804-08.] The list was actually fairly accurate. His conclusion, however, that actual American entry into the War would make little difference proved to a diasterous miscalculation. The Germans who months before had faced only a battered, but unbowed Britain now was locked into mortal combat with the two most powerful nations of the world. The British now had the allies that made a German and Japanese victory virtually impossible. After the Russian offensive of December 1941 and apauling German losses--skeptics began to appear and were give the derisory term " Gröfaz ".

Worker Shortage

The German Barbarossa invasion of the Sovit Union devestated the Red Army and resulted in 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, both boys and girls.

Women

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 were turned away, but this soon changed with the massive losses at the front. Women were accepted in great numbers and prominently featured in Soviet propaganda. As the tide turned jn the East, 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 to 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.]

Youth

The other major group which filled in the places of workers who had volunteered or were drafted for military service were youth, mostly but not enirely teenagers. The role of women in the Soviet war economy is very well documented. The role of youth is less well documented. Like women, many children volunteered for war service, both military service and labor service. They were more or less 'adopted' by combat units. Here patriotism was a factor, but not the only factor. We think many children who joined the military, especialkly the younger children did so in the field. Often they had lost their parents becuse of German military operations. Labor service was more organized and in rear areas. 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 soldier or a worker. Soldiers and 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. Of course children could not relpace men in all joibs. Sometimes minimal changes sufficed, such as boxes the youth could stabd on to reach cintrls. In other cases the changes were more difficult.

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.







CIH--WW II







Navigate the CIH World War II Section:
[Return to Main Soviet war economy page]
[Return to Main Soviet World War II home front page]
[Return to Main Soviet World War II war production page]
[Return to Main World War II country food policies]
[Return to Main Soviet World War II page]
[Return to Main World War II country page]
[Biographies] [Campaigns] [Children] [Countries] [Deciding factors] [Diplomacy] [Geo-political crisis] [Economics] [Home front] [Intelligence]
[POWs] [Resistance] [Race] [Refugees] [Technology]
[Bibliographies] [Contributions] [FAQs] [Images] [Links] [Registration] [Tools]
[Return to Main World War II page]
[Return to Main war essay page]





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