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date of publication: 07-12-2012

the Soviet Union


The initially small numbers of the T-18 produced and the rel iance on imported parts and designs was a reflection of the critical problems facing in the early- and mid-1920s. Prior to World War I, Russia had possessed only a limited industrial base for developing and building modern, sophisticated weapons. This had been reflected during World War I by the fact that although the Russians tried to develop numerous designs of armoured vehicles, they failed to manufacrure any type on a signiticant scale. The only tank factory in Russia had been set up during World War I by an industrialist who had bought the rights to build Fiat light tanks, essentially a copy of the French FT. Little had come of this venture: the factory was ill-equipped and the Revolution and Civil War soon plunged Russian industry into chaos, with disastrous effects for the long term.

Soviet tank: Light Tank MS-1, the Soviet Union, World War I

The evolution of the first generation of Soviet tank and the organization of the Red Army is Armoured and Mechanized forces was reliant on more than just the direction which was afforded by the government departments who were in charge of industry. Three other factors played an important role in establishing the nature of Soviet tank design and production: the development of the Red Army; its ideas on the conduct of war; and international relations coupled with inrernal Sovier political struggles. Developments in each of these individual areas eventually combined in the late 1920s to create a Soviet military organization which was capable of equipping the Red Army with the largest in the world by the mid-1930s.

The first factor to play a role in establishing the nature of Soviet tank design was the development of the Red Army. The organizarion of the Red Army and its ideas on future war were largely shaped between 1918 and 1927. The most immediate problem for the Bolsheviks on assuming power in 1917 had been the need to protect themselves from immediate internal and external threats. The creation of the Red Army on 28 January 1918 was critical to achieving this aim by 1921. However, although the Civil War had shown the value of a large standing Red Army, it did not gua rantee the retention of such a force in the aftermath of the Civil War, for economic and ideological reasons.

For much of the 1920s, a significant portion of the Bolshevik Party, led by Trotsky, argued that the Soviet Union is lack of economic resources meant that it could neither afford nor equip a regular army with the advanced weapons needed to oppose the technically superior capitalist forces. Coupled with this was the belief that any invading force would be crippled by partisan warfare and uprisings by pro-Soviet workers in their own countries. The Trotskyite faction argued for the creation of a militia, rather than a standing army.

Soviet tank: Light Tank MS-3, Soviet military, the Soviet Union

Trotskis defeat by his political and military rivals at the Tenth Party Congress ensured that despite undergoing a dramatic demobilization - from five million to 562.000 (toops by the middle of the decade - the Red Army remained a standing professional force, not a militia. This was vital ro the ability of the Soviet State and its armed forces to develop a centralized and effective method of weapons design and procurement, and to train troops who were capable of using these new, complex weapons effectively in battle.

The second factor affecting the narure of Soviet tank design was the Red Army's ideas on the conduct of war. By the mid-1920s the Red Army had developed the outline of a sophisticated tactical doctrine called . From studying the lessons of World War I and the Russian Civil War, Soviet military theorists argued that the key to breaking through strong enemy from-line defences was the infliction of shock. through the use of combined forces of infantry. artillery, engineers, tanks and aircraft.

By attacking the enemy defences throughout their depth with both fire and assault troops, it would prove possible to breach the Front and then carry out a decisive manoeuvre in the enemy's rear. The strong emphasis on the all-arms tactical convinced a number of radical and increasingly influ ential thinkers in the Red Army, such as Marshal M. Frunze. and generals V.K. Triandafillov and M.N. Tukachevsky, of the need to equip the Red Army with the most sophisticated new weapons, especially including Soviet tank, to assist in breaking the front and then proceeding to drive rapidly in to the enemy's rear.

The third factor which affected design was international relations. coupled with internal oviet political struggles. During the Russian Civil War, the Whites had received supporr in the form of arms and direct intervention with punItIve military forces from Britain, France, Japan. and the USA, whilst in 1920 Poland had embarked upon a brief and unsuccessful invasion of the Ukraine. Ultimately, these actions had not saved the Whites from defeat, but in the long term they had a profound impact on the Bolshevik regime's interpretation of international politics. To many in the Bolshevik Party and the Soviet military, it became clear that there could never be permanent peace between the Soviet Union and the capitalist powers.

At first sight. this appears to be something of a paradox, considering events in the early 1920s. The signing of the 1922 Anglo-Soviet Trade Treaty and military and economic agreements with Germany enshrined in the 1924 Treaty of Rappallo would appear to show the USSR as living in harmony with its neighbours. Yet to many Bolsheviks, including Lenin, peace was simply another phase in the struggle between them and their enemies, in which a variety of weapons available to a state - diplomacy, economic sabotage - would be used against the Soviet Union whilst the preparations for full-scale war were undertaken. It was this belief that had played a key role in rejecting a militia and the assistance of external Communist movements in favour of a standing Red Army which would defend the Soviet Union.

Consequently, it was increasingly argued in the 1920s that the Soviet military had to become as well equipped and organized as its opponents if it was to win. This position was stared in the 1925 Provisional Field Regulations that stressed the role of new artillery guns, tanks and other advanced weapons in future combat. This position, however, created a paradox between the reality of a backward Soviet industrial base - especially short of technical personnel and a large, trained workforce - and the ability to create the large. modern army which had previously been envisaged.

Soviet tank: Light Tank MS-3, the Soviet Union, the Red Army

This position, which seemed to justify some of Trotsky's views, spurred Soviet political and military leaders to recognize the need to develop internal resources if the Soviet Union was to be defended from hostile powers. It became axiomatic to many leading political and military figures that the only way to turn the Red Army into such an effective and modern fighting force was through a radical policy of industrialization. The creation of a strong domestic advanced industrial base would overcome shortcomings in Soviet weapons design and production, as well as enabling the military to begin the implementation of their increasingly advanced combat methods.

The impetus for the creation of the Soviet warfare state demanded by the political and military decisions of the mid-1920s came spectacularly in 1926 and into 1927 in a series of apparently threatening international political incidents that became known as the ' War Scare'. In 1926 relations between the Soviet Union and Poland undenvem a downturn when the right-wing Marshal Pilsudski gathered power into his own hands, establishing a strong military regime which was unfavourable to the Soviet Union. The situation was exacerbated when a Soviet minister was assassinated in Poland. This chain of events was viewed with concern by Moscow, where Poland was seen by the Red Army High Command as the most immediate and direct threat to the security of the Soviet Union. Security concerns increased further in 1927 when the Soviet Embassy in China was sacked and diplomatic relations with Great Brirain were broken off after British police raids on Soviet offices in London. Panic gripped many Russians as war seemed imminent.

Yet the reality is more difficult to substantiate, since at that point no widespread mobilization of the Red Army took place. The War Scare may have been more concerned with the internal political aims of Josef Stalin, who used it to discredit the last main rivals to his hold on power. Trotsky was expelled from the parry and later went into exile. It is, however, worth noting that substantial changes were made to the military share of the new, ambitious Five Year Pian begun in 1929. to transform the Soviet Union into a first-rate power. During the course of the First- and following the Second Five Year Plan, the Red Army would be allocated a sizeable portion of Soviet industrial output and planning.