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Red Army Handbook 1939-1945

Peter Brown

Red Army Handbook 1939-1945 by Steven J Zaloga and Leland S Ness,   Published by The Crowood Press, Stroud, England. ISBN 0-7509-1740-7,   Hardback, 230 pages. UK price 25.00

Over half a century after the close of the Second World War, aspects of the Red Army are still not well known in the West. Much of what has been written on the subjects was based on wartime German intelligence reports or put together from often scanty information which filtered out of the Soviet Union. Now that original archives can be studied, a more accurate picture can be assembled.

That is what the two authors have done here. Strictly speaking, the Red Army of Workers and Peasants controlled all Soviet forces other than their Navy, but coverage is only those which are what would be termed army. This was a massive force, totalling millions of men and women under arms, which underwent many changes throughout a long and bitterly fought conflict. These changes stemmed from the purges of army officers pre-war and lessons learned fighting against the Finns, as well as from looking at warfare on other fronts before the Soviet Union was invaded. The early battles brought major defeats, which in turn brought and forced more changes before the tide was turned and the Red Army stormed and captured Berlin in 1945.

These are chronicled arm by arm, with separate sections on the developing organisations of infantry, armour, cavalry and artillery units using charts and tables based on original sources. Not forgotten are the airborne units where an early world lead was lost and highly trained units frittered away as ground troops or lost in poorly planned actions.   As no army can fight without weapons, developments here are also followed arm by arm. The massive armoured forces of 1941 were largely destroyed in the early campaigns, yet new designs were produced resulting in classic designs which served not just in their homeland but around the world up to the present day. Infantry weapons were a mix of old and tried designs, but one third of all small arms produced were submachine guns enabling their widespread use. In terms of artillery, its use rose through the war with both conventional and rocket weapons paving the way for the advances of the final campaigns.

Evolution in all areas are followed, alongside matters such as communications and the effectiveness of army staffs. Production figures and the characteristics of weapons show the huge efforts to manufacture arms, alongside which Lend-Lease supplies from the Allies pale almost into insignificance. A well-chosen selection of photos shows the many types of equipment allowing identification from original film and still photos.

Some areas are not covered, such as uniforms or rank structure, but these are often complex matters deserving a specialist study of their own. Not including them allows more space to be devoted to those areas dealt with to bring fresh light onto the subject. Knowledge of these nuts and bolts issues will make it far easier to understand campaign histories which makes this book a very valuable reference as an account in its own right or as a single volume reference to accompany tactical and strategic accounts.

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