world war ii: soviet armed forces

7

The SKS Semi Automatic Rifle,

Before World War II the Soviet Union had intended to update their small arms arsenal by phasing out the Mosin Nagant bolt action rifle and replacing it with a semi automatic design.  This process began with notable models such as the AVS-36, SVT-38, and the SVT-40. However, due to the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, such plans could not be fully realized and as a result the bolt action rifle remained the backbone of the Red Army. As the war drew to a close Soviet ordnance officials once again began the search for a new semi automatic rifle to become the standard infantry arm of the Soviet military.  However, unlike other designs, the new weapon was to be of carbine length, based on lessons learned from brutal urban combat on the Eastern Front, and use an intermediate cartridge similar to the German STG-44.

In 1944 the Soviet small arms designer Sergei Simonov began work on a new semi automatic carbine which used a recently invented intermediate cartridge, the 7.62X33mm.  The new SKS (Samozaryadnyj Karabin sistemy Simonova - Self Loading Carbine) was a simple, rugged, and effective weapon which used a gas operated tilting bolt semi automatic action. It incorporated a ten round fixed magazine which was loaded using stripper clips (some models would use 30 round detachable magazines). The stock was made of hardwood, and later laminate, while the receiver and magazine were of stamped sheet metal. Like most Russian small arms, the SKS was designed with simplicity, economy, and ease of manufacture in mind. As a result, the SKS was relatively simple to mass produce, making it one of the most prolifically mass produced firearms in history with over 15 million manufactured. Most models tend to have a folding bayonet attached underside the barrel. A cleaning kit is also located in a compartment within the stock.

Apparently pre-production trial runs of the SKS began in the waning months of World War II, although I have never seen any sources that confirm this. The SKS was officially adopted in 1949, only a few years after the invention of the AK-47. While the AK-47 was the much better weapon, with a select fire system and 30 round magazine, it was difficult to mass produce, had many production issues, and had some reliability issues to be worked out.  Thus the AK-47 did not become a mainstay of the Soviet military until an improved model called the AKM was introduced in 1959. Until then the SKS would serve as the backbone of the Soviet Armed Forces. In addition to Soviet production, Communist allies often produced their own models and variants.  The most common example is the Chinese Type 56, which was adopted by the Chinese military in 1956 and continued in official use for over 30 years. Other Communist bloc producers include Romania, Poland, Yugoslavia, Albania, North Korea, Vietnam, and East Germany. Millions were also exported to Soviet and Chinese influence countries around the world.  As a result of the SKS’s availability, they have been used in every conflict around the world for the past 50 years.

Today, the SKS has been officially withdrawn from most militaries, and are typically relegated as a reserve weapon or a ceremonial arm.  They are still common among small militias, terrorist organizations, freedom fighters, guerrillas, and other insurgent groups.  Many more are sold as military surplus on civilian markets as popular hunting rifles and sporting arms.

yudmila Pavlichenko was a Soviet sniper girl during World War II. A student at the the outbreak of the war like many other female snipers, Pavlichenko was among the first to volunteer for the armed forces when the Soviet Union was invaded. Rather than be a nurse, she chose to be a sniper and joined the 54th Infantry Regiment of the Red Army’s 25th Rifle Division. With 309 kills, Pavlichenko is the most successful female sniper in history and one of the top ten overall. She achieved them all quickly, in less than a year, and then was pulled from combat due to her growing fame. Lyudmila earned the highest of honors, Hero of the Soviet Union, and passed away in 1974 at age 58.

8

The Battle of Stalingrad (23 August 1942 – 2 February 1943) was a major battle of World War II in which Nazi Germany and its allies fought the Soviet Union for control of the city of Stalingrad (now Volgograd) in the south-western Soviet Union. Marked by constant close quarters combat and direct assaults on civilians by air raids, it was the single largest and bloodiest battle in the history of warfare. The heavy losses inflicted on the Wehrmacht make it arguably the most strategically decisive battle of the whole war. It was a turning point in the European theatre of World War II–the German forces never regained the initiative in the East and withdrew a vast military force from the West to replace their losses. 

he Axis suffered 850,000 total casualties among all branches of the German armed forces and its allies. The USSR, according to archival figures, suffered 1,129,619 total casualties. Anywhere from 25,000 to 40,000 Soviet civilians died in Stalingrad and its suburbs during a single week of aerial bombing by the Luftwaffe, The total number of civilians killed in Stalingrad is unknown.

In all, the battle resulted in an estimated total of 1.7–2 million Axis and Soviet casualties.

4

The Soviet Invasion of Manchuria, Part I — The Rising Sun and the Bear

In 1930 China was in turmoil as the country was divided among a number of warlords who controlled their own independent realms.  On the pretext of defending an important Japanese built railway in the region of Northeast China called Manchuria, the highly imperialistic Japanese government stationed the Kwantung Army to protect it.  The Kwantung Army was the elite force of the Japanese Army, and perhaps the most prestigious command of in the Japanese military.  

Although under the authority of Japanese High Command, the Kwantung Army had a mind of its own as it was staffed by officers who sought power, wealth, and glory.  In 1931 the Kwantung Army conducted a false flag operation where they bombed the railway they were guarding.  Blaming the bombing on a local warlord, they used the incident as a pretext to invade and conquer all of Manchuria.  The forces of the local warlord, although larger than the Kwantung Army, were no match for the organization and professionalism of the Japanese.  Within five months, the Kwantung Army had defeated the Chinese and conquered Manchuria.  They created a puppet stated called “Manchuko”, which was ruled by a puppet emperor from the former Chinese Manchu Dynasty.  Incredibly, the Kwantung Army did all of this without any orders from the Japanese government.

Throughout the 1930’s Japan continued to expand into Chinese territory.  By the late 1930’s Japan also sought to expand into the Soviet Union, hoping to gain possession of the rich oil and gas fields of Siberia.  In the summer of 1938, a series of clashes between Japanese and Soviet forces occurred near Lake Khazan near Vladivostok. Then in 1939, the Kwantung Army attempted a full scale invasion of the Soviet Union and her ally, Mongolia.  The two armies met at a river called Khalkin Gol on May 11th, 1939.

The Japanese invaded with a massive force composed of 75,000 men of the 6th Japanese Army, a unit of the Kwantung Army.  Throughout the summer of 1939, the Japanese assaulted Soviet-Mongolian lines, but had little success.  Then a large Soviet force led by future marshal Georgy Zhukov arrived with a heavily mechanized army.  While the Japanese prided themselves on their courageous infantry, throughout World War II they always lacked armored forces.  In addition Japanese tanks were of typically light armed and armored light tanks.  Japanese tanks also had the reputation as being the among the worst tanks produced during the war. By contrast, the Soviets had a reputation for producing some of the best tanks of the war.  The pathetic tanks of the Japanese Army were no match for the steel behemoths of the Soviet Red Army.

At the Battle of Khalkhin Gol the Japanese brought 135 tanks 250 aircraft. Georgy Zhukov brought 500 tanks, hundreds of vehicles, and over 800 aircraft. In late August, he conducted a massive counterattack lead by three tank brigades and 50,000 infantry.  The Red Army easily swept the Japanese air force from the skies, while simultaneously bombing Japanese defensive positions and supply lines.  Soviet tank units made mincemeat of the Japanese armored forces while smashing through the flanks of the Japanese.  Once the Japanese flanks were destroyed, Soviet infantry encircled and surrounded the Japanese.  Zhukov demanded the Japanese surrender, but the Japanese commander, Michitaro Kumatsubara, announced that he would fight to the death.  Over the next several days Soviet artillery and aircraft pounded the Japanese as the Red Army tightened its noose around the encircled army.  It seemed that within a matter of days the 6th Army would be wiped out.  Then in August, 1939 it was announced that Stalin signed a non-aggression pact with Germany, and since Japan was Germany’s ally, they were required to make peace with the Soviets.  In essence, the Japanese had been saved by the bell.

The Battle of Khalkhin Gol was the biggest ass whoopin’ dealt to the Japanese until the Battle of Midway in 1942.  Afterwards, the Japanese signed a separate non-aggression pact with the Soviet Union, pretending that the whole thing had never happened.

As a result of the Battle of Khalkhin Gol, the Japanese chose not to intervene when Germany invaded the Soviet Union, then the Soviet Union overran and destroyed Germany.  However, a promise between Joseph Stalin and Franklin D. Roosevelt guaranteed that the Soviet Union and Imperial Japan would clash once again.

To be Continued… 

Berlin was starting out its new life as a divided city, with the Eastern half in Soviet hands and the West under Allied control. Stalin, however, wasn’t about to settle for half of the cake. He blockaded Berlin from all Western military and civilian traffic, a particularly effective dick move, since West Berlin was completely surrounded by the wholly communist German Democratic Republic. Thus, Stalin was effectively giving the Western powers a giant middle finger … and also about a month until the surrounded West Berlin would begin to starve.

Stalin never wanted to start a war with the West. However, he needed to appear strong, which, with his particular modus operandi, required constant tension with his opponents. However, the United States still remembered the previous mustachioed lunatic ranting about Berlin, and was totally ready to rumble. General Lucius D. Clay, the head of the Occupation Zone in Germany, advocated sending an armed convoy to battle their way into Berlin … through East Germany. Effectively going to war with the Soviets, in other words.

Although the suggestion was risky (World War II had shown that the Soviet troops weren’t exactly pushovers), the Joint Chiefs of Staff took it very seriously. To counter any resistance, Clay asked Air Force general Curtis LeMay for some air cover. LeMay’s war boner was as instant and impressive as Clay’s: He recommended that they just up and launch a pre-emptive strike against all Soviet airfields in Germany.

5 Gigantic Wars You Won’t Believe Almost Happened

Zhukov's End of the Year Retrospective, 2013 Edition

Another year passed by!

And a few thousand posts passed by as well! Time for a trip down memory lane, to revisit some of the best.

Some of the Most Liked Posts Included:

Soviet Tankers Feeding Polar Bears!

Soldier Kitties!

The Youth of Germany

The Doomed USS Wasp

With so many great photos to choose from, picking anything close to a favorite is quite hard, but here is a small selection of ones I especially liked.

M3s under simulated attack by an A-20.

Hungarian rebels Béláne Havrilla and Mária Wittner.

A Mosin armed Afghan rebel.

Early combat photo from The Battle of Sedan

And my personal favorite, the duelists!

There were quite a lot of topics covered as well! An even 100 different themes to be exact! Far too many to list, but a few of the most popular included:

Military MotorcyclesThe Troubles

The M1 GarandThe Falklands

FreikorpsHungarian Revolution of 1956

The Chechen WarsThe Arab Uprising and Lawrence of Arabia

The Spanish Blue DivisionThe Chinese Civil War

Military Comic BooksSoviet Air Force in World War II

French Foreign LegionFinland at War 

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A final shout out to the winners of the 10,000 Post Extravaganza and Trivia ContextWillrahjuhShadowlink76, and Brosencrantz; and to the winners of Marshal Zhukov’s Trivia Contest and Giveaway, Tactical Zergface and Mintsmintsmints. Keep your eyes open for future contests!

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And last, but certainly not least of all, thanks to everyone who started following my blog in the past year, and everyone who has been around from the early days as well! This wouldn’t be nearly as fun if no one was reading along! Happy New Years!

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Previous Retrospectives