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The Creation of Soviet Reserves and the 1941 campaign

By Louis Rotundo
University of Central Florida

(From Military Affairs, January 1985, pp. 21-29)

INCE the conclusion of World War II, western historians have provided a substantial body of
S information concerning the Russo-German conflict. Yet, the true size and composition of the Red
Army, and its reserves, during the 1941 campaign remains one of the least discussed issues in
those works.1 Even now, 40 years after the end of the war, it is extremely difficult to obtain an
accurate Soviet order of battle or a clear picture of the real balance of power during that Summer-

Most Western sources are simply too old to incorporate the new Soviet material. Of major works, J. Erickson's The Road to Stalingrad
(London, 1975) is excellent. However, it doesn't have an order of battle and buries reserve totals in footnotes (534, 536). A. Seaton's The
Russo-German War 1941-1945 (N.Y., 1971) does give totals (61) but without a complete breakdown and misstates reserves. T. Higgins'
Hitler and Russia (N.Y., 1966) gives some incorrect data (122-123) and lacks a complete OB or totals. A. Clark's Barbarossa (N.Y., 1965)
gives some data (38-40) but most is from German Sources as is true of most German language works. Both A. Werth's Russia at War (N.Y.,
1964) and H. Salisbury The 900 Days (N.Y., 1969) make good use of Soviet material but give little total data, and B. Fugate's Operation
Autumn campaign. The problem of accurately determining Russian strength in 1941 began soon after
the first tentative efforts to research this subject. The ready availability of German source material and
published works coupled with the slow release of Soviet official documents fostered a continuing
tendency to utilize information only from captured German intelligence documents when discussing
the Red Army. When substantial volumes of Soviet official material began to appear, information
about actual Red Army strength for 1941 was dispersed throughout dozens of sources, requiring
considerable research and subject familiarity to piece together. Lacking this information, previous
historical research has often fallen victim to the vagaries of imprecise phrasing and conjecture. Thus,
presenting these numbers provides a necessary foundation for further serious study of the war on the
Eastern front.
By examining the basic numbers regarding men, equipment, organizational totals and the creation
of Soviet reserves, a clearer understanding of the actual situation in the Summer-Autumn campaign
becomes apparent. To present this data, two methods are used: first, a discussion of the Red Army's
size, deployment and restructuring which allows an opportunity to follow its development in the
campaign; second, a review of the actual commitment of Soviet reserves to highlight their impact at
decisive points in 1941. By these methods, the reader can obtain a snapshot view of differing
statistical indicators of Soviet strength and have the opportunity to see them at various times relative
to German strength.

DOLF Hitler's initial decision to begin preparations for an invasion of the USSR led the German
A eastern intelligence branch, Fremde Heeres Ost (FHO) to redouble its efforts to obtain
information on the Red Army. Based upon this research, the operational planning for Case
Barbarossa took shape during the Winter of 1940. The initial estimates, however, revealed a
departure from past years when the USSR usually appeared as numerically dominant on the
continent. FHO believed that Russia no longer possessed the enormous active military resources
of previous times. Its estimate of 21 July 1940 stated that Russia maintained only 50-75 good
divisions and would be defeated by a German force of only 80-100 divisions. Germany could
readily field this number despite commitments in Western Europe and Norway.2
In August, General Erich Marcks, in charge of formulating the initial invasion study, revised his
plan to incorporate the latest information. Marcks postulated that Russia would have available 96
infantry, and 23 cavalry divisions as well as 28 mechanized brigades in its western districts. These
forces, he indicated, could be defeated by a German force of 24 panzer, 12 motorized and 110
infantry divisions. Further, Marcks stated, FHO believed Russia would not be able to increase its
strength appreciably by the Spring of 1941, and little evidence existed of a strong mobile reserve
force. 3
During the period Winter 1940 to Spring 1941, FHO continually revised its calculations
regarding Soviet strength. These estimates and their growth may be seen in Table 1.

Uniformly, these estimates lagged behind the actual changes in the Red Army. This situation
could probably be anticipated given the secretive nature of Soviet society and the limited

Barbarossa (Novato, 1984) despite good reserve totals, fails to give an accurate OB (317) or make an adequate presentation of the Dec.
reserves (317).
Walter Görlitz, Paulus and Stalingrad (N.Y., 1960), 128-129. Franz Halder, The Halder Diaries, 2 vols. (Boulder, 1976), Vol. 1, 517
National Archives Record Group (NARG), Captured German records, T312, Roll 776, Frame 8425693.
intelligence tools available to FHO. However, less significant than the time lag remains the crucial
error in numbers. FHO consistantly miscalculated the size and strength of the USSR, in varying
degrees, until the invasion. Actual Soviet strength is discussed later but briefly the problem with
FHO's estimates may be summarized as follows: they omit the Russian cavalry reductions, the
reported divisional totals are in error by one- third, and they miscalculate the creation of new
mechanized corps and tank divisions. After 22 June, FHO secured much better information
regarding Soviet frontline strength. However, total estimates, including reserves, reveals only a
marginal improvement when compared to the historical record. For example, on 8 August, FHO
estimated the Red Army strength at 260 rifle, 50 tank, 20 cavalry, and 60 other divisions.
Organized Soviet strength by that date actually totaled over 300 rifle, 70 tank, and about 61 cavalry
divisions. Yet perhaps the worst estimate appeared on 1 December. No Soviet reserves had been
identified although twelve armies existed. The FHO summation stated:
The numerical strength of the majority of Soviet combat units is low; their equipment is
unsatisfactory. New units were appearing with less frequency in recent days; individual units are
being transferred from quiet to endangered front sectors. On this basis it should be assumed that no
significant strategic reserve units exist at present. . . . The combat strength of the enemy has been
weakened decisively, as a result of losses in personnel and material which have surpassed all

These errors provided ample reason for the terrible miscalculations of the late Summer and Fall.4

N1 September 1939, the Law of Universal Military Service was adopted by the Supreme Soviet.
O At that time, the Red Army was still nominally on a peacetime level. Its major formations
consisted of 96 rifle (infantry) and one motorized rifle divisions organized into 25 rifle corps, and
26 cavalry divisions organized in 5 cavalry corps.55 Many of these divisions possessed a tank element.
In addition, the army possessed independent rifle and tank brigades as well as four tank corps, each
consisting of one rifle and two tank brigades. To expand these formations the Law lowered the draft
age from 21 to 19 and for those who had completed secondary school it specified 18 years. This
change contributed to the increase in the size of Soviet reserve forces before the beginning of the
Great Patriotic War as seen in Table 2.

The period between September 1939 and June 1941 witnessed substantial formation changes to
conform to the personnel increases. The additional manpower enabled new rifle units to be
established. Concurrently, Soviet mechanized corps first disbanded and then rebuilt on a new table of
organization. Tank brigades nominally reformed into divisions. However, significant numbers of
technical and officer Specialists were required to create the necessary mechanized corps, and to
increase the existing tank cadres to their new strength. These cadres could not be quickly created.
Therefore, it became necessary to reorganize Soviet cavalry divisions to obtain these men. Thus, of
the 32 Red Army cavalry divisions that existed in 1938, only 13 remained by 1941.6 These changes
allowed the reformation process to occur in two stages. In 1940, nine mechanized corps began
forming. Later, in the period March-June 1941, another 20 mechanized corps organized although war
broke out before most of these could be considered battle-ready. In fact, of the 20 mechanized corps in
the West on 6/22/41, only six had relatively high combat value. Of the others, some could scarcely be
considered mobile due to their severe shortages of tanks and motorized support elements.77

NARG T78, R261, F52-61. Seweryn Bailer, ed. Stalin and His Generals (N.Y. 1969), 592 (note 36).
Istoriya Vtoroi Mirovoi Voiny, Vol. 3 (Moskva, 1973-1982), 418; Vol. 2, 202, hereafter IVMV
50 Let Vooruzhennykh Sil SSSR (Moskva, 1968), 236, hereafter 50 Let
I.E. Krupchenko, et al., Sovetskie Tanovye Voiska 1941-1945 (Moskva, 1973), 21-22, hereafter, STV. Total Soviet tanks on 22 June 1941
remains very unclear. Stalin indicated 24,000 organized and 60 tank divisions. Robert Sherwood. Roosevelt and Hopkins (NY, 1948), 335. Of
existing models, only 1,861 were new heavy/medium types. IVMV, Vol. 3, 420-421 indicates 60% of Soviet tanks were in the western
By 22 June 1941, the Red Army possessed a total of 303 divisions of which 81 divisions remained
in the process of formation. By type, these units broke down as 178 rifle, 18 mountain rifle, 2
motorized rifle, 61 tank, 31 motorized and 13 cavalry divisions and 3 rifle brigades. Supporting these
forces, the Red Army contained 91,493 guns and mortars and retained 74 artillery regiments, 8
percent of total forces, in its reserves.8 However, not all Russian units faced Germany. Thus, within
the five western military districts, the Red Army only deployed 15 armies containing 170 divisions
and 2 brigades. These districts totaled 2.9 million men representing the first and second echelon units
of the Soviet armed forces. By type, Red Army formations consisted of 103 rifle, 7 cavalry, 40 tank,
and 20 motorized divisions plus 2 rifle brigades. Significantly, however, these forces did not include
all of the units available within those districts. During the Spring of 1941, the Glavnoe
Komandovanie (High Command) ordered the reorganization of its airborne troops.9 A total of five
corps formed containing 15 brigades. Each 10,000-man corp officially contained a tank battalion and
support units.10 Four corps deployed as western district reserves. Additional formations included 10
mobile anti-tank brigades, the First Brigade of naval infantry, and the 11 divisions of Soviet border
troops including 47 land and 6 naval detachments, 9 independent border Kommandatura, and the 20
fortified areas of the various border districts. Further strength came from 11 regiments and the other
field formations of the Commissariat for Internal Affairs. Apart from the field forces, these troops
totaled 100,000 men.11 Yet even these units did not represent the total forces within the western
districts. In May 1941 the 22nd Army moved from the Volga District to Gomel; the 19th Army
(including the 25th Rifle Corp) moved from the North Caucausus District to Belaya Tserkov; the
16th Army moved from the Transbaikal District to Orel and then Shepetovka, west of Kiev; and
finally the 21st Army moved from the Urals District to Velikiye Luki. Although the transfers were
not complete by 22 June, these 28 divisions formed the basis of Russia's initial reserves. Even though
Soviet accounts mention these forces, they are not added to district totals since they did not garrison
in those border areas.12
Upon the outbreak of the war, the Soviet Union mobilized its available-manpower born between
1905-1918 inclusive. This call up produced a total of 5.3 million additional men by 1 July 1941.
Through December 1941, 3,544,000 of the new recruits served in the active army. By the end of the
year, these recruits formed over 400 new divisions, although not all were immediately ready for the
front. 13 Of the forces available between 22 June and 1 December 1941, Stavka transferred only 291
divisions and 94 brigades to the active army. 14 These forces formed the bulk of Stavka's operational
reserves. They consisted of the figures cited in Table 3.

Stavka had two methods of reinforcing the active army during the first five months of the war. Each
month Stavka dispatched 300,000 to 350,000 men to the active front as draft companies and

districts. If so, the total would be 14,000. IVOVSS, Vol. 1, 475 reports on 15 June 1941 of the older types, 27% were operational. Ignoring
the 1,475 new units in the west, it appears 4,000-5,000 tanks might be the active Soviet strength. In fact, not numbers but rather, a lack of
cohesion, equipment and motorization were the major constraints on effective Soviet performance. 50 Let, 235-236. STV, 14. IVMV, Vol. 3,
418 and 421.
50 Let, 235-236. STV, 14. IVMV, Vol. 3, 418 and 421.
After 22 June the Stavka Glavnovo Komandovaniya (High Command Headquarters) was created. In August it became Stavka Verkhovnovo
GlavnoKomadovaniya (Stavka of the Supreme High Command).
A. Tsvetkov "Boevye deistviya vozdushnykh i morskikh desantov v tylu protivnika," Voenno-istoricheskii zhurnal #8, (1972), 20, hereafter
IVMV, Vol. 3, 438-39. 50 Let, 252.
Kievskii Krasnoznamennyi (Moskva, 1974), 2nd ed., does not locate 16 or 19 Armies on its situation map. See map.
50 Let, 257. See N.M. Kiryayev, ed., KPSS o Stroit eVstvo Sovetskikh Vooruzhennvkh sil 1917-1964 (Moskva, 1965), 259
50 Let, 292.
battalions. 15 Similarly, the receiving of reserves by the various fronts occurred through the deploying
of reduced strength formations and forming new ones. These methods were adopted due to the
tremendous dislocations caused by the heavy losses of the first several weeks.

IN mid-July, the Gosudarstvennyi Komitet Oborony (GKO), the State Defense Committee chaired by
J.V. Stalin, took steps to reform the Red Army: First, to assist in creating new reserves GKO set up
the Glavnoe upravlenie formirovaniya i ukomplektovaniya voisk Krasnoi Armii (Chief Directorate for
the Raising and Recruitment of the Red Army Troops); second, Stavka targeted a reduction of Soviet
armies from 9-12 down to 6 divisions to improve command/control since many new officers were
unskilled in handling combined arms units. This action allowed 56 of the prewar 62 rifle corp[s] HQ's
to be abolished or reformed into army and divisional staffs. Third, Stavka removed specialist troops
from divisions and reorganized them into reserve forces for specific employment; and last, Stavka
reformed artillery assets to create new reserves. Through December, 215 artillery, 72 anti-tank, and 8
Guard Mortar regiments and 73 separate battalions had been created. 16

The creation of Soviet reserves allowed Stavka to organize new active armies. Additional armies
formed in the field from new reserves and reductions of existing armies. Several rebuilt while in the
battleline. This continuous process of forming, recreating, and rebuilding of troops distorts the true
picture of Soviet reserves during the first Summer-Autumn campaign. Although not all formations
came directly under Stavka control, many specifically assembled as reserves for strategic counter-
attacks. Few people outside the Stavka knew of the existence of these special reserve armies until
they appeared around Moscow and elsewhere. Therefore, a clearer picture of Stavka's effort may be
obtained from Table 4, which depicts the rate and appearance of the reserves of Stavka.

Throughout the Summer-Autumn campaign of 1941, Stavka continued to make adjustments to its
forces. First, by the end of the year, 286 new rifle divisions had been formed. This total included 24
Divizii Narodnogo Opolcheniia (DNO-People's Volunteer Divisions) and 22 divisions converted
from troops of the other branches of service. Conversely, 124 divisions disbanded due to losses. Of
those formations some reformed as rifle brigades. By year's end, 159 new rifle brigades had been
created. In addition, losses caused Stavka to organize 48 new cavalry divisions between July and
September to restore its lost operational mobility. Only 43 of these were committed by 1 December.
However, even this number did not meet Soviet requirements, and additional units were committed
for the Winter counterattack. By year's end a total of 82 cavalry divisions had formed with 35
organized into 11 active corps. Third, in early July, Stavka created 10 new small tank divisions and
committed 9 formations by December. Through the Fall, however, the existing mech corps and their
component units disbanded or reorganized into new rifle divisions and tank brigades. From the freed
specialists and equipment, Stavka formed new tank brigades and separate battalions. Through 1 De-
cember, Stavka committed 56 tanks and 2 motorized rifle brigades; Red Army strength totaled 68

M. Gareev, "Ob opyte boevoi podgotovki voisk," VIZ #4, (1983), 13
50 Let, 269-271
separate tank brigades and 37 separate battalions. By year's end, these totals increased to 7 tank
divisions, 76 separate tank brigades, and 100 separate tank battalions. Finally, additional mobility
appeared through the creation of ski battalions, many from the Gorky and Kirov regions. Eleven
battalions initially intervened in the December counterattacks, and a further eleven battalions
appeared later during that month. 17

Not all of the new formations organized in a conventional manner. For example, after the
improvised use of Soviet sailors and marines in Odessa and Tallin, the GKO took steps to form a
larger force of naval troops. By Autumn, the Baltic Fleet had organized a total of nine brigades to
help defend Leningrad. Similarly, another nine brigades organized at the other fleet locations.
However, with the Soviet defeats in October, the GKO demanded further drafts from the Navy. By
decree of 1 October 1941, the GKO ordered the assembly of 25 naval rifle • brigades. The Soviet
navy allocated 38,000 men to these units. Each brigade organized on a TO&E of 4,334 men set up
as a conventional rifle brigade. Sailors made up 29-47 percent of these units with the balance
supplied by newly mobilized troops. The senior command positions for these formations usually
received naval officers from the Fleets. During December, 6 brigades joined in the Moscow

In addition to the regular call-up of new manpower, Stavka also made use of existing civilian
organized groups. These DNO troops consisted, in many cases, of industrial workers from the urban
areas of the USSR. For example, Moscow initially raised 12 DNO containing 120,000 troops. In
October/November it raised 4 more divisions. Similarly, Leningrad formed 10 DNO as well as 14
independent artillery and machine gun battalions with 135,000 soldiers. Additional DNO came from
other industrial areas such as Odessa, Stalino, and Voroschilovgrad. Initially, these units formed
based on a lower TO&E than regular Red Army divisions, and most received little formal military
raining. However, the heavy fighting in 1941 caused the new formations to be committed to an
active combat role. In September, many converted to regular status and took new unit numbers. Of
total divisional formations, 35 DNO actively served at the front between 22 June and 1 December,
Another source of troops included in the military formations and population of the eastern Districts
of the Soviet Union. During 1940-1941, steps were taken to reorganize the forces available to the
Red Army. Four (15, 16, 17, 25) new armies were organized, and existing mechanized forces
reformed. In the Transbaikal Military District (MD), one mech corp and one tank division were
created. In the Far East MD, one mech corp and one tank and one motorized rifle division were
organized. Also, 16 rifle divisions reformed on the 10,000-man structure. On 26 April 1941, Moscow
ordered from the Far East and Transbaikal MD'S, one mech corp, two rifle corps, and two airborne
brigades to move to the west. After hostilities began, mobilization created new forces. With these
new troops the Transbaikal set up the 36 Army, and the Far East created the 35 Army. This
strengthening of forces provided potential formations for the active army. After 22 June 1941,
Stavka systematically took forces, including 8 rifle and 3 tank divisions, from the Far East while
local authorities mobilized formations to replace them. Almost 30 divisions and brigades organized
in the Far East alone. These formation movements also coincided with the removal of tens of
thousands of additional men in draft units. However, the mobilization of new troops allowed the
strength in the Far East to double over the prewar level.19
In total, the Soviet Union took 27 divisions from the existing formations in the Far East, the
Caucausus, and Central Asia. The remainder of the 97 existing divisions that appeared in the
Summer-Autumn campaign, that is 70, came from the interior districts of the Soviet Union. Of the
other 194 divisions and 94 brigades, these units represented newly-raised formations.20
The 291 divisions and 94 brigades that appeared between 22 June and 1 December provided
Stavka with its strategic reserves. The distribution of these forces coincided with the needs of the
front and Stavka's offensive plans. However, the Moscow axis remained as the principal theatre for
these additional Soviet formations. In total, 150 divisions out of 291 (52 percent) and 44 brigades out
of 94 (47 percent) went on the Moscow axis: the other formations, 141 divisions and 50 brigades,
appeared elsewhere. Since most of these units came from newly- organized troops, they did not

50 Let, 269-270. VOVSS, 98. A. Ya. Soshiniov et al. Sovetskaya Kavaleriya (Moskva, 1984), 197-198, SVE, Vol. 7, 670; "Moskovskaiya bitva
v tsifrakh" VIZ #1 (1967), 90, Table 1, and 91, Table 3; hereafter VIZ #1 (1967).
VOVSS, 79. Kh.Kh. Kamalov, Morskaya pekhota v boy- akh za rodinu (Moskva, 1983), 24-25. P. Yakimov & V. Petukhov, "Boevoe
primenenie morskoi pekhoti u desantakh" VIZ #11 (1974), 27. IVOVSS, Vol. 2, 91. V Shlomin "Dvadstat' piat' morskikh strelkovykh" VIZ #7
Zabaikalskii Voennyi Okrug (Irkutsk, 1972), 171, 175, 188. Krasnoznamennyi Dalnevostochnyi (Moskva, 1917), 156, 162, 183-184. 187,
195-197. IVMV, Vol. 3, 436. Kazakov, 46.
50 Let, 273.
become readily available. For example, between 22 June and 10 July, only 36 divisions moved along
the Moscow axis. The other 114 divisions and 44 brigades arrived at later times. 21
O N 22 June 1941, Russia possessed 10 armies in its operational reserve. Four of these (19, 20, 21,
22) existed in the Reserve Front. Two additional armies (16, 18) were deployed in the Orel-
Kharkov area. Two (24, 28) served near Moscow and a further two (27, 13) deployed in the western
district reserves. Of these armies, the forces directly under Stavka totaled 158,600 men, 1,700 field
guns, 200 mortars, and 700 tanks. Taken together, these armies represented the second echelon
designed to stop any German attack. However, Stavka did not foresee the losses incurred in the
heavy initial fighting. By 10 July, only 90 of the 201 Russian divisions at the front retained effective
levels of combat strength. Stavka maintained 31 divisions in its reserve. 22
Throughout the campaign, Stavka continuously withdrew front line units for rest and rebuilding so
as to increase its operational forces. For example, while awaiting the final German offensive in the
south of Russia, Stavka withdrew 9 rifle divisions and two cavalry corps from the frontline. These
forces (designated 37 Army), together with one Stavka reserve army (56 Separate), became the
strategic reserves for the Winter counter-offensive. By 17 November, these reserves totaled 22 rifle
and 9 cavalry divisions plus 5 tank brigades. Similarly, before the beginning of Operation Typhoon
against Moscow, Stavka ordered the weakest formations on the western direction withdrawn to
become front reserves. After the offensive began, Stavka ordered a further 5 divisions back to cover
the Mozhaisk defense line. At the end of October additional troops withdrew from the frontline into
the reserves. From these forces and additional Stavka reserves, a second echelon developed to cover
the forward defense line. 23
This method of establishing reserves contrasted sharply with German practice. Throughout 1941,
German reserves proved inadequate to campaign needs. The German Army rapidly expended its
initial 28 reserves divisions. Later, including allied troops, a further 21 divisions and 15 brigades, as
well as 2 divisions and 4 brigades formed at the front also moved forward.24 However, by mid-
September it became apparent that Germany lacked the strength to continue attacking all along the
front. Only a massive reorganization, including the removal of 16 divisions from Army Group's
(AG) North and South permitted the 2 October commencement of the drive on Moscow. Even this
effort, however, merely provided AG Center (70 divs.) with a bare equality of force compared to
Soviet totals. More worrisome still, total German reserves consisted of only 2 divisions, a situation in
marked contrast to the Red Army.
By 1 October, the USSR stood ready to meet the anticipated German offensive with an impressive
paper strength. The active Red Army totaled 213 rifle, 30 cavalry, 5 tank, and 2 motorized rifle
divisions as well as 18 rifle, 37 tank, and 7 airborne brigades. Many of these formations were,
however, seriously understrength. Average rifle division strength was 7,500 men; and for
tank/cavalry divisions it was 3,000. The total strength of the Army was 3,245,000 men; 2,715 tanks
(only 728 were heavy/medium models); 20,580 guns and mortars; and 1,460 aircraft (excluding
long-range aviation).25
Of these forces Stavka deployed fifteen armies to defend the Moscow axis. Its troops were
arranged in three fronts and included 83 rifle, 2 motor rifle, 1 tank, and 9 cavalry divisions as well as
13 tank brigades. Total strength was 1,252,000 men, 990 tanks, and 936 aircraft. These forces totaled
30 percent of the rifle and cavalry divisions on the Soviet-German front. Additionally, 35 percent of
the tank brigades and separate antiaircraft troops, 54 percent of the artillery regiments, and 17
percent of the Guard mortar battalions were attached to the forces of these fronts.26
In spite of its preparations, however, within days of the opening of Operation Typhoon, the GKO
faced a serious crisis on the western direction. The skillful German attacks led to the encirclement
and disintegration of Moscow's forward defense line. Drastic measures became necessary to restore
the front. Thus, in early October, the GKO ordered the creation of 10 new reserve armies on the line
Vytegra-Astrakhan. 27 Additionally, Stavka committed 14 rifle divisions, 16 tank brigades, and 40
artillery regiments to restore the front. They also summoned 3 rifle, 2 tank, and 2 cavalry divisions
plus one motorcycle regiment and one tank brigade from the Far East and the Northwest Front. 28
These troops, together with the forces that succeeded in breaking out of encirclement and the meager

Kazakov, 48. V. Zemskov, "Nekotorye voprosy soz- daniya i ispolzovaniya strategicheskikh reservov," VIZ #10 (1971), 15
V. Golubovich. Sozdanie strategicheskikh reservov," VIZ #4 (1977), Table 3, 16; hereafter Golubovich, 50 Let, 277-278.
IVOVSS, Vol. 2, 220, 222, 250, 255. A. M. Vasilevsky, A Life-Long Cause (Moscow, 1981), 115, hereafter Vasilevsky
Burkhart Mueller-Hillebrand. Das Heer 1933-1945, Band II (Frankfurt, 1956), 11, hereafter Das Heer. IVOVSS, Vol. 2, 267
IVMV, Vol. 4, 90-91.
Razgrom, 30, "Moskovskaya bitva v tsifrakh" VIZ #3 (1967). IVMV, Vol. 4, 93. D.Z. Muriev, "Nekotorye voprosy Sovetskoi voennoi strategii
v Moskovskoi bitve," VIZ #12 (1971), 12, Table 1, hereafter Muriev
Western historians appear confused over Soviet reserve armies as many quote IVOVSS, Vol. 2, 271. This lists 9 new armies created
Oct./Nov. (10,26.57/28,39,58,59,60,61). But Vasilevsky 110, says the GKO ordered 10 armies formed. Razgrom, map 10 gives 11 armies on
1 Dec.: Two (1 Shock, 20) are committed 29 Nov.; one (10) shortly thereafter; eight are in reserve (24,26,28,39,58,59,60,61); one (57) is
not shown. Thus the total is twelve.
Razgrom, 38, Vasilevsky, 114,50 Let, 292
units scrapped together by Stavka, combined to form four (16, 5, 43, 49) new armies to defend the
Mozhaisk line. By 1 November, the Western strategic direction contained 34 percent of the rifle div-
isions, 30 percent of the cavalry divisions, and 52 percent of the tank brigades available in the
Soviet-German theatre. Additionally, 55 percent of the artillery regiments, 30 percent of the separate
anti-aircraft battalions, and 33 percent of the Guard mortar battalions deployed with these forces.29
Throughout November, Stavka attempted to stabilize the front line west of Moscow. During this
period, the western axis received 11 rifle, 9 cavalry, and 1 tank divisions. In addition, 16 rifle and 8
tank brigades, 4 tank battalions, and a considerable number of artillery regiments also joined those
forces.30 The efforts to create a new front line involved a significant movement of new formations.
These units came in two groupings. Between 1 and 15 November, Stavka provided 100,000 officers
and men, 300 tanks, and 2,000 guns to repair the disorganizations caused by the October battles.
Frontline units were brought up to complement with many formations receiving artillery and Guard
mortar units. These efforts allowed the creation of reserves. Total strength on the western axis by
mid-November included 61 rifle, 3 motorized rifle, 3 tank, 17 cavalry divisions, and 19 tank
brigades. 31 Later, after the German offensive toward Moscow resumed, that is between 16 November
and 5 December, Stavka added to its troops before Moscow the following formations:32
Divisions Brigades Regiments
7 Rifle 9 Rifle 4 Rifle
10 Cavalry 10 Tank 3 Motorcycle
10 artillery
Battalions Companies
4 Ski 18 separate rifle

These Soviet reinforcements allowed the stabilization of the front line and slowly drained the
German offensive of its power. In spite of the enormous losses and dislocations caused by
encirclements, Stavka managed to preserve the strength of the Red Army before Moscow while
continuing its preparations for a Winter counterattack. This significant accomplishment can be
clearly seen in two ways. First, between 1 October and 1 November, Soviet frontline manpower
dropped from 3,245,000 to 2,250,000. However, by 1 December, it had climbed back to 4,196,000
men. Second, the organizational strength of the Red Army on the western direction showed
substantial growth as revealed in Table 5.

These increases represent a substantial investment of Stavka's reserve forces and transfers from
other fronts. By 1 December, in total, the western strategic direction possessed 34 percent of the rifle
divisions, 41 percent of the cavalry divisions, 49 percent of the tank brigades, 43 percent of the
artillery regiments and 74 percent of the Guard mortar battalions then available on the entire Soviet-
German front. 33
IN the first days of December 1941, AG Center's attacks came to a halt short of Moscow. The
German forces ceased to possess the capability for further sustained action. The weather remained
miserable and the German troops too exhausted and ill-equipped to handle the supply requirements
for a renewal of the battle. As Soviet strength continued to rise, German front line combat strength
fell to ominously low levels. Total casualties (743,112) since 22 June 1941 equaled 23.12 percent of
manpower and reflected the continued decline of German strength throughout the Autumn campaign.

Muriev, 12, Table 1.
IVMV, Vol. 4, 110.
G. K. Zhukov, The Memiors of Marshal Zhukov (London, 1971), 336. VIZ #3 (1967), 70, Table 1.
Muriev, 14
Ibid., 12.
For example, on 6 November, OKW estimated that the 101 infantry and 19 panzer divisions in Russia
actually amounted to only 65 and 6 divisions respectively in strength. By December, continuing
losses and the awful supply situation negated any improvements caused by the enforced pauses due to
weather. Within the panzer divisions, losses totaled over 40 percent of the 30 September totals. Of the
78 divisions in AG Center these forces maintained a combat strength of only 35 units. These
shortages, although serious enough, disguised the actual situation which was much worse. In August,
Halder had reported that only about 1/3 of the needed replacements had gone forward resulting in a
decline in combat strength of 40 percent in infantry and 50 percent in panzer divisions. In spite of the
September pause, this situation remained unsatisfactory throughout the Fall campaign. By 30
November, Halder faced the stark reality of an army short only 340,000 men (9½ percent of strength)
but with only 50 percent of infantry combat power.34 A much different situation existed on the Soviet
From 29 November to 5 December, Stavka prepared to unleash its Winter counterattack utilizing
its carefully-hoarded strategic reserves. These troops, largely provided by the GKO decisions of
October, gave Stavka a powerful weapon unmatched on the German side of the line. These Soviet
reserves formed in spite of the apparent earlier German successes. For example, on 1 October,
Stavka possessed a mere 4 rifle and 3 cavalry divisions in its reserve forces. However, by 1 Nov-
ember, in spite of the terrible losses in the October battles, Stavka managed to build its reserves to
three armies possessing a total of 22 rifle and 8 cavalry divisions. Throughout November, as heavy
fighting continued, Stavka succeeded in organizing, training, and moving to the Moscow area an
additional seven armies. Thus, it still retained on 1 December, eight armies with 44 rifle and 14
cavalry divisions, as well as 13 rifle brigades, in its reserves.35
The substantial infusion of new forces into the Moscow area and the concurrent decline of German
strength changed the balance of forces on the western direction to one of even or slightly favorable
for the Red Army. However, the alteration can also be seen along the entire frontline for, by early
December the land strength of the Soviet army stood at 5,493,000 with an additional 563,000 in the
air forces and 514,000 in the naval forces. Combat aircraft totaled 7,409, and tanks totaled 4,495. Of
the land forces, those deployed in the west contained 4,196,000 men; 1,984 tanks; 32,194
guns/mortars; and 3,688 aircraft. Additionally, Stavka retained another 531,000 men with 1,300
guns, 2,800 mortars, but no tanks in its reserves. The western deployment of the Red Army revealed
39 active armies, 4 operational groups, and 9 reserve armies. These forces con- stained 279 divisions,
93 separate brigades, and 193 separate regiments. Reserve forces totaled 123 divisions, 31 separate
brigades, and 16 separate regiments. 36
In the first week of December, troops of the Kalinin, Western, and South-Western Fronts moved
forward to destroy AG Center. In preparation for this counterattack, Stavka committed its reserves in
a series of groupings. For example, in late November -- early December, besides three armies (1 st
Shock, 10, 20) containing 11 rifle and 4 cavalry divisions, 11 rifle and 2. tank brigades, 11 ski and 4
tank battalions, Western Front also- received 9 rifle and 2 cavalry divisions, 8 rifle and 6 tank
brigades, and other artillery and specialist troops. Additional forces went to Kalinin and South-
Western Fronts. Many of the formations were quite combat-ready when compared to their German
opponents. The 10th Army's 100,000 men for all its equipment mismatches and shortages possessed
respectively an average of 11,447 and 3,500 rested and winterized troops in its 8 rifle and 3 cavalry
Fifteen Soviet armies stood ready to participate in the Winter counterattack. These forces
possessed 75 rifle, 3 tank, and 23 cavalry divisions as well as 18 rifle and 23 tank brigades and other
specialist units. Total strength included 1,100,000 men.
7,652 guns and mortars, 774 tanks, and 1,000 aircraft. Throughout the month, as the Soviet
counterattack continued to force the German Army away from Moscow, the Red Army on the
western axis received further significant reinforcements. These troops included two reserve armies
(39, 61), and totaled 20 rifle and 2 cavalry divisions as well as 1 tank and 11 rifle brigades, and 9
separate tank battalions. Later, when the central grouping of armies of the Western Front joined in the
counterattack, these formations received reserves totaling 4 rifle divisions, 1 rifle brigade, 1 reserve
artillery regiment, and 2 guard mortar regiments.38 During this time, AG Center did not receive any
substantial formations as reinforcements.
Similar situations occurred on both the north and south axis of the Soviet-German front. For
example, in the south, the utilization of Stavka reserves led to the recapture of Rostov and a return to
the Crimea. In the north, Stavka committed three (59, 3Shock, 4Shock) new armies to assist in
relieving pressure on Leningrad. When created these forces possessed a total of 14 rifle and 2 cavalry
Seaton, 191. Das Heer, 19. Paul Carell, Hitler Moves East 1941-1943 (Boston, 1967), 197, 332-334. Halder, Vol. 192-193.
Kazakov, 49, Table 2. However, Razgrom, 194 cites 59 rifle and 17 cavalry divisions on 1 Dec.
IVMV, Vol. 4, 270-272. VOVSS, 197. Vasilevsky, 120. Golubovich 16, Table 3, and 17, Table 4.
IVMV, Vol. 4, 281. IVOVSS, Vol. 2, 274. F.I. Golikov, V Moskovskoi Bitva (Moskva, 1967), 24.
VIZ #1 (1967), 89, Table 1, and 91, Table 3. Muriev 17, IVMV, Vol. 4, 283-284.
divisions as well as 7 rifle brigades. By the beginning of the offensive, near Tikhvin, the Soviet
superiority in personnel was 1.5:1 and in artillery 2.0:1. Likewise, on the Volkhov, Soviet
superiority was 1.5:1 in both artillery and personnel. These forces enabled Soviet troops to retake
Tikhvin and open a tenuous land-lake route to Leningrad.39
By the first days of January, the initial objectives of the Soviet Winter counteroffensive had been
achieved. Although Soviet active strength had risen to 4,199,000 men, its tank strength had fallen to
1,784 (only 506 hy/med) and guns/mortars to 27,700. On the western axis, manpower had risen to
1,245,000, but tanks fell to 571 (198 hy/med) and guns/mortars to 8,700. Stavka, however, still
retained 14 divisions and 7 brigades, including the Moscow Defense Zone, in its reserves. 40 Later
offensives continued to move the front line westward, especially on the western axis. However,
Soviet resources proved inadequate to the task of destroying the German army. On 19 January, Stavka
began removing front-line armies into the reserve for rebuilding.

N examination of Soviet reserves reveals two significant historical facts. First, the Soviet Winter
A successes testify to the serious German miscalculations of Red Army strength. FHO assumed
Russia could not mobilize reserves fast enough to decisively influence the 1941 campaign. This
proved not to be the case. Soviet reserves, although not always fully trained, remained large enough
to intervene decisively at several critical moments in the 1941 campaign. By careful accumulation
and selective employment, Stavka managed to find the necessary forces to tilt the balance against
Germany. Stavka employed its active forces to cushion the various German thrusts, and then
deployed its reserves to continually create a new frontline. Even when the German Army created
encirclement battles, Stavka utilized the ensuing period of German dislocation created by the attempt
to clear each pocket to rebuild its shattered forces. Although not as obvious at the time, and certainly
not by initial intention (for Stavka did not set out to destroy its armies Just to prove its strategic deft
touch), in retrospect Stavka skillfully manipulated its growing assets to master each new situation.
As a result, it denied Hitler most of his major objectives for the first campaign. Second, Hitler
demanded a quick destruction of the Red Army. He assumed an initial superiority or, at least,
equality with existing Soviet forces. However, throughout the invasion Planning, the German
margin of strength remained precariously thin. By 22 June 1941, it had disappeared entirely. If
General Halder seemed puzzled in July by continuing Soviet resistance, he could only be stunned to
learn of the Red Army's true strength, revealed throughout 1941. Germany required numerically
more resources to conquer Russia. The German Army failed before Moscow because those
resources did not exist regardless of debate over misguided strategy. If Germany's odds seemed
better on 22 June, it perhaps is best to recall that the Axis entered Russia with front line resources
roughly equal to Stalin's. However, Hitler possessed only 14 divisions as operational reserves while
the Red Army maintained 133 divisions and 35 percent of its tank strength beyond the initial defense
zone in the west. While German frontline strength declined as the campaign progressed, Stavka
continued to maintain an acceptable and sometimes impressive force of reserve formations. By
November the decline of German strength coupled to the increasing availability of Soviet reserves,
misled Hitler and the German High Command into concluding that the struggle now pivoted on
questions of the last battalion and human will.41 This concept, as evidenced by the information
presented herein, bore no relationship to reality. The decisive defeat before Moscow altered not only
the situation in Russia; it tied Hitler into a long war in the east with disastrous consequences for the
prosecution of the war against Britain.

Western historians have recorded that territorial distance and bitter Winter weather decided the first
campaign in Russia. Rarely is the Red Army given substantial credit.42 Yet, Soviet sources reveal a
different story. While raw numbers alone could not defeat the Wehrmacht, it remains true that lack of
adequate research into, or familiarity with Soviet sources, has obscured the real balance of strength
on the Eastern Front. This reality of Soviet strength permitted Stalin several options which less for-
tunate Western nations never possessed. The skillful creation and careful use of Soviet reserves
continues to remain one of the least explored or understood issues in Western historical literature.
This article should provide some assistance in remedying that omission.

SVE., Vol. 6, 652-653, Vol. 8, 173-175, IVOVSS. 298.
IVMV, Vol. 4, 305, 307
Halder, Vol. 2, 303, 307.
Seaton, 221.