The Soviet Army

The Soviet Army was the military backbone of the Warsaw Pact. In 1975 Christopher Foss described the Soviet Army as “the most powerful in the world, both in terms of men and equipment.” How accurate this assessment was when compared to the US and Chinese armies is difficult to know but few would have denied that the Soviet Army was a formidable force.


The Soviet Army was controlled by the Soviet Ministry of Defence and had four parts to it: strategic rocket forces, ground forces, air defence forces and air forces. Ground forces made up the bulk of the Soviet Army.


In 1975, when the Cold War was at its height, Soviet ground forces numbered 2 million men. This figure excluded the 175,000 men who were classed as border troops and were under the control of the KGB and the 140,000 men of the Ministry of Internal Affairs who were concerned with external security. Soviet troops were based in five main Group of Forces. These were in Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary, Poland and the Soviet Union.


In 1975, the Soviet Army had 50 tank divisions, 107 motor rifle divisions and 8 airborne divisions. Each division was given a specific category to denote its war readiness. Category 1 meant that a division was fully operational in terms of men and equipment and ready to fight without a delay. Category 2 meant that a division was fully equipped but had about 75% of its required manpower but could become fully operational within a week. Category 3 divisions had the necessary equipment but were made primarily up of reserves and would take time to bring to full strength. Within Warsaw Pact countries such as Poland, Czechoslovakia and East Germany and on the Chinese border most divisions would have been at Category 1 with a few at Category 2. Divisions based in the USSR itself would have been Category 3.


The Soviet Army had conscription, which lasted for a minimum of two years. This gave it access to huge manpower especially in her reserve units. 500,000 men a year started their military training and they stayed in the reserves until they were 50 years of age. In 1975, Class 1 reserves (35 years and below) numbered 7 million men and it was believed that all reservists could have been called up in just one week. Western intelligence believed that in the mid-1970’s the Soviet Army had the potential to put 300 divisions into the field if required. In 1975, the United States Navy claimed that in total the USSR had 20 million men registered in its army.


However, such a huge force could not be completely equipped with new military equipment. It is known that reserve tank divisions would have been equipped with older T-54 and T-55 tanks while the public side of the Soviet Army paraded its modern T-62 and T-70 tanks.