Tank production became one of the decisive factors of the Second World War. The Soviet Union introduced new models of tanks (like these medium T-34s) shortly before the outbreak of the war with Germany. Although their production grew steadily, before 22 June 1941 they were produced in relatively small quantities.

After the outbreak of the war in 1939, the Soviet Union undertook unprecedented measures to speed up its economical and industrial development, especially in the branches of strategic importance. Issuing from the obvious notion that the future war would affect western areas of the USSR, there was made the decision to make bigger investments into the industry of eastern regions to ensure that they would provide at least 20% of the whole industrial output.

Great effort made to transform agrarian Russia into industrial Soviet Union had brought impressive results. In 1929-1937 annual economic growth of the USSR approximated 17.8%, while in other economies it oscillated around 1.2%. This way the Soviet Union overcame its industrial backwardness, and joined leading economical powers. In 1937 the Soviet gross domestic product (GDP) was fourth after those of the USA, British Empire and Germany, and the Soviet share in the world's industrial output amounted to 10%.

At the eve of the Great Patriotic War the Soviet Union possessed a strong petroleum, steel and machine-building industry, as well as developed branches of the heavy industry. In 1940 production of steel, iron, coal and oil exceeded many fold the level of 1913. If inn 1913 production of iron in Russia amounted to 4.2 million tons, in 1940 it reached the level of 14.9 million tons - almost four time more than in 1913. For the steel the respective figures were 4.3 million tons in 1913 and 18.3 million tons in 1940, that is 4.5 times more. Furthermore, for the coal respective figures were 29.15 million tons in 1913 and 165.9 million tons in 1940, that is 5,5 times more. In general, achievements of the various branches of the industry were as follows:

1940 output

electrical power
billion kWh
million t
iron ore
million t
manganese ore
million t
crude oil
million t
million t
steel alloys
million t
million t
thousand t

Those achievements in the heavy industry had built a solid basis for the arms industry. Before 1936 this branch of industry was grossly underdeveloped, but the following years saw its vigorous growth. Renouncing the Versailles Treaty by Germany, expansion of the German armed forces, first annexations in Europe, and the experience of the wars in Spain and China urged to speed up the process of expanding and modernizing the Soviet armed forces. At the end of 1939s the growth of the Soviet military industry became three times faster than that of the other industries. The period of 1939-1941 was particularly critical in this respect.

For better management of the military industry, the People's Commissariat of Defence Industry, singled out from the People's Commissariat of Heavy Industry on 8 December 1936, on 11 January 1939 was further divided into four new ministries: Aviation Industry, Shipbuilding Industry, Arms, and Munitions. Another organizational move, important to the defence industry, was creating the State Defence Committee Military-Industrial Commission (Voyenno-Promyshlennaya Komissiya - VPK) at the Council of People's Commissars of the USSR. The task of VPK was to control how the directives of the State Defence Committee were implemented in the spheres of mobilization of the industry, as well as materiel and technical supplies of the army and the navy.

In result of those decisions in 1939 the defence industry of the USSR increased its output by 46.5%.

In line with the pre-war trends in many European countries, the USSR attached a lot of attention to the development of the armoured troops and production of the tanks. Especially so, that the Soviet Union joined that process relatively late, and the previous period saw rather limited production of that modern branch of the armed forces. It was not until 1930-1938 that the production of the tanks grew 43 times. The end of 1938 became the beginning of the new phase of the tank production. It was the time when the production of the new, modern constructions began. Those were first of all the heavy tank KV-1 (Joseph Kotin's construction bureau), commissioned in 1939, and medium tank T-34 (Mikhail Koshkin, Alexander Morozov, Nikolay Kucherenko et al.), commissioned in 1940. While in 1930-1931 the annual production was about 740 tanks, in 1935-1937 it grew up to 3,140 tanks. Then, in 1938 the production dropped to 2,270 tanks due to introduction of the new models into production; by 1941 it further decreased to 1,800 tanks. These figures reflect the production of the tanks of the old models. Out of the new models in 1940 there were produced 243 KV-1s and 175 T-34s. In the first half of 1941 the share of the new models in the tank production increased to 393 KV-1s and 1,100 T-34s. Overall, before the outbreak of the war there were produced 1,911 KV-1s and T-34s, and together with other new models, the number of the modern tanks totalled 2,083 in 1941.

Therefore, the levels of the tank production in Germany and the USSR were comparable, but the German industry produced only new models of the tanks, while the Soviet industry was in the process of introducing new models into production. This factor decided about the superiority of the German armoured forces in the initial phase of the war, and the Red Army and the Soviet industry had to wrestle that superiority from the Germans already during the course of the war.

Another important branch of defence industry is aircraft production. In 1939-1940 the Soviet industry produced 10,000 planes, out of which 7,000 were military planes or had dual purpose. In 1941 the aircraft production was intensified. Before 26 June 1941 there were produced close to 18,000 planes. Just like in case of the tanks, though, those were mostly planes of old models, and there were less than 4,000 planes of new models produced. And what is worse, the command of the Red Army's Air Force and the management of the aircraft production turned a blind eye on falling quality of the planes produced while new models were introduced into production, and used to commission defective aircraft for the active service. When that fact was discovered, political reprisals purged the culprits from their offices, but the Soviet Union was forced to go to war with the aircraft equipment of substantially worse quality than that of the German Luftwaffe.

The Soviet military doctrine and strategic concepts reserved a special role to the artillery. Therefore, the Soviet industry producing all kinds of the pieces of artillery, and based on good, centuries-old traditions, showed the best progress in its development. In 1938 it delivered to the troops 12,687 pieces of artillery of all models; in 1939 - 17,000; in 1940 - 15,500, and in the first half of 1941 - 9,700. Out of 42 thousand guns and mortars delivered to the Red Army, 29.6 thousand were classified as field artillery. There were also new, genuine constructions introduces, like rocket launchers BM-8 and BM-13, since June 1941 mounted on the chassis of the ZiS-6 truck.

Overall, the Soviet artillery equipment, except anti-tank guns, was of better quality than the German artillery equipment. As to the quantity of the artillery equipment, it was adequate, except for the anti-tank and anti-aircraft guns.

The Soviet industry also equipped the Red Army with the adequate quantity of small arms. The standard weapon of the Soviet infantry was the bolt-action rifle Mosin 1891 modernized in 1931. In 1938 first models of automatic rifles were constructed in the USSR; Red Army units started receiving them beginning of 1940. The same year Red Army units started receiving Soviet model sub-machine guns PPSh and PPD, and anti-tank rifles. The standard machine guns of the Red Army were light Degtyarev DP (1927 model modernized in 1938) and heavy Maxim (a First World War era item modernized in 1930). In 1940 the Soviet industry delivered to the troops 2 million rifles and machine-guns, and 100 thousand sub-machine guns. Although overall supply of the small arms was adequate, first months of the war demonstrated low saturation of the fighting troops with automatic weapons.

Ultimately, it is indisputable that within two years preceding the German invasion on the USSR the Soviet state made big and efficient economical preparations to repel that invasion. And although on 22 June 1941 the German economical potential, developed in the course of the ongoing war, and expanded at the expense of the conquered and allied countries, surpassed the Soviet economical potential, Soviet initiatives, undertaken in the conditions of the utmost mobilization of the economical resources, created the real industrial basis for the change the economical situation radically, and future victory.