On May 8, 1945, Europe celebrated the end of the Second World War.
The day was celebrated with parades, parties, and countless festivities throughout Europe and the rest of the world. It’s an important day for many in Europe and is commemorated annually all across the Globe — including Russia where it’s remembered as “The Great Patriotic War.”
The Red Army occupied Berlin in those final days. And it rolled through Europe traumatizing many. But the Red Army is also misunderstood in ways. They are not what many portray them to be today. They were a nuanced unit with millions in its ranks.
Let me explain.
Despite all the scholarly attention the Soviet Union has received since its fall in 1991 and the subsequent opening of archives to international historians in the 1990s, the Red Army’s material culture and everyday practices have received little focus.
Brandon M. Shechter’s analysis in his book, Stuff of Soldiers: A History of the Red Army in World War II Through Objects, thus serves as a good preliminary introduction to a field that can garner a lot more scholarly attention.
If you like this post, I’ll be sure to write a proper review with some of my criticisms — let me know if you’d like that in the comments.
I thought in discussing the Red Army, I’d mainly take from this excellent book as it covers the basics incredibly well.
What Was the Red Army?
The Red Army is the largest army the world has known; by the end of the war, 34 million people served in it.
The military units were so large because they were often being rebuilt due to grievous losses.
In fact, between January 1, 1942, and January 1, 1943, more than 11 million men and women were sent to the front.
By January 1, 1943, the Red Army suffered approximately 5.5 million permanent losses, including those who were killed, missing, captured, and sick.
Overall, the army completely rebuilt itself five times. The ideal soldier in the Red Army was educated, Russian, Ukrainian, or Byelorussian, and a part of the Communist Party.