The Soviet Army was an intimidating force during the Cold War. It formed the core army of the Warsaw Pact.
Military expert Christopher Foss described the Soviet Army in 1975 as “the most powerful in the world, both in terms of men and equipment”.
The Soviet Army was controlled by the Soviet Ministry of Defence. It was composed of four segments: strategic rocket forces, ground forces, air defence forces and air forces. Ground forces were the largest part of the Soviet Army.
In 1975 the Soviet ground force contained 2 million men. This figure excluded the 175,000 men who were classed as border troops and were controlled by the KGB and the 140,000 men of the Ministry of Internal Affairs who were concerned with external security. In the 1970s, Soviet troops were divided up among 16 districts. The greatest concentration of troops was in East Germany.
In 1975, the Soviet Army had 50 tank divisions, 107 motor rifle divisions and 8 airborne divisions. Each division was placed in a category to indicate its war readiness. Category 1 meant that the division was fully operational and ready to fight without a delay. Category 2 meant that a division was fully equipped but was only at 75 per cent of its required manpower; the division could be fully operational within a week. Category 3 meant that the division had the requisite equipment but was composed mainly of reserves and would take longer to arrive at full strength.
Within Warsaw Pact countries such as Poland, Czechoslovakia and East Germany, as well as on the Chinese border, most divisions would be at a Category 1 level of readiness. Divisions based in the USSR itself would have been at a lower Category of readiness.
The Soviet Army used conscription. A conscripted soldier’s service would last for a minimum of two years. This gave the USSR huge manpower, especially in her reserve units - 500,000 men a year started their military training; they stayed in the reserves until the age of 50. In 1975, Class 1 reserves (troops who were 35 years old or younger) consisted of 7 million men. In the 1970s, Western intelligence deduced that Soviet Army could put 300 divisions into the field. In 1975, the United States Navy claimed that the USSR had a grand total of 20 million men registered in its army.
One downside to such a huge force was that it could not be fully equipped with modern weaponry. For example, reserve tank divisions were equipped with older T-54 and T-55 tanks.
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