The Evolution of the Red Army

Cadets of the Red Army in Ukraine, 1933. Wikipedia Commons

THE over-all answer to the frequent question as to why the Red Army made such a poor showing in Finland and was able to perform such extraordinary exploits against the German invaders lies, I think, in its rapid and intelligently directed evolution. This evolution of the Red Army began as early as December 1939 and continued steadily, partly because of and partly in spite of fresh reverses and losses, until now the Russian war machine is not only the most resilient but in other ways also the most remarkable of modern times.

The outside world does not sufficiently appreciate the extent to which the Soviet high command learned the lessons of the experience in Finland and the speed with which they proceeded to turn them to account. The adaptability and energy they showed in reforming the Red Army put it in shape to resist the first German onslaught and probably saved Leningrad and Moscow from capture. The Russian forces started in Finland in low gear, with inferior equipment and very spotty leadership. I saw the first Russian prisoners taken by the Finns on the Karelian Isthmus, and they were poorly-clad and ill-equipped. That condition did not continue. Only three weeks later at Tolvajaervi I saw hundreds of frozen corpses of an utterly different, first-class Russian division. From that time through the remainder of the Finnish war the caliber of Soviet troops was maintained at a high level. Officials in Helsinki believed that Soviet Russia, misled by the reports of their agents from inside Finland, had expected the Finnish Government to capitulate without a fight. Later in Moscow I saw indications that the Russians had counted on securing Finnish bases without actually going to war and had found themselves compelled to use force before they were completely prepared. That fact, I believe, chiefly explains the early setbacks of the Red Army in Finland -- plus, of course, the superb all-round quality of the Finnish officers and soldiers and the terrible cold of the

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