Motor Vehicle Manufacturing in Soviet WWII Russia

Being a communist state there was no private enterprise in Soviet Russia because the state owned everything including all manufacturing. There was a motor industry to produce vehicles for a range of purposes including the military, but like the collective farming policy that controlled agricultural output, there was a Five-Year Plan governing how the industry should operate. The first of the Five- Year Plans ran from 1928 to 1933 and during that period the AMO factory near Moscow was engaged in building Italian-designed 1.5-ton trucks. Another factory was built at Gorky and this was the GAZ, which covered an area of 256 acres and employed a workforce of 12,000, making it the largest plant of its type in Europe.

It built 1.5-ton American-designed trucks called the Model AA and together these two factories increased production from 50,000 vehicles in the first Five-Year Plan to more than 200,000 by the second Five-Year Plan. Other factories were also built, such as the ZIS (Zavod Imieni Stalin) and YAG (Yaroslav Automobilini Zavod), and these added to the output of trucks.

Because of the German-Soviet non-aggression pact agreed in 1939, Russia had felt secure from attack. In the weeks and months after the attack of 22 June vital manufacturing facilities such as the GAZ, AMO, ZIS and YAG factories would all be relocated beyond the Urals along with all of the workers. There the factories would be established in new centres of industry such as Sverdlovsk, Magnitogorsk and Chelyabinsk and would produce tanks, trucks and guns. Yet it seemed that no matter how many trucks and cars were built there was never enough to replace the thousands lost in battle. The vehicles sent by America bolstered the output and the contribution by Britain also helped the situation. As with other armies, some of the Russian trucks, such as the 2.5-ton AAA built by GAZ, were adapted to mount armaments such as quadruple machine guns for the anti-aircraft roles. Other truckss including the 6×4 ZIS-6 were adapted to carry the rocket artillery systems that were the famous ‘Stalin Organs’ which terrified the Germans with the shrieking noise as the rockets were fired. Russia produced 2.5- ton half-tracks for use as artillery tractors and between 1933 and 1940 well over 1 million trucks were built by the GAZ and KIM factories. The Americans supplied vast numbers of vehicles including Jeeps, which the Russians promptly copied at the GAZ factory and produced as the 4×4 GAZ-67. This was a heavier vehicle than the Jeep and some 92,000 were built between 1943 and 1953, which was still only a fraction of America’s production figures for the Jeep. As impressive as all this was, it was Russia’s output of AFVS, especially tanks, which bolstered the army and gave it the fighting force to take on the Germans.

At the northern end of Russia the campaign against the city of Leningrad was bogged down in stalemate with 300,000 Germans holding the southern end of the isthmus and the Finns holding the northern end. The Finns and Germans had not joined their front lines to cut off the southern edge of Lake Ladoga, which left the Russians in possession of Lednevo with its railway links and Novaya Ladoga with road links from where supplies could be transported into the besieged city. The Finns may have been allies of Germany but as far as lost in 1940 during the war against Russia and they to go any further and this left open the water route into Leningrad. The Russians had built defences but with a population of 3 million the problem was feeding the people. In October 1941 the city was being supplied with 1,000 tons of food daily brought in by ship from Novaya Ladoga, but when the waters froze in November that rate dropped to half the capacity. The problem was compounded when a German attack captured a stretch of the rail link at Tikhvin and severed the route into Lednevo. they were concerned they had re-conquered the territory they had were satisfied. They were not prepared

The Communist Party secretary in Leningrad, Andrei Zhdanov, ordered that a route be cut through dense forest so that trucks could carry supplies from the railhead at Zaborye to Novaya Ladoga, from where convoys could continue to Lednevo and across the waters of the lake. The route that was hacked through the forest to connect Zaborye to Novaya Ladoga covered a distance of 50 miles and had been created in just over four weeks, from 9 November to 6 December. It was a prodigious feat of work by labourers, many of whom were on the point of collapse from hunger. The terrain was so steep in places that the trucks had to be physically pushed up the inclines. Even so, the best distance they could manage to cover was 25 miles per day. There was some news when a Russian counter- attack seized back the railhead at Tikhvin, which shortened the route the trucks had to take and, with the waters of Lake Ladoga frozen, the trucks drove across the icy surface. By January 1942 there were up to 400 trucks daily driving the treacherous 20-mile route across the frozen surface of Lake Ladoga from Lednevo to Osinovets from where they could continue overland to Leningrad The civilians called it the ‘Road of Life’, but to the drivers who risked crashing through the ice it was the ‘Road of Death’. Only seven months earlier some fifty-four trains had removed almost 1.2 million works of art and national treasures from the city in a month- long operation to prevent them from being captured by the Germans. By the time of the first thaw in April 1942 some 53,000 tons of supplies such as fuel and ammunition and a further 42,500 tons of food had been driven across the Lake Ladoga ice road. The siege of Leningrad would last for a total of 890 days and would not be relieved until 13 January 1944. The suffering of the people and the military defenders was enormous, with an estimated 1.5 million being killed or keep it supplied was one of the greatest examples of logistics during the war, but it was overshadowed by events at Stalingrad where entire armies would be wiped out. Andrei Zhdanov declared that ‘We must dig Fascism a grave in front of Leningrad’. The cost to the German Army and its Italian and Finnish allies is not known, but the fact that the operation tied down so many troops, tanks, trucks and other equipment certainly assisted by preventing them from being deployed elsewhere. or the railhead could take supplies direct to the city dying of starvation. The struggle to save the city and keep it supplied overshadowed by events at Stalingrad where entire armies would be wiped out. Andrei Zhdanov declared that ‘We must dig Fascism a grave in front of Leningrad’. The cost to the German Army and its Italian and Finnish allies is not known, but the fact that the operation tied down so many troops, tanks, trucks and other equipment certainly assisted by preventing them from being deployed elsewhere.

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