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  • Writer's pictureMichael Laxer

Red Army Day, 1944

Crossing the Dnieper - Woodcut, V. I. Masyk

February 23 was Red Army Day in the former USSR.

It celebrated the formation of the Red Army in early 1918 and its essential victory against German forces marching on Petrograd (which became Leningrad) at the battles of Pskov and Narva.

In honour of the great Red Army that saved the world in the fight against the Nazis, we are republishing an article from 1944 marking the 26th anniversary of its formation. Written by Red Army Colonel S. Gavrilov it was published while the USSR was still driving the Nazis out of Soviet territory. Another year of terrible fighting lay ahead, but the Soviets were now confident they would win.

"The Red Army is a multi-national army. In its ranks, fighting shoulder to shoulder, are all the nationalities of the Soviet Union—Russians, Ukrainians. Byelorussians, Latvians, Lithuanians, Estonians. Georgians, Armenians, Tatars, Kalmyks, Kazakhs. Uzbeks, Tajiks, Turkmenians and Kirghizians. And each of them, wherever they may be fighting, is defending their homeland, the Soviet motherland."

Text (Excerpted):

The Red Army is 26 years old. It was born on February 23, 1918. This was the date of the battles of Pskov and Narva, when the Germans marching on Petrograd were stopped by a detachment of the new Soviet Army. Even in those days, at the time of its birth, the Red Army displayed features which marked it as an army of a new type. It was an army created from a nation-wide movement to resist the German invader, an army of the people, an army of national defense.

"The country is in danger" Lenin's call resounded throughout the whole country...

In the history of the young Red Army there were critical moments when the enemy dealt it drastic blows and seemed to be on the verge of victory. Defeats which in another country would have caused demoralization and complete disintegration of the army, only strengthened the Red Army's will to win and the Soviet people's readiness to incur any sacrifice to help their army recover its strength and convert defeat into victory.

The Red Army and the working population displayed marvelous valor in resisting the German invaders. Women, old men and children, together with the soldiers, defended their cities against an enemy armed to the teeth. The defense of Tsaritsyn (now Stalingrad) in the summer and autumn of 1918 put an end to the plans of the whiteguards, supported by the Germans, for the conquest of Soviet Russia.

The defense of Vladikavkaz and Grozny in 1918, of Petrograd in 1919 and of Tula were all prototypes of that inimitable mastery of the defense of cities which the Red Army is displaying today in the war against the Nazi armies.

The workers proudly called themselves "Red Army men of the rear." Starving and exhausted though they were, they performed miracles. The enemy was nearing Tula, but this celebrated Russian arsenal did not suspend work for a single moment....

Women built fortifications around the city and the children helped the soldiers. Thus we find that from the very beginning the Red Army displayed that fundamental trait which has characterized it all along—namely, its extraordinary virility and tenacity. An army which has the support of its people is invincible. And it is in this identification with the people that the strength of the Red Army lies.

At that time the Red Army vanquished all its adversaries. It did this because it was a people's army, because its men understood the aim and purpose of the war and knew they were in the right, and this knowledge strengthened the spirit of discipline and their military efficiency. Time after time the Red Army men displayed a spirit of mass heroism and self-sacrifice...

The Red Army is an army of the Soviet country. The advantages of the socialist system are also the advantages of the Red Army. But these advantages had to be embodied in material force, in modern weapons, in military skill and the art of strategy...

But the experience gained in the Civil War was not enough to insure the successful conduct of modern warfare. Hitler's plans were in fact based on the premise that the Red Army was a young army with newly-formed and inexperienced commanding cadres, and according to his strategists it would be beaten before it had a chance to adapt itself to the requirements of modern warfare.

But these expectations were built on sand. The generals and officers of the Red Army had made a thorough study of the art of war in peacetime, had drawn the lessons from the war in the West, and guided by Marshal Stalin very rapidly mastered the methods of modern warfare...

For 32 months the Red Army has been locked in a life and death struggle with fascist Germany and her vassals. In the course of these 32 months it has dispelled the myth of the invincibility of the German army. It has also disposed of another myth—namely, the alleged superiority of the Germans in the art of war. It is now clear to all that Soviet generals are superior to the Germans in the art and science of warfare.

The greatest battles in world history, won by the Red Army, will be studied for ages to come as classical models of military skill. Stalin's strategy will find its place in military science as a supreme example of the art of generalship. These 32 months have been equivalent to a whole epoch.

The summer and autumn of 1941 were a hard and trying time for the Red Army and the Soviet people. The German invaders, enjoying the advantages of surprise and superiority of forces (especially in tanks and aircraft), with their army fully mobilized and armed to the teeth, already possessing rich experience in the conduct of modern war and confident of an easy victory, invaded the Soviet land, seized the border regions and swept in a seemingly irresistible tide toward Moscow.

The young and still inexperienced Red Army beat a fighting retreat eastward, constantly dealing the enemy telling and devastating blows. Not only foes but also the friends of the Soviet Union were certain that the Red Army could not withstand such an assault for long, that within a few weeks or a few months at most the war would end in a victory for Germany.

But that is not what the Soviet people thought, or what the men and commanders of the Red Army felt. The thoughts and feelings of Soviet patriots were expressed by a Soviet officer of the heroic Panfilov Division, who together with 27 others stood his ground against 60 German tanks at the station of Dubosekovo near Moscow: Russia is vast, but there is no place to retreat: behind us is Moscow. The 28 heroes perished, but the tanks did not pass. That is the way the Soviet people thought and acted in those grim days.

The Germans were stopped at Moscow and then hurled back with heavy losses from the Capital of the Soviet Union, having been dislodged a little before that from Rostov-on-Don and from Tikhvin.

But the enemy was still strong. He was still in a position, by concentrating superior forces on one or another sector, to strike a formidable blow. And it was for just such a blow that the Red Army now prepared. A blow of this character was struck by the German army in the summer of 1942 on the Southwestern Front. The Germans' plan was to reach the Middle Volga, then to flank Moscow from the east and cut it off from its Volga and Urals rear, to seize possession of it by striking from the east, and thus to end the war in 1942. The Germans aimed a subsidiary blow at the Caucasus, with the aim of diverting the Red Army reserves from Moscow to the south and at the same time seizing possession of the Caucasian oil-fields.

This second stratagem, too, was hard on the Red Army. The Germans forced their way through to Stalingrad and invaded its streets. They made frantic efforts to reach the Volga and to cut off the central regions of the Soviet Union from the grain and oil of the Caucasus. Grave peril menaced the Soviet Union. But the Red Army withstood this blow also. Stalingrad's defenders displayed superior bravery and unparalleled courage and heroism. The battle for this hero city marked the turning point in the course of the Soviet-German war.

The time had now come when the Red Army was not only able to put up a defense and now and again to strike back at the enemy, but to pass to a vigorous offensive along the whole front.

November 19, 1942, is a historic date in the life of the Red Army. On that day Soviet troops launched the offensive at Stalingrad. They surrounded and annihilated the German army, 330,000 strong, and then advanced swiftly westward. The wholesale ejection of the enemy from the Soviet land began. The battle of Stalingrad presaged the decline of the Ger-man army.

In the summer of 1943 the Germans started a big offensive in the Kursk area, in an attempt to recover lost ground. But as we know, this offensive ended in a fiasco. The Red Army not only repulsed it. but itself passed to the offensive, and ever since has been steadily driving the enemy westward, evicting him from one Soviet region after another. The battle of Kursk brought the German-fascist army to the brink of disaster.

They now adopted a policy of protracting the war as long as possible. They began to erect defense zones and "walls," and claimed they were invulnerable. But the Red Army upset their hopes, broke through their defense zones and "walls," and continued the advance without allowing the Germans any respite.

Neither rivers nor powerful fortifications have been able to save the Germans. The Red Army forced such water barriers as the Northern Donets, the Desna, Sozh and Dnieper Rivers; it demolished such defensive zones as the Germans had erected on the Mius and Molochnaya Rivers and at Melitopol, and the permanent type of fortifications at Leningrad, and is now inflicting defeat on the Germans far from the walls of Leningrad and far beyond the Dnieper.

All these tremendous victories of the Red Army, which are a source of legitimate pride to the Soviet people, did not come easily. The Red Army has suffered incredible hardships and privations; during these 32 months it knew the bitterness of retreat, it lost many thousands of its finest men, but it stood firm and emerged victorious from all these difficulties, for it is inspired by the spirit of Lenin and is led by Stalin. From all tests and trials it has emerged more powerful, more disciplined and organized than ever.

The Red Army and the Soviet people generally have a sober estimate of the enemy's strength; they know that the road to final victory will be sown with thorns: that immense sacrifice and privation and a colossal exertion of effort will be demanded. But the lofty and noble aims of this Patriotic War of liberation inspires the Red Army and the Soviet people to ever fresh deeds of valor and fortitude.

The peoples of the Soviet Union have always cherished a feeling of kinship and love for the Red Army. This feeling has grown even stronger in the course of the war, and the achievements and heroism of their army fill them with universal pride.

The Red Army is a multi-national army. In its ranks, fighting shoulder to shoulder, are all the nationalities of the Soviet Union—Russians, Ukrainians. Byelorussians, Latvians, Lithuanians, Estonians. Georgians, Armenians, Tatars, Kalmyks, Kazakhs. Uzbeks, Tajiks, Turkmenians and Kirghizians. And each of them, wherever they may be fighting, is defending their homeland, the Soviet motherland.


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