In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Russian and Soviet Armed Forces

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Anthologies
  • Bibliographies
  • Journals
  • The Great Reforms
  • The Late Imperial Army
  • The Russo-Japanese War and the 1905 Revolution
  • World War I Operations
  • World War I Diplomacy, Politics, and Society
  • The Russian Revolution
  • The Civil War
  • Politics of the Red Army
  • Rearmament, Military Doctrine, and the German Collaboration
  • The Road to Barbarossa
  • Insurgency and Counterinsurgency
  • Civil-Military Relations

Military History Russian and Soviet Armed Forces
David R. Stone
  • LAST REVIEWED: 06 February 2012
  • LAST MODIFIED: 06 February 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791279-0050


The literature on Russian and Soviet military history is dominated by one question: the availability of sources. More than other fields of Russian-Soviet history, the scholarly study of military questions has depended on the vicissitudes of Russian politics, and the limitations they place on historical research. Intellectual and cultural history, for example, can rely on public productions of culture, whether in the upper or lower levels of society, and so are somewhat less dependent on archival access. Even in the higher levels of Soviet politics, often conducted behind closed doors, traces were left in the records of the rise and fall of individual figures. Soviet political culture, with its emphasis on public rituals declaring orthodox belief and denouncing those who deviated from it, also provided valuable material for scholars. Well before Mikhail Gorbachev instituted his policy of glasnost (which allowed open discussion of political and social issues and led to the democratization of the Soviet Union), Western scholars of social or economic history enjoyed limited access to Soviet historical documents. Military questions were different. The Soviet Union’s military archives were off-limits to Western scholars, forcing those interested in the place of the military in Soviet society to rely on memoirs, official publications, and careful reading of Soviet secondary literature. Even with these limitations, work of high quality and lasting significance could still be produced. The overall picture, though, was decidedly mixed. Lack of archival access justified a substantial number of ostensibly scholarly works by authors who did not know Russian. In the early years of the Cold War, much of the Western literature on the Soviets was based on the work of former Wehrmacht generals, who came to the subject with their own axes to grind. When Mikhail Gorbachev became general secretary in 1985, this changed dramatically. Although his policy of glasnost took several years to reach full fruition, archival access to all subjects improved. Military history, because of its previously taboo status, changed most dramatically. Millions upon millions of documents from the pre-1917 Russian empire’s military and the post-1917 Red Army were thrown open to scholars. Access remains incomplete. Military records from before 1941 are largely in the hands of Russia’s civilian archivists, who have a mandate to make materials available to researchers. Military documents from 1941 on, though, are still overwhelmingly in military possession. The Russian Ministry of Defense, for better or worse, does not have a particular interest in easing the work of Western historians. Even Russian historians have difficulties in covering that period, because military history in Russia remains largely the preserve of the military itself. Military intelligence, in addition, is still a closed subject except to those employed in the Russian security services.

General Overviews

Liddell Hart 1956 and Seaton and Seaton 1986 as general surveys were quite influential on an earlier generation of scholarship, but these have been superseded by later works that are able to take advantage of new archival sources. Higham and Kagan 2002 and Kagan and Higham 2002 include specialists on a variety of topics and have been able to cover more subjects in detail. Stone 2006 aims at a general readership in a more concise volume. Fuller 1992 limits the discussion to the imperial period, but at a high level of abstraction. Reese 2000 covers the Soviet period alone, with a focus specifically on social history, whereas Ziemke 2004 is more recent but does not include recent scholarship.

  • Fuller, William C. Strategy and Power in Russia 1600–1914. New York: Free Press, 1992.

    A sweeping account of Russian grand strategy, focusing on the long-term processes that shape military policy. In particular, emphasizes social and economic backwardness and the state institutions established to compensate for that weakness.

  • Higham, Robin, and Frederick Kagan, eds. The Military History of the Soviet Union. New York: Palgrave, 2002.

    An able and comprehensive collection of essays by authorities in the field.

  • Kagan, Frederick, and Robin Higham, eds. The Military History of Tsarist Russia. New York: Palgrave, 2002.

    An able and comprehensive collection of essays by authorities in the field.

  • Liddell Hart, B. H., ed. The Red Army, 1918–1945. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1956.

    Very much shaped by a German view on the Red Army, one that has been largely discredited by subsequent research.

  • Reese, Roger R. The Soviet Military Experience: A History of the Soviet Army, 1917–1991. Warfare and History. London: Routledge, 2000.

    DOI: 10.4324/9780203011850

    Provides a brief but able summary of the history of the Soviet military, focusing particularly on the Red Army as a social institution, the experience of the common soldier, and the decline of revolutionary ideals over time.

  • Seaton, Albert, and Joan Seaton. The Soviet Army: 1918 to the Present. London: Bodley Head, 1986.

    Although a useful synthesis at its time of publication, this has been superseded both by new research and more up-to-date synthetic works.

  • Stone, David R. A Military History of Russia: From Ivan the Terrible to the War in Chechnya. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2006.

    A brief overview of Russian military history, aimed at synthesizing recent research for the general public.

  • Ziemke, Earl F. The Red Army: 1918–1941: From Vanguard of World Revolution to US Ally. London: Frank Cass, 2004.

    DOI: 10.4324/9780203498446

    Although published well after the archival revolution transformed our understanding of Soviet military history, the book ignores recent literature and instead relies on pre-glasnost scholarship to retell the Red Army’s history.

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