At the outbreak of WW2 in Europe the USSR alone had 46% of the European military manpower. USSR maintained a 2.8:1 ratio over Germany on day one. Many of the other nations such as France and Poland had significant manpower numbers but both would be shortly neutralized.
Table of Contents
1930s Military Build Up by Nation
The size of China’s military varied greatly during the 1930s due to the ongoing Second Sino-Japanese War, which began in 1937. At the beginning of the decade, China had a relatively small standing army of approximately 300,000 soldiers. However, as the conflict with Japan escalated, China rapidly expanded its military forces, and by 1939, it had an estimated 5 million soldiers. It’s worth noting, however, that China’s military was often poorly equipped and trained compared to the better-equipped Japanese forces.
France maintained a large standing army of approximately 900,000 soldiers in the 1930s but was slow to develop new technologies and modernize its army. They focused on building defensive fortifications, such as the Maginot Line, and relied heavily on colonial troops. However, they did not prioritize the development of new technologies, putting them at a disadvantage compared to Germany. The political instability in France during the 1930s also had an impact on its military, contributing to their defeat by Germany in 1940.
Germany began a massive military buildup in violation of the Treaty of Versailles, expanding its army, developing new technologies such as the Panzer tank and the Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighter plane, and reintroducing conscription. Germany began to expand its army increasing the number of soldiers from approximately 100,000 in 1933 to over five million by 1941.
They spent a significant portion of their budget on military spending, even during the Great Depression, and developed a new military doctrine, Blitzkrieg, which emphasized speed and mobility. Germany’s military buildup ultimately led to the outbreak of World War II as they sought to expand their control over Europe and beyond.
In the 1930s, Japan began to expand its military with the goal of becoming a major military power in Asia. Japan introduced conscription in 1936, which allowed them to rapidly expand their military manpower. Japan expanded its army, increasing the number of soldiers from approximately 200,000 in 1930 to 1.7 million by 1941.
Soviet conscription existed since the 1920s but was modified in 1930 limiting duty to workers. In 1939 the law ‘On the Universal Military Duty’ was adopted allowing them to rapidly expand their military manpower. By 1941, at almost five million men, the Red Army was one of the largest armies in the world.
In the late 1937, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin carried out a purge of the officer corps of the Red Army. This resulted in the execution or imprisonment of thousands of officers, including many of the most experienced and capable leaders. This had a significant impact on the Red Army’s effectiveness in the early years of World War II.
The United Kingdom
The United Kingdom prioritized its navy over its army, maintaining a standing army of approximately 200,000 soldiers while developing new technologies and modernizing their navy, including the construction of new battleships and aircraft carriers. The Royal Navy had approximately 110,000 sailors in 1930. This number remained relatively stable throughout the 1930s, with minor fluctuations.
They faced financial constraints and relied heavily on troops from their colonial empire. The UK also developed their air force, with a focus on new aircraft such as the Hawker Hurricane fighter and the Avro Lancaster bomber. The UK’s military manpower in the 1930s was not as well-positioned militarily as some of the other major European powers, but their navy and air force were among the most advanced in the world at the time.
The United States
The size of the US military remained relatively small during the 1930s, with a standing army of approximately 200,000 soldiers throughout the decade. However, the US did introduce conscription in 1940, which allowed them to rapidly expand their military manpower in the months leading up to World War II. Prior to conscription, the US military was smaller than those of many other major powers, ranking as the 19th largest army worldwide at the outbreak of hostilities.
The size of the US Navy remained relatively stable during the 1930s, with approximately 100,000 sailors throughout the decade. However, the US Navy did introduce new ship classes and technologies during this period, such as the Yorktown class aircraft carriers and the Fletcher class destroyers.
Comparative Military Manpower (Including Reserves) Sept 1939 Data
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Source: McNab, Chris. “Hitler’s Masterplan.” Editor: Spilling, Michael, Amber Books, 2011, Page 29
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Military Manpower by Nation 1940 to 1945