75th anniversary of victory

On May 9, 2020, our country will celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Great Patriotic War victory. As time goes by, the unforgettable 1940s when both old and young people defended their homeland become a thing of the past. However, this time flow generates a more vivid picture of the Soviet people feat. It was a period of bitter losses and military success. However, the country has endured all the hardships eventually defeating the enemy. Apart from soldiers fighting heroically throughout military operations, homefront workers also contributed to the victory.

The war essentially changed the USSR economy making it to perform in the military context and formed special patterns for these conditions.

Military production development, the need to offset the lost military equipment and upgrade defence articles required massive use of many minerals, primarily ferrous, alloying, base and rare metals, and combustibles. Therefore, mineral resources played an exceptional role in the economy of the warring countries.

The economic base for the national industry and agriculture development has been mostly formed before the war. According to the Soviet statistics, national income notably increased within 12 years (25 billion roubles in 1928, 128 billion roubles in 1940). In 1940, industrial output in the USSR increased by a factor of 17 compared with 1913 (91 compared with 1920). The industry structure changed dramatically, which is reflected by industrial output data. The above advances of the Soviet pre-war industry were largely a result of the national geological industry activities. This industry facilitated mineral deposit discovery, exploration and development. On this basis, the Soviet mining and processing industries made significant progress before the war.

The most sustainable growth was recorded for base and rare metals (tungsten, molybdenum, nickel, tin), aluminum and phosphates. Some of these minerals were not mined in Russian at all. There was a notable increase in deep drilling for oil; as a result, proved oil reserves greatly expanded. Coal reserves were completely reestimated before the Great Patriotic War, which made the world’s second-ranked. Mineral base has been ensured to develop energy industries, metallurgical, chemical and heavy engineering sectors in various regions.

Despite this progress, the Soviet industry development level and partilularly that of the mining sector lagged far behind the German industrial potential. By June 1941, Germany was able to use the mineral potential of almost all European countries (those occupied, allies and the so called neutral countries). The German industry employed over 12 million foreign workers. As compared with the Soviet Union, Germany had more metal smelters, power plants and coal mining facilities.

The early war period was unfavourable for the Soviet Union. The national economy suffered devastating losses. The German troops occupied Donetsk and the Moscow region coal mines, Krivoi Rog iron basin, Nikopol manganese basin, mercury (Nikitovskoye), bauxite (Tikhvinskoye), nickel (Kola peninsula) deposits and many metallurgical plants. Subsequently, German troops approached the North Caucasus oilfields. In addition, the western regions concentrated much of the national military and industrial base before the war.

During the war, economic restructuring was based on military and economic plans, which envisaged military-oriented economic conversion, fund allocation for building defence enterprises in the eastern regions and industry relocation in these regions. Production expansion in the east was required to ramp up the fuel and mineral base of the Urals, Siberia, Far East, Kazakhstan and Central Asia. Strategic mineral deposits were to be intensively developed; discovery, exploration and development of new deposits were also essential. “The immense national wealth was key to its labour, economy and culture rise. The war made all our population defend the country and join nation-wide efforts to repel the enemy. Our research and fieldwork continued because every new mineral deposit discovery contributed to the victory”.

Eastern regions became the main military and strategic base. The Urals was a key region. The Ural ridge significance was not only limited to its diverse chemical composition; the areas west of the Urals are rich in salts, coal and oil, and those east of it are yet to be explored. They possess enormous wealth suggested by Kazakhstan steppe subsurface”.

“By late 1941, the Ural region accounted for 62% of the domestic iron production, about 50% of steel and copper, nearly 30% of zinc and 100% of aluminum, nickel, cobalt and magnesium. Operating metallurgical plants were expanded. This caused exploration increase, primarily in the regions where metallurgical plants continued to operate as well as in other Ural regions”. In western Siberia, iron ores were explored around Kuznetsk plant, at mountain Shoria and Kuznetsk Alatau deposits. Due to works by geologists and scientists, new iron deposits in Kuzbas, oil sources in Bashkiria and a molybdenum deposit in Kazakhstan were explored while iron ore reserves in the Urals and western Siberia increased 1.5 times. Based on the discovered iron deposits in Kazakhstan, a ferroalloy and a metallurgical plant were built in Karaganda. Alloying, base and rare metals (manganese, chrome, nickel, tungsten, molybdenum, cobalt, etc.) were vital to produce weapons. In this context, exploration and development of deposits (Polunochnoye, Urazovskoye and Ulu-Telyakskoye in the Urals, Dzhezdinskoye in Kazakhstan, Mazulskoye and Durnovskoye in western Siberia) were essential.

Commissioning of Donskoi and Saransky mines in Kimpersai chromite ore district (Kazakhstan) resolved chrome material problem. Based on a copper-nickel sulfide deposit (northern Krasnoyarsk territory), Norilsk mine and metallurgical plant was built; nickel and copper production started in 1942. In the Urals, cobalt was produced using pyrite ore recovery technology. These activities ensured a major increase in high-quality steel production for defence industry.

Early in the war, there was a severe shortage of aluminum. The only operating aluminum plant was located in the Urals. Immediate action was taken to build new plants. Geologists ensured significant expansion of high-grade bauxite reserves in the North Urals bauxite-rich district that has become a major mineral base of aluminum industry.

“During the war, copper industry mineral base was largely strengthened due to Novosibayevskoye and Levikhinskoye deposits expansion, and Uchalinskoye deposit discovery. Dzhezkazgan and Balkhash copper plants were expanded, a major Vostochno-Kounradskoye Cu-Mo deposit was discovered and brought into production. Thus, the national copper industry met the entire needs of defence industries”.

Pb-Zn ores were primarily mined in Rudny Altai and Karatau. Increasingly strong tungsten demand was met by Dzhidinskoye, Belukha and Antonova Gora deposits in Trans-Baikal region, Mulchikhinskoye deposit in Altai, Lyangarskoye, Koitashskoye and Chorukh-Daironskoye deposits in Uzbekistan. Apart from Balkhash plant, molybdenum concentrates were supplied by Umaltinsky (Far East), Pervomaisky (Dzhidinskoye deposit) and Chikoisky (Trans-Baikal region) mines.

Mercury reserves were explored at South Kirgizia deposits, which allowed to commission Khaidarkansky mercury plant; it has become a flagship operation of mercury subsector.

Kadamzhaisky antimony plant (South Kirgizia), which came onstream in 1934, switched to production of more diverse strategic commodities. As a result, it was no longer necessary to import this metal.

The most significant tin deposits discovered during the Great Patriotic War were Khrustalnoye (Primorsky territory) and Khinganskoye (Khabarovsk territory). However, major tin concentrate suppliers were Yakutia and Chukotka mines.

Prospectors and miners of Kolyma region greatly contributed to the victory. During the war, much gold and tin were identified and produced there. It was the northeastern region that mostly accounted for currency metal production used as payment for foreign military equipment.

Fuel resources were particularly essential in war economy. The Ural region faced a severe power shortage; this region’s energy needs increased 1.5 times as compared with the pre-war period. Meanwhile, fuel production in 1942 nearly halved compared to 1940. Oil production decrease was mainly due to greater military tension in the southern frontlines. The State Defence Committee took immediate action to ensure oil production in Kazakhstan, Central Asia and Volga-Urals region. In 1943, oil production share of Kuibyshev more than tripled compared to 1941, and that of Central Asian republics nearly doubled. In 1942, production started at Elshanskoye natural gas deposit near Saratov, which ensured gas supply to power plants and industrial facilities in Volga region.

During the war, Kuzbas mostly accounted for coking coal production. In 1943, nearly 25 Mt was produced there, which met the Ural and Kuzbas ferrous metallurgy needs. Coal production in the Ural coal basin (Kizilevsky, Chelyabinsk, etc.) nearly doubled compared to the pre-war levels. Coal production in the Moscow coal basin liberated in late 1941 increased nearly 1.7 times in 1943 compared to 1942. Production was ramped up in Pechorsky basin; since the mid-war period, Donbass has also played a significant role.

Mineral and fuel resources allowed the Soviet defence industry to enhance military production.

Apart from field geologists, a valuable contribution to mineral resource use in the national defence industry was made by scientists. In late 1941, 76 research institutes were evacuated to the east. Their employees included 118 academicians, 182 corresponding members of the USSR Academy of Sciences and thousands of researchers. Their activity was coordinated by the Presidium of the USSR Academy of Sciences relocated to Sverdlovsk. The research focused on addressing military and technical problems, scientific support of industry and mineral resource mobilization; for this purpose, intersectoral commissions and committees were established. For example, in late 1941 a commission was formed to mobilize the Ural resources. It also supervised Siberia and Kazakhstan reserves.

Close cooperation with engineers allowed scientists to invent high-speed open-hearth furnace metal smelting and high-quality steel casting methods. Subsequently, a special commission led by Academician E.A. Chudakov made important proposals to mobilize resources of Volga and Kama regions.

Thus, prospectors who ensured much-needed mineral reserves for industrial and military production development in the pre-war years and during the Great Patriotic War greatly contributed to the victory.