Tankograd – Chelyabinsk and the salvation of the Soviet Union

The city of Chelyabinsk is situated to the south-east of the Urals, close to Kazakhstan and serves as a gateway to Russia’s vast Asian expanses. It lies on the Trans-Siberian Railway and is one of a string of railway towns that grew to service this immense trans-continental corridor.

It was this geographic location that ensured Chelyabinsk would grow to become a town of 45,000 by 1913. But it was its strategic position far from European Russia that ensured it would burgeon into a city under Stalin’s 1930s industrial drive and into wartime production.

Put simply, the 1,750 kilometres of Russian territory between Chelyabinsk and Moscow ensured the former’s future as one of the Soviet Union’s key armaments centres. The city was far from the encroaching German forces, safe from the ravages of the Luftwaffe and protected by unimaginable stretches of the Russian Steppes, raging rivers and the looming Ural Mountains.

Very soon, the small railway town was buzzing with new development. Vast factory complexes and uniform housing units bordered the city’s long, wide and straight boulevards. The population swelled as tens and then hundreds of thousands of people were brought to work for the motherland.

In just a few years, Chelyabinsk was transformed from a staging post into an industrial behemoth. The city became Tankograd, hosting factories for the legendary T-34 tank and a centre for the production of the Katyusha rocket launcher. Whole factories and industrial districts were relocated – Leningrad’s S.M. Kirov Factory no. 185 was sent east before German forces reached the city.

What wasn’t relocated was built from scratch – the vast Chelyabinsk Tractor Plant and Chelyabinsk Metallurgical Plant would soon be put to war work churning out the tanks that were matching German panzers. Soon, the city’s T-34s would be amongst the columns repulsing the German advance and would roll into Europe.