The quote contains a lot of hyperbole, I'm going to go over them briefly and then set them aside.
- "the one that America was briefly involved in" The US entered the war in December 1941, the USSR in June 1941. One could stretch the Soviet involvement back to the Winter War or the Invasion of Poland. Either way, both fought hard for years.
- "From scratch" Hardly. The Soviet Union was a military and industrial powerhouse in the 1930s. I address this in detail below.
- "Beat the Germans, basically single-handed." This has some factual basis. The sheer scale of the Eastern Front dwarfed all others. Nine of every ten German soldiers died on the Eastern Front and by the time of D-Day Germany was already on the retreat. However, the other Allies were fighting the Germans in Africa, the Mediterranean, Scandinavia, and oceans while also fighting the Japanese and supplying the Soviets.
Yes, the wartime expansion and recovery of the USSR's production was nothing short of amazing, but so was the German and American. They did it at a great cost of human suffering.
"Efficient" is a very slippery word. We don't know what that person meant. I'm going to stick to simple material numbers. I also think the statement "from scratch" implies the person thinks the USSR was militarily and industrially backwards at the start of the war. Let's address that first.
In the 1930s the Soviets were at the forefront of tactical thinking. They recognized the importance of the tank and the aircraft in achieving surprise and mobility. They used it to rapidly penetrate the enemy lines and cause havoc in their rear faster than the enemy could react. They called it Deep Battle and it was very similar to the Blitzkrieg tactics the Germans would use so successfully.
Unfortunately, the Great Purges of the late 30s killed or sent into exile over half of their officers, especially the most imaginative commanders. They were left with the most unimaginative officers mostly concerned with politics. Deep Battle was politically discredited and the Soviet armored strength was dispersed.
The disastrous Winter War with Finland in 1939/40 exposed the woeful state of Soviet arms. A victorious but humiliated Soviet Union began to, very slowly, return some of the previous military professionalism to their army, but not fast enough.
Meanwhile, the Soviets were developing some of the most advanced arms in the world. The T-34 medium tank, KV-1 heavy tank, Yak-1 fighter, and IL-2 "flying tank" were all in production at the time of invasion. They were all equal to or superior to the equivalent German units at the time. They all stayed in production for the whole war. Trouble is, there weren't nearly enough and they were incompetently used.
No, the Soviets did not rebuild "from scratch".
The Soviets were caught by surprise and off guard by Operation Barbarossa, after all they had been cooperating with the Germans for years and had a non-aggression pact. In their rapid retreat they evacuated whole factories to safety beyond the Ural Mountains. Conditions were brutal, but they set about cranking out war materials.
Part of the efficiency of Soviet production was their focus on a relatively small number of models. For example, they had three tank hulls, the light T-60/70, the medium T-34 and the heavy KV. They used them for everything with mixed success. As tanks they were very successful with excellent armor and guns. As vehicle hulls, the shortcomings of Soviet drive train designs became more apparent.
Once a factory began production it often continued to make that model even once better ones were available; it would take time and money to retool and retrain. Is this "efficient"? It certainly produced more stuff.
Let's look at the production numbers for medium and heavy tank hulls. I've included America for comparison. I've excluded 1945 because it is a partial year and Germany was collapsing. Overconfidence caused American production to slow down in 1944. The Americans did not believe in heavy tanks.
| German | Soviets | American |
| Medium | Heavy | Medium | Heavy | Medium | Heavy |
1941 | 2700 | 0 | 2800 | 1350 | 1400 | 0 |
1942 | 4000 | 80 | 12500 | 2600 | 15500 | 0 |
1943 | 9000 | 650 | 17000 | 1450 | 28000 | 40 |
1944 | 15000 | 1050 | 16000 | 4750 | 15500 | 0 |
The Germans were outproduced, especially in heavy hulls. However, after 1941 the Soviet factories were safe beyond the Urals and could produce unimpeded. Meanwhile, Germany was under increasing Allied bombardment yet her production went up. The Americans had a production boom of their own.
Another item of note is the German population during WWII was 70 million, while the Soviets had 200 million people, with America at 130 million. This gets a little more complicated once you consider German occupied territories and allies.
This is just one data point. It ignores things like, for example, that the US was producing a two ocean navy, as well as a massive air force, and supplying material to the Soviets, all while keeping up a good lifestyle for its citizens. My conclusion, based on this and further study of WWII, is that all the major combatants performed industrial miracles during the war but the US and the UK did it without severe hardship. The Soviets and Germans under conditions of extreme hardship, but also using forced labor and brutal conditions.