When I started buying up kit for WW2, Matchbox kits were still available (before being rebranded Italeri). They were at the time considerably cheaper than comparable kits (I seem to remember about £3.50 rather than £5.00). As I knew them to be great models it made sense to snap them up. One model that was in the range was the T34-76 and, although I was mainly buying German and US, I put 9 of them on my order from Hannants, as I reckoned I wouldn't have the chance to get them that cheap again. They were a simple kit to put together. There is not much painting involved (all Russian tanks came out of the factory painted green, and only in snowy winter did they bother to camo' them), they were all painted and assembled early on.
I got some Russian infantry at the same time, but unlike my Germans and Americans didn't get around to painting them until 2009, starting them at a time I was getting frustrated with the slow pace of getting everything together for my German and US army. I got them all finished by March 2010.
The great thing about the USSR in WW2 from a wargamer's point of view is that they are a fairly simple army to equip. Where as the German army that changed their main battle tank four times in the course of the war, the Russians found a star in their T34 early on and switched most of their production to it, only making significant modifications when they upgunned it to a 85mm in 1944. They didn't manufacture any half tracks of their own, so no armoured infantry, just motorised. They go a lot of equipment from the US and the British under lend lease. So I could use the GM trucks that I'd made up for the US army, and a M1 half track or two for HQs, towing etc.. That really just left the AT company of a tank battalion to equip, and a set of two SU-85s from Armourfast did the trick. Pegasus's 'two-to-a-box' kits yielded a pair of armoured cars and a light tanks (all of which actually looked pretty similar). Italeri's excellent 76mm gun set yielded a couple of heavier AT/artillery guns, and a blog site which pointed out that the Russian 45mm was basically indistinguishable from the German 38mm, so Hat's German set supplied my infantry AT at the lighter end.
The net result was that once I got stuck into painting the Russian infantry it started to look a lot easier to reach the finishing line for the Russians than the US or the British, so they jumped ahead of the queue.
A conversation at my last club left me doing a swap and getting eight Armourfast T34-85s, to help equip an elite late war tank battalion. Once they are painted I have all the essential equipment to take me to 1945 (and indeed beyond as I could use the T34-85s in Vietnam!).
Battalion of T35-85s for later 1944 onwards
A Rapid Fire battalion is around 40 figures, but the three rifle companies only require 24 figures. The HQ, weapons and gun companies making up the balance, so you actually need quite a few 'ammunition carriers' etc.. These I have made by trimming the weapons off a few figures, especially those lying down etc., a lot of which and a 'wounded' figure, that can stand in as a mortar loader, are in the Airfix set, so I've drawn a lot from this set. The Italeri 76mm set has a few spare figures good for FOOs. The result of using what I thought initially would not be useful figures, is that in the end I had a lot more riflemen/SMG figures than I'd reckoned and so ended up making no less than six battalions up. This should be more than enough for any eventuality.
All of the sets have a lot of figures carrying SMGs (as indeed was the case) so there is no problem picking enough out if you want to form an SMG battalion.
I have a few more figures to paint up. Notably the ski troops in the Siberian Rifles sets, which I have started to paint, but there is no point finishing until I get around to buying a 'snow cloth' to put on the table. I initially added a workers militia/partisan battalion card to my unit deck, and in my first game with them just used ordinary figures to represent them, but I have since bought to sets of Caesar's partisans, painted up a battalion and they've already seen action. I've not taken any pics of them yet, so will do so for a later post.
Like my German army, I tend to think of this as a 1943-45 army, but in fact as T34-76 saw wider use earlier than this, and in fact German armour found itself completely outclassed for a while, this actually represents the Russian army over a longer time frame. But as I can't field it for the time being against a German army much earlier than '43, it won't be re-fighting the battles of 1941-2 until I get some PzIIIs for my Germans.
My new regular gaming buddy, Steve, turned up at the last game with a whole battalion of mounted cossacks, which he was keen to field. Unfortunately they ran straight into a Panzer battalion hidden behind a hill, which with the help of some off-board artillery wiped them off the board in record time! With a bit more practice they might prove more useful. In fact might have been exactly what Steve could have needed to seize an important objective very early on in the last game, if Steve, who is not at heart a pre-20th century gamer, can get his head around thinking of cavalry in WW2 as mounted infantry, and not look for something to charge!
There are now a couple of very nice new infantry sets recently released, notably the Pegasus Soviet infantry in winter and Soviet infantry in summer (in caps) . There is also a Naval set which would be handy for WW1 and the Russian Civil War too. These are tempting, but with six infantry battalions all ready not a big priority in the big scheme of things and maybe an 'add-on' I can do later if I get a lot more of my unfinished projects done.
There is never any shortage of extra kit that you can buy for a WW2 army. A few Katusha's, and some different assault guns (SU-76s and SU-110s), and some KV1s would all be nice. But probably if I shelled out some more money on this army I would probably do it in line with my plans for my German army, and add more light tanks to be able to represent better 1941-2.