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Mikhail Tukhachevsky

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Mikhail Nikolayevich Tukhachevsky (1893-1937), sometimes called the "Red Bonaparte", was a Marshal of the Soviet Union when he was purged and shot. At the time, he was Commander of the Volga Military District, a senior post but a demotion from First Deputy Defense Minister and Head of Military Training, 1936. From 1934 onwards, he had been a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party. His relationship with Joseph Stalin had been stormy, going back to the civil war in 1920-1921, and especially when Stalin was a political commissar while Tukhachevsky commanded the invasion of Poland.

Early life

His early life and professional career gave him both significant advantages, and also grounds to be distrusted in the Soviet system. Born into an aristocratic family of polish origin in 1893, Tukhachevsky graduated from Aleksandrovskye Military School in 1914, joining the Semyenovsky guards regiment. Captured by the Germans as a lieutenant, he was held, as a prisoner of war in Ingolstadt fortress along with Charles De Gaulle. [1] After five attempts, he escaped back to Russia.

Joining the Red Army and Bolshevik Party in 1918, he advanced by military ability, caring little for party ideology. In two years, he was to go from lieutenant to army commander.

Civil War

He commanded the main attack, in 1920-1921, into Poland.[2] A Soviet theoretician, V.K. Triandafillov, analyzed the campaign, and concluded that due to inadequate mobilizationd and logistics, the “Red Army suffered an attrition of combat power so that at the culmination of the campaign its divisions had exhausted their combat power and were vulnerable to the Polish counteroffensive." This was to become the basis of Soviet deep maneuver thinking, along with Tukhachevsky's own reflections, which resulted in the concept of gluboky boi – deep battle. Combined, they “developed a strategic theory of successive operations based on the Soviet military failure against Poland in 1920 and the failed German offensives against France in 1918. as would later be seen in WWII, after the Soviets faced disaster and introduced the Operational Maneuver Group at the Battle of Kursk [3]

Deep battle, in Tukhachevsky's thinking, organized the forces into four echelons of corps or army sized units, or equivalent air forces.

  1. Aircraft with the mission of destroying enemy formations and gaining local air supremacy
  2. infantry and mechanized mix would engage the enemy front-line forces and develop a penetration
  3. Mechanized and armored formations intent on exploiting a breakthrough and encircling enemy rear formations and logistical centers
  4. A reserve formation to consolidate the victory

Senior career

After the civil war, his posts included:

  • Head of the Academy of the Red Army and Commander of the Western Front, 1922-1924.
  • Chief of Staff of the Red Army, 1925-1928.
  • Commander of the Leningrad military district 1928.
  • Deputy Defence Minister, Deputy Chairman of the Revolutionary Military Council of the USSR and Head of Armaments of the Red Army, 1931

In his work with armaments, he was especially interested in rockets, which would become a major Soviet strength, and mechanized warfare. He sponsored Sergei Korolev, who would become a major aerospace designer, in establishing a research bureau in 1931. By 1933, they had tested a five-ton liquid propellant rocket engine, but this was not followed into long-range missile development. [4]


There are a dizzying range of explanations of the involvement of Stalin, and of Germans up to and including Adolf Hitler himself. The Marshal had a prisoner of war Germany before the Russian Revolution, which was enough to draw suspicion under Stalin. He was talented, but and, from a surprising source, we have testimony about his personality, a personality apt to provoke Stalin's jealousy and a desire to take revenge. Tukhachevsky made violins as a hobby, and had become close friends with the composer, Dmitri Shostakovitch. Shostakovitch described him as a "very ambitious and imperious person," who seemed to be the Red Army's favorite. [5]

Among the possibilities, not mutually exclusive, were:

  1. The Marshal may, in fact, have been conspiring against Hitler, and with or without the cooperation of the German General Staff.
  2. The Marshal may, in fact, have been conspiring against Hitler
  3. Stalin, on general personality ground may have decided that he was sufficiently a potential rival that it was in Stalin's interest to remove him preemptively.
  4. Soviet Organs of State Security (i.e., the NKVD) had manufactured a dossier, possibly based on some actual correspondence and possibly not, that indicated Tukhachevsky was conspiring; Stalin may have directly participated
  5. The German SD intelligence service, under Schellenberg and Heydrich, may have found the Russian dossier, believing it to be an authentic NKVD document, and gave it to Himmler and Hitler, who decided to feed it back, through deniable channels, to Stalin, in order to discredit the Soviet General Staff and perhaps have it purged before Germany had to fight its more competent officers. The information is believed to have been leaked to Rusisia and France via the Czech President, Evard Benes, using contacts between the SS and NKVD.

Walter Schellenberg suggests that Hitler eventually had to decide if he wanted to deal with Russia under Stalin or Tukhachevsky.[6] Pavel Sudoplatov says that Lavrenti Beria received a dossier and sent it to Stalin. [7] Stalin, however, did not use the documents, but, was his want, "rounded up the usual suspects" in the General Staff and forced them to confess what he wanted. A huge purge of the Soviet leadership resulted, which may well have crippled the Soviet response to the German 1941 invasion, including:

  • 3 of the 5 Marshals
  • 13 of the 15 army commanders (full generals) and 8 of the 9 equivalent admirals
  • 50 of the 57 corps commanders
  • 154 of the 186 division commanders


  1. "Marshal Tukhachevsky: The Red Bonaparte", Perspective on World History and Current Events
  2. Alan Bullock (1991), Hitler and Stalin: Parallel Lives, Alfred A. Knopf, ISBN 0394586018, pp. 101-102
  3. Eric D. Beaty (May 2009), Effects of Operational and Strategic Pauses on Mission Success, School of Advanced Military Studies, U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, pp. 14-17
  4. Information Bulletin dedicated the the 100th Birthday Anniversary of the Founder of Cosmonautics, Embassy of Russia in Indonesia, February 2007
  5. Testimony: the Memoirs of Shostakovich, ed. Solomon Volkov, 1979, pp. 72-79 quoted in Bullock, Hitler & Stalin, p. 492 and 1011n
  6. Walter Schellenberg (2000 reprint), The Labyrinth, Da Capo Books, pp. 25-28
  7. Pavel Sudoplatov; Anatoli Sudoplatov, Jerrold L. Schecter, Leona P. Schecter (1994). Special Tasks: The Memoirs of an Unwanted Witness—A Soviet Spymaster. Little, Brown and Company. ISBN 0316773522.