Marshal of the Soviet Union Mikhail Tukhachevsky
Mikhail Nikolayevich Tukhachevsky (also spelled Tukhachevski, Tukhachevskii, Russian: Михаил Николаевич Тухачевский) (February 16, 1893 - June 11, 1937), Soviet military commander, was one of the most prominent victims of Stalin's Great Purge of the late 1930s.
Tukhachevsky was born near Smolensk, west of Moscow, into an aristocratic family of Polish origin. He graduated from the Aleksandrovskye Military School in 1914, joining the Semyenovsky Guards Regiment. A lieutenant during World War I, Tukhachevsky was taken prisoner by the Germans and held in Ingolstadt fortress, where he met Charles de Gaulle.
Returning to Russia in 1917, after the Russian Revolution of 1917 he joined the Bolshevik Party. He became an officer in the Red Army and rapidly advanced in rank due to his great ability. During the Russian Civil War he was given responsibility for defending Moscow. The Bolshevik Defence Commissar Leon Trotsky gave Tukhachevsky command of the 5th Army in 1919, and he led the campaign to capture Siberia from the White forces of Aleksandr Kolchak. He also helped defeat General Anton Denikin in the Crimea in 1920. Both the Kronstadt rebellion and the Tambov peasant revolt were crushed by forces under Tukhachevsky's command.
Tukhachevsky led the Bolshevik armies during the Polish-Soviet War in 1920, and was defeated by Jozef Pilsudski outside Warsaw. It was during the Polish war that Tukhachevsky first came into conflict with Stalin. Each blamed the other for the Soviet failure to capture Warsaw, which brought Soviet defeat in the war. Tukhachevsky is commonly criticized for inadequate control of his forces. His orders were frequently disobeyed, even by high-ranking officers, which led the Bolshevik armies to several major failures throughout the campaign. On the other hand, Tukhachevsky argued that he could not choose his division commanders or move his headquarters from Moscow, for political reasons. The animosity between him and Stalin continued into the 1930s.
It may be noted in this context that Pilsudski and his staff were given a great advantage during the Polish-Soviet War by their military intelligence decrypting Soviet Army radio messages. These were encrypted in primitive ciphers and codes, and often involved incredible breaches of security by cipher clerks. The Polish cryptologists and commanders were thus regularly able to look over the shoulders of the Soviet commanders, including Tukhachevsky, and his superior Trotsky. It is curious that, in this regard, the Soviet Army repeated mistakes that had been made in World War I by its Tsarist predecessor vis-a-vis the Germany Army, and that had contributed fundamentally to the Russian defeat at Tannenberg.
Tukhachevsky served as chief of staff of the Red Army (1925-28) and as Deputy Commissar for Defence. He transformed the irregular revolutionary detachments of the Red Army into a well-drilled, professional military. He wrote several books on modern warfare and in 1931 was given a leading role in reforming the army. He held advanced ideas on military strategy, particularly on the use of tanks and aircraft. His ideas were opposed by Stalin's military cronies from the Civil War, Kliment Voroshilov and Semyon Budyonny.
In 1935 Tukhachevsky was made a Marshal of the Soviet Union, aged only 42. But Stalin became jealous of his popularity and feared the potential of the Red Army officer corps to become a source of opposition to his regime. In January 1936 Tukhachevsky visited Britain, France and Germany. It was subsequently alleged, and may possibly be true, that during these visits he contacted anti-Stalin Russian exiles and began plotting against Stalin.
Stalin had Tukhachevsky and seven other top commanders arrested on May 26, 1937, and charged with conspiracy with Nazi Germany. In a secret trial Tukhachevsky was convicted, and was executed on June 11, 1937.
After Stalin's death, in 1957, Tukhachevsky and his colleagues were declared to have been innocent of all charges against them and were "rehabilitated." Both before and since the fall of the Soviet Union, however, some writers have suggested that there really was a military conspiracy against Stalin in which Tukhachevsky was involved.
In his book The Great Terror (1968), the British historian Robert Conquest argued that German agents, on the initiative of Heinrich Himmler, forged documents implicating Tukhachevsky in a conspiracy with the German General Staff, in order to make Stalin suspicious of him, thus weakening the Soviet Union's defence capacity. These documents, Conquest said, were passed to President Edvard Benes of Czechoslovakia, who passed them on in good faith to Stalin. This version of events was given credence by a 1961 speech by the Polish Communist leader Wladyslaw Gomulka but, inasmuch as it has not been confirmed by new evidence since the fall of the Soviet Union, the matter remains unresolved.
- Deep Battle: The Brainchild of Marshal Tukhachevskii, Richard Simpkin, Brasseys, Inc.; (January 1987)
- The links in the chain of death (http://english.mn.ru/english/issue.php?2002-44-12) (Polish historian Professor Pawel Wieczorkiewicz discusses the Red Army purges)