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Subject: Did Soviet purges contribute to their resiliency in WW2? rss

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Michael Tan
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Stalin's Great Purge and Beria's Red Army Purge undoubtedly crippled the Soviet military during the early stages of World War II. But did the elimination of all opposition to Stalin's regime pay dividends in the long run? i.e. was the Red Army colossus of 1945 purely a product of a sleeping giant awakening and learning lessons in combat with or without the purges "unifying" the nation? I've got mixed feelings on the topic and curious to hear other opinions. Also, are there any published formal analyses of any possible positive effects of the purges?
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Ivor Bolakov
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The purges served to solidify Stalin's powerbase, and largely proved deleterious to military performance.

Been discussed, although a while ago: https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/618703/competent-red-army-o...
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Jason Cawley
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God no, it almost got the country conquered and it definitely got about 5 million more killed in 1941 than needed to be. It wrecked the officer corps, wrecked the mechanized arm in particular, put political toadies in high officer positions who failed spectacularly in 1941, etc, etc. Stop making excuses for notoriously idiotic and murderous mistakes of the world's worst dictators, please.
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Michael Tan
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Jason, I don't think anybody is going to argue that it wasn't disastrous for the Soviet military in 1939-42. I certainly am not. But Stalin's regime ultimately prevailed when many Western observers in 1941 felt it was on the brink of collapse. After all in 1939, the Western Allies held the Polish military in higher regard. I'm wondering if without the purges, was there any chance Stalin gets ousted as the Germans approach the gates of Moscow? Then what happens? Negotiated peace? This has nothing to do with making excuses for dictators - I'm exploring what-if scenarios for game design...
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Bob Holmstrom
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I think the point is, without the purges the Germans don't have the spectacular success in 1941 and Stalins regime isn't threatened.
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It's a bit scary if options for such scenarios are explored by asking on a boardgame website for opinions...
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Andrei Shlepov
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Well, the only apologete of purges (outside of Soviet establishment, that is) was probably Otto Skorzeny who wrote that they helped in making the Red Army a completely apolitical force bent on simply carring out the orders while the German generals grumbled and hesitated.

It's also interesting to see any new data on purges. Perestroyka figures were frequently exaggerated because they served the main ideological task of undermining CPSU's legacy and hence its current political standing.
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Michael Tan
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Strategery21 wrote:
I think the point is, without the purges the Germans don't have the spectacular success in 1941 and Stalins regime isn't threatened.

That's a valid argument, but nobody was able to stop the Germans at that time. So we cannot say with certainty that the purges made that great a difference.
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Max Bogatov
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Hitles sad to his generals: "80 % командных кадров Красной армии уничтожены. Красная армия обезглавлена, ослаблена как никогда, это главный фактор моего решения. Нужно воевать пока кадры не выросли вновь."
(80% of the command personnel of the Red Army destroyed. Red Army decapitated, weakened as never before, it is the main factor in my decision. We must fight until the shots are not up again.)
So I don`t know about resiliency, but Soviet purges definetly contribute to beginning the war with Soviet Union.
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Pete Belli
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Three generals could not be purged, even by a man as ruthless as Stalin:

-- General Mud

-- General Winter

-- General Motors

This helps to explain "Soviet resiliency" in WWII.
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John Middleton
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Wasn't the real key to the Soviets surviving the initial onslaught and coming back later, the release of the majority of Eastern troops once the threat from Japan was no longer an issue?

Given how the Russians fared in WWI and all other armies fared early in the war, I have serious doubts that an unpurged Russia would have been any better in 41.

It was a material issue, as well , as a command issue.

 
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Bob Zurunkel
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DegenerateElite wrote:
Wasn't the real key to the Soviets surviving the initial onslaught and coming back later, the release of the majority of Eastern troops once the threat from Japan was no longer an issue?

Given how the Russians fared in WWI and all other armies fared early in the war, I have serious doubts that an unpurged Russia would have been any better in 41.

It was a material issue, as well , as a command issue.



That's a myth. Very few units were transferred from the east. It was the Soviet's ability to continue to create new units despite horrendous losses that made all the difference.
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Recent book on the purge of the Red Army, although I don't think it takes the consequences up to the war.
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Martin Gallo
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This will not answer all the questions, but it does show the Russian perspective more than most of the reference material available in the golden years of wargame design.

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Andy Daglish
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m3tan wrote:
Stalin's Great Purge and Beria's Red Army Purge undoubtedly crippled the Soviet military during the early stages of World War II.

why? A number of the top commanders of 1941 were repeatedly promoted throughout their careers, sometimes due to heroism on the battlefield. The Germans effectively achieved strategic surprise, and the experience of combat lost in purged officers wouldn't have made much difference to lack of supply and communications caused by a planned blitzkrieg. Without the purges, the 'comrade officers' the Germans killed or captured would have been of higher quality. The pre-war enlisted men were better the European average in terms of overall quality & combat experience and nearly all of them were lost in 1941, after which they made do with hastily-trained peasants & factory workers.

Quote:
But did the elimination of all opposition to Stalin's regime

? Stalin's behaviour suggests he didn't believe this. In 1943 he admitted 'grave errors' over the purges and made all sorts of other concessions, presumably because of fear of pressing the soldiers at the front too far.

Quote:
i.e. was the Red Army colossus of 1945 purely a product of a sleeping giant awakening and learning lessons in combat with or without the purges "unifying" the nation?

It was not a colossus, due to the amazing figure of 18 million [my guess] military dead, and as many ineffective.

Quote:
Also, are there any published formal analyses of any possible positive effects of the purges?

It made way for younger better men in certain cases, and lowered the average age of commanders who were therefore faced the rigours of campaigning in Russia with a more robust constitution.

Purges elsewhere were also significant. Bosses at tank design institutes getting rid of over-talented underlings, for example.

The military purge affected about 5% of the officer corps, and not having those who disapproved of the government or rather the man for whom they were fighting might be said to have an upside.
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Andrei Shlepov
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I think the real purges' legacy goes beyond WWII. They were means to get the military under control. The Soviet/Russian armed forces never participated in politics (read: military coups) on their own accord since then. They could support a political coup (Beria's displacement; very half-heartedly in 1991), help squash an uprising (1993) or refuse to squash (allegedly not helping Khrushchev during his displacement), but they always did so per one or another political side' request.

Another thing to mention: only two generals in the post-USSR era became so popular as to attain nation-wide political status. Both were killed: Lev Rokhlin was almost beyond doubt assasinated, Alexandr Lebed' probably too.

Another piece of related trivia: Japanese probe at Khalkin Gol (which you call Nomonkhan) "coincided" with purges in the Far Eastern Army at their earnest. The Japanese probably counted on general demoralization to help them but after several crisises and seesaw fighting were beaten back and probably decided agianst invading the USSR. Some shadow of the things to come.
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Don't quote me on this but I am sure I have read somewhere that Russian military thinking was very advanced prior to WW2. These advanced "Deep Battle" ideas were never implemented until later in the war firstly because of the purges and secondly because trust still had to be rebuilt between Stalin and his generals. It was not until such people as Zhukov and Vasilevsky were given the freedom to test these ideas that the tide began to change in favour of the Red Army.
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Dan Nunuyerbiznez
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Not sure if the officer-corps purges contributed, but Stalin expected to be turned out on his ear when he ended his 'retirement' during the first two weeks of the war. He was not. With an intact, resolved, and functioning government the Soviets turned the tide. Hitler was relying on the total collapse of the Soviet regime, as had happened in all cases but one in prior campaigns.

The people dismissing this conjecture out of hand are missing a lot. I expected better of them.
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Marty Sample
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Westie wrote:
DegenerateElite wrote:
Wasn't the real key to the Soviets surviving the initial onslaught and coming back later, the release of the majority of Eastern troops once the threat from Japan was no longer an issue?

Given how the Russians fared in WWI and all other armies fared early in the war, I have serious doubts that an unpurged Russia would have been any better in 41.

It was a material issue, as well , as a command issue.



That's a myth. Very few units were transferred from the east. It was the Soviet's ability to continue to create new units despite horrendous losses that made all the difference.



http://www.operationbarbarossa.net/the-siberian-divisions-an...
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Jason Cawley
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Michael - asked and answered, the answer is "God no".

The thing that kept the Soviet regime in power in 1941 wasn't the previous purges, it was the fact that no one wanted to be slaughtered by the Germans. Self defense, not support of the government, was the whole motivation.
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Michael Tan
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Ragna Hairybreaks wrote:
Don't quote me on this but I am sure I have read somewhere that Russian military thinking was very advanced prior to WW2. These advanced "Deep Battle" ideas were never implemented until later in the war firstly because of the purges and secondly because trust still had to be rebuilt between Stalin and his generals. It was not until such people as Zhukov and Vasilevsky were given the freedom to test these ideas that the tide began to change in favour of the Red Army.

Absolutely correct. Although overshadowed by Zhukov, the finest Soviet marshall of WW2 might have been Konstantin Rokossovsky. He was sent to the gulags during the Great Purge simply because of his guilt by association with Deep Battle and Tukhachevsky, it's leading proponent. Later, Rokossovsky was "rehabilitated" when Stalin was desperate for senior leadership of any kind. He rose through the ranks and eventually masterminded Kursk and Bagration.
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Jason Cawley
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I'd put Vasilevsky higher than any of them, with only a possible exception for Tukhachevsky. Zhukov was better at talking to Stalin and taking stands that would force him to see reason (a matter of character and bravery in the circumstances), but Vasilevsky was the chess master intellectual of the bunch. His fingerprints are all over every major operational success, and his "play" clearly superior to the German side. Vatutin was also very good, incidentally.
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Jason Cawley
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Actual Russian motivation in 1941 -

https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/236x/6f/7d/eb/6f7deb87b...

The caption is simplicity itself -

Red Army Soldier - Save Us

Hitler's bloodthirsty cruelty and slaughter of innocents were all the motivation anyone could ever ask for.
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Michael Tan
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DnaDan56 wrote:
Not sure if the officer-corps purges contributed, but Stalin expected to be turned out on his ear when he ended his 'retirement' during the first two weeks of the war. He was not. With an intact, resolved, and functioning government the Soviets turned the tide. Hitler was relying on the total collapse of the Soviet regime, as had happened in all cases but one in prior campaigns.

The people dismissing this conjecture out of hand are missing a lot. I expected better of them.

Yup. That's why I had mixed feelings on the topic. Stalin went into hiding the first few weeks of Barbarossa, many believe because he thought for sure he was a "goner". I'd say his tenure was tenuous at best.

Hitler and Stalin were both totalitarian dictators. Other than Operation Zeppelin by the SS, I'm not aware of any documented assassination attempts on Stalin during the war. I've got to imagine the Great Purge had something to do with that. Meanwhile, there is a National Geographic documentary called "42 Ways to Kill Hitler"... The Nazi military was highly politicized with cronies like Göring, Himmler, and Donitz each with their own fiefdom and private army. A Stalinist regime would have absolutely none of that.
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m3tan wrote:
DnaDan56 wrote:
Not sure if the officer-corps purges contributed, but Stalin expected to be turned out on his ear when he ended his 'retirement' during the first two weeks of the war. He was not. With an intact, resolved, and functioning government the Soviets turned the tide. Hitler was relying on the total collapse of the Soviet regime, as had happened in all cases but one in prior campaigns.

The people dismissing this conjecture out of hand are missing a lot. I expected better of them.

Yup. That's why I had mixed feelings on the topic. Stalin went into hiding the first few weeks of Barbarossa, many believe because he thought for sure he was a "goner". I'd say his tenure was tenuous at best.

Hitler and Stalin were both totalitarian dictators. Other than Operation Zeppelin by the SS, I'm not aware of any documented assassination attempts on Stalin during the war. I've got to imagine the Great Purge had something to do with that. Meanwhile, there is a National Geographic documentary called "42 Ways to Kill Hitler"... The Nazi military was highly politicized with cronies like Göring, Himmler, and Donitz each with their own fiefdom and private army. A Stalinist regime would have absolutely none of that.


"...The Nazi military was highly politicized with cronies like Göring, Himmler, and Donitz each with their own fiefdom and private army..."

...Not to mention General Johann Schmidt, a.k.a the Red Skull!


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