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Subject: Competent Red Army officers that was executed during Great Purge? rss

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Talon Amores
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I've always heard that during the Great Purge, the majority of the officers that were executed were little more than incompetent henchmen who made their careers on suppressing anti-Bolshevik peasant uprisings and mass executions, yet I've also heard that many brilliant commanders were killed. Since I know there's a lot of Eastern Front buffs here, could anyone list any officers in the Red Army that were brilliant strategists but were still executed in the Purge?
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Hi Talon,

From Wiki:

The purge of the Red Army was claimed to be supported by Nazi-forged documents (said to have been correspondence between Marshal Tukhachevsky and members of the German high command). The claim is unsupported by facts, as by the time the documents were supposedly created, two people from the eight in the Tukhachevsky group were already imprisoned, and by the time the document was said to reach Stalin the purging process was already underway. However the actual evidence introduced at trial was obtained from forced confessions.The purge of the army removed three of five marshals (then equivalent to six-star generals), 13 of 15 army commanders (then equivalent to four- and five-star generals), eight of nine admirals (the purge fell heavily on the Navy, who were suspected of exploiting their opportunities for foreign contacts), 50 of 57 army corps commanders, 154 out of 186 division commanders, 16 of 16 army commissars, and 25 of 28 army corps commissars.


The most famous name that comes to my mind is that of Marshal Mikhail Tukhachevsky.
He was made Marshal of the Soviet Union in 1935.
Creator of the "Theory of deep operations" similar (remotely) to those applied by the German in Poland and France in 1939-40.
After his imprisonment, due to charges of espionage and betrayal, he was tried and condemned to dead by shooting, in June 1937.
His theories about deep operations were readopted in 1939-40 after the severe setbacks in the war against Finland.


Before .................................................................................................................. After the "treatment"!


F.

Edit: Images don't refer to M. Tukhachevsky, I thought it was clear, sorry.
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M Evan Brooks
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Problem with the picture: the "missing" figure is Nikolai Yezhov, head of the NKVD (People's Commissar for Internal Affairs).

The first five marshals of the Soviet Union were:

Mikhail Tukachevsky;
Vasily Bluykher;
Alexander Yegorov.
Semyon Budenny;
Kliment Voroshilov.

The first three were executed. These three were competent, with Tukachevsky probably being the most capable. The latter (surviving) two were Stalin's friends from the Civil War and before. Budenny was commander of the First Cavalry Army (with Stalin as his commissar), and Voroshilov was just about the only person who could continue to call Stalin by his nickname "Koba".

There is an apocryphal story that the two remaining marshals were talking to one another;. Voroshilov was worried, but Budenny told him, "Don't worry, Kliment. They're just killing the smart ones."

One postscript: Tukachevksy's "confession" was found in the Soviet archives with stains on the pages. When tested, it was confirmed to be human blood.





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Abe Delnore
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Filippo Chiari wrote:

* The most famous name that comes to my mind is that of Marshal Mikhail Tukhachevsky.
He was made Marshal of the Soviet Union in 1935.
Creator of the "Theory of deep operations" similar (remotely) to those applied by the German in Poland and France in 1939-40.

After his imprisonment, due to charges of espionage and betrayal, he was tried and condemned to dead by shooting, in June 1937.

His theories about deep operations were readopted in 1939-40 after the severe setbacks in the war against Finland.


The picture is a bit ironic; Yezhov, the disappeared figure, is the very individual who interrogated, tortured, and executed Tukhachevsky. Then Stalin turned on him . . . .

The charges at Tukhachevsky's show trial directly related to his military ideas. He was accused of "wrecking" by developing a fanciful theory of mechanized operations that ignored the proven effectiveness of cavalry during the Russian Civil War. He was also, of course, accused of spying for foreign powers and plotting to overthrow the government. When he heard the charges, Tukhachevsky said, "I must be dreaming."

Of course, as we know, Tukhachevsky was pretty much right; he probably had the clearest ideas about winning modern war of anyone at the time. There is some slim military justification for Soviet repudiation of his theories, as they had been tried out in Spain and had not been successful--but that just shows he was a little ahead of his time. But it seems likely that, far from a "wrecker," Tukhachevsky had done a great deal to prepare the Soviet Union's military readiness, much of which progress was lost.

Budenny, who was spared, was Stalin's buddy and was very conspicuously a cavalry general on the Russian Civil War model.

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Oh my God They Banned Kenny
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Frankly, it is difficult to know how many / who of those executed might have been 'brilliant' in practice against the Germans. Tukachevsky probably has the best 'rep', yet even in that case I'm not convinced he would have turned out to be a 'Soviet Guderian'. The real impact was two fold. First, the Wiki article posted previously gives some idea of the numbers involved - it was more a question of the total number / percentage of officers eliminated, than any particularly 'brilliant' ones. The survivors tended to be rather inexperienced at the command levels that they ended up in. They were also saddled with 'commissars', and rather 'cowed', to say the least!, to have seen so many of their colleages arbitrarily executed (in many cases). When war did come, many would 'robotically' follow orders, even if they were out of date or made no sense militarily, simply because they 'might as well die fighting the Germans, rather than be executed for failing to follow orders'.
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Eric Walters
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Not sure one could call Mikhail Nikolayevich Tukhachevsky the "Soviet Guderian;" that sobriquet quite properly belonged to Dmitri Grigoryevich Pavlov, who was executed after the Germans invaded in 1941 after being recalled to Moscow (indeed, he was the only Front Commander to suffer this fate). Lots of theories abound about that, but such a digression would be a separate thread entirely. Stalin dubbed Tukahchevsky "Napoleonchik" so I think "Russian Napoleon" would be a more accurate label for him. Stalin wasn't being complimentary.

Viktor Suvorov is the most disparaging about Tukhachevsky for a number of reasons which we don't need to go into here. But it is worth mentioning that "Tuke" was the most influential proponent of "Deep Battle" even if the idea was not exactly entirely his (Vladimir Kiriakovich Triandafillov did have something to do with it (he authored THE NATURE OF THE OPERATIONS OF MODERN ARMIES). Triandafillov died in a plane crash before the purges. But Tuke got a good bit of the credit for the idea.

A much lesser known light killed in the purges was Major General Aleksandr Andreevich Svechin, author of HISTORY OF MILITARY ART and the seminal STRATEGY, which was (mistakenly, I think) interpreted as a defensive doctrine when it was written in 1927. He ran afoul of Tukachevsky and eventually Stalin's ideas regarding an offensive war. Ironically, his forecasts are very accurate regarding how "the next war" in Europe that the USSR would be involved in would go. He was shot in 1938.

A leading thinker in his time, Mikhail Vasilyevich Frunze was not killed in the purges but died in 1925 due to an overdose of cloroform for an operation the Party insisted he undergo (and all four of his doctors who operated on him died in 1934). Frunze had an impressive combat record in the Russian Civil War against Aleksandr Kolchak but his love for creating an uniquely Soviet/Communist military theory seemed too esoteric to more practical men, notably the Commissar for War Leon Trotsky, who often complained that "first, we need men to learn to grease their boots!"

It's not completely clear that Stalin was purging the Army of political hacks, judging by the few who survived. Certainly some very smart ones lived, such as Georgi Zhukov, Boris Shaposhnikov, and even Konstantin Konstantinovich Rokossovsky (minus many of his teeth left in the dungeons of the NKVD). But there were also men like Semyon Budyenny, Kirill Meretskov, and Kliment Voroshilov, who were seen as more political henchmen by many of their peers at the time. What does seem to be clear is that those who died were not considered trustworthy or otherwise appeared to have more independence of thought than Stalin liked.

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Jeb
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This is completely my speculation ... But I wold't be surprised if the purges help Stalin to create enough power and fear to allow him to survive the initial onslaught in 1941 ... Supposedly he was expecting people to turn on him when the Germans invaded.

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Pete Belli
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Stalin had a sort of personal collapse after the German attack. He retired to his dacha outside Moscow.

When a group of officials pulled up to his door Stalin thought they were coming to arrest him. Instead, they asked him to assume complete control over the Soviet war effort.

Molotov and Beria led the group. Molotov was loyal to Stalin and Beria knew he was a dead man if Stalin fell from power. The other members fell into line with these two. Stalin's leadership position was saved.

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Dan Owsen
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No matter how good they were, it's never good to have a large scale turn-over in your management before a big operation.
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pete belli wrote:
Stalin had a sort of personal collapse after the German attack. He retired to his dacha outside Moscow.

When a group of officials pulled up to his door Stalin thought they were coming to arrest him. Instead, they asked him to assume complete control over the Soviet war effort.

Molotov and Beria led the group. Molotov was loyal to Stalin and Beria knew he was a dead man if Stalin fell from power. The other members fell into line with these two. Stalin's leadership position was saved.



Interesting!!...I didn't know this...I always thought Joe had his hands firmly on the levers especially after the Purges...
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Abe Delnore
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jeb123 wrote:
This is completely my speculation ... But I wold't be surprised if the purges help Stalin to create enough power and fear to allow him to survive the initial onslaught in 1941 ... Supposedly he was expecting people to turn on him when the Germans invaded.



Yes, I think Stalin was very worried about losing power. We are apt to regard the purges as a consequence of Stalin's madness or possibly some inexplicable feature of revolutions. I was interest to read that at least some historians of the USSR think Stalin and his circle were genuinely afraid of a popular uprising or power shift within the party in the mid-late 1930s. The reasoning is quite interesting.

First, Stalin and his circle knew their rise to power had been improbable and contingent. We look back and take it all for granted, but they had been through it all. They were conscious that they had nearly failed or been defeated many times since, say, 1905 or so, and had to regard their victory as a close thing. Here they were on top, but so had been the Tsars, or Kerensky, or (to some extent) Trotsky. There was no structural reason that they, too, could not lose out ultimately. They could also look at other revolutions and see that the leadership changed many times and with great quickness.

Second, in a sense that is very hard for us to access, Stalin and his circle believed that they were, at the moment, genuinely popular and ruled on behalf of the people. Again, they remembered that the Tsar had been popular and then was reviled by the masses. the crowd is fickle.

Third, they knew that they were failing to improve the lives of the people. Their economic plans had failed. Industry was not expanding. Agricultural policy was a complete failure. They had made great promises that they realized they had no idea how to keep.

Wouldn't the masses soon turn on them? Wouldn't the heroes of the civil war or the young party cadres seize control of this discontent? So as a reaction to all this stress, Stalin and his circle unleashed the purges.
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Pete Belli
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Atraxrobustus wrote:
pete belli wrote:
Stalin had a sort of personal collapse after the German attack. He retired to his dacha outside Moscow.

When a group of officials pulled up to his door Stalin thought they were coming to arrest him. Instead, they asked him to assume complete control over the Soviet war effort.

Molotov and Beria led the group. Molotov was loyal to Stalin and Beria knew he was a dead man if Stalin fell from power. The other members fell into line with these two. Stalin's leadership position was saved.



Interesting!!...I didn't know this...I always thought Joe had his hands firmly on the levers especially after the Purges...


Recommended reading: Stalin's Folly: The Tragic First Ten Days of WWII on the Eastern Front by Pleshakov
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Steve Arthur
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Thanks for that Pete...duly noted...
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Paul Kallio
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Mikhail Tukhachevsky, like many of the other high ranking victims of the Great Terror, was an enthusiastic henchman of the Bolshevik regime.

His military reputation was largely built on his victories against the poorly equipped and incompetently led White Armies during the Russian Civil War and he was the "favorite son" of Leon Trotsky, the People's Commissar of Army and Navy Affairs.

Tukhachevsky commanded the Red Army forces which successfully crushed the Kronstadt Sailor's Mutiny in March, 1921.

In "The Court of the Red Tsar" by Simon Sebag Montefiore, the author describes Tukhachevsky "as ruthless as any Bolshevik, using poison gas on peasant rebels".

More than 100,000 Red Army soldiers and Chekists under the command of Tukhachevsky were employed in the suppression of the Tambov Rebellion, one of many peasant revolts precipitated by the forced confiscation of grain ordered by the Bolsheviks. Tukhachevsky ordered mass shootings, the summary execution of civilians and assisted in the establishment of seven concentration camps which interned approximately 50,000 people, mostly women and children. The mortality rate in these camps averaged 15-20 percent each month.

On 11. June 1921 Tukhachevsky issued Order 171 which, among other things, stipulated that citizens who refused to give their names were to be shot on sight and the taking and shooting of hostages (with particular attention focused on the eldest sons of families).

The following day Tukhachevsky authorized the use of poison gas in a written order which read:

"The forests where the bandits are hiding are to be cleared by the use of poison gas. This must be carefully calculated, so that the layer of gas penetrates the forests and kills everyone hiding there."
(The Black Book of Communism)

When it came to fighting more conventional enemies, Tukhachevsky was not quite as successful. He commanded the Red Army North Western Front and led an invasion of Poland in 1920 during the Polish-Soviet War only to be defeated and routed by Marshal Josef Pilsudski at the approaches to Warsaw.

Interestingly, the political commissar of the adjoining South Western Front was none other than Josef Stalin. In the aftermath of the Red Army's failure to capture Warsaw, Stalin and Tukhachevsky pointed accusatory fingers at each other. Stalin had a long memory and this, (along with his association with Stalin's arch-enemy Trotsky) probably sealed Tukhachevsky's ultimate fate more than anything else.

In my humble opinion, Tukhachevsky remains more of a "what if" than anything else. His reputation as a military genius or visionary might be little more than misplaced sympathy or anti-Stalinist nostalgia.
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Steve Arthur
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What interesting and informative stuff...early Soviet military history has manifested itself as a big hole in my knowledge...please continue...with the OP'er's consent of course...
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grognardpaul wrote:
His military reputation was largely built on his victories against the poorly equipped and incompetently led White Armies during the Russian Civil War and he was the "favorite son" of Leon Trotsky, the People's Commissar of Army and Navy Affairs.


You say "Whites", but the two examples you give are Kronshtadt and Tambov, two anti-Bolshevik risings that were also hostile to the Whites. How did Tukhachevskii fare against the real Whites, i.e. Denikin, Kolchak et al.?
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Jeff K
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I wouldn't consider myself an authority on the topic (although I have read some definitive works on this interesting topic), and can't point to individuals, but I think in general the evidence suggests that indeed the purge had singled out much of the competent Red Army Staff. I agree that it is a relatively little known topic, except among WWII buffs. Ironically, a lot of WWII wargames give the impression of Russian incompetence due to values often given by Russian units, but I think a lot of this is a reflection of that purging of leadership in the field. It's just not often discussed in the design notes.

If you take as evidence the smashing success of the Red Army in the second Russo-Japan war in 1939, just prior to the breakout of world hostilities, in which they showed themselves to be quite capable of the military doctrine that the Germans would later make famous, it was clear that the Russian command was quite competent. Given this little warm-up workout, they should have been ready to rock at the outbreak of war.

Add to that the fact that Stalin is now almost synonymous with the term "megalomaniac," and it isn't hard to imagine how this occurred. Of course, he was anything but a great leader, so to inflate his image in the eyes of the people it would be necessary for him to expunge his staff of those who could make him look bad. Which seemed to be a lot of people, apparently.
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Paul Kallio
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Tukhachevsky's victories over various White Armies were in 1919-1920, and were the primary reasons he was sent to deal with the Kronstadt rising and the "pacification" of Tambov Province. I agree these were not "Whites" and did not state that they were.

To specifically answer your question:

Tukhachevsky stopped the advance of Kolchak's Siberian Army in May / June 1919 and forced them into a route to the East where they essentially ceased to exist by December.

In October Tukhachevsky defeated the White General Mamontov at Voronezh
and the following year drove Deniken out of the Crimea. Tukhachevsky pursued Deniken's Army into the Kuban ultimately forcing the remnants to be evacuated at Novorossiysk.

By any measure, the Russian Civil War was an unequal contest and the Whites only briefly represented a serious and nevar a real unified threat. The Bolsheviks had more men, arms and equipment and unified leadership. From Osprey's "Russian Civil War" (Essential Histories 69):

"The prospects for a Bolshevik victory in the civil war hung in the balance in 1918-19, but were more much more certain in 1920-21. Above all, the Reds held the centre ground, central Russia, the heartland, with all the advantages that that position conferred. Here lay the old Tsarist stocks of war, the primary arms factories, the thickest net of railways and the largest population. The Bolsheviks could readily reinforce their fronts from a central manpower base, or shift forces from one front to another according to need."

Under those circumstances, it's not that difficult to become a "military genius".
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Abe Delnore wrote:
jeb123 wrote:
This is completely my speculation ... But I wold't be surprised if the purges help Stalin to create enough power and fear to allow him to survive the initial onslaught in 1941 ... Supposedly he was expecting people to turn on him when the Germans invaded.



Yes, I think Stalin was very worried about losing power. We are apt to regard the purges as a consequence of Stalin's madness or possibly some inexplicable feature of revolutions. I was interest to read that at least some historians of the USSR think Stalin and his circle were genuinely afraid of a popular uprising or power shift within the party in the mid-late 1930s. The reasoning is quite interesting.

First, Stalin and his circle knew their rise to power had been improbable and contingent. We look back and take it all for granted, but they had been through it all. They were conscious that they had nearly failed or been defeated many times since, say, 1905 or so, and had to regard their victory as a close thing. Here they were on top, but so had been the Tsars, or Kerensky, or (to some extent) Trotsky. There was no structural reason that they, too, could not lose out ultimately. They could also look at other revolutions and see that the leadership changed many times and with great quickness.

Second, in a sense that is very hard for us to access, Stalin and his circle believed that they were, at the moment, genuinely popular and ruled on behalf of the people. Again, they remembered that the Tsar had been popular and then was reviled by the masses. the crowd is fickle.

Third, they knew that they were failing to improve the lives of the people. Their economic plans had failed. Industry was not expanding. Agricultural policy was a complete failure. They had made great promises that they realized they had no idea how to keep.

Wouldn't the masses soon turn on them? Wouldn't the heroes of the civil war or the young party cadres seize control of this discontent? So as a reaction to all this stress, Stalin and his circle unleashed the purges.


To go in a slightly different direction, I would argue the purgues helped form the soviet army into a cohesive unit that could withstand the German invasion.

In no way am I excusing the brutality.

I say the purges helped form a cohesive unit because I have been reading a book on the Eastern Front of WW1, and it seems from that book that one of the major problems of the Late Tsarist Army was its weak command structure. Front commanders could and did resist stavka orders rather regularly. It was almost as if no one was in direct control of the army.

By purging the military, and placing komissars at all levels of command, the Soviets were able to insure that their army worked as a cohesive instrument of state. Of course, to a large extent, they were TOO effective in this, leading to the situation where soldiers would follow out of date orders, or orders that made little sense militarily by the time they were received.
 
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M Evan Brooks
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The following are recommended:

Bandits and Partisans, The Antonov Movement in the Russian Civil War, Erik C. Landis (2008);

Stalin's Reluctant Soldiers, A Social History of the Red Army, 1925-1941, Roger R. Reese (1996);

The Russian Way of War: Operational Art, 1904-1940, Richard W. Harrison (2001);

The Soviet High Command (1918-1941), John Erickson (1962);

The Great Terror: A Reassessment, Robert Conquest (1990) -- Note: for all the left-wing criticism, Conquest has stood up extremely well over the years.
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Yes, but cohesive and ineffective is probably not as good as a structure where a few mavericks were very successful. History is rife with examples, notably within the German command during WWII and many famous examples in the ACW. Esp. in the ACW, progress would never have been made without innovation and the freedom to do as you please, which was one thing the komissars were NOT about to allow under any circumstances.
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M Evan Brooks
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W. Dameron wrote:


To go in a slightly different direction, I would argue the purgues helped form the soviet army into a cohesive unit that could withstand the German invasion.

...

I say the purges helped form a cohesive unit because I have been reading a book on the Eastern Front of WW1, and it seems from that book that one of the major problems of the Late Tsarist Army was its weak command structure. Front commanders could and did resist stavka orders rather regularly. It was almost as if no one was in direct control of the army.




I simply cannot believe this posting,

One does not exterminate 90% of the senior officer corps and expect a cohesive military. In effect, Stalin created a corps of toadies and mediocrities whose expertise lay in blind obedience to Stalin himself.

The fact that he had to release officers from the Gulag to reassume command as well as "retire" many of these toadies speaks for itself.

The officer corps was so decimated that the remaining officers had to assume responsibilities that they were not yet ready for, e.g. junior officers assuming regimental or higher command.

In addition, the military figures that were purged were usually committed Bolsheviks. The older Tsarist military cadre had been replaced several years earlier.
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evanbrooks wrote:

In addition, the military figures that were purged were usually committed Bolsheviks. The older Tsarist military cadre had been replaced several years earlier.


A very important point. These were not closet-Tsarists; they were fellow revolutionaries. Stalin was consolidating personal power, not continuing anything begun in the October Revolution (although personal and small-group power-grabbing was a part of that, too, from the very beginning).
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evanbrooks wrote:
W. Dameron wrote:


To go in a slightly different direction, I would argue the purgues helped form the soviet army into a cohesive unit that could withstand the German invasion.

...

I say the purges helped form a cohesive unit because I have been reading a book on the Eastern Front of WW1, and it seems from that book that one of the major problems of the Late Tsarist Army was its weak command structure. Front commanders could and did resist stavka orders rather regularly. It was almost as if no one was in direct control of the army.




I simply cannot believe this posting,

One does not exterminate 90% of the senior officer corps and expect a cohesive military. In effect, Stalin created a corps of toadies and mediocrities whose expertise lay in blind obedience to Stalin himself.

The fact that he had to release officers from the Gulag to reassume command as well as "retire" many of these toadies speaks for itself.

The officer corps was so decimated that the remaining officers had to assume responsibilities that they were not yet ready for, e.g. junior officers assuming regimental or higher command.

In addition, the military figures that were purged were usually committed Bolsheviks. The older Tsarist military cadre had been replaced several years earlier.


Well, you don't have to believe it. It exists.

The fact of the matter is that regardless who got purged, the soviet military after the purges was more compliant to the interests of the soviet state. My point is there is a benefit in that compliance that gets overlooked, but can be seen with the contrasts of the entrenched interest groups in the late tsarist army and their success, or lack thereof, on the battlefield.

On edit: Keep in mind, I am not talking about cohesiveness of the military, but compliance of the military to the will of the state. I won't argue about whether or not the military was cohesive after the purges.
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M Evan Brooks
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W. Dameron wrote:

Well, you don't have to believe it. It exists.

The fact of the matter is that regardless who got purged, the soviet military after the purges was more compliant to the interests of the soviet state. My point is there is a benefit in that compliance that gets overlooked, but can be seen with the contrasts of the entrenched interest groups in the late tsarist army and their success, or lack thereof, on the battlefield.


Well, actually it does NOT exist. The Soviet military was always compliant with the regime. Your point looks to the Tsarist army, which was completely irrelevant by the 1930s.

Furthermore, the sheer scope of the purges guaranteed a less effective military, Do you in fact have anything to base your allegations on (other than Victor Suvorov's dubious writings)?

Do you have any military background?
 
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