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1930-1937 Tukhachevsky

Mikhail Nikolaevich Tukhachevsky was born on 15 February 1893 in A1exandrovskoe, in Smolensk Province. In 1904, the family moved to the town of Vrazhenskoe and from there, in 1909, to Moscow. His early family life seems to have been similar to that of the Rostovs in War and Peace. The Tukhachevskys were members of Russia's impoverished nobility. Graduated from the Alexandrovski Military Academy in 1914, he left for the front in September of the same year. Five months later, he had been decorated six times for bravery. In February 1915, he was captured; after five attempts to escape, he was sent to a special detention camp at Ingolstadt (one of his fellow inmates there was a tall, aloof French captain named Charles DeGaulle). Tukhachevsky became an enthusiastic convert to the Bolshevik cause, entering the party on 5 April 1918.

Tukhachevsky's advancement and his responsibilities snowballed with mindboggling speed. Less than three months later, on 26 June 1918, he was commanding an army which was to play an important role in the defeat of counterrevolutionist Admiral Kolchak. In April 1920-at the age of 27-he assumed command of all the armies operating on the western front against the Poles, almost capturing Warsaw. His last combat operations were the suppression of the Kronstadt and Tambov uprisings in 1921. A succession of high-level assignments followed, including his appointment as Head of the Military Academy in 1921, as Deputy Chief of Staff of the Red Army in 1925, and as Commander of the Leningrad Military District in 1928. In 1931, he became both the Deputy Minister of Defense under Voroshilov and the Chief of Ordnance. In 1935, together with Voroshilov, Budenny, Blyukher, and Yegorov, he was promoted to the newly created rank of marshal.

Tukhachevsky came forward with a master plan for the mechanization of the Red Army in December 1927, only to have it turned down by the party leadership under Stalin. Several years later, in 1930, Tukhachevsky's views won favor when Stalin broke with Bukharin's thesis on the stabilization of capitalism and began to associate the Depression with a rising threat of war to the Soviet Union. This threat the party leadership openly used to justify the brutal processes of industrialization and forced collectivization by now linking them with an improvement in the level of national defense.

During the intervening two years Tukhachevsky had left the RKKA Staff to take over as commander of Leningrad Military District, where he conducted a number of experiments relating to mechanization. These experiments came at a time when motorization versus mechanization emerged in Western Europe as alternative solutions to the problem of integrating the internal combustion engine into the armed forces. The former implied grafting automobile transport onto existing combat arms, while the latter called for the creation of "self-propelled combat means" with an emphasis upon armor, especially tanks, armored cars, and selfpropelled artillery.

Soviet officers who followed developments in France, England, and the United States noted that all armies were exploring both paths but that, owing to strategic, operational, tactical, political, and financial circumstances, the French Army was more sympathetic toward motorization and the British toward mechanization. Tukhachevsky in his comments on the training exercises of the troops of the Leningrad Military District emphasized the need to increase their mobility as a combined-arms force that could engage in a multiecheloned offensive. His interest in the development of tank, aviation, and airborne forces during this period marked him as an advocate of mechanization.

At the XVI Party Congress and IX Congress of the Komsomol in 1930-1931, K. E. Voroshilov, the Commissar of War and Stalin's closest collaborator, spoke out regarding the mechanization of warfare as bringing about a qualitative change in the nature of future wars. But in Voroshilov's case, mechanization would in the future bring about the possibility of a short, bloodless war, carried quickly on to the territory of the attacking enemy. Such views emerged at a time when it appeared that world capitalism had gone back into a profound political-economic crisis which was creating greater instability and increased risks of war. This in turn was creating the basis for the formation of a broad anti-Soviet alliance, which threatened war on every frontier. At home the strains of the first Five-Year Plan were also underscoring the possibilities of an alliance between the external threat and the so-called internal enemy - the forces of counterrevolution.

In 1930 Tukhachevsky came forward with his own powerful arguments for a mass, mechanized army as the means to execute the new operational art. Tukhachevsky, armed with the appropriate citations from Stalin and Voroshilov, attacked Professors Svechin and Verkhovsky because their writings were infested with bourgeois ideology. In Svechin's case the fault was that he did not believe in the possibility of decisive operations but defended the idea of limited war. Verkhovsky was charged with favoring a professional army at the expense of a mass army.

In 1931 Tukhachevsky became deputy commissar of Military and Naval Affairs, a member of the Revvoensovet, and Director of Armaments for the RKKA. Over the next six years he directed the mechanization of the Red Army, laying the foundations for the creation of mass, mechanized forces designed to conduct successive deep operations in a war of annihilation. The Stalinist industrialization did make the USSR into a major industrial power with the capacity to mechanize its armed forces. During that same period the nature of the military threat confronting the USSR became more complex and serious. To his credit Tukhachevsky never fell into the trap of assuming that mechanization would negate mass war. He was an informed critic of "Blitzkrieg theory," and his criticism of the works of Fuller, Liddell Hart, and others deserves serious attention.

The Soviet Army's 1932 Combat Regulations for Mechanized Forces, which also reflected the influence of Tukhachevsky's former Deputy Chief of Staff, Vladimir K. Triandafillov, served as a starting point for both tank design and employment. Under this policy, each of three distinct tank missions was assigned its own purpose-built tank, and the likelihood of overlap between one category and the next was generally minimized.

  1. Light tanks grouped into N[iepos-redstviennoy] P[odierzhki] P[iechotiy], or short range infantry support formations, were to supply direct support toconventional infantry formations operat-ing against the enemy's front lines.
  2. heavy tanks of the D[alshiy] P[odierzhki] P[iechotiy], or long range infantry support formations, would provide infantry support against successive defensive belts between 1.5 and 2.5 kilometers from the line of departure.
  3. fast tanks B[ystro-chodny] T[anki]long, in range operation groups D[alnogo] D[ieystviya], would conduct independent mechanized operations against enemy headquarters, reserve, and artillery elements.

By spring 1935 Tukhachevsky fully appreciated the fact that German rearmament and Hitler's calls for Lebensraum in the East would soon pose a serious military threat to the Soviet Union, a view he shared with Stalin and which was published in Pravda in March.

The Vremenny polevo ustav RKKA 1936 [Provisional Field Service Regulations of 1936, P[olevoy] U[stav]-36], with its emphasis upon the "decisive offensive on the main axis, completed by relentless pursuit" as the only means to bring about the total destruction of the enemy's men and equipment, underscored Tukhachevsky's twin themes of combined arms and mechanized forces. Tanks were to be used en mass, and mechanized formations, composed of tanks, motorized infantry, and self-propelled guns, were expected to strike deep into the enemy's rear, using their mobility to outflank and encircle the enemy force. Aviation formations, apart from independent air operations, were expected to act in close operational-tactical cooperation with combined-arms formations. At the same time, airborne units were to be used to disorganize enemy command and control and rear services.

The new content of mechanized combined-arms operations set the 1936 regulations apart from those of 1929. The employment of mechanized forces, constructed around "long-range tanks, mounted infantry, artillery, aviation and airborne forces," made it possible to win the "battle for the flanks" through the application of maneuver. Rapid mobility was the only means to exploit the temporary appearance of an open flank in the enemy's battle order. "Therefore the struggle for the flanks demands rapid actions, surprise, lightning blows."

Ideologically, the army of the Soviet Union was to be one with the working class. not a group set apart. As early as 1920, Trotsky, then the Minister of War, was suggesting that the army as such be done away with and that a militia type of defense be introduced in its place. Yet it was painfully obvious to Tukhachevsky that it would be criminally negligent to bury the capabilities of the mechanized units under the plodding bulk of old-style foot soldiers and to entrust the defense of the socialist motherland to the naive battle skills of a horde of muzhiks with scythes and workers with sledgehammers. The problem was resolved, at least provisionally. by the creation of two Red Armies: a regular component, which provided the mass and the live contact with Soviet society, and the shock army, which was manned by thorough professionals.

Tukhachevsky, along with much of the Soviet military elite, died at the hands of Stalin's terror, labeled a traitor and enemy of the people. Before Tukhachevsky's downfall, the mutual affinity of Soviet theorists and their "bourgeois" German contemporaries was strong. That affinity had been fostered during the 1920s by joint military exercises conducted under a secret provision of the Rapallo Pact.

On 11 May 1937, Tukhachevsky was demoted and made commander of the Volga Military District, an upper-level garbage detail inflicted on generals who were in Stalin's disfavor. Fifteen days later, he was arrested by the NKVD, the secret police. The Tukhachevsky affair created a sensation on the Continent in 1937 and was a web of plots and counterplots involving the secret services of at least four countries: Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia, and France. Stalin and his prosecutor, Vyshinsky, staged their own preparations by arranging for Tukhachevsky's name to be dropped innocently but repeatedly during the course of the first of their great show trials, in which the principal defendants were K.B. Radek, O.L. Pyatakov, N.I. Muralov, L.P. Serebryakov, and O.Ya. Sokol'nikov.

Tukhachevsky was shot at dawn on the 11th or 12th of June for treason. Tukhachevsky's wife and his brothers were subsequently killed ['physically annihilated' is the literal translation of the Russian] on Stalin's orders. The three sisters were sent off to labor camps and his daughter, who was under age, was also arrested when she attained her majority. His mother and a sister died in exile.

The multiple waves of military purges, which began in 1937 and lasted into the opening months of World War II, liquidated most Red Army theoreticians and senior commanders.

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Page last modified: 24-01-2017 19:31:58 ZULU