Tuesday, November 2, 2021


The military purge developed a momentum that took it far beyond the handful of commanders seized in May [1937].

Stalin was in a hurry to complete the process. On June 9 the indictment was complete. Eight marshals and generals were chosen to sit on the tribunal to try the eight military defendants, all of whom they knew well. The night before the trial, set for June 11, the interrogators extracted a flurry of further confessions which incriminated the very men who would sit in judgment on the morrow. Five of the soldiers sitting on the tribunal bench were executed over the following months. (Marshal Budyenny, who was to be among them, was saved from death when he resisted arrest by force and telephoned Stalin directly.) The trial lasted a day. Tukhachevsky and his codefendants, once free of their torturers, refused to ratify their confessions until they were bullied by the prosecutor to confess again that some of it was true. Just after midnight sentence was pronounced. All eight were shot that day. Tukhachevsky and Jonah Yakir, commander of the Kiev Military District, died expressing their continued loyalty to Stalin, the man who only a few hours before had given his personal approval for their death.

After the death of its chief victims, the purge rolled on over the rest of the senior officer corps. Marshal Yegerov was liquidated in March 1938, after his wife was forced to confess her part as a Polish spy; Marshal Blyukher, the son of a peasant, and the most famous of the civil war generals, who was a judge in the Tukhachevsky case, was arrested in October 1938. Alone of the top military commanders he refused to confess anything. He was beaten to a pulp, and one eye was torn out. On November 9, the anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution, he was killed in an office of the Lubyanka as he attacked his torturers. During the purge, 45 per cent of the senior officers and political officials of the army and navy were executed or sacked, including 720 out of the 837 commanders, from colonel to marshal, appointed under the new table of ranks established in 1935. Out of eighty-five senior officers on the Military Council, seventy-one were dead by 1941; only nine avoided the purges entirely, including no fewer than seven who served in the 1st Cavalry Army, which Stalin helped to direct in the civil war. Surprisingly untouched was the former Tsarist General Staff officer, the only one to survive into the 1930s, Boris Shaposhnikov. He was one of the three judges in the Tukhachevsky trial not murdered. Stalin was said to show a genuine respect, even awe, in his presence. His Tsarist roots were not enough to condemn him and he lived on, in poor health, until the end of the Second World War.

The lower ranks of the officer corps suffered less severely. The extent of the manpower losses was lower than most outside observers supposed at the time, though the effect on a military organization in which morale was not high should not be underestimated. The true figures are now available from Russian sources. From 1936 to 1938 a total of 41,218 were purged, but most were dismissed rather than arrested or executed. Of the 34,000 officers sacked in 1937 and 1938 the NKVD arrested 9,500. By May 1940 11,596 officers had been reinstated. As a proportion of the total number of officers these figures are relatively small. Of the 179,000 officers employed in 1938 only 3.7 per cent were still formally discharged by 1940. The net loss in 1937 and 1938, after taking into account new recruits into the officer corps, was approximately 10,000.

Richard Overy, Russia's War: A History of the Soviet Effort: 1941-1945 (28-30).
Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

No comments:

Post a Comment