Mikhail Nikolayevich Tukhachevsky (Михаи́л Никола́евич Тухаче́вский; Michał Tuchaczewski) (February 16, 1893 – June 12, 1937) was a Soviet military commander, chief of the Red Army (1925–1928), and one of the most prominent victims of Stalin's Great Purge of the late 1930s.
Tukhachevsky was born on his family estate Alexandrovskoye
(currently in Safonovsky District
, Smolensk Oblast
) into an aristocratic family related to Tolstoy
family in its origin. Since Smolensk once was under Polish power some authors by mistake claim Polish origin of Tukhachevsky. He graduated from the Aleksandrovskoye Military School
in 1914, joining the Semyenovsky Guards Regiment
. A second lieutenant during World War I
, Tukhachevsky was decorated for personal courage in the battles. After he was taken prisoner by the Germans in February 1915, he escaped four times from the camps, was captured again, and finally as an incorrigible escapee held in Ingolstadt
fortress, where he met another incorrigible - the then captain Charles de Gaulle
His fifth escape was successful, and he returned to Russia in October 1917. After the Russian Revolution he joined the Bolshevik Party.
During the Civil War
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
The suppression of anti-Bolshevik uprisings
Both the Kronstadt rebellion
and the Tambov peasant revolt
were suppressed by forces under Tukhachevsky's command. Under a direct order from Tukhachevsky state-of-the-art chemical weapons
were employed against the rebellious civilian population.
During the Polish-Soviet War
Tukhachevsky led the Bolshevik armies during the Polish-Soviet War
in 1920, and was defeated by Józef Piłsudski
. It was during the Polish war that Tukhachevsky first came into conflict with Stalin, when the latter disobeyed orders by attacking Lvov
instead of Warsaw
. Each blamed the other for the Soviet failure to capture Warsaw
, which brought Soviet defeat in the war. His orders were frequently disobeyed, even by high-ranking officers, which led the Bolshevik armies to several major failures throughout the campaign (see also 1st Cavalry Army
). 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.
The reform of the Red Army
Tukhachevsky served as chief of staff of the Red Army (1925–1928) and as Deputy Commissar for Defence. He attempted to transform the irregular
revolutionary detachments of the Red Army into a well-drilled, professional military. In particular, Tukhachevsky strongly advocated for an industrialized modernization of the Red Army, replacing the traditional reliance on cavalry with a tank-based military. At this early point his ideas were rejected by Stalin as well as rival conservative forces in the Soviet military establishment, and he was removed from the Red Army staff and censured by Stalin for encouraging "Red militarism." Following this, he wrote several books on modern warfare and in 1931, after Stalin had accepted the need for an industrialized military, Tukhachevsky was given a leading role in reforming the army. He held advanced ideas on military strategy, particularly on the use of tanks and aircraft in combined operations.
The theory of deep operations
His theory of deep operations
, where combined arms formations strike deep behind enemy lines to destroy the enemy's rear and logistics, were opposed by some in the military establishment, but were largely adopted by the Red Army in the mid-1930s. They were expressed as a concept in the Red Army's Field Regulations of 1929
, and more fully developed in 1935's Instructions on Deep Battle
. The concept was finally codified into the army in 1936 in the Provisional Field Regulations of 1936
. An early example of the potential effectiveness of deep operations
can be found in the Soviet victory over Japan at the Battle of Khalkhin Gol
), where a Soviet Corps under the command of Georgy Zhukov
defeated a substantial Japanese force in August-September, 1939.
Due to the widespread purges of the Red Army officer corps in 1937-1939 deep operations briefly fell from favorSebag, Simon Stalin: the court of the red tsar. , only later being gradually re-adopted following the embarrassment of the Red Army during the Winter War of 1939-40 when the Soviet Union invaded Finland. They were used to great success during the Great Patriotic War, in such victories as the Battle of Stalingrad and Operation Bagration.
In 1935 Tukhachevsky was made a Marshal of the Soviet Union
, aged only 42. In January 1936 Tukhachevsky visited Britain
. It was subsequently alleged that during these visits he contacted anti-Stalin Russian exiles and began plotting against Stalin.
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 Beneš 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 Władysław Gomułka but, in as much as it has not been confirmed by new evidence since the fall of the Soviet Union, the matter remains unresolved.
Tukhachevsky was arrested on May 22, 1937, and charged with organization of "military-Trotskyist conspiracy" and espionage for Nazi Germany. In the book The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression, it is said that Tukhachevsky's confession, written by him, is stained in blood. We can assume that he and many of other executed officials were tortured.
After a secret trial, known as Case of Trotskyist Anti-Soviet Military Organization, Tukhachevsky and eight other higher military commanders were convicted, and executed on June 12, 1937.
He was killed by NKVD captain Vassilly Blochin. When Tukhachevsky was in his cell, Blochin shouted "Comrade Tukhachevsky is wanted at the plenary session of the political bureau!", and then shot Tukhachevsky in the cervical vertebrae (execution-style), causing immediate death.
On January 31, 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 like the British Marxist historian Isaac Deutscher have suggested that there really was a military conspiracy against Stalin in which Tukhachevsky was involved. In turn, historians such as Walter Laqueur and Franz Borkenau have accused Deutscher of sympathy towards Stalin, and of seeking to justify the “liquation” of the Soviet high command in 1937.