Military Purges


The Moscow press announced that they [the primary Generals on trial] had been in the pay of Hitler and had agreed to help him get the Ukraine. This charge was fairly widely believed in foreign military circles, and was later substantiated by revelations made abroad. Czech military circles seemed to be especially well informed. Czech officials in Prague bragged to me later that their military men had been the first to discover and to complain to Moscow that Czech military secrets, known to the Russians through the mutual aid alliance, were being revealed by Tukhachevsky to the German high command.
Strong, Anna L. The Soviets Expected It. New York, New York: The Dial press, 1941, p. 134

CHUEV: Now some think you appointed such untrained people as Pavlov, but if it had been Tukhachevsky….
MOLOTOV: Take someone like Tukhachevsky. If trouble started, which side would he have been on? He was a rather dangerous man. I doubted he would have been fully on our side when things got tough, because he was a right-winger. The right wing danger was the main danger at the time.
Chuev, Feliks. Molotov Remembers. Chicago: I. R. Dee, 1993, p. 26

The right wing already had a channel to Hitler even before this. Trotsky was definitely connected to him, that’s beyond any doubt…. Many of the ranking military officers were also involved. That goes without saying.
Chuev, Feliks. Molotov Remembers. Chicago: I. R. Dee, 1993, p. 275

Nevertheless, he [Tukhachevsky] organized an anti-Soviet group in the army.
Chuev, Feliks. Molotov Remembers. Chicago: I. R. Dee, 1993, p. 279

CHUEV: He [Tukhachevsky] was accused of being a German agent.
MOLOTOV: He hurried with plans for a coup. Both Krestinsky and Rosengoltz testified to that. It makes sense. He feared he was at the point of being arrested, and he could no longer put things off. And there was no one else he could rely on except the Germans. This sequence of events is plausible.
I consider Tukhachevsky a most dangerous conspirator in the military who was caught only at the last minute. Had he not been apprehended, the consequences could have been catastrophic. He was most popular in the army.
Did everyone who was charged or executed take part in the conspiracy hatched by Tukhachevsky? Some were certainly involved….
But as to whether Tukhachevsky and his group in the military were connected with Trotskyists and rightists and were preparing a coup, there is no doubt.
Chuev, Feliks. Molotov Remembers. Chicago: I. R. Dee, 1993, p. 280

MOLOTOV: Take Tukhachevsky, for example. On what grounds was he rehabilitated? Did you read the records of the trial of the right-wing and Trotskyist bloc in 1938? Bukharin, Krestinsky, Rosengoltz, and others were on trial then. They stated flat out that in June 1937 Tukhachevsky pressed for a coup. People who have not read the record go on to say that the testimony was given under duress from the Chekists.
But I say, had we not made those sweeping arrests in the 1930s, we would have suffered even greater losses in the war.
Chuev, Feliks. Molotov Remembers. Chicago: I. R. Dee, 1993, p. 285

CHUEV: At the 22nd Congress Khrushchev alleged that Molotov, Voroshilov, and Kaganovich recognized the court’s ruling on Tukhachevsky and others to be incorrect and welcomed the rehabilitation of Tukhachevsky and others….
MOLOTOV: Emphatically no.
Chuev, Feliks. Molotov Remembers. Chicago: I. R. Dee, 1993, p. 286

Bolstering Khrushchev’s version of this affair, that Stalin swallowed German disinformation designed to destroy Tukhachevsky, is a legend that Stalin was warned of a conspiracy with the Germans. In 1939 the Soviet defector Krivitsky, who had worked for the NKVD and GRU in Western Europe, published his book In Stalin’s Secret Service, in which he claimed that the NKVD received secret information about such a conspiracy from Czech President Benes and from its agent Skoblin,…. Krivitsky accused Skoblin of providing the Soviets with disinformation from the Germans about secret contacts with Tukhachevsky. Later General Schellenberg, chief of Hitler’s foreign intelligence service, in his memoirs also claimed that the Germans fabricated documents pointing to Tukhachevsky as their agent. Before the war, he said, they passed these documents to the Czechs, and Benes reported the information to Stalin.
For me, this is a self-serving fairytale. The documents have never been found in the KGB or Stalin archives. The criminal case against Tukhachevsky is based entirely on his confession, and there’s no reference to any incriminating evidence received from German intelligence. If such documents existed, I, as deputy director and the man responsible for the German desk in the intelligence directorate, would have seen them or found some reference to their existence.
Sudoplatov, Pavel. Special Tasks. Boston: Little, Brown, c1993, p. 90

The case of the generals was different from that of the accused civilians. Not only was it held in camera, but the “Court” of a presiding judge and two assistants was reinforced by eight of the highest officers in the Red Army. In addition, more than 100 high-ranking officers from all over the country were summoned as spectators, in order later to give an eye-witness account of proceedings to the troops under their command. It is a matter of record that none of them ever expressed doubts about the genuineness of the charge or the justice of the verdict. In this case at least, there was no possibility that the accused had been “worked on” during a long period of preliminary examination, as they were tried within three days after their rest, confessed their guilt, were condemned by unanimous verdict, and shot without delay.
…The charges against them, and the exact nature of their offense, had never been made public officially, but they can be surmised with a reasonable degree of accuracy. The night before Tukhachevsky and the others were arrested, Marshall Gamarnik, Vice Commissar of War and chief of the Political Department of the Red Army, committed suicide, which gives the key to the puzzle. The Political Department had been originally intended by Lenin as a means of civil control over the Army, but in the course of time it had gradually become a part or appanage of the General Staff, owing allegiance to the Army rather than to the Kremlin. The danger of war, and perhaps doubts provoked by the murder of Kirov and subsequent investigation, led Stalin to decide that a radical change should be made in the status of the Political Department, that it must henceforth revert to its original function as an instrument of civilian control. The Army leaders resented this “interference,” and finally decided to prevent it by violent action…. Accordingly, Tukhachevsky, Gamarnik, and their colleagues appealed to the German General Staff for support in their projected coup d’etat or “palace revolution” against Stalin. They hoped to affect the coup through the Kremlin Guard and the students of the military academy in the Kremlin, who, they believed, would obey their orders; but they had the gravest doubts about the mass of the Army and the nation as a whole, which prompted them to seek German aid in return, it is said, for an offer of territory and for economic and political advantages in the Ukraine and North Caucasus.
Duranty, Walter. Story of Soviet Russia. Philadelphia, N. Y.: JB Lippincott Co. 1944, p. 220

I gave him [Spiegelglass] the contents of a brief confidential dispatch from one of my chief agents in Germany. At a formal reception tendered by high Nazi officials, at which my informant was present, the question of the Tukhachevsky affair came up. Captain Fritz Wiedemann, personal political aide to Hitler –appointed subsequently to the post of Consul-General at San Francisco –was asked if there was any truth in Staliin’s charges of espionage against the Red Army generals. My agent’s report reproduced Wiedemann’s boastful reply:
“We hadn’t nine spies in the Red Army, but many more. The 0GPU is still far from on the trail of all our men in Russia.”
Krivitsky, Walter G. I was Stalin’s Agent, London: H. Hamilton, 1939, p. 242

But how could generals of the Red Army have envisaged collaborating with Hitler? If they were not good Communists, surely these military men were at least nationalists?
This question will first be answered with another question. Why should this hypothesis be any different for the Soviet Union than France? Was not Marshal Petain, the Victor at Verdun, a symbol of French chauvinist patriotism? Were not General Weygand and Admiral Darlan strong defenders of French colonialism? Despite all this, these three became key players in the collaboration with the Nazis. Would not the overthrow of capitalism in the Soviet Union and the bitter class struggle against the bourgeoisie be, for all the forces nostalgic for free enterprise, be additional motives for collaborating with German `dynamic capitalism’?
And did not the World War itself show that the tendency represented by Petain in France also existed among certain Soviet officers?
General Vlasov played an important role during the defence of Moscow at the end of 1941. Arrested in 1942 by the Germans, he changed sides. But it was only on September 16, 1944, after an interview with Himmler, that he received the official authorization to create his own Russian Liberation Army, whose first division was created as early as 1943. Other imprisoned officers offered their services to the Nazis; a few names follow.
Major-General Trukhin, head of the operational section of the Baltic Region Chief of Staffs, professor at the General Chiefs of Staff Academy. Major-General Malyshkin, head of the Chiefs of Staff of the 19th Army. Major-General Zakutny, professor at the General Chiefs of Staff Academy. Major-Generals Blagoveshchensky, brigade commander; Shapovalov, artillery corps commander; and Meandrov. Brigade commander Zhilenkov, member of the Military Council of the 32nd Army. Colonels Maltsev, Zverev, Nerianin and Buniachenko, commander of the 389th Armed Division.
What was the political profile of these men? The former British secret service officer and historian Cookridge writes:
“Vlasov’s entourage was a strange motley. The most intelligent of his officers was Colonel Mileti Zykov (a Jew)…. He had a been a supporter of the “rightist deviationists’‘ of Bukharin and in 1936 had been banished by Stalin to Siberia, where he spent four years. Another survivor of Stalin’s purges was General Vasili Feodorovich Malyshkin, former chief of staff of the Far East Army; he had been imprisoned during the Tukhachevsky affair. A third officer, Major-General Georgi Nicolaievich Zhilenkov, had been a political army commissar. They and many of the officers whom Gehlen recruited had been “rehabilitated’‘ at the beginning of the war in 1941.’…”
E. H. Cookridge, Gehlen: Spy of the Century (New York: Random House, 1972), pp. 57–58.

So here we learn that several superior officers, convicted and sent to Siberia in 1937, then rehabilitated during the war, joined Hitler’s side! Clearly the measures taken during the Great Purge were perfectly justified.
To justify joining the Nazis, Vlasov wrote an open letter: “Why I embarked on the road of struggle against Bolshevism.”
What is inside that letter is very instructive.
First, his criticism of the Soviet regime is identical to the ones made by Trotsky and the Western right-wing.
Martens, Ludo. Another View of Stalin. Antwerp, Belgium: EPO, Lange Pastoorstraat 25-27 2600, p. 169 [p. 155 on the NET]

Towards Tukhachevsky he was said to have harbored resentment and jealousy because of disagreements during the Civil War. He had, however, recognized his ability and instead of sending him to some distant command, he had appointed him to high office in 1935 making him a Marshal of the Soviet Union. But then, suddenly, he became convinced that Tukhachevsky was a traitor.
On May 1, 1937, Tukhachevsky stood at Stalin’s side on the Lenin Mausoleum, reviewing the parade on Red Square. He was nearing the peak of his career, for in the event of war with Germany–and he was convinced that it was eminent–he would probably be made deputy to the Commander-in-Chief. He had been appointed to represent the Soviet government in London at the coronation of King George VI. A few days before he was to depart, however, his appointment was canceled He was relieved of office as Deputy Commissar of War on May 20 and sent to command the Volga military district. He arrived there on May 25 and was arrested the next day.
Pravda announced on June 11, 1937, that he and seven others with the rank of general were to be tried in secret. The military court, which took only one day to hear the evidence and find them guilty, included four Marshals of the Soviet Union…. Their crime, according to the press, was that they had spied on behalf of Germany and Japan and had conspired to surrender Soviet territory in the Ukraine and the Far East in return for military support to overthrow Stalin and his regime.
Grey, Ian. Stalin, Man of History. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1979, p. 280

There are many rumors and speculations about the Tukhachevsky Affair. In the absence of primary sources, speculations of memoirists and politicians have variously accused Hitler and Stalin of framing Tukhachevsky. Others have suggested that the generals were actually plotting a coup against Stalin, who beat them to the punch. With no credible sources and so many contradictory rumors, the entire affair must remain mysterious.
Getty, A. Origins of the Great Purges. Cambridge, N. Y.: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1985, p. 167

[Stalin said in a June 1937 speech], Gamarnik. Although he did not spy, he was the organizer of the spying program, overseeing Uborevitch, Yakir, Tukhachevsky who were involved in gathering systematic information for the German High Command.
Lucas and Ukas. Trans. and Ed. Secret Documents. Toronto, Canada: Northstar Compass, 1996, p. 109

STALIN [In a June 1937 speech]: Further, Tukhachevsky. You read his statement?
VOICE FROM AUDIENCE: Yes, we read it.
STALIN: He gave away our operative plan–our sacred plans for defense of our Motherland; he gave it to the German High Command. He always met with the representative of the German Reich Intelligence Agency. A spy? Yes, a spy! The Western countries, so-called “civilized countries,” call these people “informers,” but we in Russia know that this is an outright spy. Yakir –systematically informed the German High Command. He pretended that he had this sickness “kidney ailment.” He traveled to Germany to get treatment.
Uborevitch… singly informed Germans about our defense potential.
Karakhan–German spy.
Eideman–German spy.
Karakhan–informed the German High Command, starting from that time when he was our Military Attache in Berlin, Germany.
Rudzutak–I already spoke about this that he admitted that he was a spy, but we have all the information about his activities. We know to whom he gave the secrets. There is one Secret Agent in Germany, in Berlin. If sometimes you will have the opportunity to be in Berlin, Dzhosefina Genzi is the lady that will charm you. Maybe some of you here know this charmer. She is a first class intelligence agent with much experience. She ensnared Enukidze. She helped to ensnare Tukhachevsky. She holds in her hands Rudzutak. She is a very clever agent… Dzhosefina Genzi. She is supposed to be a Dutch national working in Germany. Beautiful, and she’s willing to go to all lengths on all proposals made by men, and then she buries you. You might have read an article in “Pravda” about some covert operations which included this lady. Well, she is one of the most efficient, masterfully getting you into her clutches, the best that German intelligence has. Here, you have people! Nine spies and three organizers who were involved in supplying the German High Command with the plans that were made for saving our Motherland. These are the people!
Lucas and Ukas. Trans. and Ed. Secret Documents. Toronto, Canada: Northstar Compass, 1996, p. 110-112

[In a June 1937 speech Stalin said], They [the Soviet traitorous generals] did not depend on their own strength, they depended on the might of Germany. The Germans told them that they will help them. But the Germans in the end did not help them. The Germans thought: you fellows cook the porridge, we’ll just look. The Germans wanted these traitors to show them concrete results;…
Lucas and Ukas. Trans. and Ed. Secret Documents. Toronto, Canada: Northstar Compass, 1996, p. 133

Stalin maintained that ten of the 13 leaders of the conspiracy he had named, that is all of them except Rykov, Bukharin, and Gamarnik, were spies for German intelligence, and some for Japanese intelligence. Talking of Tukhachevsky and other commanders under arrest, Stalin charged: “He handed our operations plan–the operations plan, that holy of holies–to the German’s Reichswehr. A spy? Yes, a spy…. Yakir provided systematic information to the German staff…. Uborevitch personally, as well as with his friends, his cronies, supplied information. Karakhan is a German spy, Eideman is a German spy. Kork had been informing the German staff since he was military attache in Germany.”
In Stalin’s words, Rudzutak, Karakhan, and Enukidze had been recruited by Josephine Hensie (Jensen), a German spy of Danish origin who was on the payroll of the German Reichswehr. She had “helped to recruit Tukhachevsky.”
… He [Stalin] accused them of spying and told the Military Council: “This is a military-political conspiracy. It was created by the hands of the German Reichswehr’s hands. The Reichswehr wanted a conspiracy to exist here, and these gentlemen built up a conspiracy. The Reichswehr wanted these gentlemen to systematically supply them with military secrets and these gentlemen did supply them with military secrets. The Reichswehr wanted the present government to be ousted and slaughtered, and they attempted to do so but failed. The Reichswehr wanted everything to be ready, in the event of war, for the army to engage in sabotage and be unprepared for defense; the Reichswehr wanted that and they prepared for it. These are agents, the guiding nucleus of the military-political conspiracy in the USSR, consisting of 10 patent spies and three patent instigators of the spies. They are agents of the German Reichswehr. This is the main thing. The conspiracy, therefore, is rooted not so much in domestic soil as in external conditions. It is not so much a policy in our country’s domestic line as a policy of the German Reichswehr. They wanted to make another Spain out of the USSR, so they found and recruited spies who operated in this matter. Such is the situation!”
Stalin said that 300 to 400 military men had already been arrested and charged with military conspiracy, that “we overlooked it and exposed too few of the military ourselves.” He said Soviet military intelligence was doing a poor job, it was contaminated with spies, and inside the Cheka intelligence a group had worked for Germany, Japan, and Poland. Having voiced dissatisfaction that no exposure signals were coming from local authorities, and having demanded that there be such signals, Stalin said: “Even if this were 5% true, it would be business enough.”
… Primakov and Putna, who had indeed supported Trotsky’s views prior to 1927, were included in this group.
Political Archives of the Soviet Union (Vol. 1, No. 2) Commack, New York: Nova Science Publishers, 1990, p. 227

The indictment claimed that in April and May 1937 the NKVD had uncovered and eliminated a military Trotskyite conspiracy in Moscow, which have been led by Gamarnik, Tukhachevsky, and others. The military Trotskyite organization, to which all the accused had belonged, had been formed in 1932-1933 on direct instructions from the German general staff and Trotsky. It had been in contact with the Trotskyite center, and the rightist group of Bukharin and Rykov. It had engaged in sabotage, subversion, and terrorism, and had planned to overthrow the government and seize power with a view to restoring capitalism in the USSR.
Political Archives of the Soviet Union (Vol. 1, No. 2) Commack, New York: Nova Science Publishers, 1990, p. 228

The scope of the repressive measures in the Red Army can be judged from Voroshilov’s speech to his Military Council on Nov. 29, 1938: “When a group of contemptible traitors to our country and the Red Army led by Tukhachevsky was uncovered and wiped out by a revolutionary court last year, none of us could have imagined, and unfortunately did not imagine, that this filth, this rot, this treachery had penetrated our army so widely and so deeply; in 1937 and 1938 we had to ruthlessly purge our ranks, mercilessly severing the contaminated parts of the body from the living and healthy flesh, ridding ourselves of that filthy, treacherous rot….
Political Archives of the Soviet Union (Vol. 1, No. 2) Commack, New York: Nova Science Publishers, 1990, p. 230
Altogether the Military Collegium of the USSR Supreme Court tried 408 high-ranking officials and commanders of the Army and Navy, of whom 386 were party members; 401 were sentenced to death and 7 to various terms in labor camps.
Political Archives of the Soviet Union (Vol. 1, No. 2) Commack, New York: Nova Science Publishers, 1990, p. 231

I was to meet Tukhachevsky for the last time on the day after the funeral of King George V. At a dinner at the Soviet Embassy, the Russian general had been very conversational with Politis, Titulescu, Herriot, Boncour, Potemkin, and Madame Potemkin. On that occasion his eyes had been alive, and his melancholy had disappeared in constructive talk. For he had just returned from a trip to Germany, and was heaping glowing praise upon the Nazis. Seated at my right, he said over and over again, as he discussed an air pact between the great powers and Hitler’s country: “They are already invincible, Madame Tabouis!”
Why did he speak so trustfully? Was it because his head had been turned by the hearty reception he had found among German diplomats, who found it easy to talk to this man of the old Russian school? At any rate, I was not the only one that evening who was alarmed at his display of enthusiasm. One of the guests–an important diplomat– grumbled into my ear as we walked away from the Embassy: “Well, I hope all the Russians don’t feel that way!”
And two years later, when the Soviets were to accuse and convict Tukhachevsky of complicity in a military plot hatched by Germany, my thoughts often reverted to his attitude during that dinner.
Tabouis, Genevive. They Called Me Cassandra. New York: C. Scribner’s sons, 1942, p. 257

As time passed, however, there came a change in the relation of the Political Department, as it was now termed, to the Red Army, and in 1937 the matter of military versus civilian control grew into a sharp and perilous issue. By then, after 17 years of peace, the Political Department was little more than an appanage of the General Staff. The commissars still looked after the education and morale welfare of the troops, and still held classes for Communist instruction, but they no longer regarded themselves as civilians, and the head of their Department, Gamarnik, was a marshal, a soldier every inch of him.
This change had occurred gradually, but sometime in 1935-1936 its importance and implications were brought to Stalin’s attention, I was told, by Voroshilov himself. He is said to have asked for a special meeting of the Politburo to discuss conditions which he described as alarming and in direct contradiction to Lenin’s view that the Political Department should be the channel and instrument of civilian control over the army. Without much noise or fanfare steps were taken to divert the political Department back from the General Staff to the Kremlin. In the lower echelons this was not so difficult, but it met stiff and obstinate resistance at the top. Military commands invariably and traditionally dislike a division of powers or “interference” by civilians in the workings of an army….
A powerful group of Red Army leaders, headed by the brilliant Marshal Tukhachevsky, resented Stalin’s “interference” and after several months of increasingly acrimonious controversy, decided to prevent it by violent and conspirative action. During the 10 years between the Treaty of Rapallo (1922) and rise of Hitler, relations between the Russian and German armies had been intimate and friendly. On one occasion in the late twenties the Chief of the German Reichswehr, General von Hammerstein, is said to have conducted Red Army maneuvers in the region of Kiev. Accordingly, Marshals Tukhachevsky and Gamarnik and the militarist clique in the army appealed to the German General staff for support in a coup d’etat, or “Palace revolution” against Stalin. They hoped to effect the coup through the Kremlin Guard and the students of the Military Academy in the Kremlin, whose commanders belonged to their clique. But they had grave doubts about the mass of the army and the nation as a whole, which prompted them to seek German aid, in return, it was said, for an offer of territory and for economic and political advantages in the Ukraine and North Caucasus.
The Kremlin acted with speed and vigor. Tukhachevsky and seven other generals were arrested early in June, 1937, and put on trial within three days, in sharp contrast to proceedings in other treason trials where the accused were held for preliminary examination during a period of weeks or months. The night before the arrests Marshal Gamarnik committed suicide. Like other treason trials, this was a court-martial, judged by the Supreme Military Tribunal of the USSR, but there were two important differences. First, this case was tried in camera whereas the others were public. Second, the court of three judges was reinforced by eight high-ranking officers of the Red Army. More than 100 prominent soldiers were summoned from various parts of the country to attend the trial. All the accused confessed their guilt and were condemned to death. Their sentences were carried out within 48 hours….
I was told by Troyanovsky, former Ambassador to the United States, who had many friends among the spectators, that none of them had any doubts about the guilt of the accused. From other sources I received an explanation of the whole affair which I believe to be reasonably authentic, although I have not been able to confirm it in detail. It appears that the GPU first got wind of treasonable conversations between the German General Staff and Tukhachevsky, who had just visited Prague and Berlin, from information supplied by the Czech Secret Service. In Prague, Tukhachevsky had a meeting with Foreign Minister Benes, the Czech Commander in Chief, General Sirovy, and one other Czech leader, to discuss measures for the defense of the country in case Hitler should attack it. Although no secretaries were present at the meeting and no minutes were kept, the Czech Secret Service in Berlin, where Tukhachevsky stayed for two days after leaving Prague, reported that high German military circles were fully informed about the Tukhachevsky-Benes-Sirovy conversations. The report gave facts and details which Mr. Benes recognized as correct, and he was therefore forced to the conclusion that no one but Tukhachevsky could have conveyed this information to the Germans. There was no suggestion that Mr. Benes was aware of any conflict between Tukhachevsky and the civil authorities in the Kremlin, but he was so angry that Tukhachevsky had given the Germans the substance of the ultrasecret talks in Prague that he promptly passed the report on to Moscow. Tukhachevsky had been scheduled to leave Berlin for London to attend the coronation of King George VI, but was promptly recalled to Moscow and arrested on arrival.
As a result of this trial and the ruthless purge of high military officers which followed, the Politburo control over the army was completely reestablished, though at heavy cost in army efficiency and prestige. For a term of years, the position of the political commissars in Red Army units was restored to something near the level of Civil War days, so that they had the same authority as that of equivalent regimental ranks and, in the event of death or disablement of the commanding officer, he would be succeeded, at least temporarily, by the commissar.
Duranty, Walter. Stalin & Co. New York: W. Sloane Associates, 1949, p. 214-217


The G.P.U. has always disclaimed — I think truthfully — the use of Gestapo forms of torture, and even of the American third degree. (Gedye, Prague correspondent for the New York Times, also cabled on June 18, 1937, that ” two of the highest officials in Prague told him they had definite knowledge for at least six months that secret connections between the German General Staff and certain high Russian generals had existed ever since the Rapallo treaty.”)
Strong, Anna L. The Soviets Expected It. New York, New York: The Dial press, 1941, p. 134

(Harold Denny, in the New York Times, January 15, 1939, wrote: “In almost five years residence, trying to learn the facts, I have found no evidence which I consider trustworthy that physical torture is applied to prisoners. I am convinced that there does not occur, unless in isolated and exceptional instances, the sadistic cruelties reported from German prison camps or even the beating with rubber hoses bestowed, as every American police reporter knows, in the back rooms of many American police stations.”)
Strong, Anna L. The Soviets Expected It. New York, New York: The Dial press, 1941, p. 134

In the majority of historical works devoted to the Tukhachevsky case, these confessions are explained exclusively by the use of physical torture. However, such an explanation is inadequate for a number of reasons.
First of all, the defendants at the trial of the generals were strong and healthy people, most of whom had only recently crossed the threshold of their 40th birthday. Unlike the main defendants at the open trials, they had not spent long years before their arrest engaged in endless acts of self-deprecation and humiliation. For this reason, one might expect significantly greater resistance from them, than, for instance, from Zinoviev or Bukharin.
Second, the stunning speed with which the confessions were obtained draws our attention. The majority of the defendants at the open trials did not give such confessions for several months. The trial of the generals, however, was prepared in record-setting time. From the arrest of the main defendants to the trial itself, slightly more than two weeks passed. Such a time period was clearly insufficient to break these courageous men who had many times looked death in the eye.
Third, unlike the defendants at the open trials, where the judges were faceless bureaucrats, the defendants at the trial of the generals were appearing before their former comrades-in-arms. This fact should have filled them with hope that the truth, if spoken in their presence, would inevitably make it beyond the courtroom’s walls.
Rogovin, Vadim. 1937: Year of Terror. Oak Park, Michigan: Labor Publications, 1998, p. 446


Because of the confidential military character of the testimony to be heard, the trial was held behind closed doors.
Sayers and Kahn. The Great Conspiracy. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1946, p. 305


This perhaps is the answer to the question that has been raised abroad, why, if the “Generals” were guilty beyond cavil, did the Kremlin not make public the full story? I think, however, that there is another answer, that some of the facts must have been grave enough and far-reaching enough to involve not merely a “Palace Revolution” or coup d’etat, but the safety of the State itself.
Duranty, Walter. The Kremlin and the People. New York: Reynal & Hitchcock, Inc., 1941, p. 67

Little is known about the trial of the marshals and generals; it was a secret one….
Basseches, Nikolaus. Stalin. London, New York: Staples Press, 1952, p. 294


Though the purge had deprived the Red Army of many capable soldiers, Stalin had retained the services of the best known. They were eventually to justify his faith by their devotion to the USSR in its war against Hitlerite Germany.
Prominent among them are: Voroshilov,… Budenny,…Yegorov,… and Shaposhnikov,… To this core of tried and reliable soldiers, the post revolutionary military academies have added many younger figures whose worth was proved for the first time in action against the Nazis. Best known of these is the 46 year old Timoshenko.
Cole, David M. Josef Stalin; Man of Steel. London, New York: Rich & Cowan, 1942, p. 107

On July 4, 1937, Ambassador Davies wrote in his diary, “Litvinov was very frank. He stated that they had to ‘make sure’ through these purges that there was no treason left which could co-operate with Berlin or Tokyo; that someday the world would understand that what they had done was to protect their government from ‘menacing treason.’ In fact, he said they were doing the whole world a service in protecting themselves against the menace of Hitler and Nazi world domination, and thereby preserving the Soviet Union strong as a bulwark against the Nazi threat. That the world someday would appreciate what a very great man Stalin was.
Davies, Joseph E. Mission to Moscow. New York, N. Y.: Simon and Schuster, c1941, p. 167

Everything was strained to the breaking point. In that period it was necessary to act mercilessly. I believe our actions were fully justified…. But if the Tukhachevskys and the Yakirs, with the Rykovs and the Zinovievs, had started an opposition during the war, there would have been cruel internal strife and colossal losses. Colossal!
Chuev, Feliks. Molotov Remembers. Chicago: I. R. Dee, 1993, p. 275

In June, 1919, an important fort called “Krasnaya Gorka” (The Red Hill), in the Gulf of Finland, was captured by a detachment of Whites. A few days later it was recaptured by a force of Red marines. Then it was discovered that the chief of the staff of the Seventh army, Colonel Lundkvist, was transmitting all information to the Whites. There were other conspirators working hand-in-glove with him. This shook the army to its very core.
Trotsky, Leon. My Life. Gloucester, Massachusetts: P. Smith, 1970, p. 423


On June 28, 1937, Ambassador Davies wrote to Sumner Wells, “The judgment of those who have been here longest is that conditions are very, very serious; the best judgment seems to believe that in all probability there was a definite conspiracy in the making looking to a coup d’etat by the army–not necessarily anti-Stalin, but antipolitical and antiparty, and that Stalin struck with characteristic speed, boldness, and strength.
Davies, Joseph E. Mission to Moscow. New York, N. Y.: Simon and Schuster, c1941, p. 160

As to the alleged to guilt of these army generals of overt acts –actual conspiracy with the German government…it should be said that two very well-informed ambassadors, with whom I have discussed the matter, have stated it to be their belief that there was probably some truth in the allegations.
Davies, Joseph E. Mission to Moscow. New York, N. Y.: Simon and Schuster, c1941, p. 192

Facts are not now available, and it is doubtful whether they will be for a long time to come, which would justify a statement as to exactly what happened and just what constituted the “offense” of these officers of the Red Army. Opinion must be based largely on deductions from known facts and these are few. The press reports here are practically bare of anything, except allegations. The same applies to Voroshilov’s manifesto to the army. About all that has been stated is the position of the government, i.e., that these men were guilty of treason in the Red Army, had conspired with Germany to overthrow the government, had admitted their guilt, had been tried by the cream of the Red Army–their own peers–and that the evidence of their guilt was submitted, prior to the trials, to representative officers of all military districts of the Soviet Union. That such a conference was in fact held and that a very large number of officers were present here in Moscow at that time seem to be confirmed by foreign military observers who saw many of these Red Army officers whom they had met in different parts of the Soviet Union.
Davies, Joseph E. Mission to Moscow. New York, N. Y.: Simon and Schuster, c1941, p. 200

In view of the character of the accused, their long terms of service, their recognized distinction in their profession, their long-continued loyalty to the communist cause, it is scarcely credible that their brother officers–Voroshilov, Egorov, Budenny, Blucher, and the many other district military commanders–should have acquiesced in their execution, unless they were convinced that these men had been guilty of some offense.
(Footnote: The Bukharin trial six months later developed evidence which, if true, more than justified this action. Undoubtedly those facts were all fully known to the military court at this time.)
It is generally accepted by members of the Diplomatic Corps that the accused must have been guilty of an offense which in the Soviet Union would merit the death penalty.
From the facts which we have, certain deductions can be reached as to what the situation probably was. It would have been quite natural for strong-minded man, such as these men were, to have criticized political bureaucratic control of industry when it handicapped the army. It is also reasonable to assume that a group of men, such as these, would resent vigorously the imposition of an espionage system over them, through the instrumentality of a secret police system, under the control of politicians. It would also be quite natural for men of this character, and particularly with this training, to have resented bitterly the possible destruction of the fine military organization which they had built up, by the imposition of political control over the military command in each military district. It is quite fair to assume that these men would not permit the party, of which they were members, to adopt this course of conduct as a matter of “party principle,” without vigorous opposition. It is possible that they continued to voice such opposition.
Davies, Joseph E. Mission to Moscow. New York, N. Y.: Simon and Schuster, c1941, p. 201

However, if after the 17th of May, when political control of the army was established as a result of a party decision, the opposition on the part of these officers continued, even though it were simply through discussions among themselves, their action would be treasonable and a felony under Bolshevik rules of behavior. It is a fundamental of party government that once a party action is established by a vote of the majority, any further opposition thereto constitutes treason.
Under all of the conditions it can also be quite reasonably considered that the party leaders responsible for the conviction of these defendants had convinced themselves that these Red Army generals had outgrown their creators and were a serious threat to the party organization and dominance. It is possible also that these party leaders found but little difficulty in spelling out of the conduct of the defendants an overt conspiracy to impose the will of the army over the party, and failing therein to engage in a conspiracy with a foreign enemy to overthrow the state.
(I don’t think any of these are the real reasons)
Davies, Joseph E. Mission to Moscow. New York, N. Y.: Simon and Schuster, c1941, p. 202

Another factor that led to general acceptance of their [the military officers] treason by the rank-and-file was that the “traitors” were said to have been tried by a military tribunal of high-ranking officers, albeit in secret, which was normal for serious military crimes.
Getty and Manning. Stalinist Terror. Cambridge, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1993, p. 205

But quite a few non-Stalinist sources maintain that the generals did indeed plan a coup d’etat and did this from their own motives, and on their own initiative, not in contact with any foreign power. The main part of the coup was to be a palace revolt, following an assault on the headquarters of the GPU and culminating in Stalin’s assassination. Tukhachevsky was regarded as the leader of the conspiracy. A man of military genius, the real modernizer of the Red Army, surrounded by the glory of his feats in the civil war, he was the army’s favorite, and was indeed the only man among all the military leaders of that time who showed a resemblance to the original Bonaparte and could have played the Russian First Consul. Generals Yakir, commander of Leningrad, Uborevitch, commander of the western military district, Kork, commander of Moscow’s Military Academy, Primakov, Budienny’s deputy in the command of the cavalry, Gamarnik, the chief Political Commissar of the army who presently committed suicide, and other officers were supposed to have been in the plot. On May 1, 1937, Tukhachevsky stood at Stalin’s side at the Lenin Mausoleum, reviewing the May Day parade. Eleven days later he was demoted. On June 12 the execution of Tukhachevsky and his friends was announced.
Deutscher, Isaac. Stalin; A Political Biography. New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1967, p. 379

By May 29, 1937, Marshall Tukhachevsky was confessing to espionage, links with the Germans, and recruitment by Yenukidze into Bukharin’s conspiracy.
Conquest, Robert. The Great Terror. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990, p. 200

The least interesting chapter in the book [The Secret History of Stalin’s Crimes by Orlov] was the chapter devoted to the “Tukhachevsky affair,” which Orlov treated hastily and in many ways inaccurately. Only at the end of this chapter does he let slip an enigmatic phrase: “When all the facts connected with the Tukhachevsky case become clear, the world will understand that Stalin knew what he was doing.”
Rogovin, Vadim. 1937: Year of Terror. Oak Park, Michigan: Labor Publications, 1998, p. 469

Even in The Secret History of Stalin’s Crimes, Orlov had carefully served notice that an attempt at a military-political coup had actually taken place.
Rogovin, Vadim. 1937: Year of Terror. Oak Park, Michigan: Labor Publications, 1998, p. 474

In light of the statements, we can place a certain amount of confidence in Molotov’s words which we cited earlier: “We even knew the date of the conspiracy.”
Rogovin, Vadim. 1937: Year of Terror. Oak Park, Michigan: Labor Publications, 1998, p. 475

Yet another relevant article, “The Soviet Union on the Road to Bonapartism,” appeared in the semiofficial German military journal of Deutsche Wehr, but only after the event. Its author had no doubt that Tukhachevsky had indeed plotted against Stalin but was betrayed at the very last moment. His article, which attracted much attention and was widely translated and disseminated, was by one “A. Agricola “–none other than Russian-born Alexander Bauermeister, who, during World War I, was the most effective German spy master on the Eastern Front.
Agricola said that every true Soviet expert knew that the conspiracy had not been just a matter of espionage; it aspired to be a truly enormous military coup. The commanders of the most important military districts were involved in the plot. Tukhachevsky had made his first preparations in 1935, and zero hour was fixed for June 1937. Only because of General Skoblin’s betrayal had the coup been averted.
Laqueur, Walter. Stalin: The Glasnost Revelations. New York: Scribner’s, c1990, p. 87

After Khrushchev’s “secret speech,” it became the practice to accuse Stalin of murdering the “flower of the Red Army.” At the same time, mitigating circumstances were adduced: Stalin had fallen victim to the forgeries of the Nazi Secret Service…. [They ignore the fact that] Above all, it has been known for a long time that the first arrest (of Generals Putna and Primakov) took place almost a year before the Nazi forgeries reached the Kremlin. Furthermore Tukhachevsky had already been incriminated during the second Moscow show trial of former leading Bolsheviks (Pyatakov, Radek, et al.), which took place in early 1937.
Laqueur, Walter. Stalin: The Glasnost Revelations. New York: Scribner’s, c1990, p. 89

… the organs of state security began preparations for the trial of Soviet generals nine months before the German forgeries reached Moscow. Pavlenko had it on the authority of Major General Golushkevich (who was present at the 1937 trial) that the Heydrich documents were never once brought up in the course of the proceedings.
Laqueur, Walter. Stalin: The Glasnost Revelations. New York: Scribner’s, c1990, p. 90

But investigation, so far as investigation was possible, began to disclose a number of enlightening details. Tukhachevsky, brilliant and ambitious, wanted power for himself; he and Voroshilov were on bad terms, it was said; a general impression in military circles is that Tukhachevsky planned a “palace” coup d’etat to get rid of Stalin and set up a dictatorship himself. Stalin got him first.
All eight of the generals had close relations at one time with the German Reichswehr. The Red Army and the German army worked intimately together before 1932, it should be remembered; every year Russian officers went to Germany for training and study; even after Hitler, the two general staffs had a cordial respect for each other. Generals Kork and Feldman, with obviously German names, were Baltic Germans; General Uborevitch attended the German maneuvers after the Nazi party congress last year; both Kork and Putna had been military attaches in Berlin.
Few people think that Tukhachevsky could have sold out to Germany, or promised the defeat of his own army in the event of war; but it is quite possible that he envisaged some arrangement with the Reichswehr independently of Stalin. He wanted the Red Army and the German army to work together; politics prevented this. He was known to be an opponent of the Franco-Soviet pact, and the French distrusted him.
Gunther, John. Inside Europe. New York, London: Harper & Brothers, c1940, p. 560

Some of this analysis cannot be dismissed. It seems not impossible that Tukhachevsky and other high army officers had in 1937 made a plot to depose him [Stalin]. In fact, it is a priori likely.
Snow, Charles Percy. Variety of Men. New York: Scribner, 1966, p. 262

Diary of October 24, 1936:
The French Ambassador had engaged the Calvet Quartet to play for his guests, but the real entertainment took place when the Russian diplomats arrived and the German officials tried to avoid greeting them. Neurath and Dieckhoff were icy cold. Madame Franois-Poncet was equal to the situation, however, and ushered the Russian guests to the very first row of seats.
Henry, one of the French staff, was indignant. He said, “This is preposterous. The Nazis snub the Russians in public, but I know that privately they have been in close contact with an extensive clique of Russian army officers. Quite a plot, too. Involves some of Marshal Tukhachevsky’s highest staff officers. The clique entered into an agreement to effect the removal of Stalin. Afterward, a pact with Germany against the world. ‘Send us a list of your most reliable men,’ the generals were told.”
The generals returned to Russia and sent the list. It was promptly placed in Stalin’s hands. An example of Nazi diplomacy as practiced by Count Werner von Schulenberg, German Ambassador to Moscow. It accounts, if you believe it, for the torture and execution of so many high civil and military officials in Russia.
Fromm, Bella. Blood and Banquets. New York: Carol Pub. Group, c1990, p. 231

It is along the same lines that the failure of a “conspiracy” of “traitors” and “spies” among leaders of the Red Army was announced on June 11, 1937 together with their forthcoming trial which supposedly indicated the “crisis of bourgeois intelligence services.” The eight accused were all officers of the highest ranks–seven generals and a marshal…. The most illustrious of them, the first deputy of the people’s commissar of defense, Tukhachevsky. For about six months, rumors had been persistently circulating in diplomatic circles about his alleged intention to stage a coup as well as about his purported secret contacts with the Nazi high command, and it is improbable that they were unknown in Moscow. One month before his fall, ranking officials of the NKVD who had been already in the hands of their former colleagues, accused him and three of his prospective codefendants of “criminal contacts,” at the same time also implicating a general, Shaposhnikov, (who would never be arrested). Moreover, in the first days of May the president of Czechoslovakia, Benes, transmitted a message with documents of German origin, which he did not suspect to be forgeries, that seemed to establish the marshal’s “guilt.” But the material was not used during the investigations or at the trial and no step was taken immediately after its receipt in Moscow. All that happened was Tukhachevsky’s demotion from his post of deputy People’s Commissar and his transfer to head a military district. This was hardly the usual treatment of dangerous conspirators, and nevertheless two codefendants of the marshal were also merely reassigned at the same moment, one of them, Yakir, even twice in 10 days.
Rittersporn, Gabor. Stalinist Simplifications and Soviet Complications, 1933-1953. New York: Harwood Academic Publishers, c1991, p. 139

All those who headed the Red Army during the Stalinist period– Tukhachevsky, Yegorov, Bluecher, Budenny, Yakir, Uborevich, Gamarnik, Dybenko, Fedko, [Kork, Putna, Feldman, Alksnis, Eidemann, Primakov, and many others],–were each in his time advanced to responsible military posts when I was at the head of the War Department, in most cases advanced personally by me during my tours of the fronts and during my direct observation of their war work. However bad, therefore, my own leadership was, it was apparently good enough to have selected the best available military leaders, since for more than 10 years Stalin could find no one to replace them. True, almost all the Red Army Leaders of the Civil War, all those who subsequently built our army eventually proved to be “traitors” and “spies.”
Trotsky, Leon, Stalin. New York: Harper and Brothers Publishers, 1941, p. 269


It is generally considered here that the liquidation of the older and experienced generals has weakened the army very materially. Personally, I agree with our Military Attache, Colonel Faymonville, that while this is measurably true, it is much exaggerated.
Davies, Joseph E. Mission to Moscow. New York, N. Y.: Simon and Schuster, c1941, p. 409

Stalin has also been held guilty of bringing upon Russia the disasters of 1941-42 by his purge of the Red Army. Although tragic and wasteful, the purge probably had little effect, and certainly less than is often stated. Although many senior army commanders were purged, it was in this category that the Red Army was generally superior to the Germans, even in the years 1941-42. Germans superiority was marked among junior officers and NCOs.
Grey, Ian. Stalin, Man of History. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1979, p. 421

Reese also shows that newly released statistics on the military purges indicate that at most 9.7% of the officers at the height of the terror in 1937 were “repressed,” in contrast to earlier estimates by Conquest and Erickson that 25-50% of the officer corps fell victim to arrest in 1937 and 1938.
Getty and Manning. Stalinist Terror. Cambridge, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1993, p. 9

The destruction of the cadres of young officers around the reformer Tukhachevsky is usually taken as evidence that the Soviet Union took a giant step backward in military effectiveness and levels of military preparedness. This is a superficial conclusion….
Any argument which suggests that the purges weakened the Red Army (and navy) rests on a prior assumption that the pre-purge army must have been a more effective instrument. Such an assumption is clearly open to question. For all of Tukhachevsky’s enthusiasm for mass tanks and aircraft, there existed a wide discrepancy between theory and practice. Soviet forces had made poor progress in “command and control,” the critical dimension of fast-moving aircraft and tank combat. Communications systems were rudimentary or nonexistent. Tanks and aircraft were not equipped with radios and could not easily communicate with each other. Commanders had no way of coordinating air and ground action, nor of holding a large group of tanks and armored vehicles together. These deficiencies rendered the concept of “deep operations” almost impossible. At most levels of junior command there existed a lack of flexibility and tactical awareness. German soldiers who watched their Soviet counterparts in training and on maneuvers were unimpressed by what they saw. “The weak point of the army,” wrote a German army adjutant in 1933, “is that all commanders from platoon to regiment commander, are not yet efficient enough. Most of them are capable of dealing with problems only at the level of a non-commissioned officer.” The German military attache in Moscow the same year detected throughout the army “a fear of responsibility.” Many of those liquidated after 1937 were men who had little military education and had achieved office on the grounds of their Civil War experience. In 1937 thousands of younger man, trained in military academies since the 1930s, were ready to take their place. By the mid-1930s there were 16,000 officers a year training in the military academies. By 1941 over 100,000 officers were entering the Soviet armed forces each year. The purges certainly removed many military men of talent, but it is questionable whether the aggregate effect was to make the average performance of the officer corps much worse than it had been beforehand or to make the tank and air war any less capable of realization. The army had significant technical and human weaknesses both before and after 1937.
Overy, R. J. Russia’s War: Blood Upon the Snow. New York: TV Books, c1997, p. 50


… Radek in his testimony hinted that a conspiracy existed within the Red Army which involved Marshall Tukhachevsky, a high commander. I had personal reasons for feeling no surprise when Radek pled guilty. I had interviewed him in his apartment in Moscow in 1935, knowing that he was in the opposition group. In the course of the conversation Radek remarked that he considered Foreign Affairs the best periodical in America. This seemed a strange comment for a man of his views, until I learned that Trotsky had just published an article there. From further conversation I received the distinct impression, which he possibly wished to convey, that Radek was in closest contact with Trotsky in exile.
Davis, Jerome. Behind Soviet Power. New York, N. Y.: The Readers’ Press, Inc., c1946, p. 29

While the other accused spoke flatly and drearily, he [Radek] put real feeling into his evidence. He developed the post-1927 history of Trotskyism, and the complex links between those now accused and the Zinoviev group. He then listed a number of fresh terrorist bands, implicated Bukharin, spoke of the “Bonapartist” regime Trotsky intended, which would in fact be under fascist control, and added that Trotsky was already prepared to sacrifice the Ukraine and the Far East to the aggressors.
On the whole, Radek was a most co-operative and convincing defendant.
Conquest, Robert. The Great Terror. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990, p. 152


[February 9th, 1938 Politburo decision “On Comrade Yegorov”]
a) Comrade Yegorov, first deputy of the people’s commissar for defense of the USSR had acquitted himself very unsatisfactorily during his tenure as chief of staff of the Workers’-Peasants’ Red Army, throwing the work of the general staff into disarray by delegating power to Levichev and Mezheninov, inveterate spies working for the Polish, German, and Italian Intelligence agencies.
b)…As is evident from the testimonies of Belov, Grinko, Orlov, and others, all spies now under arrest, Comrade Yegorov obviously knew something concerning the existence of an army plot headed by the spies Tukhachevsky, Gamarnik, and other scoundrels who were formerly Trotskyists, right Socialist-Revolutionaries, White officers, and so on.
Judging by these materials, Comrade Yegorov attempted to establish contact with conspirators through Tukhachevsky, a fact mentioned by the spy Bepov, a former socialist-Revolutionary, in his testimony.
c) Comrade Yegorov, unjustifiably dissatisfied with his position in the Red Army and knowing something concerning the existence of conspiratorial groups in the army, decided to organize his own antiparty group, into which he inveigled Comrade Dybenko and tried to inveigle Comrade Budenny.
Getty & Naumov, The Road to Terror. New Haven, Conn.: Yale Univ. Press, c1999, p. 521-522


CHUEV: …if a palace revolution had been carried out in 1937 it would have placed at the head of the country intelligent people such as Tukhachevsky; they would have coped both with the country and with fascism.
MOLOTOV: That is absurd. Where is the evidence that Tukhachevsky could do something useful for the country… . Where is it? What kind of data?
Chuev, Feliks. Molotov Remembers. Chicago: I. R. Dee, 1993, p. 219

The point is, Tukhachevsky did not know where he was going. It seems to me that he would have veered to the right. He was closer to Khrushchev.
Chuev, Feliks. Molotov Remembers. Chicago: I. R. Dee, 1993, p. 220


… These were the work of the leaders of the united right-wing military underground of Moscow under the general directive of a man whose name is familiar to most of my readers.

Tokaev, Grigori. Comrade X. London: Harvill Press,1956, p. 42

[Footnote: Likhachev editor of Posev was in the Far Eastern Red Army in 1937-38 and describes a genuine military plot against the Stalinist leadership, which Stalin smashed in a countercoup].

Getty, A. Origins of the Great Purges. Cambridge, N. Y.: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1985, p. 267

This affair [the military officers] began more or less in August 1936, just days before the first Moscow show trial opened, with the arrest of two senior officers. The first, detained on Aug. 14, was Primakov, a Bolshevik since 1914, a cavalry commander during the Civil War, and corps commander since 1935. Then on Aug. 20 Putna, the corps commander and Soviet military attache to London mentioned earlier, was arrested. He had been a Bolshevik since 1917. Both men had taken part in the Trotskyist opposition in 1926-27.

Until May 1937 Primakov categorically denied any kind of counter-revolutionary activity, though he wrote to Stalin that after breaking with Trotskyism in 1928 he “had not completely severed personal contacts with Trotskyites.” Putna, on the other hand, quickly admitted to participation in current “Trotskyist-Zinovievist centers” and an organization within the Soviet military. He named Primakov as a member…. Meanwhile one of the defendants at the August show trial referred to Putna as an “active participant” in terrorist work.

The major event occurred in April 1937. Marshall Tukhachevsky, one of the best-known officers in the Soviet Union, a colonel under the tsarist regime, and then a Civil War hero for the Reds, had been scheduled to travel to London for the coronation of George VI. But now Yezhov wrote to Stalin claiming that a “foreign source, worthy of complete confidence,” had informed him that the Germans were planning to assassinate Tukhachevsky during his stay in Britain, with the goal of stirring up international trouble. The Politburo responded by removing Tukhachevsky from the Soviet delegation. So far there was no hint of a lack of confidence in him; the decision was taken for his own protection.

But then several officers being held…by the NKVD named Tukhachevsky as a plotter against the government….

The accounts of two NKVD men therefore show that Yezhov personally drove the generals’ affair forward. Of course, Stalin may well have been behind him, issuing orders. But the impression these reports make is one of Stalin reacting to information as it came to him, not initiating matters. During the investigation he met with Yezhov almost daily, and from May 21 to 28 he also met regularly with Frinovsky [one of Yezhov’s aides]. Such close attention to a case that would never come to public trial suggests that Stalin wanted not to manufacture evidence but to learn what the police had found. He might have pushed Yezhov forward in this case in order to investigate something he feared. That Stalin and the Politburo reacted to Yezhov’s report about a plot to murder Tukhachevsky in London suggests that the Gensec did not have a plan to proceed against the officers; indeed, the whole picture of long investigations, NKVD behavior, and Yezhov’s role is one of material making its way up to Stalin.

Another variant was offered by the ex–NKVD officer Almazov. In one of his manuscripts in the Hoover Archives, he claimed that a real military conspiracy against Stalin existed. Planning to rely on several army units and on political prisoners as their main forces, Tukhachevsky and his followers intended to surround the Kremlin, arrest key leaders, and kill Stalin in one quick blow. But they were discovered in 1936, when Putna was recalled to Moscow. Sensing danger, he left a packet of incriminating materials in the Soviet capital with someone he thought he could trust, his brother-in-law. Instead the latter immediately took the documents to the Central Committee. Putna was arrested and quickly confessed–this point is not quite accurate, as we have seen–naming Tukhachevsky and others as his co-conspirators.

It must be noted that Almazov offered different versions of the background to the “generals’ plot.” Yet he was not alone in claiming that a real conspiracy against Stalin existed in the armed forces. Likhachev, a Red Army officer who served in the Far Eastern military district for six years prior to his ouster from the service in 1937 or 1938, also maintained that such a plot was under way and provided extensive details about it. He insisted that he was not directly involved but that he knew many officers who were. They told him that Tukhachevsky and Gamarnik had begun to lay plans in 1932 (that fateful year once again). The affair centered in the Far East, where most of the plotters had served. Putna was stationed there for several years in the early 1930s. High-ranking civilians in places like Leningrad, Smolensk, Kalinin, Tula, the North Caucasus, and Siberia were also involved. Gamarnik, trusted completely by the Kremlin, often traveled as its emissary to outline military districts; he maintained communications among the conspirators.

The chief plotters did not feel that they could trust their troops to follow them against Stalin (an interesting comment on popular loyalties), so they planned to stir up the men by announcing that foreign infiltrators had taken over the NKVD headquarters in Khabarovsk, the administrative center of the Far Eastern Army. Once the troops had attacked the building and blood had been shed, it might be possible to turn them against the regime. (How? Why?) In another version of the plan, an attack on the leadership was to take place inside the Kremlin simultaneously with the Khabarovsk action. But all was in vain; although Likhachev does not say how, the plot was discovered before it could unfold. His account is indirectly supported by an ex-Soviet officer who said that his brother had been involved in a “Tukhachevsky group” in 1935.

Thurston, Robert. Life and Terror in Stalin’s Russia, 1934-1941. New Haven: Yale University Press, c1996, p. 50-53

There was, moreover, always a grain of truth to the accusations of the show trials: the Trotskyist bloc had existed in the USSR, and Bukharin did know of a center, albeit a small one, organized against Stalin. At least one of Bukharin’s followers spoke of killing the vozhd. Putna was probably guilty of treason. The Germans fed the Gensec information incriminating Tukhachevsky, and evidence from various sources points to a plot in the army. Yezhov relayed damaging material on officers to his boss. With some justification, Stalin saw dangerous opposition developing around him.

Thurston, Robert. Life and Terror in Stalin’s Russia, 1934-1941. New Haven: Yale University Press, c1996, p. 57

The principal line of the Generals appears to have been that a conflict with Germany must be avoided at all costs and that the necessary territorial concessions must be made in order to buy the Germans off, and as this was clearly impossible without a change of Government, the Generals were prepared to steer for that in peace or in war. Just as reactionaries in Western Europe are prepared to divert Germany from attacking in Western Europe by offering it a free hand in the East, so the renegade Generals were prepared to offer it a free hand in the West. But from the German point of view, this policy had to be backed by something more than promises. The Generals had not only to declare their willingness to make territorial concessions, but also to prove the genuineness of their attitude by giving the German General Staff information as to the military position in the Soviet Union.

Campbell, J. R. Soviet Policy and Its Critics. London: V. Gollancz, ltd., 1939, p. 225

On May 24, 1937 the following document, signed by Stalin, was circulated to members of the Central Committee requiring their vote:

“On the basis of facts which expose Central Committee member Rudzutak and candidate member Tukhachevsky as participating in an anti-Soviet Trotskyite-Right conspiratorial bloc and espionage work against the USSR for Fascist Germany, the Politburo of the Central Committee puts to the vote the proposal to expel Rudzutak and Tukhachevsky from the party and to hand their case to the commissariat of internal affairs.”

The vote was unanimously in favor. No one had any doubts, no one came to the victims’ defense…. Some members went even further than Stalin’s resolution. For instance, Budenny wrote on the voting slip ‘Definitely yes. These scoundrels must be punished.’ Mekhlis as usual underlined his ‘yes’ several times. Neither Voroshilov, nor Yegorov, who had both served with Tukhachevsky, nor Khrushchev and Mikoyan, who were later to condemn this act… found the courage to abstain from writing the fateful ‘yes’. For unexplained reasons, Stalin as usual left his voting slip blank.

Volkogonov, Dmitri. Stalin: Triumph and Tragedy. New York: Grove Weidenfeld, 1991, p. 319

[Footnote]: That the officers had, at least, discussed a coup d’etat is authenticated. A former German Communist, Schutz, was imprisoned in Kharkov during 1937 and told the authorities that among the prisoners were high-ranking officers accused of belonging to the group of conspirators, who stated that it had been planned to force Stalin to agree to Polish partition, in order to secure the Soviet frontier against Germany. When the Zinoviev-Kamenev trial heralded the frustration of these moves they decided to resort to force. But Stalin struck first, with the aid of the “proofs.”

Alexandrov, Victor. The Tukhachevsky Affair. London: Macdonald, 1963, p. 149

[1929] Our military people have told their German counterparts that they are prepared to collaborate with them against the Communist Party and that at a chosen moment they could seize power and set up a pro-German government in the USSR. Therefore nothing should be done against the present Soviet government, and Stresemann’s plans for the creation of a unified bloc against it should be thwarted. The overthrow of the present Soviet government would lead to the setting up of a new government under the wing of France and England, while a military coup d’etat in the Kremlin would bring a pro-German government into power and ensure for Germany the inexhaustible markets of a Russia ruled by a military dictatorship….

Litvinov, Maksim Maksimovich. Notes for a Journal. New York: Morrow, 1955, p. 105


In short, as the war drew to its close, those of us who or were still anti-Stalinist and had kept our sense of the objective facts, found ourselves more and more isolated. This had some ironical results. The Air Force officers who in 1941 had tried to get me to join them in an anti-Stalin coup tried as passionately in 1944 to convince me that there could now be no reason to object to Stalin’s rule. ‘Stalin has opened the churches,’ said one of them, ‘he has dissolved the Comintern, he has set of the All-Slav Committee, his allies are the most democratic nations in the world, he relies loyally on the Russian people, he is restoring the true Russian traditions…. What more do we want?’ In 1943 and 1944 I do not think that there was a trace of opposition in the USSR. Men who had been in opposition to Stalin were even ashamed of what they had done.

Tokaev, Grigori. Comrade X. London: Harvill Press,1956, p. 253


In late 1939 and early 1940 several thousand Red Army commanders were rehabilitated because of the extreme shortage of officers and the incompetence demonstrated during the Soviet-Finnish war. Generally officers up to the level of divisional commanders were rehabilitated. The rehabilitated included many future heroes of the Great Patriotic War, such as: Rokossovsky, future marshall; Meretskov, future marshall; Gorbatov, future army general; Bogdanov, future commander of the Second Tank Army; Kholostyakov, future vice-admiral; Rudnev, future commissar of partisan units in Ukraine–all of whom were later named Heroes of the Soviet Union. Also, 0zeryansky, hero of the defense of Leningrad, awarded two Orders of Lenin and three Orders of the Red Banner;…

Medvedev, Roy. Let History Judge. New York: Columbia University Press, 1989, p. 466

A few survivors were released from the camps; serveral had already been freed in 1940-41, such as Gorbatov, Rokossovsky, and Meretskov, who rose to fame during the war.

Laqueur, Walter. Stalin: The Glasnost Revelations. New York: Scribner’s, c1990, p. 92


(Roger Reese)
Thousands of officers were expelled from the party as a result of independent actions by primary party organizations, and subsequently discharged from the army in an orgy of denunciations at the local level out of Moscow’s control…. Simultaneously, thousands of officers were reinstated and tens of thousands of new officers commissioned, more than making up for the purged officers numerically, but not in experience, and making it extremely difficult to assess the impact of the Ezhovshchina on military cadres. This new information suggests a need to re-examine our understanding of the purge of the Red Army, because before the publishing of the aforementioned materials and documents, it was assumed that all officers removed from the armed forces in the years 1937-39 had been arrested and either executed or imprisoned by the NKVD. Table 9.1 from a report by Shchadenko, Chief of the Commanding Personnel section of the People’s Commissariat of Defense, however, shows that a minority of army officers and political leaders were removed from the army by arrest, and the majority were discharged from the army through expulsion from the party.
Getty and Manning. Stalinist Terror. Cambridge, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1993, p. 198

He [Stalin] replaced all his military leaders at one time or another, often with good cause, but he also gave them the opportunity to show that their previous mistake had been accidental. Giving them this chance, however, did not mean that he had forgotten the earlier fault.
Volkogonov, Dmitri. Stalin: Triumph and Tragedy. New York: Grove Weidenfeld, 1991, p. 468


All told, 34,301 army, air force, and Political Administration of the Red Army (PUR) leaders were discharged from the army either through arrest or expulsion from the party during the Ezhovshchina. Of these, 11,596 were reinstated by May 1940….
The numbers also show a more limited impact on the military than previously thought. Before the publication of the figures in Table 9.1, it had been variously estimated that between 25% and 50% of the Red Army officer corps were repressed in the Ezhovshchina. Conveniently, Shchadenko’s office gave the percentage of the leadership permanently discharged in the purge, which allows a calculation of the total strength of the nachal’sostav (the military leadership) in the purge years. In 1937, [the military leadership] numbered 144,300, of whom 11,034 discharged for political reasons remained discharged as of May 1940, equaling 7.7% of the [military leadership]. In 1938 there were 179,000 leaders, of whom 6742 political dischargees were still discharged in May 1940, which equaled 3.7% of the [military leadership]; and in 1939 the Army had 282,300 leaders, 205 or .08% of whom were discharged for political reasons and remained discharged in May 1940. Because the Army stepped up officer procurement during the Ezhovshchina, and at a rate that outpaced discharges, it is extremely difficult to invent a statistic to describe the cumulative impact of the purge on the military, and Shchadenko’s annual figures are probably the most definitive we will ever have. We face the same situation with the Red Air Force, which in 1937 had approximately 13,000 officers, lost 4724 in the purge, but had about 60,000 officers in 1940.
Getty and Manning. Stalinist Terror. Cambridge, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1993, p. 199

The reason for the earlier high estimates of the percentage of repressed officers and PUR men by Western historians was not so much the erroneous estimates of the number of repressed officers, but tremendously low estimates of the size of the [military leadership]. John Erickson and Robert Conquest estimated the officer corps to number 80,000 and 70,000 respectively, so whereas Erickson’s estimates of between 20,000 and 30,000 men discharged is very near the mark, his estimate of the impact is very far off, as is Conquest’s estimate of 35,000 arrested officers out of a corps of 70,000. His estimate of a minimum of 20,000 arrested PUR men is 300 percent off. Both these historians considered the majority of victims of the Ezhovshchina to have been arrested, not expelled and discharged, and did not realize how quickly and in what large numbers men were rehabilitated.
[The number arrested is much higher than the number actually expelled or discharged]
…On orders from Moscow, the Communist Party purged itself frequently between 1921 and 1939. Some chistki (purges) were conducted on a unionwide basis, others were restricted to selected areas, all were to rid the party of self-serving opportunists, people from social classes ineligible for party membership, the politically unreliable, those of a bad moral character, and even those incompetent at their posts.

In the years of the Ezhovshchina, 34,301 Red Army and Red Air Force officers and political personnel were removed from the military for political reasons. As of May 1, 1940, 11,596 victims of arrest and expulsion in the army and air force had been reinstated in rank, but as a rule not to their former positions, leaving as a direct result of the purge 22,705 personnel of the [military] (of which about 13,000 were from the army, 4700 from the air force, and 5000 from PUR) either dead, in the Gulag, or cast into civilian society in disgrace. Although in its worst year approximately only 7.7% of the Red Army’s leadership was discharged for political reasons, versus the 20% to 25% suggested by John Erickson and 50% claimed by Robert Conquest, this does not diminish the seriousness of the purge;…
Getty and Manning. Stalinist Terror. Cambridge, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1993, p. 213

In 1937 the Soviet Armed Forces readmitted 4661 ousted men. At the direction of the party Central Committee, the Commissariat of Defense created a board in August 1938 to receive complaints from dismissed officers. More than 30,000 appeals and petitions came to it. As a result, 6333 officers regained their old status in the services in 1938, and 184 in 1939, totaling 11,178 in three years. In addition, 2416 won changes in the terms of their dismissals, presumably from political to less serious grounds. By 1939, more Air Force officers were reinstated (867) than arrested (344).
The impact of these dismissals on the armed forces is hard to determine. To begin with, the percentage of officers permanently removed for any reason is unclear, since the number of officers was growing extremely rapidly as new graduates poured out of military schools in preparation for war. But two frames from this moving picture are available: 6.9% of all infantry officers in the ranks as of 1936-37 had been dismissed but not reinstated by May 1940; the figure for the officers active in 1938-39 was 2.3%. Older works commonly suggested that 50 percent of all officers had been purged, with most shot. This number resulted from overestimating the number arrested and greatly underestimating the size of the officer corps.
Thurston, Robert. Life and Terror in Stalin’s Russia, 1934-1941. New Haven: Yale University Press, c1996, p. 123

The repressions of 1937-38 inflicted significant losses on military cadres. During the Yezhovshchina 24,000 men were arrested and “discharged for associating with plotters.” In addition, more than 4000 commanders of Polish, Latvian, and other “undesirable nationalities” were purged. As a result, the army lost 8 percent of its commanders. The condemnation of the Yezhovshchina seems to have pertained primarily to army cadres. By May 1, 1940 12,000 repressed individuals had been reinstated.
Siegelbaum and Sokolov. Stalinism As a Way of Life. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, c2000, p. 274

Over 40,000 soldiers were freed from arrest after it was found out that Yezhov and others, under their command, falsified their “criminal anti-State activities.” Altogether, there were let out of jail, for lack of evidence, after Stalin started the process of these Investigative Commissions–over 320,000 people… because they were innocent.
Rybin, Aleksei. Next to Stalin: Notes of a Bodyguard. Toronto: Northstar Compass Journal, 1996, p. 79

There was much talk at the Congress of rehabilitating the unjustly condemned. Indeed, thousands were rehabilitated in 1939 and 1940, including many military commanders; many future military heroes of World War II were restored to their positions during these two years.
Szymanski, Albert. Human Rights in the Soviet Union. London: Zed Books, 1984, p. 240


Chistki should not be viewed as antimilitary actions on the part of the party, or as attempts to subvert the leadership of the army; in fact, they reflected a genuine concern for the moral health of the Red Army just as civilian chistki were to strengthen, not punish, those party organs. In the military chistki men were expelled not only for political reasons; failure in one’s military duties could also result in being booted out of the party. In the 1933 chistka, for example, the particular stress was on discipline. Those who did not maintain it in their units, or were personally undisciplined, were subject to expulsion from the party.
Getty and Manning. Stalinist Terror. Cambridge, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1993, p. 203


Table 11.9 shows, those who worked in the central party and state apparatus, the military, and economic administration were most vulnerable. But those who were members of the artistic and creative intelligentsia or who worked in scientific research were relatively safe.
…The most surprising finding, however, is that members of the artistic, creative, and scientific elites were far less vulnerable. These findings offer no support to the assertion that the terror struck the intelligentsia “with particular force.”… Statistically, though, it seems that the vast majority of the elite intelligentsia escaped repression.
Getty and Manning. Stalinist Terror. Cambridge, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1993, p. 239

But the most striking finding is that the elite members of the intelligentsia working in intellectual/artistic/scientific activities in 1936 were safest from arrest. Party leaders were five times as likely to be arrested, and military officials were more than seven times as likely to perish as were intelligenty. The risk for the creative intelligentsia was even lower than that for other miscellaneous groups. Although there is no doubt that members of the intelligentsia suffered during the repression, these findings make it clear that compared to members of the party, economic, and military elite–or even to other groups–the intelligentsia was much less likely to have perished.
Getty and Manning. Stalinist Terror. Cambridge, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1993, p. 242


As we have seen, in 1926 Tukhachevsky had headed a Soviet military delegation to Berlin. Yakir had been on military courses in Germany in 1929. Kork had been the military attache there. Many others had met German representatives at diplomatic receptions, maneuvers and various talks. All of them, with the exception of Primakov, vigorously denied any ‘spy link’ with Germany.

Primakov’s last words introduced a dissonant note into the proceedings. He fully confirmed the official charges and stated that ‘all the conspirators were united by the banner of Trotsky and dedication to Fascism.’ He said he had given the investigators the names of 70 people whom he personally knew to be involved in the military-Fascist conspiracy. According to him, the leaders of the plot had a ‘second motherland’: Putna, Uborevitch and Eideman had close relatives in Lithuania . Yakir had family in Bessarabia, and Eideman had his in America.
Volkogonov, Dmitri. Stalin: Triumph and Tragedy. New York: Grove Weidenfeld, 1991, p. 322


Until 1937 he had allowed Tukhachevsky a free hand in matters concerned with strategic and tactical conceptions and with the modernization of the Armed Forces….
Deutscher, Isaac. Stalin; A Political Biography. New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1967, p. 494

Absolute dictator as he was after 1930, he [Stalin] could easily have consigned Tukhachevsky to obscurity or exile, but he kept him in high posts and in 1935 promoted him to Marshal of the Soviet Union.
Ulam, Adam. Stalin; The Man and his Era. New York: Viking Press, 1973, p. 190


But he [Rykov] also, backed by Krestinsky and Rosengoltz, confirmed the participation of Tukhachevsky in the bloc.
Conquest, Robert. The Great Terror. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990, p. 355


[Stalin stated to Voroshilov], “Tukhachevsky has dared to make all sorts of approaches involving our foreign policy, without authorization from the foreign affairs branch, without even informing them, in fact.”
Alexandrov, Victor. The Tukhachevsky Affair. London: Macdonald, 1963, p. 60


Tukhachevsky’s telephone rang. When the caller announced himself the marshal was startled.
“At your service, Comrade Joseph Vissarionovich.”
“How are you?” asked Stalin, pleasantly enough.
“I’m well–at least as far as my health is concerned.”
“I see what you mean,” said Stalin, so warmly that Tukhachevsky could imagine him smiling at the other end. “I have just heard about today’s confidential report,” Stalin went on, “and that is one reason for my call. I think Mekhlis has gone too far.”
“If not further, Comrade Stalin.”
“I’ve made myself plain to him, you can be sure. What foolishness to bring up that meeting at Volna. We know quite well, Mikhail Tukhachevsky, that you have acted according to the spirit of the Party.”
“I think so, Joseph Vissarionovich.”
“You are quite right. That absurd Radek business. And the nonsense of Mekhlis into the bargain. But what is one to do? I am surrounded with incompetents; you must understand the difficulties.”
“I understand them very well, Joseph Vissarionovich.”
“Your name has certainly come up in an unfortunate context. But what can we do except regret it? In the existing atmosphere I think the best thing would be to prevent the rumor spreading. There must not be too much of this. Of course I know it is nothing but lies and foolishness, but while waiting for better times, what would you say to a change of air beside the Volga?”
“What’s that, Comrade Stalin?”
“You will be released from your duties as Vice-Commissar for Defense and posted as Commandant of the Volga military region. That is a decision of the Council of Commissars.”
“As you wish, Joseph Vissarionovich.”
“Only do not, I beg you, see any disgrace in this. It looks like a step down but in fact I intend to keep you in reserve for the difficult days ahead when I shall need your military flair badly. You understand me?”
Alexandrov, Victor. The Tukhachevsky Affair. London: Macdonald, 1963, p. 153


[On May 18, 1937, Yezhov visited Stalin]. He opened the file and displayed the proofs of the guilt of Tukhachevsky, the paid spy.
Stalin did not take any notice. Nor did he ask Yezhov to sit down, but walked to and fro exclaiming so that all the secretariat could hear through the door that he had left open on purpose: “Sergo Ordjonikidze [who had just died] was the conscience of the party. An incorruptible tested during thirty years of struggle. As blameless as anyone could be, our Sergo.”
Yezhov was silent: mechanically leafing through his file he waited for the chief to recover his composure.
Stalin, however, continued to rage. “Soon there may be war. That will be a great settling of accounts and some bad ones among them. We may well suffer for having tarnished the heritage of our master, Lenin, Sergo should have outlived us, whatever happened. Everyone loved him; even our enemies would have hesitated to touch him. Unlike you, Nikolai Ivanovitch! There would have been no lack of volunteers for the job of getting rid of you.”…
Yezhov felt he was in quicksand. Stalin’s words resounded and were lost in the high room, with a menacing effect that even his staff in the next room had noticed. The “cannibal” trembled with fear. He had dropped his file on the desk, but Stalin went on pacing the room and ignored it. Finally he brandished the letter under Yezhov’s nose.
“Let me tell you what Sergo wrote before his death. It should interest you. He accused you of dishonoring the Party and me of dishonoring myself by employing you. He said that you isolate me and make me hated. Also that I am forgetting Marxism and running the risk of being cut off at the summit, in a personality cult.”
Yezhov was dumbfounded. The file obtained at such cost seemed to interest the chief no longer. Instead of well-deserved praise he was getting this….
Then, calmer, he sat down and told Yezhov to check the file before passing it on to Vyshinsky for a double check. He must then destroy it, make an official report of this, and then meet the Commissar for Defense to try to convince him of the authenticity of the documents.
“He’s the one who will need convincing,” Stalin concluded. “Party business, particularly at the top, must follow definite procedures. Only the members of Lenin’s old guard knew how to do this as it should be done. You, Yezhov, could never manage it. There can be no trial until Comrades Voroshilov, Molotov, and Kaganovich have signed this report.”
Alexandrov, Victor. The Tukhachevsky Affair. London: Macdonald, 1963, p. 157-158


Right up until May of 1937, other future defendants in the “Tukhachevsky affair” felt themselves, as before, to be people enjoying full trust. On August 10, 1936, i.e., immediately before the Trial of the Sixteen, the Politburo approved Voroshilov’s proposal to remove from a number of generals, including Kork, the severe party reprimands which they had received in 1934-35. A month and a half before that, also at the request of Voroshilov, the party reprimands which had been made in 1932 were removed from another group of generals, including Kork and Uborevitch. In September-October 1936, the Politburo passed a resolution to send Eideman on an official trip abroad. At the VIIIth Extraordinary Congress of Soviets (November-December 1936), a group photograph was taken showing Tukhachevsky sitting in the front row alongside Stalin and other members of the Politburo.
On March 17, 1937, a sugar factory in the Kiev area which had previously borne Pyatakov’s name was now given Yakir’s name. On April 27, 1936, Gamarnik was confirmed as a candidate member of the newly formed Defense Committee of the USSR, which included Stalin and other members of the Politburo.
Rogovin, Vadim. 1937: Year of Terror. Oak Park, Michigan: Labor Publications, 1998, p. 412


Tukhachevsky’s behavior at the investigation appears more enigmatic. He was arrested on May 22, brought to Moscow on May 24 and interrogated for the first time on May 25. On the day following the first interrogation, he wrote a statement to Yezhov, in which he acknowledged the existence of a “military-Trotskyist conspiracy” and promised “to present the investigation independently with everything concerning the conspiracy, hiding none of its participants, nor a single fact or document.” “The beginning of the conspiracy,” Tukhachevsky writes, “goes back to 1932. Those participating in it were Feldman, Alafuzo, Primakov, Putna, and others, and I will testify about it in detail later.”
A few days after this statement, Tukhachevsky sent Stalin a letter which was called, “Plan of Defeat.” An analysis of the contents of this document fully excludes the possibility that it was dictated to Tukhachevsky by the investigators. The document displays the author’s profound knowledge of the international political situation of the time, high professionalism and erudition in military questions. It is written in the language of military-scholarly literature, which was obviously inaccessible to the incompetent investigators of the NKVD. The letter, which is written in a calm and businesslike tone, includes many references to German military theoreticians and to the experience of previous wars. The basic ideas of the letter are illustrated with maps that are appended to it.
From the contents of the letter it is clear that at the time it was written, Tukhachevsky was familiar with the testimonies of other military leaders about “wrecking activity” in the army.
Rogovin, Vadim. 1937: Year of Terror. Oak Park, Michigan: Labor Publications, 1998, p. 435

Before the trial [of the generals], it was proposed that the defendants appeal in a written statement to Stalin. In a statement written on June 9, Yakir wrote: “All my conscious life has proceeded in honest and self-sacrificing work in plain sight of the party and its leaders–then came the descent into a nightmare, into the incorrigible horror of treachery…. The investigation is over. I have been charged with state treason, I have confessed my guilt, and I have fully repented. I unreservedly believe in the correctness and wisdom of the decision made by the court and the government…. Now each word I speak is the truth–I will die with words of love for you, the party, and the country, and with unbounded faith in the victory of communism”.
This letter was read aloud by Zhukov at the June Plenum of the Central Committee in 1957, and then by Shelepin at the Twenty-Second Congress of the CPSU. However, both times it was presented in a deliberately truncated and therefore falsified form. The words shown above in italics were omitted. This omission consciously gave the impression that after he had been falsely charged, tortured, and humiliated, and sensing his unavoidable execution, the completely innocent Yakir was trying to accomplish one thing, to convince Stalin of his personal loyalty.
Rogovin, Vadim. 1937: Year of Terror. Oak Park, Michigan: Labor Publications, 1998, p. 439

Although many commanders contemptuously denied the absurd charges against them, others confessed and turned against their comrades. Among them was General Primakov, commander of the Red Cossacks in the civil war, the recipient of three Orders of the Red Banner. He named no less than 70 senior officers who he said had been members of the “military-fascist conspiracy.” In his final speech, Primakov said, “Neither in the history of our country nor in the history of other revolutions had there ever been such a plot, as far as its extent, means, and ends are concerned.
Laqueur, Walter. Stalin: The Glasnost Revelations. New York: Scribner’s, c1990, p. 92

Archive materials from the investigation show that the behavior of Tukhachevsky, that is, denying involvement in a plot, was very short-lived.
On May 29, 1937, Yezhov interrogated Tukhachevsky. As a result of that interrogation, “direct testimony” was obtained from Tukhachevsky: “Back in 1928 I was recruited by Yenukidze into a rightist organization. In 1934 I had personal contacts with Bukharin, and I had espionage links with the Germans from 1925, when I traveled to Germany for training and maneuvers…. During a trip to London in 1936, Putna arranged a meeting for me with Sedov [the son of Trotsky]…. I maintained clandestine links with Feldman, Kamenev, Yakir, Eideman, Yenukidze, Bukharin, Karakhan, Pyatakov, Smirnov, Yagoda, 0sipyan, and a number of others.”
Laqueur, Walter. Stalin: The Glasnost Revelations. New York: Scribner’s, c1990, p. 318

On May 29, 1937, when Tukhachevsky was questioned by Yezhov, he made a “confession.” He stated: “Back in 1928 Enukidze drew me into a rightist organization. In 1934 I established personal contacts with Bukharin. I became a spy for the Germans in 1925, when I went to Germany for exercises and maneuvers. When I visited London in 1936, Putna arranged a meeting for me with Sedov [Trotsky’s son]…. I acted in conspiracy with Feldman, Kamenev, Yakir, Eideman, Enukidze, Bukharin, Karakhan, Pyatakov, Smirnov, Yagoda, 0sipyan, and some others.”
Political Archives of the Soviet Union (Vol. 1, No. 2) Commack, New York: Nova Science Publishers, 1990, p. 224

On June 11, 1937, the Special bench met in camera to consider the case against Tukhachevsky and the others. After the indictment was read out, all the accused, in answer to questions from the chairman of the court, pleaded guilty.
Political Archives of the Soviet Union (Vol. 1, No. 2) Commack, New York: Nova Science Publishers, 1990, p. 228

Ulrich asked Tukhachevsky: You claim that you joined in anti-Soviet activities in 1932, and, concerning your spying, which you consider anti-Soviet, did begin much earlier?” To this Tukhachevsky replied: “I don’t know if it would be considered spying….”
Political Archives of the Soviet Union (Vol. 1, No. 2) Commack, New York: Nova Science Publishers, 1990, p. 229

Tukhachevsky deposed that the conspiracy had been led by himself, Tukhachevsky, and Feldman, whom he had allegedly recruited in 1932 together with Smolin and Alafuzo.
But no charges concerning the “military-fascist conspiracy” were brought against Alafuzo, and Smolin has now been rehabilitated.
Furthermore Tukhachevsky deposed that he had drawn Efimov, Putna, Eideman, and Vakulich into the conspiracy in 1933, and Primakov, Gorbachev, Vasilenko and others, in 1934.
Tukhachevsky’s depositions to the effect that back in 1925 he had given intelligence about the state of the Red Army to the Polish spy Dombal, and that in 1931 he had established an espionage relationship with General Adams, Chief of the German General Staff, and a staff officer, Niederneyer…and that Niederneyer, at the time indicated by Tukhachevsky, was an official representative of the Reichswehr in the USSR, and, in accordance with the agreements of those years, liaised not only with Red Army commanders but with the NKVD.
Political Archives of the Soviet Union (Vol. 1, No. 2) Commack, New York: Nova Science Publishers, 1990, p. 234

A few days later, as Yezhov buzzed in and out of Stalin’s office, a broken Marshal Tukhachevsky confessed that Yenukidze had recruited him in 1928, that he was a German agent in cahoots with Bukharin to seize power. Tukhachevsky’s confession…survives in the archives….
Montefiore, Sebag. Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar. New York: Knopf, 2004, p. 223


…In 1925 Frunze completed all this by making personnel appointments and switches that placed competent military men at the head of military districts, corps, and divisions. These men were selected on the basis of their military qualifications, not their devotion to the party.
By this time I was already secretly anti-communist. Looking at the lists of Frunze’s senior officers, I asked myself, “If I were in his place, and anti-communist, who would I have selected to run the army?” I would have had to respond to myself, “The same men.” They were a group who would have been perfect for a coup d’etat in case of war. They were, of course, in appearance merely excellent military officers.
I never discussed this matter with Stalin, and naturally I had no wish to draw his attention to it. But when the occasion presented itself I asked Mekhlis if he had heard Stalin say what he thought of the new military appointments. I asked it innocently, “Stalin is always interested in military matters.” “What does Stalin think? [He replied,] “Nothing good. Look at the list: men like Tukhachevsky, Kork, Uborevitch, Avksentiev, are they good Communists? They’re good for an 18th Brumaire, but not the Red Army.” I wanted to know more, “is that your opinion, or Stalin’s?” Mekhlis puffed himself up and said conceitedly, “His, and mine too, of course.”
Bazhanov, Boris. Bazhanov and the Damnation of Stalin. Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, c1990, p. 100

This tendency to see conspiratorial linkages among those who were not on his side was detectable in a note he [Stalin] sent to Ordzhonikidze in 1930. The OGPU had conducted interrogations of a large number of former Imperial Army officers and discovered that several have put their political hopes in Tukhachevsky….
[In the same September 1930 notes to Molotov] Stalin stated:
“At any rate, Tukhachevsky has turned out to be captive to anti-Soviet elements and has been especially worked over by anti-Soviet elements from the ranks of the Rightists. That’s what comes out of the materials [of the interrogations]. Is this possible? Of course it’s possible once it has failed to be excluded. Obviously the Rightists are ready to go to the lengths of a military dictatorship if only this would free them from the Central Committee, from kolkhozes, and sovkhozes, from Bolshevik rates of development of industry.”
…Stalin was in no doubt: Tukhachevsky, Kondratev, and Bukharin were leading figures in this disloyal “camp’ of the Rightists.
Service, Robert. Stalin. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard Univ. Press, 2005, p. 279-280


Arrested on Aug. 14, 1936, Corps Commander Primakov had been held in the Lefortovo prison in Moscow for nine months; he refused to admit he was guilty…. However,…on May 8, 1937, in the Lefortovo prison, he wrote the following statement to Yezhov:
“For nine months I have refused to speak about the affair of the Trotskyite counter-revolutionary organization. In this refusal I have resorted to such insolence that even in the Politburo before Comrade Stalin I continued to refuse to speak and tried in every way possible to mitigate my guilt. Comrade Stalin was right when he said “Primakov is a coward, for to refuse to speak in such a matter is cowardice.” In fact, for my part this was cowardice and false shame for the purpose of deception. I now state that when I returned from Japan in 1930, I made contact with Dreitzer and Putna with Mrachkovsky and started Trotskyite work about which I shall provide full testimony for the investigation.
Already at the interrogation on May 14, 1937, naming his “accomplices,” he had reported the following about Yakir: “The Trotskyite organization thought that Yakir was most suitable for the post of people’s commissar to replace Voroshilov…. They thought that Yakir was a strictly clandestine Trotskyite and allowed that he, Yakir, was linked personally with Trotsky and would possibly carry out top-secret independent tasks unknown to us.”
Continuing the “treatment” [there’s no justification for putting quotes around the word treatment] on Primakov on May 21, 1937, the NKVD organs managed to obtain from him “his own testimony” that Tukhachevsky, who had links with Trotsky, led the conspiracy. In addition, at this interrogation, Primakov named 40 eminent Soviet workers as participants in a military Trotskyite plot in the army. In particular, he offered testimony that compromised eminent military figures such as Shaposhnikov, Kamenev, Gamarnik, Dybenko, Uritsky, and others.
Laqueur, Walter. Stalin: The Glasnost Revelations. New York: Scribner’s, c1990, p. 314-315

Corps Commander Primakov was arrested on Aug. 14, 1936. He was put into Lefortovo Prison in Moscow and for nine months denied all charges. Stalin’s archives contain several statements from him, in which he protested his illegal arrest. But he failed to stand the ordeal and on May 8, 1937, wrote a statement in Lefortovo prison, addressed to Yezhov: “For nine months I have withheld from the investigators the truth about the Trotskyite counter-revolutionary organization. In this I became so impudent that even in the Politburo before Comrade Stalin I continued to hold back and belittle my guilt in every way. Comrade Stalin rightly said that ‘Primakov is a coward, it is cowardice to hold back in a case like this.’ Indeed, it was cowardice and a pretense of shame for the deception on my part. I hereby state that after I came back from Japan in 1930 I got in touch with Dreitzer & Schmidt, and through Dreitzer & Putna, with Mrachkovsky, embarked on Trotskyite work, about which I will testify to the investigators in full.”
… Interrogated on May 14, 1937, he named his accomplices and testified against Yakir: “The Trotskyite organization considered Yakir the best man for People’s Commissar instead of Voroshilov…. We believe that Yakir was a most thoroughly concealed Trotskyite, and admitted of the possibility that he, Yakir, maintained personal contacts with Trotsky and, possibly, was carrying out absolutely secret missions, of which we were not aware.”
On May 21, 1937… the NKVD got Primakov to “make a deposition in his own hand” that the conspiracy was headed by Tukhachevsky, who was linked with Trotsky. At the same interrogation he named 40 prominent officers as members of the alleged military Trotskyite conspiracy in the army. He testified against such noted military leaders as Shaposhnikov, Kamenev, Gamarnik, Dybenko, and Uritsky.
Political Archives of the Soviet Union (Vol. 1, No. 2) Commack, New York: Nova Science Publishers, 1990, p. 223


New arrests of eminent military workers took place in mid-May 1937. Those arrested included the chief of the Frunze Academy, Army Commander 2nd Rank Kork, and Corps Commander Feldman, who had been appointed deputy commander of the Moscow Military District.
During the first interrogations of Kork, who was arrested on the night of May 14, 1937, he denied involvement in anti-Soviet activity, but on May 16 his resistance was broken, and he signed two statements addressed to Yezhov. Kork reported that he had been recruited into a rightist organization by Yenukidze and that the military rightist organization also included a Trotskyite military group made up of Putna, Primakov, and Turovsky. Tukhachevsky was supposedly also connected with the rightist organization. Kork wrote further that the group’s main task was to effect a military coup in the Kremlin and that he led a military organization of rightists headquarters people for the coup made up of himself along with Tukhachevsky and Putna.
Laqueur, Walter. Stalin: The Glasnost Revelations. New York: Scribner’s, c1990, p. 316

New arrests among the military were made in the middle of May 1937. Those arrested include Kork… and Feldman….
At the first interrogations following his arrest on the night of May 13, 1937, Kork denied any involvement in anti-Soviet activities, but on May 16 his resistance was over-powered, and he signed two statements addressed to Yezhov. He said he had been drawn into a right-wing organization by Enukidze, and that their military organization included a Trotskyite military group consisting of Putna, Primakov, and Turovsky. Tukhachevsky was said to have been connected with the military organization of the right. Kork wrote that the group’s main aim was to carry out a military takeover in the Kremlin, and that the military organization was led by a take-over headquarters consisting of himself, Tukhachevsky, and Putna.
Political Archives of the Soviet Union (Vol. 1, No. 2) Commack, New York: Nova Science Publishers, 1990, p. 223

In a statement to the NKVD, Kork maintained that he had been drawn into the conspiracy by Enukidze, and that the “take-over headquarters” comprised Tukhachevsky, Putna, and himself, Kork. He had entered into a criminal relationship with Tukhachevsky in 1931. Later Kork changed his testimony, saying that the leading center of the conspiracy had consisted of Tukhachevsky, Yakir, Uborevitch, Eideman, and himself, Kork.
Political Archives of the Soviet Union (Vol. 1, No. 2) Commack, New York: Nova Science Publishers, 1990, p. 233


Corps Commander Feldman was arrested on May 15, 1937. In his statement he requested that he be able to familiarize himself with the available material in the investigation, and he expressed his readiness to provide testimony concerning that material.
When he presented the record of the interrogation to Stalin, Molotov, Voroshilov, and Kaganovich on May 20, 1937, Yezhov asked them to discuss the question of the arrest of “the remaining participants in the plot” named by Feldman.
The “remaining participants in the plot” who had not been arrested at that time were Tukhachevsky, Yakir, Eideman, and other commanders. They were arrested after May 20. In the records of Feldman’s interrogations on May 19, 21, and 23, 1937, more than 40 army commanders and political workers were named as participants in the military Trotskyite organization.
Laqueur, Walter. Stalin: The Glasnost Revelations. New York: Scribner’s, c1990, p. 317

… According to the records of Feldman’s interrogations on May 19, 21, and 23, 1937, he named 40-odd army commanders and political officers as members of the alleged military Trotskyite organization.
Political Archives of the Soviet Union (Vol. 1, No. 2) Commack, New York: Nova Science Publishers, 1990, p. 224

At first Feldman deposed that he had been drawn into the conspiracy by Primakov. At subsequent interrogations he deposed that he had been recruited by Tukhachevsky, who allegedly back in 1932 had told him that Putna, Primakov, Efimov, Vasilenko, Garkavy, Turovsky, and others were involved in the conspiracy.
Political Archives of the Soviet Union (Vol. 1, No. 2) Commack, New York: Nova Science Publishers, 1990, p. 233


On May 9, 1937, Voroshilov sent a letter to the All-Union Communist Party (of Bolsheviks) Politburo confirming new appointments. On May 10, 1937, the All-Union Communist Party Politburo adopted the following: “The following appointments are confirmed: (1) marshal of the Soviet Union Comrade Yegorov as first deputy people’s commissar of defense; (2) commander of the Leningrad Military District Commander 1st Rank Comrade Shaposhnikov as RKKA chief of General Staff; (3) commander of the Kiev Military District Army Commander 1st Rank Comrade Yakir as commander of the Leningrad military district… (8) marshal of the Soviet Union Comrade Tukhachevsky as commander of the Volga Military District, relieving him of his duties as deputy people’s commissar of defense.”
Laqueur, Walter. Stalin: The Glasnost Revelations. New York: Scribner’s, c1990, p. 317


When he was interrogated for the first time on August 24-25, 1936, Putna admitted that he had participated in the Trotskyite-Zinovievite Opposition in 1926 and 1927, but said he had completely broken with it and had not engaged in any counter-revolutionary activity. But at the next interrogation, on August 31, 1936, he testified to the existence of a “nation-wide,” a “parallel,” and a ” Moscow center of the Trotskyite-Zinovievite bloc” and his involvement, jointly with Primakov, in a military Trotskyite organization.
Political Archives of the Soviet Union (Vol. 1, No. 2) Commack, New York: Nova Science Publishers, 1990, p. 220


On May 6, 1937, the NKVD administration for the Moscow Region arrested M. E. Medvedev, retired brigade commander, who prior to 1934 had been head of the Red Army’s Air Defenses and had been expelled from the party for squandering public money. That same day he testified against some of the Air defense officers. The interrogation record stated that he had “doubted their sincerity and loyalty.” On May 8, 1937, he stated that he had participated in a “Trotskyite military organization,” which had been headed by Feldman, deputy commander of the Moscow Military Areas. Interrogated on May 10, 1937, Medvedev spoke of a “military counter-revolutionary organization” in the Red Army, whose aim was to “overthrow the Soviet system, and establish a military dictatorship with the restoration of capitalism, which was to be carried out with armed assistance from invaders.” He alleged that the organization’s leaders included Tukhachevsky (the potential dictator), Yakir, Putna, Primakov, and Kork.
Political Archives of the Soviet Union (Vol. 1, No. 2) Commack, New York: Nova Science Publishers, 1990, p. 222


A short while later Uborevitch signed two statements addressed to Yezhov, in which he confessed to having played a role in a military conspiracy. He also signed the minutes of the interrogation at which he had admitted his guilt.
Political Archives of the Soviet Union (Vol. 1, No. 2) Commack, New York: Nova Science Publishers, 1990, p. 225


Like Uborevitch, Yakir at first denied any part in the conspiracy, but after a confrontation with Kork, he wrote Yezhov a statement admitting that he had been a member of the conspiracy and that he had been drawn into it by Tukhachevsky in 1933.
Political Archives of the Soviet Union (Vol. 1, No. 2) Commack, New York: Nova Science Publishers, 1990, p. 233


Later Yakir changed his depositions and said that back in 1936 he had informed Gamarnik of the sabotage that he, Yakir, and Tukhachevsky and Uborevitch had committed in border areas to weaken the nation’s defense capability, and that Gamarnik had said that similar work had been done in the Soviet Far East. Yakir maintained that Gamarnik had not been a member of the military conspiracy’s center and that he had not maintained counter-revolutionary contacts directly with Tukhachevsky, Kork, or others but had maintained these contacts through Yakir. Yakir could not cite any instance of Gamarnik’s alleged counter-revolutionary activities, saying that Gamarnik had engaged in sabotage in the Soviet Far East and that he himself had known little of the Far Eastern Theatre.
Uborevitch did not testify to Gamarnik’s role in the military conspiracy but said that Tukhachevsky had spoken very highly of him and that in turn Gamarnik had kept in touch with Tukhachevsky and others on some matters, and therefore he supposed that Gamarnik had been a member of the military conspiracy’s center.
Tukhachevsky testified more specifically to Gamarnik’s part in the conspiracy. He deposed that its center had consisted of Tukhachevsky, Gamarnik, S.S. Kamenev, Uborevitch, Yakir, Feldman, Eideman, Zarem, Primakov, and Kork.
Tukhachevsky maintained that Gamarnik had joined the center in 1934, had held a leading position in it, and had been in charge of sabotage in the Soviet Far East.
Kork, who was also convicted as a member of the center, deposed: “The center consisted of Tukhachevsky, Yakir, Uborevitch, Eideman, and myself. Tukhachevsky didn’t tell me then or later about any other persons, including Gamarnik.”
Political Archives of the Soviet Union (Vol. 1, No. 2) Commack, New York: Nova Science Publishers, 1990, p. 237

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