How damaging was the 1937 Soviet officer Purge?

Discussion in 'Alternate History Discussion: After 1900' started by Shinsu, Jul 10, 2018.

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How damaging was the 1937 Soviet officer Purge?

  1. Very damaging

    114 vote(s)
    76.0%
  2. Somewhat damaging

    30 vote(s)
    20.0%
  3. Wasn't damaging

    0 vote(s)
    0.0%
  4. Was actually helpful

    6 vote(s)
    4.0%
  1. elkarlo Well-Known Member

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    Indeed. But Hitler did have a god streak of unbelievable luck. So he felt justified in his actions. While stalin was like sadam, just paranoid and blowing up any shadow on the off chance there was a person casting the shadow
     
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  2. ShortsBelfast Events, dear boy, events

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    As I have remarked before, although I acknowledge that there are some military historians that view Stalin's purges of the Russian military as creative destruction that allowed fresh talent to rise, in the short term they denuded the Soviet Army of trained and experienced leaders and military strategists and strongly discouraged initiative. And possibly enthusiasm for victory as well -one Russian officer who collaborated with the Germans told a British interrogator in 1945 that if the Germans had won in 1941 he would be put in a prison camp whereas if the Soviets had won in 1941 he would have been shot in the back of the head.
     
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  3. iVC The worst of the best Donor

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    This is my mistype, must be "self-shattered".

    I wanted to say that mechanism of rooting out the 'military conspiracy' once activated was very hard to stop.

    I hold my personal opinion that the repressions in the army actually began in 1936 and did not coincide with the major repressions against the civilian population in 1937-1938. Or, rather, they coincided, but accidentally, since the purges of the army stemmed from the whole previous process of trying to establish control over the army and all these previous attempts to ensure transparency in the vertical of command and ensure the readiness of the old military elites to take criticism from above.

    I rely on two scientific works of the Russian historian of special services, Alexander Aleksandrovich Zdanovich, who published two monographs in the 2000s: "Soviet State military counterintelligence: Organizational construction and cooperation with the Red Army" and "Activities of the Cheka-OGPU organisations to ensure the safety of the Red Army in 1921-1934" For example, they are also mentioned as bibliographic sources by Stephen Kotkin in books "Stalin: Waiting for Hitler" and "Stalin: Paradoxes of the power".

    In fact, any initiative to identify "conspiracies", as I have already mentioned, begins to self-sustain itself from a certain point. Even if you or I or the @ObssesedNuker were teleported into the desk and chair of the People's Commissar of Defense or the People's Commissar for Internal Affairs in 1937, we would hardly be able to stop the chaos which was happening. We would simply not able to persuade anyone: what are you talking about, the day before yesterday there were enemies in the army, yesterday comrades from the NKVD found a conspiracy, but today you are saying that all this has abruptly ceased to exist? Maybe you're covering the conspiracy of enemies, comrade Commissar?

    All this was superimposed on old contradictions, that every high-ranking military in the military districts on the outskirts of the country surrounded himself with his proteges and appointees who depended on him and basically supported him personally. Accordingly, after the successfully launched initiative from below, all this could indeed be submitted to the top as "an old and long-standing organization of conspirators" messages, and, what is most offensive, looking from above it could just look like this.

    As a result, as in the days of the Great French Revolution, the stream of paranoia and suspicion rose from below, was supported by constant reports from the bottom and everyone who tried to comprehend and rationalize it, was in danger of being suspected of sympathy with the conspirators who were everywhere, everywhere, many of them being found everyday!

    Until this wave of searchings of enemies under the bed did not pass several times, little could be done in order to stop it. Until fanaticism, in an effort to uproot the conspiracy, did not run out of itself, it was all uncontrollable nor from above, nor from below, it was a self-sustaining process that dried up only after a part of the army and part of the "inquisitors" ended physically. This is very similar to the Jacobin terror, to the processes of Senator McCarthy, and in principle to any witch hunt, they are all built on the same principles: they start with reasonable grounds and assumptions, the first steps seem right and justified, and then everything rolls into bloody mess, until the engine simply does not choke from self-harm, being self-shattered.
     
    Last edited: Jul 12, 2018
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  4. iVC The worst of the best Donor

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    That's true, you've mentioned the differences. The main problem of soviet army purges was that they were out of control extremely quickly and were also pretty well tied with the political, ideological and career questions, so even the Soviet leadership was forced to dance on the blade of the knife and choose between loyal and talented or between politically reliable and ambitious.

    Everywhere there were groups with their own political or career interests and it was necessary to maneuver. The leadership was not monolithic, NKVD was not monolithic, SSRs were not monolithic, the army was not monolithic and the quiet political struggle was still on many floors of the soviet skyscraper, so some decisions made entailed many other decisions and these entailed even more and all of this was without end.

    Perhaps, the Soviet leadership believed that it will have enough time to slip with this little purges before the outbreak of the next war (because the initial plan for purges was pretty small).
    Perhaps, it was believed, based on the reports from Spain, that the risk was justified and that this case must be completed before the next thunderstorm begins.

    Let me remind you that it all started with quite innocent intentions to compile lists of unreliable officers and military leaders who should not have trusted important posts during the next war: and already in the process of preparing the lists (Do not put Ivanov on this post, he has many friends there, probably will cover them. Do not put Petrov in Far East, he is cruel and very offended for being fired from Moscow, leave him in the center, so it's easier to control him) the performers who were assigned this task began to see threats and conspiracies everywhere. They wanted the best, but it turned out as always: again these damned counterrevolutionary conspiracies, again these damned enemies, how tired I am! And they began to beat the everyone around, massively.

    And it all ended with a terrible bloodletting, which left even the top leaders pretty dumbfounded, because they did not expect this (and I think that for a while they simply let the process flow because of not being able to stop it).
     
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  5. Jack Brisco NWA Powerhouse

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    When Marshall was appointed Chief of Staff he was indeed jumped over those more senior officers because he was one of the few who could serve a term before mandatory retirement. But a number of these retired generals, such as Stanley Embick and Hugh Drum, were reactivated during the war and served in non-combat positions.

    And there's no doubt a lot of deadwood was trimmed from the ranks by 1942. However, these officers weren't normally sent to prison or shot. They were just separated or retired.

    That's one of the big differences. Marshall purged because he needed the best, and thought only of the good of the service. The thought of subjecting these officers' families to any sort of negative action never even crossed Marshall's mind. Stalin purged, in my opinion, to strike fear into the Red Army and eliminate any possible pretenders to the throne. If Stalin wanted these officers out for operational reasons it would have been easy enough to retire them. Instead, he killed them, put them in the GULAG, and beggared their families. Look what happened to Zhukov after the war. He was exiled, not quite to Siberia, but certainly out of Moscow. Guess Joe cut him a break.
     
  6. bernardz Well-Known Member

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    What it also made Russian military leaders scared to do anything that might endanger them from the communist. As such, they made kept attacking too much, did not take the initiative with authorization, obeyed stupid orders, etc.
     
  7. James Ricker Own your mistakes

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    The loss of the officers was less damaging than their replacements being political stooges, the installation of a inefficient command structure and the quashing of individual initiative among surviving officers.
     
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  8. Ian_W Well-Known Member

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    To be fair, these are traditional weaknesses of the Russian army.
     
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  9. marathag Well-Known Member

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    Purges also hit the scientists and aircraft designers, lucky ones got the nice camps of the Gulag, than the 7.63mm to the head

    The whole OKMO tank design bureau in Leningrad was purged in 1939

    from the wiki
    Notable sharashka inmates
     
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  10. fasquardon Cosmonaut

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    This is fascinating. I had thought that Stalin was the main instigator of the patronage system that was at the core of how the Soviet Union really worked. Now I am wondering if this was something with deeper roots in Russian culture.

    This is SO familiar from reading minutes from meetings that happened 40 years later...

    fasquardon
     
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  11. wiking The One and Only

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    Or any authoritarian system. Stalin wasn't called the Red Czar for nothing.
     
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  12. Crowbar Six Well-Known Member

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    Not just that, but the impact on the morale of loyal officers watching capable and equally loyal men being purged for trumped up and clearly false reasons would have been tremendous. Equally, having less qualified and capable men being promoted as they were considered politically reliable, would create a mindset that the smart thing to do would be to keep your head down to avoid attention and not try to innovate in case it was seen as a criticism of the Army and by extension the Party, would only lead to the many disasters that befell the Red Army in the opening stages of Barbarossa; Overy clearly knows and understands little about the military and they way they operate if he thinks this.
     
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  13. Crowbar Six Well-Known Member

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    The German disaster at Kursk was also an intelligence failure. I read a book by a German general who kept talking about how before Kursk in other areas raids to secure prisoners kept coming back with a high proportion of very young and older Russian soldiers, this lead the intelligence types to conclude the Russians were at the end of their manning rope, when in fact the Russians were concentrating forces to hammer the German attack. I would love to know how anyone familiar with the Soviet Union could possibly think they could run out of military age conscripts after only a few years of warfare.
     
  14. wiking The One and Only

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    There were pretty accurate intelligence reports by FHO that showed the Soviets were running low on eligible manpower due to Germany having overrun tens of millions of Soviet citizens in 1941-42. In fact by mid-1943 the Soviets were hurting for manpower as they were running low on additional people they could conscript, but the liberation of territories after Kursk netted areas that generated 4 million new recruits for the Soviet military in 1943-45. Soviet manpower was not a bottomless manpower pool and woman-power had limits on what roles it could actually carry out.

    I'd link info about it, but my primary online source is down for upgrades.
     
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  15. sloreck Grunt Bear

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  16. RodentRevolution Chewer of Wires

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    Exactly, you have a situation where your (you hope) 5 best divisional commanders must now manage armies and folks whose previous career highs would have been commanding independent brigades trying to grapple with corps. They are also doing this without the staff officers who previously helped run those organisations because those officers have been purged or promoted. The guys who know where to find stuff are now somewhere else trying to learn how to find new stuff.
     
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  17. Carl Schwamberger Well-Known Member

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    "Anyone know where that artillery regiment got stashed?"
     
  18. fasquardon Cosmonaut

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    Bellamy touches on this in Absolute War. The Germans used a rule of thumb that every 2 million people could support a division (I think it was division - it may have been brigade) and the Soviets over the course of the war mobilized close to twice the number the Germans expected just in the Red Army. Not counting industrial workers, NKVD divisions and partisans.

    fasquardon
     
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  19. wiking The One and Only

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    Soviet wartime divisions were also half the size of German divisions...
     
  20. ObssesedNuker Commander of 10 million men

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    Given that the FHO tended to underestimate Soviet quantities by an average of 20%, when the estimates weren't jumping around rather wildly that is, I wouldn't really call them accurate...

    Eh, not by 1943. I mean, sure... on paper a full-strength Soviet 1943 rifle division was 9,354 to a German infantry divisions 16,369. In reality, the difference between most German and Soviet infantry divisions in mid-1943 was around one to two thousand men.
     
    Last edited: Jul 14, 2018