The great purge, especially of armed forces, seems like the greatest blunder of the early soviet union. It killed countless innocents and culled trained military personnel, because ol' Joe Steel was worried about a coup. Given that it seems to have led to humiliation against Finland and probably led to the red army being woefully unready for Operation Barbarossa, what would happen if Stalin's purges were smaller, focused more on administrators or beurocrats, and the military was, well not untouched, but was basically a routine purge vs anything of note?
 
It was not just the military - its impact was cross Russian society - the soviet unions ability to keep up with Axis and Western Allied aircraft developments for example was seriously impacted by the purge in wrecking design teams and sending engineers of to chop wood etc - by the time it was reversed and addressed they were some years behind - and in WW2 being some years behind was massive.
 
It was not just the military - its impact was cross Russian society - the soviet unions ability to keep up with Axis and Western Allied aircraft developments for example was seriously impacted by the purge in wrecking design teams and sending engineers of to chop wood etc - by the time it was reversed and addressed they were some years behind - and in WW2 being some years behind was massive.
Interesting. If stalin didn't launch the purge (say trotsky dies before he would've launched it, meaning stalin'ss rivals have no clear head, or he just never gets the idea) how much more competitive would the USSR be? would Barbarossa still see any success?
 
There is a line of thinking that says the Great Purge was driven from below by a new generation of young communists eager to replace former Tsarist-era officials. Without the purge that energy and generational conflict still exists, and potentially plays out differently - do they throw their weight someone else?
 
The military got purged due to the fact the Party would brook no alternate power base. So unless you get a POD during the revolution itself ( as the events within is what convinced Lenin, and the later leadership, the military could not be trusted ) , then you still end up with a military that has been beheaded and commissars crippling the effectiveness of the units. Political orthodoxy will still be valued more than military ability and free thinking equated with unreliability/counter revolutionary thought.
 
The Purge gutted the the army's staff officer 'core'

It basically meant that the average Division, corps and army/army group which should have been led by officers who would normally have been men at the top of their careers and once purged the men who replaced them had very little experience in how to run their commands and a staff who were on average promoted above their ability.

So when asked to attack Finland the organisation was found wanting, and come the German invasion......this coupled with Stalin's disastrous leadership in not allowing the Army to go to a war footing until it was far too late - meaning that on the eve of war units were scrambling to reform from their peacetime garrisons and draw their necessary tables of weapons, ammunition, stores and other equipment as well as activating their reserves.

It was a massive shit show
 
The great purge, especially of armed forces, seems like the greatest blunder of the early soviet union. It killed countless innocents and culled trained military personnel, because ol' Joe Steel was worried about a coup. Given that it seems to have led to humiliation against Finland and probably led to the red army being woefully unready for Operation Barbarossa, what would happen if Stalin's purges were smaller, focused more on administrators or beurocrats, and the military was, well not untouched, but was basically a routine purge vs anything of note?
I actually think the purge saved the USSR. Germany beat a better military (France) quickly because the will to resist collapsed. France's whole strategy was *always* going to lead to them committing reserves to Belgium. France had one goal alone--avoid WW1 again. It was politically impossible to get the people to seriously fight for years, on French soil, and spend all that money and blood. France wanted to bloody Germany bad in Belgium and then win in a year. When this didn't work out, the memory of the last war led to a general collapse. France could have dragged out fighting in its south and then from its colonies--but they were not going to, this was never a serious option. Vichy France did not arise by mistake in some political vacuum.

Now take Russia. Minus the purges, the persecutions, the sheer human brutality. The USSR would still have less men on their frontiers than the Axis forces come June 22nd. By August 1st, their army would be effectively destroyed. A non-brutalized population would have coup'd Stalin and sued for peace, likely not repeating the mistakes of 1917.

Stalin waited at his dacha expecting to be offed in the first week of the war. Instead, people looked to him for leadership out of fear and being so brutalized knowing nowhere else to turn. And so, the USSR survived 1941 where I think no other power would have. They even lacked guns for many of their men. And bullets. WHy did the people fight? Because they were in a psychological state of submission impossible in Poland, France, or Germany 1941. Compare this to Germany 44-45 where strategic bombing and the holocaust cowed the German populace into a steely submission and brutal fatalism.

And so, the USSR survived simply by outlasting the Germans and letting them over extend their supply lines. In other words, Russia won simply by not giving up. This is despite Russia losing every counter offensive, including after Tyfun, where Russian losses far exceeded Germans. But they fought on, despite millions upon millions of new reserves with zero experience being called up to fight with crap equipment or none at that. Germany could have never anticipated this.

I think in retrospect, Barbarossa was a "good" plan that should have worked. Just like the "Strategic Bombing" should have "forced" German surrender. What WW2 got wrong was that brutalizing populations *does not* win wars, it extends them. If the USSR did not cause a collapse in Manchuko, it's unlikely the a-bombs would have ended the war in Asia. And if this were the case, our whole memory and assessment of deterrence through terror would likely be much different.
 
These are all very interest comments. I especially appreciate yours, @pattersonautobody, which perspective I have not heard before!

I personally believe that if the Third Reich had done a better job at co-opting the Slavic people to the east, rather than exterminating them, it would have been very popular. The Nazis were poised to use millions of the locals against their greatest enemy, the Soviet Union, to support regime change... but they were too focused on immediately implementing their racist totalitarian state.

As an aside, my timeline Beauty Before Bedlam: The End of the Cold War & the New Age of Aquarius features a world without a very prominent Lenin or Stalin. There is no Great Purge... in fact many of the tragedies that happened in Russia since 1917 do not occur.

The result is a much more effective military, which is nevertheless still brutalized in a version of Operation Barbarossa which happens in 1943, but not quite as badly. Chief of Staff Alexander Yegorov, who remained a Socialist Revolutionary, is in charge when they attack & fails repeatedly to turn them back. He is replaced by Marshal Mikhail Tukhachevsky in August 1943. Baku is razed to the ground, Nazi soldiers fall to their knees and cry into their hands when they finally see the burning heaps of the city's former oil wells on the water of the Caspian Sea. Marshal Georgy Zhukov is promoted to the Chief of Staff of the Liberation Army by May 1946.

As this timeline's Operation Barbarossa involves the full participation of the Polish Army, there are no general extermination orders, but political prisoners on the Eastern Front are still taken & occasionally executed. Nazi administrators still intend to enslave the Slavic population and target the Jewish population and a few other minority groups. But, this means that Chief of Staff Zhukov ultimately takes a much harsher view towards soldier brutality of civilians when the Liberation Army is on the offense. Berlin still experiences a mass rape, but this is a mostly unique controversy and it elicits many arrests. Warsaw saw mistreatment, but nothing as vicious as what happened in Berlin. Zhukov manages to escape blame for casting a blind eye in the case of Germany's capital. Still, integration of the Germans into the Popular Federation is a relatively smoother process than what happened with OTL's Soviet Union.
 
I personally believe that if the Third Reich had done a better job at co-opting the Slavic people to the east, rather than exterminating them, it would have been very popular.
Yeah, but then they would have been Notzis, and they probably wouldn't have started the war in the first place, or if they would have taken power in 1933 without being totally evil bastards
 
There is a line of thinking that says the Great Purge was driven from below by a new generation of young communists eager to replace former Tsarist-era officials. Without the purge that energy and generational conflict still exists, and potentially plays out differently - do they throw their weight someone else?
If the Soviet military was a static size and there was congestion for promotion, sure. But the Soviet military was in the course of massive expansion in the 1930s, where even without the purges it would be running into problems of insufficient officers by the late 1930s, so I don't really buy this as a necessity. Perhaps a driver once launched, but if the purges didn't occur those new generations could have gone to new formations easily enough.
 
If the Soviet military was a static size and there was congestion for promotion, sure. But the Soviet military was in the course of massive expansion in the 1930s, where even without the purges it would be running into problems of insufficient officers by the late 1930s, so I don't really buy this as a necessity. Perhaps a driver once launched, but if the purges didn't occur those new generations could have gone to new formations easily enough.
The problem isn't just the military. Many party officials rose through the ranks during the purge. If the old-guard isn't murdered, people like Brezhnev won't rise as fast as they did IOTL. Maybe they look to anti-Stalinist communists for inspiration.
 
the highest generals of the Russian army betrayed the tsar in February 1917. This led to defeat in the war. If Nicholas was cleaning the army, then this would not have happened.
 
Yeah, but then they would have been Notzis, and they probably wouldn't have started the war in the first place, or if they would have taken power in 1933 without being totally evil bastards
Not our timeline's Nazis, certainly. In some ways I see it as MORE evil to make use of collaborators on the Eastern Front... because after the defeat of the Soviets, which would surely come with more troops & supplies, the Axis will likely be in control of Russia's economy & would be able to dominate their society completely post-war. Death might be seen as a swift relief to the conditions that might result, even if the Third Reich doesn't directly own the territory.

Perhaps more radical Nazis would push for more serious measures of ethnic cleansing, but otherwise I think it would be popular for the new German landowners in the East would be happy to take serfs from particular classes of the population and let the free Slavs playact their own fake restorationist monarchy. Servitude is not the same as extermination, but still frightening... Whether this system is stable over time, I don't know. Probably not, in the 20th century.
 
The problem isn't just the military. Many party officials rose through the ranks during the purge. If the old-guard isn't murdered, people like Brezhnev won't rise as fast as they did IOTL. Maybe they look to anti-Stalinist communists for inspiration.
Makes sense for the rest of society, agreed. I was thinking of it in the context of the military given the thread's focus.
 
If the Soviet military was a static size and there was congestion for promotion, sure. But the Soviet military was in the course of massive expansion in the 1930s, where even without the purges it would be running into problems of insufficient officers by the late 1930s, so I don't really buy this as a necessity. Perhaps a driver once launched, but if the purges didn't occur those new generations could have gone to new formations easily enough.

At least one other made this point here. yes the Purge eliminated many capable officers from the Red Army. However:

In September 1939 Merekov placed the Red Army in European USSR at approx 100 divisions. 65 infantry & the remainder cavalry, armored, and other. Underlying this standing force were reservists sufficient to fill out the infantry force to 130 additional divisions or roughly 195 total. Plus reservists to fill out a unspecified number of the cavalry & others. On paper the Red Army had officer cadres to field approx 250 divisions of all types in the west. However the Purges had by 1939 revoked 25 to 30% of those cadres. This was bad but in the panic after the German conquest of Poland & France the Red Army underwent a 'large' expansion of authorized ground combat divisions. How many depends on who is counting but low estimates double the count to 500. Others place it at 600 or larger. On paper this would dilute the officer cadre by 50% or better. But, after the Purges one can see a reduced cadre sufficient for maybe 130 infantry divisions was spread across 400 or more nominal infantry division. Even absent the Purges theres a serious problem for provision of qualified Commanders and their HQ staff. In the case of Lts and Captains its one thing, but it takes years to bring officer or senior NCO to where he can act as a effective staff officer or commander of a regiment, corps, or army command group.

The US Army underwent a equally demanding expansion 1939-1943, from a cadre of under 100,000 Regular and Reserve/National Guard officers to over 800,000 in four years. There was also during this time a purge of unqualified officers. Tens or thousands of medically unfit, & incompetent political appointees in the National Guard were shed in those four years out of the original small officer corps.
 
The Terror as it occurred was overdetermined after military tensions started ramping up in the second half of the 1930s, especially once the Spanish Civil War started. Hard not to tie the origination of the term “fifth column” to Stalin’s attempt to massacre any potential source of disloyalty in the event of war, high ranking or low.

Averting the Spanish Civil War might change when the Terror occurs and the exact order of events. The destruction of the “Trotskyites” and the spin-off victims of the 1st Moscow Trial was inevitable, but there was nothing about it which presaged the all-encompassing destruction of all elites and regular citizens perceived as disloyal in 1937-38.

It also depends on whether Yezhov stays at the Party Control Commission after 1936. Stalin was already extremely dissatisfied with Yagoda in 1935-36 following the Kirov assassination and the exposure of various “Trotskyite conspiracies”. Yezhov and Stalin were on the exact same page about the need to crack down on enemy conspiracies within the USSR, and Yezhov used that to propel himself to the top post at the NKVD.

If the Spanish Civil War doesn’t freak Stalin out, does he feel the need to bring in a highly qualified outsider (Yezhov) to clean house at the NKVD? If he instead picks another professional Chekist who follows Stalin’s line on conspiracies but doesn’t feel quite as motivated as Yezhov things might remain calmer at the NKVD.

So from 1937-39 you get a series of NKVD investigations into unfortunate elements of Soviet society which Stalin is suspicious of (The military, Party elites, bureaucrats) as well as well known enemies like ethnic minorities, “former people”, “former kulaks”, etc. which leads to increased arrests and killing as well as high profile trials (RIP Tukhachevsky) but no mass decapitation of any Soviet institution or attempt to eliminate entire “enemy classes” in one fell swoop.

Eventually you’re going to get a big mass murder operation, whether it’s when the war starts as happened on a smaller scale IOTL or sometime in the lead up to war. I’m skeptical you could get Stalin to put it off until the war starts, but without the SCW causing him to get spooked who’s to say.
 
Top