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Revisiting Stalin's purges of the Red Army

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Most of us are broadly aware of Stalin's purges of the Red Army and their devastating impact on Soviet combat performance when the Germans invaded and for quite some time thereafter, but what if it wasn't quite that way? What if the numbers are enormously exaggerated? What if the truth was cloaked and then and largely remains so now, at least, here in the West? A Texas A&M history professor, Robert Reese, a SME on the Soviet military under Stalin and author of four books on that topic, takes a hard look at what really happened, how bad it was, who it affected, how, why, reporting biases, already existing officer shortfalls, training deficiencies and more. The true picture is far more complex, convoluted and nuanced than the cut and dried depiction we're used to encountering.



John Kettler

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One of the most understated issues was that the Red Army-like every Army of the interwar period-was in the middle of a huge re-armament program. Aside from the obvious dangers posed by Fascism, observations from the Spanish Civil War, especially the debacle in Finland all made it clear that the Red Army was in a lamentable state in the 1930s. Stalin just gambled that Hitler was more rational than he was, believing at one point during the opening of the invasion that Hitler didn't even know it was happening-that a group of rogue German Generals were behind it! Sounds familiar doesn't it? 

The author of this article crucially points out the often unstated degree of consent and even collaboration there was to be found inside the rank and file of the nation for Stalin. No authoritarian-even totalitarian-could truly rule without some degree of cooperation, Stalin was just really good at masking how much of that there really was, and as a result-it was hard to trust peers and colleagues.

The whole event was definitely bad for morale and squashed a lot of interest officers might've shown in low-level initiative. If this would've enabled the Red Army to suffer Barbarossa a bit better i'm unsure, but initiative and independence among Junior Officers was never much valued in the Red Army. The twisted byzantine political games of Stalin's Soviet Union implies to me that the whole purge might well have been orchestrated just to take down one guy-Tukhachevsky-we will never know for sure, that's just my own observation. 

Edited by SimpleSimon
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