In 1918, Tukhachevsky joined the Red Army, and as a protégé of Leon Trotsky, he became a prominent military commander during the Russian Civil War, leading the First Army and then the Eighth and Fifth Armies. Appointed commander in the west in April 1920, he led the Russian invasion of Poland. Fighting here, however, laid the seeds for future conflicts and hatreds between Tukhachevsky and Stalin and Kliment Voroshilov. At one point during the Battle of Warsaw, Stalin withheld vitally needed troops from Tukhachevsky's command.
In March 1921, Tukhachevsky brutally suppressed the anti-Communist uprisings at Kronstadt. Between 1922 and 1924, he headed the Military Academy. In May 1924, he became deputy to Marshal Mikhail Frunze, chief of the General Staff. Following Frunze's death, he became chief of staff of the Red Army, occupying that post from 1926 to 1928. Following disagreements with Defense Commissar Voroshilov, Tukhachevsky was commander of the Leningrad Military District between 1928 and 1931. There, he developed his theories of deep operations, the application of mechanization and armor along with air support to warfare, and the use of airborne troops, carrying out actual maneuvers with these forces. Tukhachevsky saw clearly the nature of the German threat, and he called for forward areas to be lightly held, with large formations remaining back for subsequent reaction and deep-penetration operations. Voroshilov, an old-fashioned proponent of cavalry, opposed his theories.
Tukhachevsky returned to Moscow in 1931 as deputy commissar for military and naval affairs and chairman of the Revolutionary Military Council of the USSR and director of armaments. In 1936, he was named first deputy commissar for military-naval affairs and director of the Department of Combat Training. Foreign observers recognized Tukhachevsky's contribution in creating the most advanced armor and airborne divisions in the world. In November 1935, he was promoted to marshal of the Soviet Union, and in January 1936, he headed the Soviet delegation at the funeral of British King George V.
Tuckhachevsky believed strongly in the need to understand thoroughly the defensive aspects of war as a prerequisite for comprehending the operational level of war as a whole; Stalin—with the support of Voroshilov and the commandant of the Frunze Academy, Marshal of the Soviet Union Andrei I. Yegorov—demanded unilateral adherence to the offensive in war. Tuckhachevsky also predicted that Adolf Hitler would cooperate with Japan and that Germany would invade both the West and the Soviet Union, and he argued for an end to cooperation with the Germans and a defense in depth. His meddling in such areas and the 1935 publication of these views in an article entitled "The War Plans of Germany in Our Time" angered Stalin.
That April, Tukhachevsky was removed from his posts and assigned to command the Volga Military District. He was arrested on 26 May 1937. Secretly tried and condemned on charges of spying for the Germans, he was executed by firing squad on the night of 11–12 June in Moscow. A 1956 Soviet investigation concluded that the charges against him had been fabricated, and he was formally rehabilitated in 1963. Almost all of Tukhachevsky's views were proven correct during World War II.
Michael Share and Spencer C. Tucker
Alexandrov, Victor. The Tukhachevsky Affair. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1963.; Butson, Thomas G. The Tsar's Lieutenant, the Soviet Marshal. New York: Praeger, 1984.; Erickson, John. The Soviet High Command. London: Macmillan, 1962.; Naveh, Shimon. "Mihail Nikolayevich Tukhachevsky." In Harold Shukman, ed., Stalin's Generals, 255–273. New York: Grove Press, 1993.