Czechoslovakia between Stalin and Hitler: The Diplomacy of Edvard Benes in the 1930s

By Igor Lukes | Go to book overview

4
Beneš and the Tukhachevsky Affair: New Evidence from the Archives in Prague and Moscow

In September 1936 military diplomats and invited specialists from around the world watched large-scale Red Army maneuvers in Byelorussia. They were favorably impressed. The climax of the war games involved a parachute deployment and the reassembly, in battle formation, of more than a thousand men armed with machine guns and equipped with light artillery pieces. 1 This was received as a sensation by the large group of foreign military observers. 2 Even at the height of World War II the event was still viewed as groundbreaking. 3

If the Red Army was found to be a considerable fighting force in the fall of 1936, Western specialists' views changed dramatically within eight months. Between 1937 and 1938, the officer corps of the Soviet armed forces was more than decimated in a gigantic purge. One by one, the leaders of the Red Army confessed, according to laconically formulated newspaper articles, to high treason; they were spies for Nazi Germany. The purge weakened the Red Army and caused its perceived importance in European affairs to decline sharply. When measured by its sheer destructiveness, the purge had few historical antecedents. 4 The most famous victim was the dashing Marshal Mikhail Tukhachevsky, who had a creative military mind that was open to innovations. His career in the Red Army spanned service in the civil war, the Bolshevik invasion of Poland, the ruthless suppression of the rebellion in Kronstadt, and then a meteoric rise through the ranks to the very top; he was among the first to attain the rank of marshal of the Soviet Union. Tukhachevsky's career came to a cruel end, however, when he was charged with plotting against the Kremlin and espionage on behalf of Germany. His execution took place on 12 June 1937 after a brief and secret trial on the previous day. 5

The charge against Tukhachevsky seemed like a dramatic replay of the Wallenstein affair that had captured Europe's attention some three hundred years before the news of the Soviet marshal's fall was made public. 6 But the similarities between the Hapsburg generalissimo and the Soviet marshal were only superficial. Unlike

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