Stalin's Lieutenants: A Study of Command under Duress

By William J. Spahr | Go to book overview

2
STALIN AND VOROSHILOV GAIN
MILITARY EXPERIENCE

TSARITSYN

Stalin was halfway to his thirty-ninth birthday when, in late May 1918, he and A. G. Shliapnikov, a fellow old Bolshevik and member of the Central Committee, were given the assignment and plenipotentiary powers to go to the city of Tsaritsyn on the Volga to ensure that food supplies accumulating there would be sent to Moscow. Tsaritsyn, an important intersection of rail and Volga River transport routes on the right flank of what was to become the Southern Front, was at that time being defended from the attacks of the White Don Cossacks of Gen. Petr Nikolaiovich Krasnov supported by the Austro-German occupiers of the Ukraine. At Lenin's insistence, the two emissaries were accompanied by a detachment of 400 troops, including 100 Latvian riflemen ( Volkogonov 1989, book 1, part 1:90).

On arrival, Stalin immediately became involved with the military defense of the city, which was in danger of being cut off from Moscow by Krasnov's troops. Stalin interfered with the operations of the military staffs, removed officers he considered incompetent, and began to use "repressive measures" to enforce his edicts. He also used members of his group who were in Tsaritsyn on food supply matters and members of his Commissariat of Nationalities for inspections of military activities. After a month in the city he demanded military powers, complaining that the "military specialists" had slept and been idle while the Whites were threatening to prevent food from reaching Moscow. When these powers were not granted immediately, Stalin warned that he would proceed to

-17-

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