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October 2020

Stalin’s Marshalls

By Lasha Otkhmezuri and Jean Lopez

Perrin

As the title of the book implies, the main topic of Stalin’s Marshalls is the Red Army officers who were promoted to the rank of Field Marshal before or during the Second World War and during the reign of the “Red Tsar”, Joseph Stalin. There were, of course, a great many Soviet marshals, including, air or artillery specialists; however, the book focuses on the marshals who commanded regular inter-arms armies. The structure of the book is fairly simple; it is comprised of a series (17) of short biographies of these prominent Soviet soldiers starting from their almost universally humble beginnings (Toukhatchevski, for example, was an exception) to their rise to prominence in the Red Army. Mainly from peasant and working class backgrounds and with varying degrees of education, the vast majority of these marshals fought as soldiers for the Tsar and progressed rapidly in the new Red Army as the Russian Civil War progressed. Some of the marshals, such as, Vorochilov or Boudienny, were commanding officers of high rank from the time of the civil war. Many of these soldiers were genuinely communist or socialist, whilst others joined the Red Army for unknown reasons or by chance. One, however, Marshall Govorov, even fought for the Tsarists until 1920. Many of these men rose rapidly in the Red Army and attained a senior rank during or after the Civil War with many attending Soviet military academies to obtain systematic knowledge about commanding troops to add to their practical experience. The future marshals saw action in the interwar period not only in the Russian Civil War, but also in the Far East (for instance, Bluykher or Joukov), or as advisors in the Spanish Civil War (Malinovski and Koulik) or serving on the General Staff (most prominently, Chapovnikov and Vorochilov). The book also includes detailed accounts of the commands these senior officers held as Marshals in World War Two, and, therefore, the book on the whole covers a significant amount of Russian military history for the first half of the twentieth century. Many western battlefield commanders are to this day household names, such as; Montgomery, Patton or Eisenhower. Most of the Soviet marshals are, however, unknown; perhaps with the exception of Joukov or Koniev. Despite being one of many and living in a repressive system, the marshals described in the book have remarkably unique characteristics and traits. Some were slightly incompetent favorites of Stalin, such as; Vorochilov or Koulik. On the other hand, Toukhatchevski, for example, was a charismatic and opinionated officer; Chapovnikov was genuinely a “military scholar” with surprisingly old fashioned manners and a calm demeanor; Bluykher and Boudienny were impulsive, whilst Joukov seems to have been antagonistic of others. Some of the officers in the book were affected by the Great Purge of the pre-war period: Bluykher, Egorov and Toukhatchevski were executed, Meretskov was imprisoned and tortured and many others were accused of plotting against the USSR. After the war, the majority of the officers all occupied senior posts in the general staff or in Soviet occupied Europe (for example, Rokossovski in Poland). Two fun facts from the book are that almost every single one of the marshals committed marital infidelity (Solokovski being a notable exeption) and that Marshal Bluykher’s family name is derived from the famous Prussian marshal of the same name, von Bluecher, who fought Napoleon. All in all, the book reveals a fascinating facet of modern history seeing as Soviet military leaders who commanded forces many times the size of their western counterparts are barely recognizable even to those aware of the history of World War Two. Moreover, the book is about more than the personalities of the Soviet marshals, it also details the events of the revolution, the civil war, the Great Terror and World War Two from different perspectives.

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