In the book A Man Called Intrepid the author claims that the Germans contributed greatly to Stalin's purge of the generals. I know this is a poor source yet I have found nothing to confirm nor deny. I've asked a couple history professors, they hadn't heard this.

The story was they planted incriminating evidence to discredit the military leadership to make the purges even more devastating then they would have been. Is there any basis to this or was it just an artistic flight of fancy?

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    Official version was that Soviet agents tricked Reinhard Heydrich into thinking he would trick Soviets by forging documents for Thukachevsky affair (thus beheading Soviet army leadership). What Heydrich did not know is that Stalin actually wanted to kill Thukachevsky all along, and used Germans as a tool for that.
    – rs.29
    Commented Aug 1, 2021 at 21:06

2 Answers 2


There is historical basis to those claims, but not entirely on the way you sayit (from the book, I mean):

  • Yes, the Soviets used contacts of accused officers with Germany to accuse them at the Great Trials of 1937
  • But most of the time, this was based on "classic" contacts and not spying activities, or based on false evidence created by Soviet accusators themselves

A bit of context first: the German army had a lot of contacts with the Soviet army because she conducted secret exercises (secret because they were forbidden by the Treaty of Versailles) on the Soviet territory. So German and Soviet officers had technical discussions, and this led the Soviet NKVD to have some data on those contacts. This was mainly not about corrupting Soviet officers into serving Germany, only limited contacts between career officers.

However, as for the case of Thukachevsky, those exchanges were used to accuse him of spying activities. In his case however, I recall to have read in ancient Soviet historians' books that there were as well "evidence" created by German secret agents to put Thukachevsky under trial.

Side note: This does not mean that the Germans were performing efficient spying activities in Soviet Union: overall, they were very bad in assessing Soviet economic or military situations, and this played a role in errors of planning in operatio Barbarossa.

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    How young are you? I tend to limit the use of "ancient" to events before the end of classical antiquity and beginning of the Middle Ages around aD 500, so I find it surprising for you to mention "ancient Soviet historians' books".
    – MAGolding
    Commented Aug 2, 2021 at 18:45
  • @MAGolding I mentionned "ancient" as opposed to historians working during or after perestroika (thus after the fall of USSR as well). So by ancient I meant: books of the 60s Commented Aug 2, 2021 at 19:02

Reinhard Heydrich - mastermind or pawn ?

While true circumstances of Tukhachevsky affair (and subsequent Great Purge in RKKA) remain unclear to this day, there are certain facts that point to involvement of Germans, in this case particularly Reinhard Heydrich and his Sicherheitsdienst des Reichsführers-SS (SD). Story could be told from two sides, German and Soviet:

  • German side

In late 1936, Heydrich got certain evidence from the former Imperial general, now emigre, Nicolai Skoblin, pointing out to conspiracy among Soviet marshals and generals (led by Tukhachevsky) to oust Stalin. Skoblin was, according to various sources, German agent for several years. Heydrich pondered what to do. Being convinced National-Socialist, for him the conflict between Third Reich and USSR was inevitable sometime in the future. In fact, these two countries were already in a proxy war (and not so proxy, considering that they had volunteers on the ground and air) in Spain. Weakening USSR would be beneficial in this case, but which side to choose ? Tukhachevsky, with his noble roots, seemed like much more formidable opponent than "Jew" Stalin (Germans doubted the story about Georgian origins) . Therefore, by exposing the conspiracy against Stalin, Heydrich could weaken Red Army and strike a blow against USSR.

To accomplish this goal, Heydrich and his men took evidence from Skoblin, forged some more about supposed contacts of Tukhachevsky with Germans, and then again, acording to various sources, used German diplomats in Czechoslovakia (in February of 1937) to deliver this documents to Czechoslovaks. Certain German diplomat supposedly told Czechoslovaks that secret negotiations between Soviets and Germans were being halted because Germans expect new leadership in Moscow very soon. Story goes that alarmed with this President of Czechoslovakia, Edvard Beneš delivered these documents to Stalin in March of 1937. Stalin, already suspecting Tukhachevsky, started Great Purge and the rest is history.

From the German point of view, action succeeded spectacularly, and when Barbarossa started in 1941 leaderless Red Army was almost destroyed. Heydrich was killed in 1942, and this was his peak achievement as a spymaster.

  • Soviet side

However, story has another side. What Heydrich and Germans did not know at the time is the fact that aforementioned Skoblin was in fact Soviet double-agent as mentioned in various Russian sources. Possibly they did not know that fact until end of the war, because Skoblin disappeared in mysterious circumstances in Spain in 1938. Therefore, documents that Skoblin gave Heydrich were in fact carefully prepared by NKVD which was already planning to remove Tukhachevsky by orders of Stalin and his closest associates. By giving documents to Germans and then getting it back, these forgeries became more authentic. Therefore, in this spy game Germans were mere pawns, that accomplished goals of Stalin and NKVD.

In the end, as mentioned before, Tukhachevsky affair remains a mystery. Did Tukhachevsky really wanted to get rid of Stalin (as he confessed in his show trial) ? It is interesting that he did not confess even there to be a German spy, as accused. After the death of Stalin, he was posthumously rehabilitated under Khrushchev, and Stalin accused of catastrophically weakening Red Army which led to millions of deaths in WW2. This is a view held by majority of Russian historians on the topic today. There is a possibility that Tukhachevsky really wanted to save country from Stalin or that Stalin simply feared powerful Red Army marshals and generals. What is a real truth is currently unknown.

  • The NKVD -> SD -> Stalin theory seems unnecessarily complicated, and so more risky (what if the Germans decided they prefer to deal with Tukhachevsky, incite a civil war or are aware of Skoblin's allegiance? And in the end all of this is to present some evidence in the hands of a Soviet diplomat, which the NKVD could have done directly (with the receiver either unaware of the source or very unwilling to spill the beans).
    – SJuan76
    Commented Aug 10, 2021 at 17:49
  • @SJuan76 Possibly, but it is now semi-officially accepted by large number of Russian historians. NKVD had a knack for complex schemes, and according to the story SD was actually unable to help Tukhachevsky because NKVD had him under surveillance, and supposed German agents were actually Soviet double-agents. All they could do was unwittingly produce more evidence against the man. In any case, I only reported what is known today about German involvement in affair .
    – rs.29
    Commented Aug 10, 2021 at 18:23

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