Tukhachevsky fought in the Russian Army during the First World War. After the October Revolution he joined the Bolsheviks. Tukhachevsky became an officer in the Red Army and was given responsibility of defending Moscow in 1918.
Leon Trotsky gave Tukhachevsky command of the 5th Army in 1920 and he managed to capture Siberia from Alexander Kolchak. He also helped defeat General Anton Denikin in the Crimea in 1920. Tukhachevsky fought in Poland and helped suppress the Kronstadt Rising in 1921.
Tukhachevsky served as chief of staff (1925-28) and as deputy commissar for defence. He wrote several books on modern warfare and in 1931 was given a leading role in reforming the Red Army. It was claimed by Nikita Khrushchev that he got to know Tukhachevsky during this period: "We used to talk on the telephone and see each other at plenums. He occasionally took me out into the field to show me some new weapon or new piece of engineering equipment. He had a deep understanding of military innovations and had a high regard for them." In 1935 Tukhachevsky was made a marshal of the Soviet Union.
It is claimed that Reinhard Heydrich developed a plan to damage the Red Army. In January 1937, a Soviet journalist heard stories that senior members of the German Army were having secret talks with General Tukhachevsky. According to Robert Conquest, the author of The Great Terror (1990), the story had been created by Nikolai Skoblin, a NKVD agent who had appeared to be one of the leaders of the Russian opposition based in Paris. "Skoblin had long worked as a double agent with both the Soviet and the German secret agencies, and there seems no doubt that he was one of the links by which information was passed between the SD and the NKVD. According to one version... the Soviet High Command and Tukhachevsky in particular were engaged in a conspiracy with the German General Staff. Although this was understood in SD circles as an NKVD plant, Heydrich determined to use it, in the first place, against the German High Command, with whom his organization was in intense rivalry."
Major V. Dapishev of the Soviet General Staff has claimed that the plot "originated with Stalin" as he wanted to purge the leadership of the armed forces. On 16th March, 1937, Stalin received a telegram from the Soviet embassy in Paris that it had learned of plans "by German circles to promote a coup d'etat in the Soviet Union" using "persons from the command staff of the Red Army".
There is evidence that Heydrich organized the forgery of a dossier containing an exchange of letters over a period of a year between members of the German High Command and Tukhachevsky. Service argues that it was "the work of the German secret agencies on false passports and so on, it consisted of thirty-two pages and had attached to it a photograph on Trotsky with German officials... The German security service got a genuine signature of Tukhachevsky from the 1926 secret agreement between the two High Commands by which technical assistance to the Soviet Air Force was arranged. A letter was forged using this signature, and Tukhachevsky's style was imitated... The German generals' signatures were obtained from bank checks. Hitler and Himmler were shown the dossier in early May, and approved the operation."
Roy A. Medvedev, has argued in Let History Judge: The Origins and Consequences of Stalinism (1971) that he is convinced that Heydrich arranged the forgery of the documents. However, he points out: "It would be a mistake to think that these false accusations were the main cause of the destruction of the best cadres. They were only a pretext. The real causes of the mass repression go much deeper. Any serious investigation would have exposed the Nazi forgery against Tukhachevsky, but Stalin did not order an expert investigation. It would have been even easier to establish the falseness of many other materials produced by the NKVD, but neither Stalin nor his closest aides checked or wanted to check the authenticity of these materials."
William Stephenson, head of the British Security Coordination (BSC), later pointed out: "Late in 1936, Heydrich had thirty-two documents forged to play on Stalin's sick suspicions and make him decapitate his own armed forces. The Nazi forgeries were incredibly successful. More than half the Russian officer corps, some 35,000 experienced men, were executed or banished. The Soviet chief of Staff, Marshal Tukhachevsky, was depicted as having been in regular correspondence with German military commanders. All the letters were Nazi forgeries. But Stalin took them as proof that even Tukhachevsky was spying for Germany. It was a most devastating and clever end to the Russo-German military agreement, and it left the Soviet Union in absolutely no condition to fight a major war with Hitler."
Mikhail Tukhachevsky was found guilty and executed on 11th June, 1937. It is estimated that 30,000 members of the armed forces were killed. This included fifty per cent of all army officers.
In 1936 Heydrich, chief of Intelligence in Germany, received a visit from a former officer in the Czarist army, General Skoblin. This general without an army was consoling himself for his inactivity by playing double agent on a grand scale. For many years he had been working for Soviet Intelligence on the side.
The news he brought Heydrich was momentous: he had it on good authority that Marshal Tukhachevsky was plotting an armed insurrection against Stalin. Heydrich passed this on to the Nazi high command, who discussed what course to follow. There were only two options: allow the head of the Soviet Army to go ahead with the plan, or warn Stalin and, as a bonus, give him proof of the marshal's collusion with the Wehrmacht. The second solution was chosen.
The most sophisticated apparatus for conveying top-secret orders was at the service of Nazi propaganda and terror. Heydrich had made a study of the Russian OGPU, the Soviet secret security service. He then engineered the Red Army purges carried out by Stalin. The Russian dictator believed his own armed forces were infiltrated by German agents as a consequence of a secret treaty by which the two countries helped each other rearm. Secrecy bred suspicion, which bred more secrecy, until the Soviet Union was so paranoid it became vulnerable to every hint of conspiracy.
Late in 1936, Heydrich had thirty-two documents forged to play on Stalin's sick suspicions and make him decapitate his own armed forces. The Nazi forgeries were incredibly successful. More than half the Russian officer corps, some 35,000 experienced men, were executed or banished.
The Soviet chief of Staff, Marshal Tukhachevsky, was depicted as having been in regular correspondence with German military commanders. All the letters were Nazi forgeries. But Stalin took them as proof that even Tukhachevsky was spying for Germany. It was a most devastating and clever end to the Russo-German military agreement, and it left the Soviet Union in absolutely no condition to fight a major war with Hitler.