Friday, March 29, 2013

The Soviet Napoleon, a what-if

Today we recorded the third episode of the Alternate History podcast. The topic was the Comintern, the period between the Russian Revolution and World War Two. One alternate history possibility posed during the discussion really got me thinking.

The Great Purge in the late 1930s was Stalin's way of dealing with his enemies, the vast majority of whom were innocent men who had the misfortune of being officers in the Russian military. However, one of those men was certainly at odds with Stalin. Mikhail Tukhachevsky, Marshall of the Soviet Union, was a brilliant military mind, hindered only by Stalin's insidious micromanaging. He resented the Stalin for that, understandably so, though there is no evidence he ever sought to stage a coup as Stalin's paranoia feared.

But what if something about the Purge was altered, some slight event that tipped Tukhachevsky off before being captured. Just the right change to convince the "little Napoleon," as Stalin called him, that his only option to survive was to overthrow Stalin. If he had evidence of imminent purges he could certainly get the officer corps to support him, and with the army at his back Stalin would have been a dead man. What might the repercussions of Tukhachevsky instituting a military dictatorship in Soviet Russia in 1937 have been?

Such a change most obviously alters the entire complexion of World War Two. With the officer corp intact and without Stalin meddling in strategy and tactics from Moscow, the Red army will not be nearly as hamstrung against the Nazis as they were in our time line. I believe it is possible that after the initial thrust of Operation Barbarossa into Germany, most of the fighting would have taken place in Poland.

That assumes there is an Operation Barbarossa at all. 1937 leaves plenty of wiggle room for butterflies. Without the purges, the Soviet Union would most certainly have been a party to the Munch Conference of 1938, and as a strong supporter of Czechoslovakia, Tukhachevsky may have gone to war to prevent a Nazi takeover of the Sudetenland. With Germany much weaker and the Soviet Union much stronger at this time, I can certainly imagine Hitler delaying his invasions, for if he did he would most certainly have been destroyed. That obviously has massive butterflies.

If Czechoslovakia is still strong, independent, and supported by other powers, an invasion of Poland seems absolutely suicidal. However, Hitler, was nothing if not insane, and I could certainly imagine some attempt at invading either Czechoslovakia or Poland leading to a military coup in Germany. The possibilities from there seem limitless. The stand out difference from our time line, however, is that the horrific conflict that was World War Two would have ended much more quickly in this time by a stronger Soviet Union.

It is doubtful that a Tukhachevsky dictatorship would be all roses; dictatorships never are. But could his authoritarian regime really be worse than Stalin's? I cannot imagine so. I will refrain from speculating on how this change would effect things within the Soviet Union. All I can say is that I hope someone who knows more about the Soviet Union makes a time line based on this point of divergence.

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Again, sorry about running behind schedule. After Easter I should be able to find a balance. The podcast which inspired this post will (hopefully) be edited and uploaded by Wednesday. If it isn't, feel free to call me out!

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