Between October 1940 and February 1942, the impending start of the German invasion in June 1941 notwithstanding, the Red Army, in particular the Soviet Air Force, as well as Soviet military-related industries were decapitated by repressions once again. After a pause in mass repressions after the Great Purge, in October 1940 the NKVD (People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs) under its new chief Lavrenty Beria started a new purge that initially hit the People’s Commissariat of Ammunition, People’s Commissariat of Aviation Industry and People’s Commissariat of Armaments. High level officials admitted guilt, typically under torture, then testified against each other and were repressed on fabricated charges of anti-Soviet activity, sabotage and spying.
While the new wave of repression in the military-related industries continued well into 1941, in April–May 1941 Stalin’s Politburo inquired about the high accident rate in the Air Force, which led to the dismissal of several commanders, including Head of the Air Force Lieutenant General Pavel Rychagov. In May, a German Junkers Ju 52 landed in Moscow, undetected by the ADF beforehand, leading to massive repressions among the Air Force leadership. The NKVD soon focused attention on them and started repressions against the alleged anti-Soviet conspiracy of German spies in the military, centered around the Air Force and linked to the conspiracies of 1937-1938. The repression had taken on a large scale by early June, when the suspects were transferred from the custody of the Military Counterintelligence to the NKVD, and continued uninterrupted into well after the German attack on the Soviet Union, which started on June 22, 1941.
Timeline of arrests:
May 30 People’s Commissar of Ammunition Ivan Sergeyev and Major General Ernst Schacht
May 31 Lieutenant General Pyotr Pumpur
June 7 People’s Commissar of Armaments Boris Vannikov and Colonel General Grigory Shtern
June 8 Lieutenant General Yakov Smushkevich
June 18 Lieutenant General Pavel Alekseyev
June 19 Colonel General Alexander Loktionov
June 24 General Kirill Meretskov and Lieutenant General Pavel Rychagov
June 27 Lieutenant General Ivan Proskurov
Additionally, during the first months of the war, scores of commanders, most notably, General Dmitry Pavlov, were repressed as scapegoats for failures. Some of them were conveniently linked to the conspirators. Only two of the accused were spared, People’s Commissar of Armaments Boris Vannikov (released in July) and Deputy People’s Commissar of Defense General Kirill Meretskov (released in September), although at least the latter had confessed guilt under torture.
About 300 commanders, including Lieutenant Generals Nikolay Klich and Robert Klyavinsh and Major General Sergey Chernykh, were hastily executed on October 16, 1941, during the Battle of Moscow, the others were evacuated to Kuybyshev, provisional capital of the Soviet Union, on October 17. On October 28 twenty were summarily shot near Kuybyshev on Beria’s personal order of October 18, including Colonel Generals Alexander Loktionov and Grigory Shtern, Lieutenant Generals Fyodor Arzhenukhin, Ivan Proskurov, Yakov Smushkevich and Pavel Rychagov with his wife.
In November Beria successfully lobbied Stalin to simplify the procedure for carrying out death sentences issued by local military courts, which wouldn’t require approval of the Military Collegium of the Supreme Court and Politburo for the first time since the end of the Great Purge. Moreover, the right to issue extrajudicial death sentences was once again granted to the Special Council of the NKVD. Forty six persons, including 17 Generals, among them Lieutenant Generals Pyotr Pumpur, Pavel Alekseyev, Konstantin Gusev, Yevgeny Ptukhin, Nikolai Trubetskoy, Pyotr Klyonov, Ivan Selivanov, Major General Ernst Schacht, and People’s Commissar of Ammunition Ivan Sergeyev, were sentenced to death by the Special Council with the approval of Stalin and were executed on the Day of the Red Army, February 23, 1942. On February 4, 1942, Beria together with his ally Georgy Malenkov as members of the State Defense Committee were assigned to supervise production of aircraft, armaments and ammunition.
Many of the victims were exonerated posthumously during de-Stalinization in the 1950s-1960s. In December 1953 a special secret session of the Supreme Court of the Soviet Union, itself without due process, among other things found Beria guilty of terrorism for the extrajudicial execution of October 1941 and sentenced him to death.
Article Source: Purge of the Red Army in 1941 (Michael Savage)