From an aristocratic family of Polish origin. Joined the exclusive Semenovskii guards regiment. Lieutenant during World War I. Taken prisoner by the Germans, a POW at the Ingolstadt fortress (together with the French POW De Gaulle), escaped but recaptured.
Returned to Russia after the Revolution 1917. Joined the Red Army, 1918. Showing brilliant military abilities, made an extraordinary rapid career.
Commanded the Southern front and later the Caucasian and Western fronts, 1920-1921. Led the Soviet invasion of Poland, which was halted just before Warsaw, mainly due to French help (from Weygand) and Wrangel’s thrust from the Crimea. During the Polish campaign, had serious quarrels with Stalin (at the time a political commissar) which cost him dearly later.
After the Civil War, in charge of the crushing of the revolt by the Kronstadt sailors and of the peasant revolt under Antonov in the Tambov region. Although a member of Bolshevik Party since 1918, did not personally show any interest in ideology (or anything else except his own career). In the 1920s, completely transformed the image of the Red Army from irregular revolutionary detachments to a welldrilled professional force.
Very interested in modern technology, he was an early convert to the value of tank forces and mechanization. Also paid attention to the possibilities of rocket weapons. Earned the nickname of the ‘Red Bonaparte’.
Head of the Academy of the Red Army after the Civil War, and Commander of the Western Front, 1922-1924. Chief-of-staff of the Red Army, 1925-1928. Commander of the Leningrad military district, 1928.
Deputy Defence Minister, Deputy Chairman of the Revolutionary Military Council of the USSR, and Head of Armaments of the Red Army, 1931. Non-voting member of the Central Committee of the VKP, 1934-1937. 1st Deputy Defence Minister, and Head of Military Training, 1936.
In January 1936, appointed head of the Soviet delegation to the funeral of King George V in London. During this trip, also visited France and Germany. Came under suspicion from the secret police (NKVD).
His fall led to an unprecedented bloodbath in the highest ranks of the Red Army, which was practically decapitated by Stalin on the eve of World War II. Although the underlying cause was Stalin’s deep suspicion of all able and popular men, and his wish to settle old scores, there is evidence that the immediate cause of Tukhachevskii’s fall was a complicated intrigue by Nazi Germany, where counterfeit documents had been prepared allegedly describing his anti-Soviet stance during his trip to Western Europe. The documents were leaked to Benes in Czechoslovakia, who immediately secretly shared this knowledge with Stalin. In May 1937, demoted to the post of Commander of the Volga military district.
Soon recalled to Moscow in June 1937. On 10 June, it was officially reported that he had been arrested along with Iakir and Putna. On 11 June, it was announced that the investigation had been completed (now Soviet sources give this date as the day of his execution).
The following day, Soviet newspapers announced that the 3 had been executed for high treason and conspiracy with military leaders of a foreign power. Rehabilitated during the Khrushchev campaign against Stalin’s crimes. His considerable theoretical and practical contribution to the build-up of the Red Army is now fully acknowledged in the Soviet Union, although details of his tragic fate still remain shrouded in secrecy.