Grigory Kulik

Grigory Ivanovich Kulik (Russian: Григо́рий Ива́нович Кули́к; 9 November 1890 – 24 August 1950) was a Soviet military commander and Marshal of the Soviet Union, and chief of the Red Army's Main Artillery Directorate until June 1941. An incompetent commander, his knowledge of military technology was frozen in 1918, and he dismissed innovations such as tanks, anti-tank guns, and the Katyusha rocket launcher; only his personal friendship with Stalin from service together in the Russian Civil War protected him from criticism. He had a reputation as a buffoon and a bully, where he would shriek at subordinates who disagreed with him, "Prison or a medal!" [1] He was dismissed from his posts in 1946, arrested in 1947, and executed for treason on Stalin's orders in 1950.

Grigory Ivanovich Kulik
Grigory Kulik.jpg
Born(1890-11-09)9 November 1890
Dudnikovo, Poltava Governorate, Russian Empire (now Ukraine)
Died24 August 1950(1950-08-24) (aged 59)
Moscow, Soviet Union
Allegiance Russian Empire (1912–1917)
 Soviet Union (1918–1946)
Years of service1912–1946
RankMarshal of the Soviet Union (1940-1946)
Commands heldMain Artillery Directorate
Battles/warsWorld War I
Russian Civil War
Polish–Soviet War
Spanish Civil War
Winter War
World War II
AwardsHero of the Soviet Union

Early lifeEdit

Kulik was born into a peasant family near Poltava in Ukraine. A soldier of the army of the Russian Empire in World War I, he served as a non-commissioned officer in the artillery. In 1917 he joined the Bolshevik Party and the Red Army during 1918.

Civil warEdit

At the beginning of the Russian Civil War, his friendship with the Bolshevik Kliment Voroshilov caused him to join the Red Army, resulting in an introduction to Stalin and the command of the artillery of the 1st Cavalry Army (co-led by Stalin and Voroshilov) at the Battle of Tsaritsyn during 1918.[dubious ]

The position was almost entirely political in nature, a reward for Kulik's joining the Reds and his loyalty to Voroshilov; Kulik himself did not have any experience with gun laying or commanding artillery crews, and the whole Bolshevik artillery force in Tsaritsyn consisted of 3 obsolete artillery pieces. Despite having little to no perceivable effect on the outcome of the battle, Kulik's performance greatly impressed Stalin.

After the Civil War, Kulik continued as one of Stalin's favored and most politically-reliable generals during the 1919 invasion of Poland, which he commanded personally. His poor performance resulted in him being replaced by the former cavalry NCO Semyon Budyonny. Unfazed, Stalin promoted Kulik to the post of First Deputy People's Commissar for Defense directed by Voroshilov.

Artillery Directorate ChiefEdit

In 1935 Kulik was appointed chief of the Main Artillery Directorate. Responsible for overseeing the development and production of new tanks, tank guns and artillery pieces.

Kulik retained his opinions of the Red Army as it was during 1918, the last time he had had a field command. He denounced Marshal Tukhachevsky's campaign to redevelop the Red Army's mechanized forces into independent units like the Wehrmacht's Panzerkorps; the creation of separate divisions allowed them to use their greater maneuverability for Deep Battle-style maneuver warfare, rapidly exploiting breakthroughs rather than simply assisting the infantry. Correctly sensing that Stalin considered these new ideas as potential threats to his authority, Kulik successfully argued against the change.

In an anonymous section of a report on the Spanish Civil War Kulik noted that tanks not facing anti-tank weaponry were effective on the battlefield.[2] He and Voroshilov noted that Tukhachevsky’s theoretical style of warfare could not yet be carried out by the red army in its pre-war state,[2] even if those theories were effective. Tukhachevsky was purged because of Stalins and Voroshilovs dislike for him, his theories were at that time already widely influential in the red army as is shown by the 1936 field regulations.[2] While operations doctrine was used to great effect at the battle of Khalkhin Gol shortly after it was not yet possible for the red army in its relatively backward state to carry the tactical form of the doctrine, deep battle, through to the operational level in the form of deep operations.[2] Even tough Kulik’s and Voroshilov’s reforms moved the red army further away from deep operations doctrine, which had fallen out of favor due to many of its proponents being purged as well as many competent officers who were replaced by officer unable to carry out such complicated operations, they moved the theory and reality of the red army closer together which had a positive impact of the performance of the army in the opening days of WWII.[2] Stalin would later change his mind about deep operations doctrine which was effectively used during Operation Bagration.[3] In less than a decade Marshal Georgi Zhukov was using the same techniques to great effect in Manchuria against the Japanese, eventually convincing Stalin of their value and using them to outstanding effect during Operation Bagration.

Grigory Kulik 1936

Kulik criticized his friend Marshal Voroshilov's endorsement for the production of the T-34 and (his namesake) KV-1 tanks, both of which later proved instrumental in the survival of the USSR. After he was overruled by Stalin and ordered to produce the tanks anyway, he began deliberately delaying the production of ammunition and guns, resulting in a drastic shortage of 76.2mm shells. At the start of the war, no more than 12% of the T-34 and KV-1 tanks had a full ammunition load; few had any anti-tank rounds, most had no more than a few High Explosive shells, and a shocking number had to rely solely on their coaxial machine guns, having no 76.2mm rounds at all.[4] Many T-34 and KV-1 tanks were sent into battle underarmed and eventually had to be abandoned by their crews when they ran out of ammunition.

Of particular note was Kulik's meddling with the armament of the tanks T-34 and KV-1 prior to and during the early period of the war with Germany. Kulik opposed the adoption of the superior F-34 gun designed by P. Muraviev of Vasiliy Grabin's design bureau at the Joseph Stalin Factory No. 92 in Gorky. The F-34 had proved in testing to be both considerably more effective and cheaper than the Leningrad Kirov Plant's L-11 76.2mm gun, but Kulik's status as political patron for the Leningrad Factory resulted in the relevant armament diplomats being too frightened of being arrested to approve the production of the better gun. This decision eventually necessitated a rushed retrofit of the KV-1 and T-34's gun in the midst of the German invasion, when it became apparent that the L-11 could not reliably penetrate even the lightly armored Panzer III, which was arriving in large numbers. The crisis was mitigated only by Grabin's disobedience; with the endorsement of Kulik's political enemies, he had secretly ordered the manufacture of a reserve stock of F-34 guns, predicting correctly that they would soon be needed and that the decision would be ultimately endorsed by Stalin once it had proven itself in battle. Grabin was correct; Kulik was silenced by many letters from Soviet tank crewmen to Stalin writing to endorse the new gun.

Kulik also disparaged the use of minefields as a defensive measure, considering this to be at odds with a properly aggressive strategy and terming minefields "a weapon of the weak." This decision allowed for the essentially free movement of German forces across Russian defensive lines during Operation Barbarossa, with static defensive strongpoints being bypassed easily by Panzer spearheads and surrounded by infantry, forcing the defenders to surrender. He also zealously endorsed Stalin's exhortations against retreat, allowing whole divisions to be encircled and annihilated or starved into surrendering en masse. Eventually, after Kulik's demotion, it was only the laying of multiple layers of anti-tank mines that allowed for both the successful defense of Leningrad during the German siege and the successful trap of the much stronger German armored forces at the Battle of Kursk.

Kulik similarly scorned the German issue of the MP-40 submachine gun to their shock troops, stating that it encouraged inaccuracy and excessive ammunition consumption among the rank and file. He forbade the issue of the submachine gun PPD-40 to his units, stating that it was only suitable as a police weapon. It was not until 1941, after widespread demand for a weapon to match the MP-40 again overruled Kulik's restrictions, that a simple modification of the manufacturing process for the PPD-40 produced the PPSh-41, which proved to be amongst the most widely produced, inexpensive and effective small arms of the war, considered by many German infantrymen to be superior to the MP-40, with whole companies of Russian infantrymen eventually being issued the weapon for house-to-house fighting.

Kulik refused to endorse the production of the innovative Katyusha rocket artillery system, stating "What the hell do we need rocket artillery for? The main thing is the horse-drawn gun." [5] Although it could have been produced much earlier in the war without his meddling, the "Stalin organ" eventually proved to be one of the most effective Soviet inventions of the war and a major advance in artillery technology.

In 1939 he became Deputy People's Commissar of Defense, also participating with the Soviet occupation of Eastern Poland in September. He commanded the Soviet's artillery attack on Finland at the start of the Winter War, which quickly foundered.

On 5 May 1940, Kulik's wife, Kira Simonich, was kidnapped on Stalin's orders. She was subsequently executed by Vasili Blokhin in June 1940.[6]

In what can only be called a stroke of ironical sadism, two days later, on 7 May 1940, Kulik was promoted to Marshal of the Soviet Union. He soon married again. [7]

Wartime commandEdit

When Germany invaded the USSR during June 1941, Kulik was given command of the 54th Army on the Leningrad front.[8] Here he presided over Soviet defeats that resulted in the city of Leningrad being surrounded and the necessity that General Georgi Zhukov be rushed to the front in order to stabilize the defenses and take over Kulik's command.

Zhukov states Kulik "was relieved of his command, and the Stavka placed the 54th Army under the Leningrad Front" on 29 Sept. 1941.[9] On June 22, the Defense Industries and the Artillery Directorate were transferred away from Kulik to a 32-year-old factory director, Dmitriy Ustinov. During March 1942 Kulik was court-martialed and demoted to the rank of Major-General. His status as one of Stalin's cronies saved him from the firing squad that was the fate of other defeated Soviet generals. During April 1943 he became commander of the 4th Guards Army. From 1944 to 1945 he was Deputy Head of the Directory of Mobilization, and Commander of the Volga Military District.

Katyn MassacreEdit

A positive action related of Kulik was his successful (and uncharacteristic) advocacy for the lives of more than 150,000 enlisted Polish POWs captured during the September 1939 Invasion of Poland. Stalin, concerned with invasion from Nazi Germany, had ordered all of the captured Poles to be executed as potential fifth-columnists[citation needed]; his decision was supported by Lev Mekhlis, Polish Front Commissar, and Lavrentiy Beria, chief of the NKVD. Kulik, commander of the Polish Front, twice argued with Stalin for their release, eventually extracting the concession that only the officers, all 26,000 of them, would be executed, with the more than 150,000 common enlisted men being released.[citation needed]

Despite Mekhlis and Beria's protests, the enlisted men were duly released. The 26,000 officers were executed less than a month later by Stalin's order (many by NKVD executioner Vasili Blokhin) in the Katyn Massacre.[10]

Years after his appointment as Chief of Artillery (and his poor performance in two separate wars), Nikita Khrushchev questioned his competence, causing Stalin to rebuke him angrily: "You don't even know Kulik! I know him from the civil war when he commanded the artillery in Tsaritsyn. He knows artillery!"[11]


After a respite during and immediately after the war, Stalin and his police chief Lavrentiy Beria began a new round of military purges due to Stalin's jealousy and suspicion of the generals' public standing. Kulik was dismissed from his posts during 1946 after NKVD telephone eavesdroppers overheard him grumbling that politicians were stealing the credit from the generals. Arrested during 1947, he remained in prison until 1950, when he was condemned to death and executed for treason. His memory was rehabilitated by Nikita Khrushchev during 1956 and he was posthumously restored to the rank of Marshal of the USSR.


  1. ^ Simon Sebag Montefiore, Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar (2003), p. 332
  2. ^ a b c d e Hill, Alexander (2017). The Red Army and the Second World War. Cambridge, United Kingdom. ISBN 9781107020795. OCLC 944957747.
  3. ^ Conner, William (March 1987). "ANALYSIS OF DEEP OPERATIONS ATTACK OPERATIONS OPERATION BAGRATION BELORUSSIA 22 JUNE-29 AUGUST 1944" (PDF). Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  4. ^ "T-34/76 Medium Tank 1941-45". Steven J. Zaloga, Peter Sarson. 10.
  5. ^ Simon Sebag Montefiore, Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar (2003), p. 332
  6. ^ Simon Sebag Montefiore, Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar (2003), p. 293-4, 332
  7. ^ Simon Sebag Montefiore, Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar (2003), p. 332-333
  8. ^ John Erickson, Road to Stalingrad, 2003 Cassel Military Paperbacks edition, p.254
  9. ^ Zhukov, Georgy (1974). Marshal of Victory, Volume I. Pen and Sword Books Ltd. p. 424,427–433,435–436. ISBN 9781781592915.
  10. ^ Sebag Montefiore, 333.
  11. ^ Sebag Montefiore, 332.