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Grigory Ivanovich Kulik
File:GI Kulik 02.jpg
Marshal of the Soviet Union Grigory Kulik
Born (1890-11-09)November 9, 1890
Died August 24, 1950(1950-08-24) (aged 59)
Place of birth Dudnikovo, Russian Empire (now Ukraine)
Place of death Moscow, Soviet Union
Buried at Donskoi Cemetery
Allegiance  Russian Empire (1912-1917)
 Soviet Union (1918-1946)
Years of service 1912 — 1946
Rank Marshal of the Soviet Union
Commands held Main Artillery Directorate
Battles/wars World War I
Russian Civil War
Polish–Soviet War
Spanish Civil War
Winter War
World War II

Hero of the Soviet Union

Grigory Ivanovich Kulik (Russian: Григо́рий Ива́нович Кули́к) (November 9, 1890 - August 24, 1950) was a Soviet military commander and was born into a peasant family near Poltava in Ukraine. A soldier in the army of the Russian Empire in World War I, he joined the Bolshevik Party in 1917 and the Red Army in 1918. During the Russian Civil War he become a commander in the Soviet artillery at Tsaritsyn and other battles.

In 1937 Kulik became head of the Red Army's Main Artillery Directorate, and remained commander of the Soviet artillery forces until 1941. He was both a sycophantic Stalinist and a radical military conservative, strongly opposed to the reforms proposed by Mikhail Tukhachevsky during the 1930s. For this reason he survived Stalin's Great Purge of the Red Army in 1937-38, and in 1939 he became Deputy People's Commissar of Defense, also taking part in the Soviet occupation of Eastern Poland in September. He led the Soviet's artillery attack on Finland at the start of the Winter War, which quickly foundered under his poor leadership. He was awarded the title of "Hero of the Soviet Union" in recognition of "outstanding services to the country and personal courage," [1]

On May 8, 1940, Kulik was named a Marshal of the Soviet Union, along with Semyon Timoshenko and Boris Shaposhnikov. He had a reputation as an incompetent officer, a "murderous buffoon", and a bully, but his closeness to Stalin put him beyond criticism. He could not protect his wife though, Kira Simonich, who two days before Kulik's promotion had been kidnapped on Stalin's orders. She was subsequently executed by Vasili Blokhin.[2]

Civil war

Kulik began his career serving with minimal distinction as a staff artillery non-commissioned officer in the tsarist army. On the outbreak of the Russian Civil War, his friendship with first-generation Bolshevik Kliment Voroshilov caused him to throw his lot in with the Red forces, leading to a personal 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 in 1918. The position was almost entirely political in nature, a reward for Kulik's turning coat to the Reds and his loyalty to Voroshilov; Kulik himself had no 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 impact on the outcome of the battle, Kulik's performance somehow greatly impressed Stalin, cementing his political future and putting him largely above criticism for many decades; years later, after his appointment as Chief of Artillery (and following his miserable performance in two separate wars), Nikita Khrushchev questioned his competency, leading Stalin to angrily rebuke him: "You don't even know Kulik! I know him from the civil war when he commanded the artillery in Tsaritsyn. He knows artillery!" [3]

Following the civil war, Kulik continued as one of Stalin's favored and most politically-reliable generals during the 1919 invasion of Poland, which he personally led. His miserable performance led to him being replaced by the former cavalry NCO Semyon Budyonny. Unfazed, Stalin elevated Kulik to the post of First Deputy People's Commissar for Defense under Voroshilov.

Artillery Directorate chief

Kulik's continued close ties to Voroshilov, one of only two of the original five Marshals to survive the Great Purge, led to him being appointed chief of the Main Artillery Directorate in 1935. Responsible for overseeing the development and production of new tanks, tank guns and artillery pieces, Kulik's fundamental ignorance in his field of expertise—coupled with his abusive, bumbling personality and tendency to condemn technological advancements as "bourgeois sabotage"—would prove a serious hindrance to the Red Army's ability to modernize itself prior to the war with Germany. Kulik clung stubbornly to a vision of the Red Army as it was in 1918, the last time he had held a field command; he condemned almost every major advancement in technology or doctrine beyond that point, many of which were later adopted anyway and proved invaluable to the Soviet victory against the Axis. He bitterly 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 supporting the infantry. Correctly sensing that Stalin viewed new ideas as potential threats to his power, Kulik successfully argued against the change, suggesting in a letter to Stalin that such attitudes showed an unhealthy ideological sympathy with the "degenerate fascist ideology" of favoring feint and deception over aggressive frontal attack. Tukhachevsky's unorthodox ideas eventually cost him his life during the Great Purge, but 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.

It also did not help that Kulik personally despised tanks and armored vehicles altogether, arguing that they were inferior to horses and would "never replace them". He even criticized his friend Marshal Voroshilov's support for the production of the T-34 and (his namesake) KV-1 tanks, both of which later proved instrumental to the survival of the Soviet Union. After he was overruled by Stalin and ordered to produce the tanks anyway, he began deliberately dragging his feet on production of shells and guns, resulting in a drastic shortage of 76.2mm shells; at the start of war, no more than 12% of the T-34 and KV-1 tanks had a full ammo load, with few having any anti-tank rounds, most having no more than a few HE shells, and a shocking number having 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 then had to be abandoned by their crews when they ran out of ammunition. Of particular note was Kulik's meddling in the armament of the T-34 and KV-1 tanks prior to and in the early period of the war with Germany. Already opposed to tanks, Kulik deliberately 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 proven 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 short-sighted 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 being faced in large numbers. The crisis was mitigated only by Grabin's disobedience; with the support of Kulik's political enemies, he had secretly ordered the fabrication of a reserve stock of F-34 guns, predicting correctly that they would shortly be needed and the decision would be ultimately supported by Stalin once it had proven itself in battle. Grabin turned out to be correct; Kulik was reportedly furious for having been countermanded and attempted to denounce the F-34's designers to Stalin after the fact, but was silenced by a flood of letters from Soviet tank crewmen to Stalin writing in support of the new gun. He also disparaged using minefields as a defensive measure, considering it at odds with a properly aggressive strategy and calling it "a weapon of the weak." This disastrous decision allowed for essentially free movement of German forces across Russian defensive lines during Operation Barbarossa, with static defensive strongpoints being easily bypassed by Panzer spearheads and surrounded by infantry, forcing the defenders to surrender. He also zealously supported 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 sprung on the much stronger German armored forces at the Battle of Kursk.

Kulik similarly scorned the German issuance of the MP-40 submachine gun to their shock troops as a "bourgeois fascist affectation", stating that it encouraged inaccuracy and excessive ammo consumption among the rank and file. He forbade issuance of the PPD-40 to his units, stating it was only suitable as a "pure 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.

Lastly, he refused to support the production of the innovative Katyusha rocket artillery system for no other reason than he did not trust anything other than World War I-era horse-drawn artillery. Although it could have been produced much earlier in the war without his meddling, like the rest of Kulik's rejected innovations the "Stalin organ" eventually proved to be one of the most effective Soviet inventions of the war and a major advancement in artillery technology.

Wartime command

When Germany invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, Kulik took command of the 54th Army on the Leningrad front.[5] Here his incompetence caught up with him, and he presided over heavy Soviet defeats that resulted in the city of Leningrad being surrounded and necessitating that General Georgi Zhukov be rushed to the front in order to stabilize the defenses. In March 1942 he 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. In 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.

Command style

Kulik was a notoriously abusive and ineffective commander and bureaucrat, wildly erratic and unpredictable in his actions and considered by even his colleagues to be a "murderous buffoon", albeit one who bore Stalin's official approval. He championed a bizarre personal command motto he dubbed "Jail or Medal"; those under his command were either showered with (usually unearned) awards and decorations if he favored them, or simply arrested and sent to the Gulag on trumped up charges if he did not. He would also shout his command motto at his subordinates during meetings as a form of motivation if he felt they were on the verge of displeasing him. While this was, in many ways, typical behavior for Stalinist bureaucrats, Kulik's heavy-handed influence on the critical arms factories and design bureaus he controlled resulted in great disruption to Soviet production when whole technical committees and factories were arrested en masse on his whim and replaced with personal cronies from his power-base in Leningrad.

Katyn Massacre

One of Kulik's few positive historical anecdotes was his successful (and uncharacteristic) advocacy for the lives of over 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 summarily executed as potential fifth-columnists; his decision was supported by Lev Mekhlis, Polish Front Commissar, and Lavrenti Beria, chief of the NKVD. Kulik, commander of the Polish Front, twice strongly argued with Stalin for their release, eventually extracting the concession that only the officers—26,000—would be executed, with the over 150,000 common enlisted men being let go. Despite Mekhlis and Beria's protests, the enlisted men were dutifully released. The 26,000 officers were executed less than a month later by Stalin's order (many at the hands of NKVD executioner Vasili Blokhin) in the Katyn Massacre.[6]


After a respite during and immediately after the war, Stalin and his police chief Lavrenty 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 in 1946 after NKVD telephone eavesdroppers overheard him grumbling that politicians were stealing the credit from the generals. Arrested in 1947, he remained in prison until 1950, when he was condemned to death and executed for treason. He was rehabilitated by Nikita Khrushchev in 1956, and posthumously restored to the rank of Marshal of the Soviet Union.


  1. Current Biography 1942, pp474-75
  2. Sebag-Montefiore 293-4, 332
  3. Sebag-Montefiore, 332.
  4. "T-34/76 Medium Tank 1941-45". Steven J. Zaloga, Peter Sarson. 10.
  5. John Erickson, Road to Stalingrad, 2003 Cassel Military Paperbacks edition, p.254
  6. Sebag-Montefiore, 333.

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