In the late 1930’s a widespread campaign of repression took place across the Soviet Union, predominantly targeted against peasants, and purging of the Communist Party and red Army leadership. The purge was instigated by Joseph Stalin out of fear of destabilisation and dissent throughout the party, as well as fear of assassination and plots to instill a capitalist model, and was predominantly enforced by Nikolai Yezhov, the head of the head of the Soviet Secret Police (NKVD).
Over the course of the purge, over 1 million people were accused of crimes ranging from espionage, sabotage, agitation of anti-Communism, and plotting to stage a coup against Stalin.
Over the course of the 2 years that the purge took place, according to Russian records almost 1.5 million people were arrested, of which approximately 680,000 were executed. Although current historians believe the actual number of people executed during the purge could be as high as 1.2 million. The Red Army suffered the greatest impact of the purge, where almost 10% of all Red Army officers were removed, including 3 of the 5 generals, 13 of the 15 Army commanders and 8 of the 9 Navy admirals.
By the middle of 1938, Stalin and the survivors of his inner circle has realized that they had gone too far and brought about an end to the purge, although mass arrests continued as a practice until Stalin’s death in 1953. Ironically the man responsible for the committing the atrocities, Yezhov was removed from his post at the end of the purge, and became one of the final victims of the purge himself.
One of the immediate impacts to be felt as a result of the purge was that of World War 2, with war breaking out the following year, and with so many Red Army officers removed, the Soviet Army severely lacked the military strategy and experience of its leaders, resulting in the German forces gaining significant advancements over the Soviet defense in the early years of the war.