Grigory Kulik - The Worst General Ever

Grigory Kulik – The Worst General Ever

Ever look at someone in an authority position and think: how did someone so useless get so much power on Earth? It’s a story as old as time, but they probably have connections. The more powerful their friends, the more they can get away with, and when you’re mates with the Bolshevik Tsar Joseph Stalin, you can get away with an awful lot. This is the story of Grigory Kulik: the most useless general of the Second World War.

You would think that by 1945 that moustache would have been out of fashion.

Peasant-born Profits

Grigory Kulik was born to a peasant family in a small village near Poltava, Ukraine. He was conscripted into the Tsar’s Army during the Great War and served in an artillery unit, where he rose to the lofty heights of junior Non-commissioned Officer. Dissatisfied with the war and the Tsar, Kulik, like many other soldiers, joined the Bolsheviks. He was inducted into the party in 1917 and became part of the Red Army in 1918. 

Perhaps Kulik’s greatest achievement was his timing. He joined the Bolsheviks just as they were gearing up for war against the Tsar. Unlike many of the original party members, Kulik was actually a peasant, one of those downtrodden that Lenin’s People’s Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies was supposed to help. This gave him some serious clout in comparison to ex-officers from the Tsar’s Army and even other party members (who were middle-class intellectuals).

Right from his start with the Bolsheviks, Kulik made friends in high places. One of his first was Kliment Voroshilov, who introduced him to the man himself: Stalin. As one of the few who had experience with artillery, Stalin gave Kulik command of a few obsolete guns attached to his Army during the Battle of Tsaritsyn.

The Reds won this battle, but the victory belonged to the infantry, not Kulik’s artillery. Even though their impact on the battle was minimal at best and non-existent at worse. 

Kulik’s participation in the battle cemented him in Stalin’s mind as “The Artillery Guy.”

This would later prove great for Kulik but disastrous for the Red Army.

Friendship and Promotion

Once the Russian Civil War was over, and Stalin was firmly in control, Kulik received promotion quickly. Described by a contemporary as “Always half-drunk,” the First Deputy People’s Commissar for Defense turned out to be a bit of a meathead—something Stalin was more than happy to put up with. Stalin saw Kulik as politically reliable and saved him from the purges of the 1930s. 

In 1935, Stalin put his favourite artillery guy in charge of the Main Artillery Directorate. This gave Kulik charge over the Soviet Union’s artillery, tank, and anti-tank gun production. Immediately, he began making terrible decisions. 

In 1918, Kulik’s idea of warfare was frozen when tanks were not yet the battlefield monsters they would become during the Second World War. He tried his best to shut down the T-34 and KV-1 tank production. Though his old mates Stalin and Voroshilov overruled him. Not about to let someone fix his mistake, Kulik halted tank shell production instead. When the tanks were deployed to fight against the invading Germans during Operation Barbarossa, less than 12% of them were carrying a full load of tank shells. This led directly to a catastrophic loss of otherwise perfectly functional tanks. Well done, Kulik.

I hate tanks, I hate tanks. I hate tanks.”

The Excursion

On June 23rd 1941, Kulik ventured out to the front line to learn why The German Army was smashing Soviet forces. Outfitting himself in a pilot’s uniform (he didn’t know how to fly), Kulik travelled to the headquarters of the 10th Army. Overnight, the 10th was surrounded by the German spearhead. Kulik ordered his subordinates to burn their papers, throw away their uniforms, and don peasant clothes in a flurry. Now dressed as a peasant, General Kulik took his retinue out of the German encirclement along a path marked by Panzer tracks. He promptly got lost, and Voroshilov spent days trying to locate him. 

After his eventful excursion, Kulik decided to make bad decisions from the rear instead of at the front. He outright banned his units from using sub-machine guns, deeming them an inaccurate waste of ammunition. Not stopping there, he also tried to stop the production of Katyusha rocket artillery. Why? He didn’t understand its utility and thought it was pointless. He was quoted saying: “What the hell do we need rocket artillery for? The main thing is the horse-drawn gun.”


Despite his bad decisions, Kulik’s political reliability kept in in Stalin’s good graces for the entirety of the war. It was only in 1947 when the NKVD heard Kulik grumbling over the telephone. The politicians were stealing the general’s credit (I don’t know how he fitted himself into that equation), which Stalin ordered him purged. Rather ironically, the man who Stalin made was also unmade by him. 

Now you’ve heard enough about a terrible general, interested in hearing about some good ones? Check out our video on the most FEARED generals of the Second World War here.

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