Lev Mekhlis

Lev Mekhlis
Лев Ме́хлис
Photo of Lev Zakharovich Mekhlis
Minister of State Control
In office
19 March 1946 – 27 October 1950
Preceded by Vasily Popov
Succeeded by Vsevolod Merkulov
In office
6 September 1940 – 21 June 1941
Preceded by Rosalia Zemlyachka
Succeeded by Vasily Popov
Deputy Chairman of the Council of People's Commissars
In office
6 September 1940 – 15 May 1944
Premier Joseph Stalin
Full member of the 17th, 18th Orgburo
In office
14 January 1938 – 16 October 1952
Personal details
Lev Zakharovich Mekhlis

(1889-01-13)13 January 1889
Odessa, Russian Empire
Died 13 February 1953(1953-02-13) (aged 64)
Moscow, Russian SFSR, Soviet Union
Resting place Kremlin Wall Necropolis
Citizenship Soviet Union
Nationality USSR/Ukrainian
Political party The Communist Party of the Soviet Union (1918–53)
Poale Zion (1907–11)
Alma mater Institute of Red Professors
Occupation Politician
Political commissar
Chief editor
Awards Order of Military Valour grade 4
Signature Lev Mekhlis's signature
Military service
Nickname(s) The Shark
Gloomy Demon
Years of service 1911–20, 1941–45
Battles/wars Crimean campaign

Lev Zakharovich Mekhlis (Russian: Лев Заха́рович Ме́хлис; January 13, 1889 – February 13, 1953) was a Soviet politician and high commander of the Red Army from 1937 to 1940. He was one of the main Stavka representatives during World War II who was responsible for five to seven Soviet fronts. Despite his fervent political engagement and loyalty to the Communist Party, Mekhlis was criticized and reprimanded for his incompetent military leadership during World War II by various Soviet leaders, including Joseph Stalin.[1][2]


Mekhlis, born in Odessa, completed six classes of Jewish commercial school. He worked as a schoolteacher from 1904 to 1911. In 1907–1910 he was a member of the Zionist workers' movement Poale Zion.

In 1911 he joined the Imperial Russian Army, where he served in the second grenadier artillery brigade. In 1912 he obtained the rank of bombardier. He served in the artillery in the First World War of 1914-1918.

In 1918 he joined the Communist Party and until 1920 he did political work in the Red Army (commissioner of brigade, then 46th division, group of forces). In 1921–1922 he managed administrative inspection in the People's Commissariat of Worker-Peasant Inspection (under People's Commissar (Narkom) Joseph Stalin). In 1922–1926 he served as the assistant to the secretary and the manager of the bureau of the Secretariat of the Central Committee - in effect Stalin's personal secretary.

In 1926–1930 he took courses at the Communist Academy and in the Institute of Red Professors. From 1930 he was the head of the press corps Central Committee, and simultaneously a member of the editorial board, and then the editor in chief of the newspaper Pravda.

In 1937–1940 he was the Commissar of Defense[citation needed] and the chief of the main political administration of the Red Army. From 1939 he was a member of the Central Committee of the CPSU (he had been a candidate since 1934), in 1938–1952 he was a member of the Orgburo of the Central Committee, in 1940–1941 People's Commissar of State Control (Goskontrolya).

In June 1941 he was newly assigned by the chief of main political administration and the deputy of the Peoples Commissar of Defense. Nicknamed "the Shark" and the "Gloomy Demon",[1] Mekhlis was named army commissar of the 1st rank, which corresponded to the title of General of the red Army. In 1942 he was the representative of the Stavka (headquarters) of supreme commander-in-chief at the Crimean Front, where he constantly disputed with General Dmitry Timofeyevich Kozlov. The leaders of the staff of the Front did not know whose orders to carry out – the commander's or Mekhlis’s.

The commander of the North-Caucasian Front, Marshal Semyon Budyonny, also could not control Mekhlis, who had no desire to be subordinated, only recognising orders which came directly from the Stavka. Mekhlis, during a stay at the post of the representative of Stavka, was occupied by the fact that he wrote sufficiently critical reports to senior officers.

After one such report Major General Tolbukhin was taken off the post of chief of staff of the front, which had carelessness in contrast the instruction of Stalin to express opinion about the need for the front considering the need for being defended. So he attempted through the Stavka to replace the front commander, Kozlov, with Konstantin Rokossovsky or Klykov. At the same time in reports to Stalin he attempted to distance himself from the failures which the Crimean Front suffered, and to lay the entire responsibility on the front commander.

In regard to this, Stalin sent a telegram to Mekhlis, in which he subjected to his rigid criticism for similar behavior:

Crimean front, t. Mekhlis:

Your code message #254 (I) received. Your position of a detached observer who is not accountable for the events at the Crimean Front is puzzling. Your position may sound convenient, but it positively stinks. At the Crimean Front, you are not an outside observer, but the responsible representative of Stavka, who is accountable for every success and failure that takes place at the Front, and who is required to correct, right there and then, any mistake made by the commanding officers.

You, along with the commanding officers, will answer for failing to reinforce the left flank of the Front. If, as you say, "everything seemed to indicate that the opponent would begin an advance first thing in the morning", and you still hadn't done everything needed to repel their attack instead limiting your involvement merely to passive criticism, then you are squarely to blame. It seems that you still have not figured out that we sent you to the Crimean Front not as a government auditor but as a responsible representative of Stavka.

You demand that Kozlov be replaced, that even Hindenburg would be an improvement. Yet you know full well that Soviet reserves do not have anyone named Hindenburg. The situation in Crimea is not difficult to grasp, and you should be able to take care of it on your own. Had you committed your front line aviation and used it against the opponent's tanks and infantry, the opponent would not have been able to break through our defenses and their tanks would not have rolled through it. You do not need to be a 'Hindenburg' to grasp such a simple thing after two months at the Crimean Front. Stalin.[3]

ZK VKP(6)9.V.42r>>.

After the crushing defeat in May 1942 on the Crimean Front (of 250,000 soldiers and officers on the Crimean Front in 12 days of fighting, 162,282 people, 65% were irrecoverable losses) he was removed from the post of the deputy people's commissar of defense and the chief of the main political administration of the Red Army. Witnesses claim that when Mekhlis came to Stalin shortly after the defeat, Stalin shouted at him and slammed a door in his face.[2] He was demoted in rank two levels down to a corps commissar.

In 1942–1946, he was a member of the military council of a number of armies and fronts. Mekhlis soon recovered from his demotion, as from December 6, 1942, he was a lieutenant general, and on July 29, 1944 he became a colonel general.[2] On 23 June 1942 he was made head of the army’s Main Political Directorate, in this position his influence was contained by resistance from leading military officers like Zhukov and Voroshilov however.[4] In 1946 he was made minister of government control of the USSR, a position he held until 1950.

On October 27, 1950 he was discharged due to his health. He died in February 1953. His ashes were interred at the Kremlin Wall Necropolis in Red Square.

Lev Mekhlis was awarded four Orders of Lenin, five other orders and numerous medals.



  • The Red Army Today / Speeches Delivered [by K Voroshilov, L Mekhlis, S Budyonny, and G Stern] at the Eighteenth Congress of the CPSU(B), March 10–21, 1939, by Kliment Voroshilov, Lev Mekhlis, Semyon Budyonny, Grigory Shtern, pub Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow, 1939
  • The U.S.S.R. and the Capitalist Countries, edited by Lev Mekhlis, Y Varga, and Vyacheslav Karpinsky, pub Moscow, 1938, reprinted University Press of the Pacific, 2005, ISBN 978-1410224194


  1. ^ a b "Lev Mekhlis: Stalin's Grand Inquisitor | CODOH". codoh.com. Retrieved 2020-05-16.
  2. ^ a b c Sebag Montefiore, Simon, 1965-. Stalin : the court of the Red Tsar (First Vintage books ed.). New York. ISBN 1-4000-7678-1. OCLC 61699298.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  3. ^ Николай Викторович Стариков; Дмитрий Беляев (2015). Россия, Крым, история. "Издательский дом ""Питер""". pp. 109–. ISBN 978-5-496-01363-5.
  4. ^ Glantz, David M. (1995). When Titans clashed : how the Red Army stopped Hitler. House, Jonathan M. (Jonathan Mallory), 1950-. Lawrence, Kan.: University Press of Kansas. ISBN 070060717X. OCLC 32859811.
  • Rubtsov, Yuri (1999). Alter ego Сталина. Moscow: Zvonnitsa-MG. ISBN 978-5880930562.
  • Rubtsov, Yuri (2011). Мехлис: Тень вождя [Mekhlis: Shadow Leader]. Moscow: Veche. ISBN 978-5-9533-5781-4.