Leonid Kurchevsky Versus The Third Law Of Motion

One of the most bizarre footnotes in military history is the tale of Leonid Kurchevsky, an interwar Soviet weapons developer. Kurchevsky’s gimmick was recoilless guns. Everything from small antiarmor weapons to giant battleship-sized naval guns was made recoilless by him. He wanted the entire Red Army artillery park (and aircraft, and naval) to be recoilless, and managed to impress the legendary Marshall Tukhachevsky into going along with his scheme.

Of course, like Tukhachevsky, Mr. Recoilless ended up as a victim of the Great Purge. However, after all of my research I’ve found it very, very hard to feel sorry for him. First, because he’d tried to use Stalinism itself to get the factories to build his contraptions (what goes around comes around, something many Soviet industrialists learned the hard way int their “gang wars”). And there was the problem of the weapons themselves just not being very good. They tended to explode, they were overcomplicated, and they didn’t perform any better than conventional weapons of similar caliber (for instance, Kurchevksy’s Rube Goldberg anti-tank launcher didn’t really do any better than the classic PTRD anti-tank rifle).

All Kurchevksy’s recoilless mania did was delay the development of more effective weapons of that nature. While the postwar Soviet recoilless weapons were/are excellent, they had to go through World War II without an effective projector. While Kurchevsky was not the only reason (difficulty in making shaped charges and such weapons not being that much better than hand charges in the grand scheme of things, hence not the most worth it to put in the effort for a gigantic army and limited resources played a big role too), he didn’t help. Muddling the historical record is the Khrushchev-era anti-Stalinism, where Kurchevsky was portrayed understandably but falsely as an innocent victim and a genius who was halted by Stalin’s paranoia and tyranny. In fact, few were more detrimental to the cause of recoilless guns than he was.

I think a Death Of Stalin-style satirical, only somewhat exaggerated movie about Kurchevsky’s life and times, if done right, would be amazing to watch.

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