Marshal of the Soviet Union Georgi Zhukov
Georgy Konstantinovich Zhukov (Russian: Гео́ргий Константи́нович Жу́ков) (December 1, 1896 - June 18, 1974), Soviet military commander and politician, considered by many as one of the most successful field commanders of World War II.
Born into a peasant family in Strelkovka, Kaluga Province, Zhukov was apprenticed to work in Moscow, and in 1915 was conscripted into the army of the Russian Empire, where he served in a dragoon regiment as a private. During World War I, Zhukov was awarded the Cross of St George twice and promoted to the rank of non-commissioned officer for his bravery in battle. He joined the Bolshevik Party after the October Revolution, and his background of poverty became an asset. After recovering from typhus he fought in the Russian Civil War from 1918 to 1920, receiving the Order of the Battle Red Banner for subduing a peasant revolt.
By 1923 Zhukov was commander of a regiment, and in 1930 of a brigade. He was a keen proponent of the new theory of armoured warfare and was noted for his detailed planning, tough discipline and strictness. He survived Joseph Stalin's Great Purge of the Red Army command in 1937-39.
In 1938 Zhukov was directed to command the First Soviet Mongolian Army Group, and saw action against Japan's Kwantung Army on the border between Mongolia and the Japanese controlled state of Manchukuo in an undeclared war that lasted from 1938 to 1939. What began as a routine border skirmish—the Japanese testing the resolve of the Soviets to defend their territory—rapidly escalated into a full-scale war, the Japanese pushing forward with 80,000 troops, 180 tanks and 450 aircraft.
This led to the decisive Battle of Halhin Gol. Zhukov requested major reinforcements and on August 15, 1939 he ordered what seemed at first to be a conventional frontal attack. However, Zhukov had held back two tank brigades, which in a daring and successful manouvere, he then ordered to advance around both flanks of the battle. Supported by motorized artillery and infantry, the two mobile battle groups encircled the 6th Japanese army and captured their vulnerable supply areas. Within several days the Japanese troops were defeated.
For this operation Zhukov was awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union. Outside of the Soviet Union, however, this battle remained little-known, as by this time World War II had begun. Zhukov's pioneering use of mobile armour went unheeded by the west, and in consequence the German Blitzkrieg against France in 1940 came as a great surprise.
Promoted to full general in 1940, Zhukov was briefly chief of the Red Army General Staff before a disagreement with Stalin led to him being replaced in June by Marshal Boris Shaposhnikov (who was in turn replaced by Aleksandr Vasilevsky in November).
World War II
After the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, (see Great Patriotic War), Zhukov was sent to the Leningrad Military District to organise the city's defence. He stopped the German advance in Leningrad's southern outskirts in autumn 1941.
In October 1941, when the Germans closed in on Moscow, Zhukov replaced Semyon Timoshenko in command of the central front and was assigned to direct the defense of Moscow (see Battle of Moscow). He also directed the transfer of troops from the Far East, where a large part of Soviet ground forces had been stationed on the day of Hitler's invasion. A successful Soviet counter-offensive in December 1941 drove the Germans back, out of reach of the Soviet capital. Zhukov's feat of logistics is considered by some to be his greatest achievement.
In 1942 Zhukov was made Deputy Commander-in-Chief and sent to the south-western front to be in charge of the defense of Stalingrad. Under the overall command of Vasilievsky, he oversaw the encirclement and capture of the German Sixth Army in 1943 at the cost of perhaps a million dead (see Battle of Stalingrad). During the Stalingrad operation Zhukov spent most of the time in the fruitless attacks in the directions of Rzhev, Sychevka and Vyazma, known as "Rzhev meat grinder" ("Ржевская мясорубка"), nevertheless he claimed the success under Stalingrad to his own, thus causing Stalin to sign the order about the improper behavior of Zhukov: "Contrary to Zhukov's claims, he does't have any relation to plans of liquidation of the Stalingrad group of German troops; it is known that the plan was developed and started to be implemented in winter of 1942, when Zhukov was with another front, far from Stalingrad".
In January 1943 he orchestrated the first break-through of the German blockade of Leningrad. Following the failure of Marshal Kliment Voroshilov, he successfully lifted the Siege of Leningrad in January 1944.
Zhukov led the Soviet offensive of 1944 and the final assault on Germany in 1945, capturing Berlin in April, and becoming the first commander of the Soviet occupation zone in Germany. As the most prominent Soviet military commander of the Great Patriotic War, Zhukov inspected the Victory Parade on the Red Square in Moscow in 1945.
Zhukov last commanded the Soviet Operation August Storm, the campaign against Japan in the final days of World War Two.
A war hero and a leader hugely popular with the military, Zhukov constituted a most serious potential threat to Stalin's dictatorship. As a result, in 1947 he was demoted to command the Odessa military district (which was far away from Moscow and lacking strategic significance and attendant massive troops deployment). After Stalin's death, however, Zhukov was returned to favour and became Deputy Defense Minister (1953), then Defense Minister (1955).
In 1953 Zhukov supported the post-Stalin Communist Party leadership in arresting (and eventually executing) Lavrenty Beria, head of the state security apparatus.
Zhukov, as Soviet defence minister, was responsible for the invasion of Hungary in October, 1956.
In 1957 Zhukov supported Nikita Khrushchev against his conservative enemies, the so-called "Anti-Party Group" led by Vyacheslav Molotov. In June that year he was made a full member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party. He had, however, significant political disagreements with Khrushchev in matters of army policy. Khruschev scaled down the conventional forces and the navy, while developing the strategic nuclear forces as a primary deterrent force, hence freeing up the manpower and the resources for the civilian economy.
Zhukov supported the interests of the military and disagreed with Khrushchev's policy. Khrushchev, demonstrating the dominance of the Party over the army, relieved Zhukov of his ministry and expelled him from the Central Committee. In his memoirs, Khrushchev claimed that he believed that Zhukov was planning a coup against him and that he accused Zhukov of this as grounds for expulsion at the Central Committee meeting.
After Khrushchev was deposed in October 1964 the new leadership of Leonid Brezhnev and Aleksei Kosygin restored Zhukov to favour, though not to power. He remained a popular figure in the Soviet Union until his death in 1974. He was buried with full military honors.
Asteroid 2132 Zhukov was named after him. In 1995, commemorating Zhukov's 100th birthday, the Russian Federation adopted the Zhukov Order and the Zhukov Medal.
Zhukov was a recipient of numerous awards. In particular, he was four times Hero of the Soviet Union; besides him, only Leonid Brezhnev was a four times hero.
- Воспоминания и размышления (http://militera.lib.ru/memo/russian/zhukov1/index.html) The Memoirs of Georgy Zhukov (in Russian)