Georgy Konstantinovich Zhukov


Georgy Konstantinovich Zhukov (December 1, 1896 – June 18, 1974) was a Soviet military commander who, in the course of World War II, led the Red Army to liberate the Soviet Union from the Axis Powers' occupation, to advance through much of Eastern Europe, and to conquer Germany's capital, Berlin. He is one of the most decorated heroes in the history of both Russia and the Soviet Union.

Born into a poverty-stricken peasant family in Strelkovka, Kaluga (now Zhukovo Raion Kaluga Oblast), Zhukov was apprenticed to work as a furrier in Moscow, and in 1915 was conscripted into the army of the Russian Empire, where he served first in the 106th Reserve Cavalry Regiment, then the 10th Dragoon Novgorod Regiment. 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 1921, at one time within 1st Cavalry Army. He received the Order of the Battle Red Banner for subduing the Tambov rebellion in 1921.

By 1923 Zhukov was commander of a regiment, and in 1930 of a brigade. He was a keen proponent of the new theory of armored warfare and was noted for his detailed planning, tough discipline and strictness, and a never give up attitude. 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 Khalkhin Gol. Zhukov requested major reinforcements and on August 15, 1939 he ordered what seemed at first to be a conventional frontal attack. However, he had held back two tank brigades, which in a daring and successful maneuver he 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 a few 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 armor went unheeded by the West, so the German Blitzkrieg against France in 1940 came as a great surprise.

Promoted to full general in 1940, Zhukov was briefly (January - July 1941) chief of the Red Army General Staff before his disagreement with Stalin that led to him being replaced by Marshal Boris Shaposhnikov (who was in turn replaced by Aleksandr Vasilevsky in 1942). Ironically, this led to a relative non-accountability of Zhukov's military role in the huge territorial losses during the German 1941 invasion of the Soviet Union thus ensuring his presence "in the wings" for Stalingrad.

On July 29, 1941, Zhukov was sacked from his post of Chief of the General Staff because he suggested abandoning Kiev to avoid an encirclement, which Stalin refused, leading to a stinging Soviet defeat.

In October 1941, when the Germans were closing in on Moscow, Zhukov replaced Semyon Timoshenko in command of the central front and was assigned to direct the Defense 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. The 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.

By now, Zhukov was firmly back in favor and Stalin valued him precisely for his outspokenness. Stalin's (eventual) willingness to submit to criticism and listen to his generals was an important element in the eventual Soviet victory; Hitler, on the other hand, usually dismissed any general who disagreed with him.

In 1942, Zhukov was made Deputy Commander-in-Chief and sent to the south-western front to take 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 operation, Zhukov spent most of the time in fruitless attacks in the direction of Rzhev, Sychevka and Vyazma, known as the "Rzhev meat grinder". Some historians now question the casualty figures allegedly suffered by the Soviets at Rzhev as being too high. There is also some new evidence which show the Rzhev operation was a diversion in order to prevent the Germans from successfully breaking the encirclement of Stalingrad.

In January 1943, he orchestrated the first breakthrough of the German blockade of Leningrad. He was a STAVKA coordinator at the Battle of Kursk in July 1943, and, according to the memoirs, playing a central role in the planning of the battle and the hugely successful offensive that followed. Kursk was the first major German defeat in summer and has a good claim to be a battle at least as decisive as Stalingrad. .

Following the failure of Marshal Kliment Voroshilov, he lifted the Siege of Leningrad in January 1944. Zhukov then led the Soviet offensive Operation Bagration (named after Pyotr Bagration, a famous Russian-Georgian general during the Napoleonic Wars), which some military historians believe was the greatest military operation of World War II. He launched the final assault on Germany in 1945, capturing Berlin in April. Shortly before midnight, 8 May, German officials in Berlin signed an Instrument of Surrender, in his presence.

After the fall of Germany, Zhukov became the first commander of the Soviet occupation zone in Germany. As the most prominent Soviet military commander of the Great Patriotic War, he inspected the Victory Parade in Red Square in Moscow in 1945 while riding a white stallion.

Immediately following the war Zhukov was the supreme Military Commander of the Soviet Occupation Zone in Germany, and became its Military Governor on June 10, 1945. 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, on April 10, 1946 he was replaced by Vasily Sokolovsky. In 1947 he was sent to command the Odessa Military District, far away from Moscow and lacking strategic significance and attendant massive troops deployment. After Stalin's death, however, Zhukov returned to favor 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, who at that time was First Deputy Prime Minister and head of the MVD.

Zhukov, as Soviet defense minister, was responsible for the invasion of Hungary following the revolution in October, 1956. Along with the majority of members of the Presidium, he urged Nikita Khrushchev to send troops in support of the Hungarian authorities, and to secure the border with Austria. However, Zhukov and most of the Presidium were not eager to see a full-scale intervention in Hungary and Zhukov even recommended the withdrawal of Soviet troops when it seemed that they might have to take extreme measures to suppress the revolution. The mood on the Presidium changed again when Hungary's new Prime Minister, Imre Nagy, began to talk about Hungarian withdrawal from the Warsaw Pact, and the Soviet leadership pressed ahead ruthlessly to defeat the revolutionaries and install János Kádár in Nagy's place.

In June 1956, Zhukov was made a full member of the Presidium of the Central Committee. 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 man power 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 October 1957. 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 favor, though not to power. Brezhnev was said to be angered when, at a gathering to mark the twentieth anniversary of victory in the Great Patriotic War, Zhukov was accorded greater acclaim than him. Brezhnev, a relatively junior political officer in the war, was always concerned to boost his own importance in the victory.

Zhukov remained a popular figure in the Soviet Union until his death in 1974 although by his own admission he was much better dealing with military matters than with politics. He was buried with full military honors.

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