Rank: Marshal of the USSR
Fate: Died Moscow 1974, aged 77
Bio: Zhukov was from a poor peasant family near Moscow. In 1915 he was conscripted into a cavalry regiment to fight in the First World War. His bravery soon won him medals and promotion, and Zhukov continued to distinguish himself in the Russian Civil War. He rose to command a cavalry regiment, and went to military school where he earned a reputation as a dedicated and hard-working student.
In 1938 Zhukov was sent to command Soviet forces in Mongolia, where tensions were running high with Japanese forces across the border in Manchuria. Fighting broke out in an undeclared war the following year, and at Khalkhin Gol, Zhukov won a brilliant victory using air power and fast-moving tank columns – much like a German ‘Blitzkrieg’. For this success, Zhukov received his first Hero of the Soviet Union award.
When Germany invaded in 1941, Zhukov was Chief of the General Staff, but found himself frequently overruled by Stalin in the disastrous early stages of the war. In frustration, Zhukov asked for a field command. He organised a counter-attack as part of the doomed Battle of Smolensk, and then took charge of Leningrad’s defences, helping to save the city from capture. Zhukov was recalled to the Stavka High Command, where he oversaw the successful defence of Moscow and the launch of the Red Army’s first great counter-offensive that winter.
In 1942 Zhukov became Deputy Commander-in-Chief of Soviet Armed Forces, although for certain operations he still assumed field command. This was the case with Operation Mars, a plan by Zhukov to recapture the city of Rzhev which ended in a bloody repulse. This has been described as Zhukov’s ‘forgotten defeat’. It was certainly overshadowed by events at Stalingrad, where Zhukov also played a critical role in organising the defence of the city, and the suVbsequent Soviet offensive that encircled the German 6th Army and led to a decisive victory.
In Russia, Zhukov became known as ‘The Victory Marshal’. He played a central role in most of the great Soviet successes that followed, helping to lift the Siege of Leningrad in 1943, orchestrating the Battle of Kursk, and overseeing Operation Bagration in 1944. Later that year Stalin put him in command of the 1st Byelorussian Front, entrusting him with the final offensive of the war in Europe and the taking of Berlin.
Zhukov was a four times Hero of the Soviet Union, and at the end of the war led the Victory Parade through Moscow’s Red Square riding a grey Arab stallion. It was said that Stalin had wanted this role but couldn’t master the horse. If true, it must have fed Stalin’s growing jealousy of Zhukov. After the war the Marshal was sidelined and demoted, and lived in constant fear of arrest. He returned to high military office after Stalin’s death in 1953. Zhukov remains the best known and most successful of all the USSR’s generals, and is regularly cited as one of history’s ‘great commanders’.
Rank: Marshal of the USSR