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Georgy Zhukov
Zhukov speaking in Moscow, Soviet Union in 1941.
Minister of Defence

In office
9 February 1955 – 26 October 1957
Premier Nikolai Bulganin
Preceded by Nikolai Bulganin
Succeeded by Rodion Malinovsky
Full member of the Politburo

In office
29 June – 29 October 1957
Candidate member of the Politburo

In office
27 February 1956 – 29 June 1957
Personal details
Born Georgy Konstantinovich Zhukov
Гео́ргий Константи́нович Жу́ков

(1896-12-01)1 December 1896
Strelkovka, Russian Empire
Died 18 June 1974(1974-06-18) (aged 77)
Moscow, Russian SFSR, Soviet Union
Nationality Soviet
Political party Communist Party of the Soviet Union
Spouse(s) Alexandra Dievna Zuikova (1920–1953)
Galina Alexandrovna Semyonova (1965–1973)
Children Era Zhukova (b. 1928)

Margarita Zhukova (1929–2011)
Ella Zhukova (1937–2010)
Maria Zhukova (b. 1957)

Profession Soldier
Religion Russian Orthodox
Military service
Allegiance  Russian Empire
 Soviet Union
Service/branch Russian Imperial Army
Soviet Army
Years of service 1915–1957
Rank Marshal of the Soviet Union
Commands Kiev Military District
Chief of the General Staff
Western Front
1st Belorussian Front
Odessa Military District
Battles/wars World War I
Russian Civil War
Soviet–Japanese Border War (Battles of Khalkhin Gol)
Great Patriotic War
Awards Hero of the Soviet Union — 1939 Hero of the Soviet Union — 1944 Hero of the Soviet Union — 1945 Hero of the Soviet Union — 1956

Georgy Konstantinovich Zhukov (Russian: Гео́ргий Константи́нович Жу́ков; 1 December [O.S. 19 November] 1896 – 18 June 1974), was a Soviet career officer in the Red Army who, in the course of World War II, played a pivotal role in leading the Red Army drive through much of Eastern Europe to liberate the Soviet Union and other nations from the occupation of the Axis Powers and, ultimately, to conquer Berlin. He is the most decorated general officer in the history of the Soviet Union and Russia.

Amongst many notable generals in World War II, G. K. Zhukov was placed at the top due to the number and scale of victories[1] and his talent in operational and strategic command was recognized by many people.[2] Many famous military leaders in the world such as Bernard Law Montgomery and Dwight David Eisenhower had already recognized Zhukov's great contributions in many important victories in the Second World War.[3] His combat achievements became valuable heritages in humanity's military knowledge, exerted great influence on both the Soviet and the whole world's military theory.[4]

Early life and career

Born into a poverty-stricken peasant family in Strelkovka, Maloyaroslavsky Uyezd, Kaluga Governorate (now merged into the town of Zhukov in Zhukovsky District of Kaluga Oblast in modern-day Russia), Zhukov was apprenticed to work as a furrier in Moscow. In 1915, he was conscripted into the Army of the Russian Empire, where he served first in the 106th Reserve Cavalry Regiment (then called the 10th Dragoon Novgorod Regiment).[5][6] 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, where his background of poverty became a significant asset. After recovering from a serious case of typhus, he fought in the Russian Civil War over the period 1918 to 1921, serving with the 1st Cavalry Army, among other formations. He received the decoration of the Order of the Red Banner for subduing the Tambov rebellion in 1921.[7]

Peacetime service until Khalkhin Gol

Georgy Zhukov, the commander of the 39th Buzuluk Cavalry Regiment, 7th Cavalry Division Samara in 1923

At the end of May 1923, Zhukov became a commander of the 39th Cavalry Regiment.[8] In 1924, he entered the Higher School of Cavalry,[9] from which he graduated the next year, returning afterward to command the same regiment.[10] In May 1930, Zhukov became commander of the 2nd Cavalry Brigade of the 7th Cavalry Division.[11] In February 1931, he was appointed the Assistant Inspector of Cavalry of the Red Army.[12] In May 1933, Zhukov was appointed a commander in the 4th Cavalry Division.[12] In 1937, he became a commander of the 3rd Cavalry Corps, later of the 6th Cavalry Corps.[12][13] In 1938, he became a deputy commander of the Belarusian Military District for cavalry.[12][14]

Khalkhin Gol

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. This campaign was an undeclared war that lasted from 1938 to 1939. What began as a routine border skirmish – with the Japanese testing the resolve of the Soviets to defend their territory – rapidly escalated into a full-scale war, with the Japanese pushing forward with an estimated 80,000 troops, 180 tanks, and 450 aircraft.

These events led to the strategically decisive Battle of Khalkhin Gol (Nomonhan). Zhukov requested major reinforcements, and on 20 August 1939, his "Soviet Offensive" commenced. After a massive artillery barrage, nearly 500[15] BT-5 and BT-7 tanks advanced, supported by over 500[16] fighters and bombers. This was the Soviet Air Force's first fighter-bomber operation.[17] The offensive first appeared to be a typical conventional frontal attack. However, two tank brigades were initially held back and then ordered to advance around on both flanks, supported by motorized artillery, infantry, and other tanks. This daring and successful maneuver encircled the Japanese 6th Army and captured the enemy's vulnerable rear supply areas. By 31 August 1939, the Japanese had been cleared from the disputed border, leaving the Soviets clearly victorious.[17]

This campaign had significance beyond the immediate tactical and local outcome. Zhukov demonstrated and tested the techniques later used against the Germans in the Eastern Front of the Second World War. These innovations included the deployment of underwater bridges[18] and improving the cohesion and battle-effectiveness of inexperienced units by adding a few experienced, battled-hardened troops to bolster morale and overall training.[19] Evaluation of the problems inherent in the performance of the BT tanks led to the replacement of their fire-prone petrol (gasoline) engines with diesel engines, and provided extremely valuable practical knowledge that was essential to the success in development of the T-34 medium tank, widely considered the most outstanding all-around general purpose tank of World War II. After this campaign, Nomonhan veterans were transferred to units that had not seen combat, to better spread the benefits of their battle experience.[18]

For his victory, Zhukov was declared a Hero of the Soviet Union. However, the campaign – and especially Zhukov's pioneering use of tanks – remained little known outside of the Soviet Union itself. Zhukov considered Nomonhan invaluable preparation for conducting operations during the Second World War.[20]

Before World War II

In June 1940, Zhukov was appointed Commander of the Kiev Military District.[specify]

One month before this appointment, the reorganization of the Soviet military rank system had bestowed Zhukov with the rank of Army General, an equivalent of the former rank of "First-Rank Army Commander".[specify]

Bessarabia campaign

General Zhukov in Kishinev on the 4th of July 1940.

On 9 June 1940, Zhukov was appointed to command the Odessa Military District, and was given the mission of guarding the border at Bessarabia. On 28 June, nearly 500,000 troops of the Southern Front, under his command, drove over the Soviet-Romanian border and claimed Bessarabia. When the Romanians counterattacked, Zhukov deployed the 201st and 204th Paratrooper Brigades, together with the Soviet Marines, and pushed the Romanian troops back. Finally, on 2 September, Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina were incorporated into the newly formed Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic, with a population of 776,000 and an approximate area of 50,762 square kilometres (19,599 sq mi).[21]

Pre-war military exercises

In the autumn Zhukov started planning border defenses against German aggression. At this time, the Soviet border had moved west due to the annexation of Eastern Poland[22] (pursuant to terms of the "secret protocol" agreement between Germany and Russia).

In his memoirs, Zhukov reported that during this command he was in charge of the "Western" or "Blue" forces (the supposed invasion troops), while his opponent, Colonel General Dimitry Pavlov, was the commander of the "Eastern" or "Red" forces (the supposed Soviet troops). This action was part of a huge military exercise intended to gauge the effectiveness of plan of defence of USSR. Zhukov noted that the "Blue Armies" had 60 divisions, while the "Reds" had only 50.

The details of these exercises were reported differently in the memoirs of the various participants (not uncommon for that period). Historian Bobylev reported that two exercises were completed, one on 2–6 January 1941 (for the North-West direction), and another on 8–11 January (for the South-West direction). The conditions of the first exercise explained that "Western" forces had attacked the "Eastern" forces on July 15 (as part of a general assault), but "Eastern" forces counterattacked, and by August 1, had reversed their initial setbacks and reached the original border from where the attack was launched. As the exercise began, "Eastern" forces had the numerical advantage (51 infantry divisions, as against 41 divisions, 9 armored divisions against 3, and 8,811 tanks, as against 3,512), with the exception of numbers of anti-tank guns. Bobylev describes that, by the end of the exercise, the "Eastern" forces did not manage to surround and destroy the "Western" forces, which – in their turn – threatened to surround the "Eastern" forces. The same historian reported that the second exercise/game was won by the "Easterners" – meaning that, basically, both games were won by the side that was commanded by Zhukov.[23] Interestingly, almost at the same time, in December 1940, the German General Staff was holding its own staff games (a series of three games) which were devoted to rehearsing the invasion of the Soviet Union.

On 1 February Zhukov became Chief of the General Staff of the Red Army.[10]

Controversy about a plan for war with Germany

From 2 February, as the Chief of the General Staff, and Deputy Minister of Defense of the USSR, Zhukov took part in drawing up the "Strategic plan for deploying of the Soviet Union in the case of war with Germany and its allies"[24] The plan was completed no later than 15 May 1941. In this document, one paragraph states:

Germany is mobilizing most of its army to the border and actively building its reserves. That fact warns us that a surprise attack may take place. In order to prevent this, I suggest it is necessary to take the strategic initiative against the Third Reich in any case, including forestalling the enemy and deploying a pre-emptive offensive against the German units when we definitely verify the time when they will attack. We must ensure they have no time to prepare in order to create an advantage in combat power.[citation needed]

Some researchers conclude that, on 14 May, Soviet Minister of Defense Semyon Timoshenko and Zhukov suggested to Joseph Stalin a preemptive attack against Germany through Southern Poland. Soviet forces would occupy the Vistula Border and continue to Katowice or even Berlin (should the main German armies retreat), or the Baltic coast (should German forces not retreat and be forced to protect Poland and East Prussia). The attacking Soviets were supposed to reach Siedlce, Deblin, and then capture Warsaw before penetrating toward the southwest and imposing final defeat at Lublin.[25]

Historians do not have the original documents that could verify the existence of such a plan, or whether Stalin accepted it. In a transcript of an interview on 26 May 1965, Zhukov stated that Stalin did not approve the plan. However, Zhukov did not clarify whether execution was attempted. As of 1999, no other approved plan for a Soviet attack had been found.[26]

During 1930–1940, with the approval of Soviet leaders, Soviet artists and writers created fictitious works about a Red Army invasion of German territory. Such approval may have caused a misunderstanding that the offensive had been accepted. This misunderstanding was exploited by extremists, who believed that the Soviet Union should attack. Consequently, many people argued that Stalin had ruled it out. However, the Soviet counter-blows against the German invasion seem to have been some kind of preemptive offensive deployment.[27][28] Zhukov did not mention such plans in his memoirs.[29] According to Marshal Aleksandr Vasilevsky, the war-game defeat of Pavlov's Red Troops against Zhukov was not known widely, but the victory of Zhukov's Red Troops against Kulik was widely propagandized, thus creating a popular illusion about easy success for a preemptive offensive.[30]

Zhukov predicted that the Soviet-German war could not be avoided and that the Red Army needed to build independent motorized and tank units to satisfy the new conditions of the expected war. His suggestions, however, were not accepted by Soviet leaders. When war broke out, the harsh reality of the battlefield painfully proved the correctness of most of Zhukov's ideas about the role of tanks and motorized units in modern warfare.[31]

World War II

First struggles

On 22 June 1941, Germany invaded the USSR. As a General Chief of Staff, Zhukov requested Stalin to promulgate No. 1 Directive (at 0:25 AM on 22 June). At 7:15 AM, he requested the Soviet Supreme Command to promulgate No. 2 Directive about general mobilization in all USSR territories.[32] At 1:00 PM, Stalin ordered him to fly to the headquarters of the Southwestern Front to monitor the tactical situation. At 11:50 PM, Stalin ordered Deputy General Chief of Staff N. F. Vatutin to prepare Directive No. 3, which ordered the deployment of all Soviet forces in a counteroffensive. As Zhukov explains in his memoirs, he called Moscow from Tarnopol to object to Stalin's decision, as Stalin didn't know the full situation. However, Vatutin replied that Stalin had already made the decision, leaving Zhukov no choice but to sign the Directive.[33] The careless and premature counteroffensive failed badly, and the Western and Northwestern Fronts suffered heavy casualties. Meanwhile, the Southwestern Front, guided by Zhukov, managed to considerably slow the German offensive.[34]

Kiev and Yelnya

As the Chief of the General Staff, Zhukov and his colleagues reasoned that after intensive movements, the German Panzers (tanks) would need time to be refitted. Thus they would not strike directly at Moscow, but at more vulnerable Soviet positions. For example, Zhukov believed that the Germans would attack on the Central Front, then from that position, launch a strike toward the right flank of the Southwestern Front at Kiev. From these conclusions, Zhukov suggested an audacious plan: moving the troops guarding the west of the Moskva River to the Central Front. He advocated abandoning Kiev, and retreating to the East of the Dnepr River to avoid encirclement and destruction. The Western Front would clear the German forces at the Yelnya salient, preventing the Germans from using Yelnya as a bridgehead for a Moscow offensive.[35]

However, Stalin wouldn't approve the abandonment of Kiev. On the night of July 29, during a violent argument, Stalin stated that the reasoning for abandoning Kiev was "nonsense." Despite knowing of Stalin's hot-headed temperament, Zhukov replied angrily: "If you think the Chief of the General Staff talks nonsense, then I have no business here. I ask that you relieve me from the post of Chief of the General Staff and send me to the front. There, apparently, I shall be of greater use to the country."[36]

Zhukov's "wish" was granted and he was appointed Commander of Reserve Front.[37] However, Stalin kept Zhukov as a member of the Soviet High Command STAVKA. Arriving at his new post, Zhukov commanded the Reserve Front on the successful Yelnya Offensive, inflicting heavy casualties and clearing the Germans from Yelnya. The German casualties included the powerful and well-equipped Grossdeutschland regiment, which was almost annihilated.[35]

While commanding the Reserve Front, Zhukov tracked events on other fronts. On 19 August 1941, he noted the German II Panzer Army changing their direction southward, to Glukhov, Chernigov, Konotop, and Lokhvitsa. Zhukov sent Stalin a telegram predicting that the Germans would assault the rear of the Southwestern Front, with the aim of encircling it (in what the Germans called a "Kesselschlacht" or "cauldron battle") and destroying it. This, he predicted, would secure the southern flank of German Center Army Group, and would enable the Germans to attack Donbass. If the Soviet troops were defeated, and German gains consolidated, the bulk of the German army would be able to attack Moscow in strength. Zhukov recommended that a strong force be established at the Glukhov – Chernigov – Konotop line in order to forestall this possibility.[38] Just as Zhukov predicted, the Germans executed this offensive on the 5th of September. Unfortunately for the USSR, insufficient forces, the passivity of generals F. I. Kuznetsov and A. I. Yeriomenko and the lateness of Stalin's retreat orders, the Southwestern Front was encircled and completely demolished.[39][40]

Siege of Leningrad

On 30 August, German forces cut the strategic Leningrad-Moscow railroad and severed other connections to Leningrad. Stalin told his staff, at a meeting with his military commanders, "Leningrad may be lost—the situation is hopelessly bad there." Zhukov was present and was summoned by Stalin for a private discussion that had a significant impact on the course of the war. Zhukov and Stalin agreed that Leningrad and its surrounding territory were absolutely critical to avoid losing the war, and therefore, that everything became strategically related to the defense of Leningrad and given first priority—including the Red Army and Navy operations in Karelia and Northern Russia, partisan guerrilla resistance in Novgorod and the Leningrad area, control over Lake Ladoga and the Svir River, the seaports of Murmansk and Arkhangelsk that were receiving significant British, Canadian, and American help through Arctic convoys, and the evacuation of civilians, millions of whom were trapped in the encircled city and its suburbs.[41][42][43][44]

Stalin ordered Zhukov to save Leningrad by any means, because if the city fell, 11% of the national economy and the invaluable wealth of the Hermitage Museum and the palaces of the Russian tsars from Peter the Great onwards would be in the hands of the enemy. German forces could unite with the small, but tough, motivated and skilled Finnish forces. These combined forces could quite possibly drive through Northern Russia and attack Moscow, which might well win the war for Germany.

At that time, German forces had already cut the important Moscow railroad, and the Finnish forces north of Leningrad had attacked and obliterated the roads connecting Leningrad to the logistically important seaports of Murmansk and Arkhangelsk. These developments had potentially dire consequences for both Leningrad and Moscow, which were highly dependent on the British, Canadian and American supplies. On 10 September 1941, following the encirclement of Leningrad, Zhukov was made the commander of the Leningrad Front.[45]

In an important clandestine surveillance operation, Zhukov and his staff flew over Lake Ladoga and landed on the partially destroyed airstrip of Rzhevka Airport, in Leningrad. Zhukov found the huge city and its suburbs, which had a population of 3.5 million, flooded by 460,000 refugees from the Nazi-occupied provinces. Shortages of food and munitions were critical, and the situation as a whole was dire. In order to save this strategically and psychologically important city and its important Navy base, Zhukov had to accomplish three tasks:

  1. Stop the offensive before it entered Leningrad city proper
  2. Protect the civilians that were fleeing the besieged city and its suburbs
  3. Reorganize the joint command and civilian resistance to prepare for a lengthy siege

Zhukov ordered the executions of several inadequate officers, thus strengthening the siege perimeter. To bolster resistance, Zhukov organized a special armed regiment that was empowered to shoot anyone who retreated from the perimeter. He also ordered the laying of dense minefields and the deployment of artillery batteries in all critical directions, and redeployed some fifty thousand Navy men from the Baltic Fleet, creating additional infantry and helping to reinforce the regular land-based contingents.

During the period September through October, Zhukov launched a series of attacks and counterattacks, with the purpose of harassing and wearing out the German and Finnish forces who held the siege perimeter to the north and south. One of these deadly counteroffensives stopped the enemy forces after they had penetrated the defense lines near the seaport of Leningrad, just two miles from the Kirov Plant which was building KV heavy tanks. With intense fire support from land- and sea-based artillery batteries, the counteroffensive effectively stopped the attack in that sector.[46] Zhukov's brutal and unceasing efforts produced results—the attack was stopped in its tracks, and the fierce battle was transformed into a deadly siege. The city was saved, and thus Hitler's plan to win the war outright using this strategy failed. An outraged Hitler—together with Wilhelm Keitel—visited Finland on 4 June 1942, meeting with Finnish president Ryti and the commander of the armed forces of Germany's (nominal) ally Finland (Mannerheim), after which they renewed their joint attack on Leningrad. Subsequently, Mannerheim again visited with Führer Hitler and members of his top leadership (including Reichsführer SS Heinrich Himmler and Reichsmarschall and Luftwaffe Commander Hermann Göring) in Germany on 27–28 June about the situation. However, all sides in this battle were exhausted by this time, lacking the combat power, equipment, and logistics to push the campaign to a decisive conclusion. The battle of Leningrad lasted until January 1944, making it the single most deadly and one of the most cruel sieges in human history.

Zhukov was present in the city during only parts of the siege, secretly flying in and out when he and Stalin felt his presence was absolutely required. He nevertheless constantly oversaw the efforts against the Wehrmacht's 900-day-long siege and its related operations, including defensive preparations and operations, the evacuation of about 1.5 million civilians, the movement of various important industries and their equipment and materials away from the city and reorganizing the entire front after the failure of the 2nd Shock Army in 1942, Operation Iskra in 1943, the Leningrad–Novgorod Offensive in 1944 and other operations around the besieged city.[47][48][49]

Battle of Moscow

After Leningrad stabilized, Zhukov was sent to the Reserve Front on 8 October 1941. At that time, the USSR's situation was critical: the Battle of Moscow was taking place, and nearly the entire Soviet Western Front was being encircled in what eventually became a huge "cauldron battle" at in the Rzhev–Vyazma salient, where it was estimated that some 775,000 Soviet personnel were lost.[50] Its commander, S. M. Budyonny, wasn't even present at headquarters and the officers in the High Command didn't seem to know what was happening at the front. An enraged Zhukov was thus forced to go to the front lines himself to grasp the battlefield situation, and then to search for Budyonny.[51] To unify the operations of the huge numbers of Soviet forces, he sent a suggestion to Stalin that the Reserve and the Western Fronts be merged. After that, Zhukov became the de facto leader of the forces defending the Soviet capital city.

After a brief period, Zhukov established communication links with the encircled Soviet troops of the Western Front. After analyzing the situation and pointing out strengths and weaknesses of the German troops surrounding them, he gave specific instructions to their commanders and political personnel. Unable to break the Kessel (Ger. "kettle", or encirclement area), the surrounded Soviet troops did manage to strengthen their positions under Zhukov's leadership. Their efforts to some extent wore out some German units and thereby reduced the overall striking power of the offensive.[51]

On 15 November, the Germans launched another attack on Moscow. At Krasnaya Polyana (Красная поляна) and Kryukovo (Крюково), northwest of the capital, the Germans advanced to about 20 km from Moscow.[50] Zhukov recognized an important error in the German plan—while the German forces seemed to attack aggressively from both their flanks, those in the center remained relatively inactive. From this observation, Zhukov made a rather daring decision: he ordered the repositioning of many of his centrally-located battle forces to reinforce his two flanks. With this tactical change, the Soviets stopped several German attacks with few losses among their reserve troops. Later on, these better-rested reserve forces played an important role in the counteroffensive.[51]

Zhukov reasoned that the Germans would realize that this tactical scheme was problematic and would begin to attack in the now-weakened center. Zhukov therefore ordered the remaining forces in the center to prepare for an offensive. Just as he had predicted, the Germans began to attack the central sector troops. The Soviet preparations, however, managed to stop the German offensive.[51]

After intense fighting, Moscow remained under Soviet control, while the German forces were exhausted and had lost equipment and supplies, a critical weakness given the long logistical tail. Although the Soviet combat forces were in no way superior compared to their German foes,[52][53] Zhukov decided to launch his counteroffensive. On 1 December Zhukov was coordinating the Western, Bryansk, and the Kalinin Fronts preparatory to the counteroffensive. On 6 December the Soviet forces began a massive assault. After two months of bloody and brutal fighting, the Soviets pushed their German foes between 100 and 250 km away from Moscow—in some areas, up to 400 km—and had taken approximately 582,000 German soldiers out of action.[54] This battle in 1941 was the first time up to that point in World War II that the German army had been defeated in a large-scale battle involving millions of soldiers.

Ultimately, Operation Barbarossa failed. Perhaps most importantly, the great Soviet stand, counterattack, and ultimate victory at Moscow convinced the Allies that they could win.[55] Zhukov received widespread accolades as the "savior of Moscow". Even Stalin heaped praise on Zhukov:

The Motherland and the Party will never forget the action of the Soviet commanders in the Great Patriotic War. The names of the victorious generals who saved the Motherland will forever be engraved in the honorary steles placed at the battlefields. Amongst these battlefields, there is one battlefield with exceptional meanings, and that is the great one at Moscow. And the name of Comrade Zhukov, as a symbol of victory, will never be apart from this battlefield.

—I.V. Stalin[56]

Rzhev sector and Operation Mars

In February 1942, the psychological benefits of the Soviet victory at Moscow had started to dissipate as Germany began transferring large numbers of reinforcements to the Eastern Front. Although lacking large numbers of reinforcements and with limited supplies, Zhukov ordered attacks to proceed. Due to the impatient action of the Kalinin Front, its 33rd Army, the 1st Guards Cavalry Army, and the 4th Paratrooper Army were surrounded by the Germans at the Rzhev-Vyazma salient. Two relieving operations were able to rescue most of the 1st Guards Cavalry, the 4th Paratrooper Army, and parts of the 33rd Army. Nevertheless, losses were very high—some 194,000 soldiers were dead, wounded or captured, comprising just over half of the troops who were initially encircled.[57] While some Soviet generals claimed that these offensives were unnecessary, the German General Kurt von Tippelskirch countered:

There appeared a difficult situation in the Rzhev-Sychevka direction during the first months of this year. The Russians nearly destroyed our first defensive line. This breakthrough was only stopped when we kept three Panzer divisions and some infantry units at this place – according to the plan, these units should have been deployed to the south. With regard to tactics, the Germans were successful as they managed to mend the hole in this direction, but the Russians received a greater strategical profit when they managed to detain a large amount of German troops at this place and to prevent them from reinforcing the main battlefield.

—Kurt von Tippelskirch[58]

At the end of 1942, Operation Mars began. It was concurrent with the first phase of Operation Uranus, but it was not prepared by Zhukov, nor did he command the operation. At that time, Zhukov was carrying out his task as Deputy Commander-in-Chief and Representative of General Headquarters at Stalingrad. He only coordinated the forces at Rzhev during the later half of this operation, again as the "firefighter" who conducted the rescue tasks for the encircled Soviet forces there. Mars was a tactical failure because, despite inflicting considerable losses, the Soviets could not encircle and eliminate the German 9th Army. Within 25 days, Soviet losses were some 215,000 KIA (killed in action), WIA (wounded in action), and POW's (prisoners of war), while 1,315 important pieces of armor (i.e. tanks and self-propelled artillery pieces) were destroyed or lost. The average casualties per day that were sustained in these engagements were even higher than those suffered at the much more famous Battle of Stalingrad.

M. A. Gareev used Stavka orders to claim that Mars' goal was to lure the German forces to the Rzhev sector, preventing them from reinforcing Stalingrad. Thus, it ensured the success of Uranus and the Soviet offensives in the south. Indeed, according to Gareev, "there is not any convincing reason to say that Operation Mars was a failure, or was the greatest failure of Marshal Zhukov, as David Glantz and other Western scholars have described".[59]

Glantz quoted A. V. Isaev about Operation Mars:

Aside from causing the influences about the local events of the fronts in November and December 1942, "Operation Mars" also influenced the fighting situation in 1943. In the winter of 1942, the 9th Army of General Walther Model was tightly pinned against the Rzhev salient. And in summer 1943, this Army was so exhausted that it could not be used in Operation "Citadel".

—A. V. Isaev[60]

Also, according to Vladimir Chernov and Galina Yaroslavovna, Glantz and other Western historians paid too much attention to Zhukov and forgot the fact that he did not participate in this offensive, as since the late August 1942 he had already stopped commanding the Western Front and went to Stalingrad area to guide the Soviet forces there.[61]

Battle of Stalingrad and Operation Uranus

In late August 1942 Zhukov was made Deputy Commander-in-Chief and sent to the Southwestern Front to take charge of the defence of Stalingrad.[62] In October 1942, Zhukov and Vasilevsky planned the Stalingrad counteroffensive[63] named "Operation Uranus", which was noted as "having a clarified mission, a daring idea, and an extensive scope, which made everybody pay attention to it".[56] The counteroffensive was launched on 19 November and four days late with the encirclement of the entire German 6th Army (the single largest Nazi troop formation at the time). After two more months of desperate fighting, the demoralized and decimated Sixth Army surrendered on 2 February. Zhukov was the coordinator of the Southeastern and the Stalingrad Fronts while Vasilevsky coordinated the Southwestern and Don Fronts. At Stalingrad, the Wehrmacht lost over 200,000 men, while another 91,000 were taken prisoner; of whom only 6,000 returned to Germany in 1955. On the battlefield were buried 140,000 soldiers and officers (not counting the tens of thousands of Nazi soldiers who were killed in the kessel during the 73 days of encirclement). Due to his great skill in planning and commanding large forces, Zhukov was awarded the 1st Order of Suvorov (together with Vasilevsky, N.N. Voronov, Vatutin, Andrey Yeryomenko, and K. K. Rokossovsky). Noteworthy, however, was the "No. 1" engraved distinctly on the medal that was given to Zhukov.[56]

Breaking the siege of Leningrad

In January 1943 Zhukov (with Kliment Voroshilov) coordinated the actions of the Leningrad Front and Volkhov Front, in accord with the Baltic Fleet, in Operation Iskra. This led to the partial breaking of the German lines at the perimeter of the Leningrad siege, where a narrow passage was opened between the German armies stationed there and the shore of Lake Ladoga. This path allowed the delivery of food and munitions by the "Road of Victory" railroad. The Germans knew of its importance, however, and intensively bombarded it, costing the lives of over 300,000 defenders. The siege continued for another year, until 27 January 1944, when the besieging forces were driven back from the city in the Leningrad-Novgorod Strategic Offensive. Even so, the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet granted Zhukov the rank Marshal of the Soviet Union on 18 January 1943. He was the first field commander that was granted this rank during World War II.[64]

Battle of Kursk

On 17 March 1943, Zhukov was in charge of all combat forces to the south of the Russian city of Kursk. He organized the Voronezh Front, under Vatutin, to face the expected offensive of Army Group South (under the command of German Field Marshal Erich von Manstein) in the Belgorod-Kharkov area. On 8 April, based on Soviet intelligence, Zhukov sent a telegram to Stalin noting that:

According to the situation of the Soviet-German front, the enemy will attempt to cut off the Kursk salient, to encircle and destroy the Soviet forces of Central Front and Voronezh Front deployed here. At the moment, both fronts only have 15 tank divisions, meanwhile the German forces in the Belgorod-Kharkov direction have already gathered 17 tank divisions – most of them include the new types of tanks, such as Tiger I, improved Panther, Jagdpanzer IV, and some kinds of tank destroyers such as Marder II, Marder III.


The German High Command had not completed the planning of Operation Citadel yet. Hitler's final orders arrived only on 15 April 1943.

In an 8 April 1943 telegram, Zhukov suggested how to cope with the coming German offensive:

I consider it inadvisable for our forces to go over to the offensive in the very first days of the campaign in order to forestall the enemy. It would be better to make the enemy exhaust himself against our defenses, and knock out his tanks and then, bringing up fresh reserves, to go over to the general offensive which would finally finish off his main force.


Zhukov and Kliment Voroshilov inspect a captured German Tiger I tank, August 1943

Zhukov's insights proved to be correct. Due to his understanding of German intentions, the Soviet Army prepared massive defenses at Kursk. On 15 July 1943, the Germans' Army Group Center and South attacked but within a week, the German attack stagnated. Follow-up Soviet counteroffensives liberated Orel and Belgorod on 5 August, and Kharkov on 23 August. Zhukov himself guided the Voronezh Front, facing the Germans to the north of Kharkov, which was in the southern sector of the Kursk salient.[67]

Although he disagreed with preemptive offensives such as those suggested by Vatutin and Rokossovsky, Zhukov did agree with them about "preemptive preparation", on a smaller scale, against attacking forces right before an offensive began. The very heavy bombardment from Soviet artillery, Katyusha rocket launchers, and air forces inflicted considerable casualties on German assault forces and sharply reduced their penetrating power.[68]

On the Left-bank Ukraine

On 28 August 1943, G. K. Zhukov was called back to Moscow. The next day, he told I. V. Stalin about his new plan about a quick and large scale assault (from Kharkov to the sea of Azov) against the German Army Group South when it was still heavily exhausted after being defeated at the battle of Kursk. However, I. V. Stalin rejected this idea.[69] During August and September 1943, Zhukov was the coordinator of the Voronezh Front and Steppe Front (later became the 1st Ukrainian and 2nd Ukrainian Fronts),[70] which conducted a more restricted offensive at the left flank of Army Group South at the Dnieper and then occupied several bridgeheads at this river.

From 12 October to 23 October, the Voronezh Front assaulted Kiev. At first, the Soviets attacked the Burkin bridgehead at the south of Kiev, but the Germans quickly reinforced this area and stopped the Soviet offensive. Zhukov then, from 25 October to 3 November, secretly moved the 3rd Guards Tank Army and 7th Guards Army out of Burkin and then launched a surprise attack at the Lyutezh bridgehead north of Kiev. The Germans then had no choice but to abandon this city.[71]

On 23 December, the Germans launched many counteroffensives in order to retake Kiev and managed to push the Soviets back at several small sectors. However, Zhukov quickly transferred strong reserve forces to this area and stopped the German assaults.

On the Right-bank Ukraine

The year 1944 began with the Korsun-Shevchenkovsky Offensive, conducted by the First and Second Ukrainian Fronts under the coordinated command of G. K. Zhukov. During this battle, the German 42nd Panzer Corps was encircled[72] and eliminated. The German suffered 55,000 casualties, 18,200 being captured with a large amount of materials (271 tanks, 32 amoured vehicles, 110 self-propelled artilleries, 944 cannons, 536 mortars, 1,689 machine guns.[73]

Unfortunately for the Red Army, on 17 March, the commander of First Ukrainian Front N. F. Vatutin was shot by the Ukrainian Insurgent Army and died in hospital in Kiev on 15 April. Therefore, on 10 April, I. V. Stalin appointed Zhukov to be the commander of Vatutin's front[74] and he remained in charge of this front until early May.[75] Under Zhukov's command, during March and April 1944, the First Ukrainian Front successfully conducted the Chernovtsy – Proskurov offensive and pushed the German to the Carpathian Mountains.[76]

Operation Bagration and the Lvov-Sandomierz Offensive

During the Russian summer offensive in 1944, Zhukov became the coordinator of the 1st Belorussian Front (whose commander was Rokossovsky), the 2nd Belorussian Front (whose commander was Georgiy Zakharov), and later, the First Ukrainian Front (commanded by I. S. Koniev) as well.[77] This summer offensive was a decisive Soviet victory that crippled the German Army Group Center, encircling and eliminating some 30 German army divisions, advancing 350–500 km and pushing the Germans completely out of Soviet territory.

In the south, in July, Zhukov guided Koniev's offensive, launched by the 1st Ukrainian Front at Lvov and Rava-Russkaya, pushing the Germans out of Ukraine and penetrating to the Stanislavsk-Sandomirsk line. On 8 July Zhukov secretly moved the 5th Tank Army of P. A. Rotmistrov from the Third Belorussian Front to the First Prebaltic Front, completely surprising the Germans. This movement of armor helped the Soviet Army win significant victories in the Memel Offensive and East Prussian Offensive.[78]

Jassy – Kishinev Offensive

In August Zhukov was appointed coordinator of the 2nd and 3rd Ukrainian Fronts, which were under Colonel-General Rodion Malinovsky and Colonel-General Fyodor Tolbukhin. These two fronts launched the Jassy–Kishinev Offensive, which virtually demolished the southwestern sector of the German defensive line. This offensive captured both Romania and Bulgaria, knocking these German allies out of the war, and penetrated to Yugoslavia and Hungary. In this campaign, Zhukov ordered the two fronts to narrow the penetrated sectors from 22 km to 16 km to increase the concentration of artillery fire from 220 guns per kilometer of front to 240.[79] When the masses of Soviet troops marched into Bulgaria, Zhukov saw to it that aid was provided to the Bulgarian Communist Government so that they might build their own forces (eventually including 2 armies and 5 independent corps) and begin to fight alongside Soviet forces.

Vistula and East Prussian Offensives

At the end of September Zhukov returned to General Headquarters and was immediately appointed to be the coordinator of the First and Second Belorussian Fronts in Eastern Poland. He supported Rokossovsky's recommendation as the commander the 1st Belorussian Front, that they refrain from crossing the Vistula because the Red Army needed rest after continuously attacking for three months. In addition, the spearhead units had moved so fast that the logistics units and airbases had fallen behind. They recognized that German supply lines had been significantly reduced as the front line moved back toward Germany.[80] Zhukov demanded that the First and Second Belorussian Fronts had to keep the Saldomirsk, Pulava and Nareva bridgeheads to provide "jumping off points" for future offensives into Germany.[81]

In November Stalin decided to transfer Rokossovsky to the 2nd Belorussian Front. It is believed that Stalin did not want a commander of Polish descent to take Berlin. Zhukov was thus made Commander in Chief of the 1st Belorussian Front. During the East Prussian Offensive, Zhukov suggested that the Red Army should not send its tank units into this battlefield, because the terrain of East Prussia and Königsberg was relatively unfit for tanks. He preferred air forces and artillery units instead of armor, to pull the German garrisons from their stone fortresses into open areas so that they could be eliminated more easily and at less cost. Stalin rejected this proposal, leading Zhukov to comment:

I think this was a grave mistake of the Supreme Commander-in-Chief. The later events proved that using tanks in the intricate East Prussian streets made the battle become bloody.[82]

Vistula–Oder Offensive

On 15 January 1945, Zhukov visited Lublin for a discussion with the Polish Liberation Committee of Bolesław Bierut. He accepted the Committee's suggestion about sending the Polish 1st and 2nd Armies of Stanislav Poplavsky and Zygmunt Berling (both Polish) to fight alongside the 1st Belorussian and 1st Ukrainian Fronts in Poland. Zhukov also suggested sending Soviet weapons and ammunition for the purpose of reinforcing the Polish People's Army. The Polish army then received about 3,500 artillery pieces, 1,200 aircraft, 1,000 tanks, 700,000 guns, and 18,000 cars, giving them greatly increased combat power, mobility and flexibility as a fighting force.[83] Zhukov went to the front lines to inspect the attacking forces. When one Soviet military officer asked him about the reasons for such large scale and careful preparations for the offensive, Zhukov answered:

We have to ensure, that the offensive not only is 100% successful, but 200%!

—G. K. Zhukov[84]

In the Vistula–Oder Offensive, the original target was the line Vistula-Bromberg (Bydgoszcz)-Poznań-Breslau (Wrocław). However, by 17 January, the First Polish Army of Stanislav Poplavsky had already captured Warsaw, and on 2 February, the main German forces of Army Group Center had been virtually destroyed, with both the First Belorussian and the Ukrainian Fronts successfully reaching the German border on the Oder-Neisse line.[85] The furthest Soviet units were at this time a mere 68 km away from Berlin. For the Germans the Vistula-Oder offensive was a devastating turn of events.[86]

Battle of Berlin

File:Подписание акта капитуляции Германии 1945 г. 2.jpg

Signing the German Instrument of Surrender at the Soviet headquarters in Karlshorst, Berlin. Standing in the middle is Soviet Marshal Georgy Zhukov

Zhukov in Berlin talking to British officers, 1945

File:Bundesarchiv Bild 183-14059-0018, Berlin, Oberbefehlshaber der vier Verbündeten.jpg

The Supreme Commanders in Berlin on 5 June 1945; from left to right: Bernard Montgomery (Great Britain), Dwight D. Eisenhower (US), Zhukov and Jean de Lattre de Tassigny (France)

Zhukov was present when German officials signed the official Instrument of Surrender in Berlin,[87] ending the Soviet-German conflict, which was the largest and deadliest campaign ever fought between two nations.

Post war service under Stalin

After the German capitulation Zhukov became the first commander of the Soviet Occupation Zone in Germany. On 10 June Zhukov returned to Moscow to prepare for the Moscow Victory Parade of 1945 in Red Square. On 24 June, I. V. Stalin appointed him Commander-in-Chief of the Parade. After the Victory Ceremony, on the night of 24 June, Zhukov went to Berlin to resume his command.[88]

During May 1945, Zhukov signed three important resolutions regarding the maintenance of an adequate standard of living for the German people living in the Soviet occupation zone:

  • Resolution 063 (11 May 1945): dealing with the provision of food for the people living in Berlin
  • Resolution 064 (12 May 1945): allowed for the restoration and maintenance of the normal activities of the public service sector of Berlin
  • Resolution 080 (31 May 1945): dealt with providing milk supplies for the children living in Berlin.

Zhukov requested the Soviet Government to transport urgently to Berlin 96,000 tons of grain, 60,000 tons of potatoes, 50,000 cattle, and thousands of tons of other foodstuffs, such as sugar and animal fat. He issued strict orders that his subordinates were to "Hate the Nazism but respect the German people", and to make all possible efforts to restore and maintain a stable living standard for the German population.[89]

From 16 July to 2 August, G. K. Zhukov participated in the Potsdam Conference with the other Allied governments. As one of the four commanders-in-chief of Allied forces in Germany, Zhukov established good relationships with the other commanders-in-chief, General of the Army Dwight David Eisenhower (US), Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery (UK) and Marshal Jean de Lattre de Tassigny (France). These four generals exchanged views about matters such as judging war criminals, rebuilding Germany, relationships between the Allies and defeating the Japanese Empire. Eisenhower seemed to be especially satisfied with, and respectful of, his relationship with Zhukov. Eisenhower's successor, General Lucius Dubignon Clay, also praised the Zhukov-Eisenhower friendship, and commented:

The Soviet-America relationship should have developed well if Eisenhower and Zhukov had continued to work together.

—Lucius Dubignon Clay.[90]

Eisenhower and Zhukov, June 1945

American General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied commander in the West, was a great admirer of Zhukov,[specify]

and the two toured the Soviet Union together in the immediate aftermath of the victory over Germany.[91]

Zhukov was not only the supreme Military Commander of the Soviet Occupation Zone in Germany, but became its Military Governor on 10 June 1945. A war hero, hugely popular with the military, Zhukov was viewed by Stalin as a potential threat to Stalin's leadership.[citation needed] He replaced Zhukov with Vasily Sokolovsky on 10 April 1946. After an unpleasant session of the Main Military Council—in which Zhukov was bitterly attacked and accused of political unreliability and hostility to the Party Central Committee—he was stripped of his position as Commander-in-Chief of the Soviet Ground Forces.[92] He was assigned command of the Odessa Military District, far from Moscow and lacking in strategic significance and troops. He arrived there on 13 June.

Zhukov suffered a heart attack in January 1948, spending a month in hospital. In February 1948, he was given another secondary posting, this time command of the Urals Military District.

Throughout this time Lavrentiy Beria was apparently trying to topple Zhukov. Two of Zhukov's subordinates, Marshal of the Red Air Force Alexander Alexandrovich Novikov and Lieutenant-General Konstantin Fyodorovitch Teleghin (Member of the Military Council of 1st Belorussia Army Group) were arrested and tortured in Lefortovo prison at the end of 1945. During the confrontation, G. K. Zhukov unmasked the calumniation of Director of Intelligent Bureau F. I. Golikov about Zhukov's misspending of war booty and exaggeration of Nazi Germany's strength. During this time Zhukov was accused of being a Bonapartist.[93]

In 1946, seven rail carriages with furniture that Zhukov was taking to the Soviet Union from Germany were impounded. In 1948, his apartments and house in Moscow were searched and many valuables looted from Germany were found.[94] In his investigation Beria concluded that Zhukov had in his possessions 17 golden rings, three gemstones, the faces of 15 golden necklaces, more than 4,000 meters of cloth, 323 pieces of fur, 44 carpets taken from German palaces, 55 paintings and 20 guns".[95] Zhukov admitted in a memorandum to Zhdanov "I felt very guilty. I shouldn't have collected those useless junks and put them into some warehouse, assuming nobody needs them any more. I swear as a Bolshevik that I would avoid such errors and follies thereafter. Surely I still and will wholeheartly serve the Motherland, the Party, and the Great Comrade Stalin."[96] These incidents were ironically called "the Investigation of the Cup" by the Soviet military.

When learning of Zhukov's "misfortunes"— and despite not understanding all the problems — Eisenhower expressed his sympathy for his "comrade-in-arms" (Zhukov).[97]

On February 1953, I. V. Stalin ordered Zhukov to leave the post of commander of Ural Military Zone, and then recalled him to Moscow. Several opinions suggested Zhukov was needed for the war at Korea, but in fact during one month at Moscow, Stalin did not give Zhukov any tasks. At 9:50 a.m. on 5 March 1953, Stalin suddenly died, and since this event, Zhukov's life stepped to a brand new stage.[90]

Reasons for Zhukov's rises and falls under Stalin

During the Great Patriotic War, G. K. Zhukov was one of only a few people who understood Stalin's personality. As the Chief of Staff and later Deputy Supreme Commander, Zhukov had hundreds of meetings with Stalin, both private and during STAVKA conferences. Consequently, Zhukov well understood Stalin's personality and methods. According to Zhukov, Stalin was a strong and secretive person, but he was also hot-tempered and skeptical. Zhukov was even able to gauge Stalin's mood; for example, when Stalin drew deeply on his tobacco pipe, it was a sign of a good mood. Conversely, if Stalin failed to light his pipe once it was out of tobacco, it was a sign of an imminent outburst.[98] An outstanding knowledge of Stalin's personality was very helpful to Zhukov, and it assisted him to deal with Stalin's rages in a way other generals could not.[99] Both Zhukov and Stalin were hot-tempered, and, at different times, one or other of them made concessions in order to sustain their relationship.

While Zhukov simply viewed his relationship with Stalin as one of subordinate-senior, Stalin was in awe and possibly a little bit jealous toward Zhukov. Both were military commanders, but whilst Stalin's experience was restricted to a previous generation of non-mechanised warfare, by contrast Zhukov was highly influential in the development of contemporary combined operations of highly mechanised armies. The differences in these outlooks were responsible for many tempestuous disagreements between the two of them at Soviet STAVKA meetings. Nonetheless, Zhukov was much less competent than Stalin as a politician, an inadequacy which accounted for Zhukov's many failures in Soviet politics. In fact, Stalin's unwillingness to value Zhukov beyond the marshal's military talents was one of the reasons why Stalin recalled Zhukov from Berlin.[6]

Another significant element of their relationship was Zhukov's straightforwardness toward Stalin. Stalin was dismissive of the fawning of many of his entourage and openly criticised it.[100]

Many, however, around him—such as Beria, Yezhov, Mekhlis, and some other people—felt the need to flatter Stalin to remain on his good side.[101] Zhukov was different. By contrast he was stubbornly willing to express his views, often going openly against Stalin's opinion even to the point of risking his career. His heated argument with Stalin on the subject of abandoning Kiev in 1941 was a typical example of Zhukov's approach.[102] Such independence in Zhukov's thinking gained Stalin's respect. It caused Zhukov considerable difficulties on occasions but was the main reason through which the decision-making of STAVKA become more objective and effective. After the war, things were less successful for Zhukov, and his independent-mindedness caused him many problems. Indeed, under the personality cult of the Stalinist regime and its overweening bureaucracy and emphasis on conformity, there was little place within the government for people such as Zhukov.


Rise and fall after Stalin

After Stalin's death, Zhukov returned to favor, becoming Deputy Defense Minister in 1953. He then had an opportunity to avenge himself on Beria.

Arresting Beria

With Stalin's sudden death, the Soviet Union fell into a leadership crisis. Georgy Maximilianovich Malenkov became temporarily First Secretary. Malenkov and his allies attempted to purge Stalin's influence and personality cult, however Malenkov himself did not have the courage to do this alone. Moreover, Beria remained dangerous. The politicians sought reinforcement from the powerful and prestigious military men. In this matter, Nikita Khrushchev chose Zhukov because the two had forged a good relationship, and, in addition, in the Great Patriotic War, Zhukov had twice saved Khrushchev from false accusations.[104][105]

On 26 June 1953, a special meeting of the Soviet Politburo was held by Malenkov. Beria came to the meeting with an uneasy feeling because it was called hastily—indeed, Zhukov had ordered General Kirill Moskalenko to secretly prepare a special force and permitted the force to use two of Zhukov's and Bulganin's special cars (which had black glass) in order to safely infiltrate the Kremlin. Zhukov also ordered to replace the NKVD Guard by the guard of the Moscow Military District. In this meeting, Khrushchev, Malenkov and their allies denounced "the imperialist element Beria" about his "anti-Party", "anti-socialist" activities, "sowing division", and "acting as a spy of England", together with many other crimes. Finally, Khrushchev suggested expelling Beria from the Communist Party and bringing him before a military court. Immediately, the prepared special force rushed in. Zhukov himself went up to Beria and shouted: "Hands up! Follow me!". Beria replied, in a panic, "Oh Comrades, what's the matter? Just sit down." Zhukov shouted again, "Shut up, you are not the commander here! Comrades, arrest this traitor!". Moskalenko's special forces obeyed.[106][107]

Marshal Zhukov was a member of the military tribunal during the Beria trial, which was headed by Marshal Ivan Konev.[108] On 18 December 1953, the Military Court sentenced Beria to death. During the burial of Beria, I. S. Koniev commented: "The day this man was born is deserved to be damned!". Then Zhukov simply said: "I considered it is my duty to contribute my little part in this matter (arresting and executing Beria)."[106][107]

Political career after 1953

When Bulganin became premier in 1955, he appointed Zhukov Defense Minister.[108] Zhukov participated in many political activities. He successfully opposed the re-establishment of the Commissar system, because the Party and political leaders were not professional military, and thus the highest power should fall to the army commanders. Until 1955, Zhukov had both sent and received letters from Eisenhower. Both leaders agreed that the two superpowers should coexist peacefully.[109] In July 1955, Zhukov—together with Khrushchev, Bulganin, V. M. Molotov and A. A. Gromyko—participated in a Summit Conference at Geneva after the USSR signed a peace treaty with Austria and withdrew its army from that country.

Zhukov followed orders from the then Prime Minister Georgy Malenkov and Communist Party leader Khrushchev during the invasion of Hungary following the 1956 Hungarian Revolution.[110] Along with the majority of members of the Presidium, he urged Khrushchev to send troops to support the Hungarian authorities and to secure the Austrian border. Zhukov and most of the Presidium were not, however, eager to see a full-scale intervention in Hungary. 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 in the Presidium changed again when Hungary's new Prime Minister, Imre Nagy, began to talk about Hungarian withdrawal from the Warsaw Pact. That led the Soviets to attack the revolutionaries and to replace Nagy with János Kádár. In the same years, when the UK, France and Israel invaded Egypt during the Suez crisis, Zhukov expressed support for Egypt's right of self-defense. In October 1957, Zhukov visited Yugoslavia and Albania aboard the Chapayev class cruiser Kuibyshev, attempting to repair the Tito–Stalin split of 1948.[111] During the voyage, Kuibyshev encountered units of the United States Sixth Fleet—"passing honors" were exchanged between the vessels.

On his 60th birthday (in 1956), Zhukov received his fourth Hero of the Soviet Union title. He became the highest-ranking military professional who was also a member of the Presidium of the Central Committee of the Communist Party. He further became a symbol of national strength. Zhukov's prestige was even higher than the police and security agencies of the USSR, and thus rekindled concerns among political leaders. For example, going even further than Khrushchev, Zhukov demanded that the political agencies in the Red Army report to him before the Party. He demanded an official condemnation of Stalin's crimes during the Great Purge[citation needed]. He also supported the political vindication and rehabilitation for M. N. Tukhachevsky, V. K. Blyukher, A. I. Yegorov and many others. In response his opponents accused him of being a Reformist and Bonapartist. Such enviousness and hostility proved to be the key factor that led to his later downfall.[112]

The relationship between Zhukov and Khrushchev reached its peak during the XX Congress of the Communist Party (1957). After becoming the First Secretary of the Party, Khrushchev moved against Stalin's legacy, criticizing his "personality cult", and had Stalin's body moved out of his mausoleum to the Kremlin Wall Necropolis (as had other Soviet leaders). To complete such startling acts, Khrushchev needed the approval—or at least the acquiescence—of the military, headed by Minister of Defense Zhukov. At the Central Conference of the Communist Party held in June 1957, the conservative Stalinists led by Malenkov and Nikolai Bulganin tried to remove Khrushchev by using a mechanical voting majority—with a draft of a resolution about dismissing Khrushchev. The coup failed and the strongest supporter of Khrushchev was none other than Zhukov. At that Central Conference, Zhukov personally stated:

The Army went against this resolution and not even a tank will leave its position without my order!

—G. K. Zhukov[113]

Zhukov later paid a high price for this statement. He was removed from the Presidium of the Party's Central Committee and the Ministry of Defense, entering forced retirement at age 62. These things happened behind his back, when he was on a trip to Albania at the invitation of Gen. Col. Beqir Balluku.[114] Interestingly, the same issue of Krasnaya Zvezda (Red Star) that announced Zhukov's return also reported that he had been relieved of his duties.[115] According to many researchers, Soviet politicians (including Khrushchev himself) had a deep-seated fear of "powerful people."[116][117]


After being forced out of the government, Zhukov stayed away from politics. Many people—including former subordinates—frequently paid him visits, went with him on hunting excursions, and waxed nostalgic. In September 1959, while visiting the United States, Khrushchev told US President Eisenhower that the retired Marshal Zhukov "liked fishing". Eisenhower, in response, sent Zhukov a set of fishing tackle. Zhukov respected this gift so much that he is said to have exclusively used Eisenhower's fishing tackle for the remainder of his life.[citation needed]

After Khrushchev was deposed in October 1964, Brezhnev restored Zhukov to favour (though not to power) in a move to use Zhukov's popularity to strengthen his political position. Zhukov's name was put in the public eye yet again when Brezhnev lionized Zhukov in a speech commemorating the Great Patriotic War. On 9 May 1965, Zhukov was invited to sit on the tribunal of the Lenin Mausoleum and given the honor to review the military forces in Red Square.[118]

In 1958, Zhukov started writing his memoirs "Reminiscences and Reflections" (Воспоминания и размышления). He worked intensively on them, which together with steadily deteriorating health, served to worsen his heart disease. In December 1967, Zhukov had a serious stroke. He was hospitalized until June 1968, and continued to receive medical and rehabilitative treatment at home under the care of his second wife, Galina Semyonova, a former officer in the Medical Corps. His memoirs were published in 1969 and became a best-seller. Within several months of the date of publication of his memoirs, Zhukov had received more than 10,000 letters from readers that offered comments, expressed gratitude, gave advice, and lavished praise. Supposedly, the Communist Party invited Zhukov to participate in the XXIV General Assembly in 1971 but the invitation was canceled.[119]

On 18 June 1974, Zhukov died after another stroke. Contrary to the Zhukov's last will for Orthodox Christian burial, and despite the requests of the family to the country's top leadership,[120] his body was cremated. Ashes were buried at the Kremlin Wall Necropolis alongside fellow generals and marshals of the Soviet Union and the Russian Federation.

On the 100th anniversary of the Zhukov’s birth, the Panakhida, Orthodox memorial service, was conducted on his grave, the first one for the entire existence of Kremlin Wall Necropolis.[121]


  • Father: Konstantin Artemyevitch Zhukov (1851–1921), a shoemaker. Konstantin was an orphan who was adopted by Ms. Anuska Zhukova at the age of two.
  • Mother: Ustinina Aktemievna Zhukova (1866–1944), a farmer descended from a poor family. According to Zhukov his mother was a person with considerable strength who could carry five put (about 80 kilograms) of wheat on her shoulder. Zhukov thought he had inherited his strength from his mother.
  • Elder sister: Maria Kostantinovna Zhukova (b. 1894).
  • Younger brother: Alexei Konstantinovich Zhukov (b. 1901), died prematurely.
  • First wife: Alexandra Dievna Zuikova (1900–1967), common-law wife since 1920, married in 1953, divorced in 1965. Died after a stroke.
  • Second wife: Galina Alexandrovna Semyonova (1926 – November 1973[122]), Colonel, military officer in the Soviet Medical Corps, worked at Burdenko Hospital, specialized in therapeutics. Married in 1965. Died of breast cancer.
  • First daughter: Era Zhukova (b. 1928), mothered by Alexandra Dievna Zukova.
  • Second daughter Margarita Zhukova (1929–2011), mothered by Maria Nikolaevna Volokhova (1897–1983).
  • Third daughter: Ella Zhukova (1937–2010), mothered by Alexandra Dievna Zukova.
  • Fourth daughter: Maria Zhukova (b. 1957), mothered by Galina Alexandrovna Semyonova.

Controversy and praise

After the Great Patriotic War, Zhukov's fame was not well known by the world, since he was mistreated even in USSR, the country which he fought wholeheartly to protect.[123] Even today, appraisals of Zhukov's career vary. For example, historian Konstantin Zaleski claimed that Zhukov exaggerated his own role in the Patriotic War.[124] Marshal Konstantin Rokossovsky said that the planning and decisions for the Battle of Kursk were made without Zhukov, that he only arrived just before the battle, made no decisions and left soon after.[125] Andrei Mertsalov stated that Zhukov was rude and wayward. Mertsalov further accused Zhukov of setting unnecessarily and terribly strict rules toward his subordinates.[126]

Others note Zhukov's "dictatorial" approach. For example, Major General P. G. Grigorienko stated that Zhukov demanded unconditional compliance with his orders. Some notable examples for these points include the time, on 28 September 1941, that Zhukov sent ciphered telegram No. 4976 to commanders of the Leningrad Front and the Baltic Navy, announcing that returned prisoners and families of soldiers captured by the Germans would be shot.[127] This order was published for the first time in 1991 in the Russian magazine Начало (Beginning) No. 3. In the same month, Zhukov apparently ordered that any soldiers who left their positions would be shot.[128]

Some historians stated that Zhukov was a typical "squander-soldier general" who was unmoved by his forces' loss of life. Others such as A. V. Isaev reject this idea, and quote some of Zhukov's orders stored by the Russian Ministry of Defense and Government of Moscow to prove that Zhukov did care about the lives of his soldiers:

The commanders of the divisions are personally at fault for the 49th Army's failure to accomplish its objectives and for its heavy casualties. They still grossly violate the instructions of Comrade Stalin and the order of the Front regarding the use of massed artillery to achieve a breakthrough, and about the tactics and techniques of attacking the defenses of populated areas. The units of the 49th Army for many days criminally continue their head-on attacks on Kostino, Ostrozhnoye, Bogdanovo and Potapovo without any success, while suffering heavy losses.

Even a person with basic military education can understand that these settlements are very suitable defensive positions. The areas in front of these settlements are ideal for firing upon, but despite this the criminally conducted attacks continue in the same places. As a result of the stupidity and indiscipline of the organizers, people pay with their lives, without bringing any benefit to the Motherland.

If you still want to keep your current ranks, I demand:

Immediately stop the criminal head-on attacks on the settlements. Stop the head-on attacks on heights with good firing positions. When attacking make full use of ravines, forests and terrain that is not easily fired upon. Immediately breakthrough between the settlements and, without waiting for their complete fall, tomorrow capture Sloboda, Rassvet and advance up to Levshina.

Report the execution of the order to me by 24:00 of 27 January.

—Order of G. K. Zhukov to the commander of the 49th Army on 27 January 1942.[129]

It is in vain that you think that victory can be achieved by using "people's meat." Victory is achieved through the art of combat. War is waged with skill, not with people's lives.

—Order of G. K. Zhukov to I. G. Zakharkin on 7 March 1942.[130]

In the armies of the Western Front, a completely unacceptable attitude towards saving personnel has recently developed. Commanders of formations and units, when conducting battles and sending people to accomplish military tasks, are not responsible enough in saving soldiers and officers. Recently, the Stavka has been sending reinforcements to the Western Front more than any other front by two or three times, but it is unacceptable that this replenishment is quickly lost and the units are again left without enough men, because of the negligent and sometimes criminal attitude of the commanders towards saving the lives and health of people.

—Order of G. K. Zhukov on 15 March 1942.[131]

Zhukov also received many positive comments, mostly from his Army companions, from the modern Russian Army, and from his Allied contemporaries. General of the Army Eisenhower stated that, because of Zhukov's achievements fighting the Nazis, the United Nations owed him much more than any other military leader in the world.

The war in Europe ended with victory and nobody could have did that better than Marshal Zhukov – we owed him that credit. He is a modest person, and so we can't undervalue his position in our mind. When we can come back to our Motherland, there must be another type of Order in Russia, an Order named after Zhukov, which is awarded to everybody who can learn the bravery, the far vision, and the decisiveness of this soldier.

—Dwight D. Eisenhower[132]

Marshal of the Soviet Union Aleksandr Vasilevsky commented that Zhukov is one of the most outstanding and brilliant military commanders of the Soviet Military Force.[133] Major General Sir Francis de Guingand, Chief of Staff of Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery, described Zhukov as a friendly person.[134] US writer John Gunther, who met Zhukov many times after the war, said that Zhukov was more friendly and honest than any other Soviet leaders.[135] John Eisenhower – Dwight Eisenhower's son – claimed that Zhukov was really ebullient and was a friend of his.[109] Albert Axell in his work "Marshal Zhukov, the one who beat Hitler" claimed that Zhukov is a military genius like Alexander the Great and Napoleon. Axell also commented that Zhukov is a loyal communist and a patriot.[136]

At the end of his work about Zhukov, Otto Chaney concluded:

But Zhukov belongs to all of us. In the darkest period of World War II his fortitude and determination eventually triumphed. For Russians and people everywhere he remains an enduring symbol of victory on the battlefield.

—Otto Chaney[137]


Russian President Dmitry Medvedev laying a wreath at a monument to Zhukov in Ulan Bator, whilst on a state visit to Mongolia in August 2009.

Zhukov was a recipient of decorations. Most notably he was awarded the Hero of the Soviet Union four times. Aside from Zhukov, only Leonid Brezhnev was a four-time recipient (the latter's were self-awarded).

Zhukov was one of only three recipients to receive the Order of Victory twice. He was also awarded high honors from many other countries. A partial listing is presented below.

Russian Imperial decorations

Soviet Orders and Medals

Foreign awards

  • Order of the Red Banner (Mongolian People's Republic, 1939 and 1942)
  • Order of the White Lion, 1st class (Czechoslovakia, 1945)
  • Military Order of the White Lion "For Victory", 1st class (Czechoslovakia, 1945)
  • Czechoslovak War Cross (Czechoslovakia, 1945)
  • Cross of Grunwald, 1st class (Poland, 1945)
  • Grand Cross of the Virtuti Militari (Poland, 1945)
  • Chief Commander, Legion of Merit (USA, 1945)
  • Honorary Knight Grand Cross, Order of the Bath, (military division) (UK, 1945)
  • Grand Cross of the Legion d'Honneur (France, 1945)
  • Medal "For Warsaw 1939–1945" (Poland, 1946)
  • Medal "for Oder, Nisu, and the Baltic Region" (Poland, 1946)
  • Medal "Sino-Soviet friendship", (China, 1953 and 1956)
  • Order of Freedom (SFR Yugoslavia, 1956)
  • Order of Military Merit, 1st class (Grand Cross of the Officer) (Egypt, 1956)
  • Garibaldi Medal (Italy, 1956)
  • Honorary Italian Partisan (Italy, 1956)
  • Commander's Cross with Star of the Polonia Restituta, (Poland, 1968, and Commander's Cross, 1973)
  • Order of Sukhbaatar (Mongolian People's Republic, 1968, 1969, 1971)
  • Hero of the Mongolian People's Republic (Mongolian People's Republic, 1969)
  • Croix de guerre (France)
  • Medal "30 year anniversary of the Battle of Khalkhin Gol" (Mongolian People's Republic, 1969)
  • Medal "50 years of the Mongolian People's Republic" (Mongolian People's Republic, 1971)
  • Medal "50 years of the Mongolian People's Army" (Mongolian People's Republic, 1971)
  • Medal "For Victory over Japan" (Mongolian People's Republic)
  • Medal "to the 90th anniversary of the birth of Georgiy Dimitrov" (Bulgaria)
  • Medal "25 years of the Bulgarian People's Army" (Bulgaria)



Russian president Dmitry Medvedev and Mongolian president Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj visit the monument to Georgy Zhukov in Ulan Bator, near the Zhukov Museum in Zhukov Street (Mongolian language: Жуковын гудамж) in memory of the Battle of Khalkin Gol.

The first monument to Georgy Zhukov was erected in Mongolia, in memory of the Battle of Khalkin Gol. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, this monument was one of the few that did not suffer from anti-Soviet backlash in former Communist states.

There is a statue of Zhukov on horseback as he appeared at the 1945 victory parade on Manezhnaya Square in Moscow.

A minor planet, 2132 Zhukov, discovered in 1975 by Soviet astronomer Lyudmila Chernykh, is named in his honor.[138]

In 1996, Russia adopted the Order of Zhukov and the Zhukov Medal to commemorate the 100th anniversary of his birthday.


Nobel laureate Joseph Brodsky's poem On the Death of Zhukov ("Na smert' Zhukova", 1974) is regarded by critics as one of the best poems on the war written by an author of the post-war generation.[139] The poem is a stylization of The Bullfinch, Derzhavin's elegy on the death of Generalissimo Suvorov in 1800. Brodsky draws a parallel between the careers of these two famous commanders.

In his book of recollections,[140] Zhukov was critical of the role the Soviet leadership played during the war. The first edition of Vospominaniya i razmyshleniya, was published during the reign of Leonid Brezhnev only on the conditions that criticism of Stalin was removed, and that Zhukov add a (fictional) episode of a visit to Leonid Brezhnev, politruk at the Southern Front, to consult on military strategy.[141]

Popular culture

Zhukov is a character in Robert Conroy's Red Inferno: 1945. The novel follows his career as Marshal of the Soviet Union in a fictional situation where the Soviet Union attacks America and the remaining Allied nations. Toward the end of the novel an American Boeing B-29 Superfortress drops a nuclear bomb near the city of Paderborn, Germany, where Zhukov has set up his headquarters. This fictional bomb kills both him and his protégé and second in command, Vasily Chuikov, as well as a large portion of the elite forces of the Soviet military.

In the title song in the Swedish band Sabaton's album Attero Dominatus includes a strain about Georgy Zhukov during the Battle of Berlin as well as a line referring to him. The line being, "Marshall Zhukov's orders: Serve me Berlin on a plate".

The Cigar City Brewing Company in Tampa, Florida, brews a Russian imperial stout named after Zhukov.

The USS Zhukov, an Ambassador-class starship, is referred to several times in Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Alternate history writer Harry Turtledove uses Zhukov in several of his novels, including the novel The Man With the Iron Heart where he is killed by Heydrich's irregular fighters.

Zhukov is the name of the mentor and superior of the KGB spy Elizabeth in the FX TV series "The Americans". He was a hero of the Great Patriotic War.


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Additional reading

External links

Political offices
Military offices
Preceded by
Kirill Meretskov
Chief of the Staff of the Red Army
Succeeded by
Boris Shaposhnikov
Preceded by
Nikolai Bulganin
Minister of Defence of Soviet Union
Succeeded by
Rodion Malinovsky

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