Marshal of the Soviet Union (Russian: Маршал Советского Союза [ˈmarʂəɫ sɐˈvʲet͡skəvə sɐˈjʉzə]) was the de facto highest military rank of the Soviet Union. (The highest rank de jure, Generalissimus of the Soviet Union, was created for Joseph Stalin in 1945 and held by him alone).
The rank of Marshal of the Soviet Union was created in 1935 and abolished in 1991. Forty-one people held the rank of Marshal of the Soviet Union. The equivalent naval rank was until 1955 Admiral of the Fleet and from 1955 Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union.
History of the rank
The military rank of Marshal of the Soviet Union was established by a decree of the Soviet Cabinet, the Council of People's Commissars (Sovnarkom), on September 22, 1935. On November 20, the rank was conferred on five people: People's Commissar of Defence and veteran Bolshevik Kliment Voroshilov, Chief of the General Staff of the Red Army Alexander Ilyich Yegorov, and three senior commanders, Vasily Blyukher, Semyon Budyonny, and Mikhail Tukhachevsky.
Of these, Blyukher, Tukhachevsky and Yegorov were executed during Stalin's Great Purge of 1937–38. On May 7, 1940, three new Marshals were appointed: the new People's Commissar of Defence, Semyon Timoshenko, Boris Shaposhnikov, and Grigory Kulik.
During World War II, Voroshilov and Budyonny were dismissed, and Kulik was demoted for incompetence, and the rank of Marshal of the Soviet Union was given to a number of military commanders who earned it on merit. These included Georgy Zhukov, Ivan Konev and Konstantin Rokossovsky to name a few. In 1943, Stalin himself was made a Marshal of the Soviet Union, and in 1945, he was joined by his intelligence and police chief Lavrenti Beria. These non-military Marshals were joined in 1947 by politician Nikolai Bulganin.
Two Marshals were executed in postwar purges: Kulik in 1950 and Beria in 1953, following Stalin's death. Thereafter the rank was awarded only to professional soldiers, with the exception of Leonid Brezhnev, who made himself a Marshal in 1976, and Ustinov, who was prominent in the arms industry and was appointed Defence Minister in July 1976. The last Marshal of the Soviet Union was Dmitry Yazov, appointed in 1990, who was imprisoned after the failed coup against Mikhail Gorbachev in 1991. Marshal Sergei Akhromeev committed suicide in 1991 on the fall of the Soviet Union.
The Marshals fell into three generational groups.
- Those who had gained their reputations during the Russian Civil War. These included both those who were purged in 1937–38 (Blyukher, Tukhachevsky and Yegorov), and those who held high commands in the early years of World War II (Budyonny, Kulik, Shaposhnikov, Timoshenko and Voroshilov). All of the latter except Shaposhnikov and Timoshenko proved out-of-step with modern warfare and were removed from commanding positions.
- Those who made their reputations in World War II and assumed high commands in the latter part of the war. These included Zhukov, Vasilievsky, Konev, Rokossovsky, Malinovsky, Tolbukhin and Govorov.
- Those who assumed high command in the Cold War era. All of these were officers in World War II, but their higher commands were held in the Warsaw Pact or as Soviet Defence Ministers. These included Grechko, Yakubovsky, Kulikov, Ogarkov, Akhromeev, Yazov and Gelovani.
All Marshals in the third category had been officers in World War II, except Brezhnev, who had been a military commissar, and Ustinov, who had been an arms factory manager. Even Yazov, who was 20 when the war ended, had been a platoon commander.
The rank was abolished with the dissolution of the Soviet Union in December 1991. It was succeeded in the new Russia by the rank of Marshal of the Russian Federation, which has been held by only one person, Marshal Igor Sergeyev, who was Russian Defence Minister from 1997 to 2001.
List of Marshals of the Soviet Union
Note: All Marshals of the Soviet Union, with the exception of Non-Military Marshals had at least started their military careers in the Army. The Service Arms listed are the services they served in during their respective tenures as Marshals of the Soviet Union.
|Name||Lifespan||Appointed||Service Arm or Background|
|Kliment Voroshilov||1881–1969||November 1935||Army/Political|
|Mikhail Tukhachevsky||1893–1937||November 1935||Army|
|Alexander Yegorov||1883–1939||November 1935||Army|
|Semyon Budyonny||1883–1973||November 1935||Army|
|Vasily Blyukher||1890–1938||November 1935||Army|
|Semyon Timoshenko||1895–1970||May 1940||Army|
|Grigory Kulik||1890–1950||May 1940||Army|
|Boris Shaposhnikov||1882–1945||May 1940||Army|
|Georgy Zhukov||1896–1974||January 1943||Army|
|Aleksandr Vasilevsky||1895–1977||February 1943||Army|
|Joseph Stalin||1878–1953||March 1943||Political/Generalissimus (from 1945)|
|Ivan Konev||1897–1973||February 1944||Army|
|Leonid Govorov||1897–1955||June 18, 1944 June 1944||Army|
|Konstantin Rokossovsky ||1896–1968||June 29, 1944 June 1944||Army|
|Rodion Malinovsky||1898–1967||September 10, 1944 September 1944||Army|
|Fyodor Tolbukhin||1894–1949||September 12, 1944 September 1944||Army|
|Kirill Meretskov||1897–1968||October 1944||Army|
|Lavrentiy Beria||1899–1953||July 1945||NKVD/MGB|
|Vasily Sokolovsky||1897–1968||July 1946||Army|
|Nikolai Bulganin||1895–1975||November 1947||Political|
|Hovhannes Bagramyan ||1897–1982||March 1955||Army|
|Sergey Biryuzov||1904–1964||March 1955||Army/Air Defence/Strategic Rocket Forces|
|Andrei Grechko||1903–1976||March 1955||Army|
|Andrei Yeremenko||1892–1970||March 1955||Army|
|Kirill Moskalenko||1902–1985||March 1955||Army/Strategic Rocket Forces|
|Vasily Chuikov||1900–1982||March 1955||Army|
|Matvei Zakharov||1898–1972||May 1959||Army|
|Filipp Golikov||1900–1980||May 1961||Army|
|Nikolay Krylov||1903–1972||May 1962||Army/Strategic Rocket Forces|
|Ivan Yakubovsky||1912–1976||April 1967||Army|
|Pavel Batitsky||1910–1984||April 1968||Air Defence|
|Pyotr Koshevoy||1904–1976||April 1968||Army|
|Leonid Brezhnev||1906–1982||May 1976||Political|
|Dmitriy Ustinov||1908–1984||July 1976||Defence Industry|
|Viktor Kulikov||1921–2013||January 1977||Army|
|Nikolai Ogarkov||1917–1994||January 1977||Army|
|Sergei Sokolov||1911–2012||February 1978||Army|
|Sergei Akhromeyev||1923–1991||March 1983||Army|
|Semyon Kurkotkin||1917–1990||March 1983||Army|
|Vasily Petrov||born 1917||March 1983||Army|
|Dmitry Yazov||born 1924||April 1990||Army|
- As Konstanty Rokossowski he was also a Marshal of Poland from 1949
- also known as Hovhannes Baghramian
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