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Georgy Zhukov (1896 – 1974)

The historical significance of Zhukov in the victory over fascist Germany is not questioned either by his admirers or his enemies. The sincere love of the people for Zhukov does not depend on any political conjuncture. A.V. Suvorov, M.I. Kutuzov and G.K. Zhukov - these are three names of commanders who have no equal in the military history of Russia. The affairs and actions of Zhukov, like all great people, were ambiguously evaluated by his contemporaries.

Georgy Konstantinovich Zhukov was born on November 19 (December 1) 1896 in the village Strelkovka, Maloyaroslavets district, Kaluga oblast (today Zhukovsky district of Kaluga Oblast) in a poverty-stricken family. In 1906 Georgy graduated from the Velichkovo three-year parish school with a “school testimonial of good conduct and progress” (certificate with honours). At the age of eleven the boy was sent to study to a Moscow furrier. Later Zhukov enrolled for evening training courses and passed exams for a complete course of the urban school.

The military career of Georgy Konstantinovich began during the World War I. In August 1915 in the town of Maloyaroslavets he was enlisted in the army to the 5th Reserve Cavalry Regiment, which was located in the town Balakleya, Kharkov governorate. For distinguishing himself in actions and taking a German officer prisoner Zhukov was twice awarded the highest military distinction of the Russian Empire — the St. George Cross.

In 1918 Georgy Zhukov joined the Red Army and finished the Civil War in the position of the commander of the squadron. From 1923 to 1930 he commanded the Cavalry Regiment. Later he was assigned as an assistant of the Red Army cavalry’s inspector, was a commander of the 4th Cavalry Division, 3rd and 6th Cavalry Corps. It was already then that Zhukov proved to be a talented organizer of soldiers’ training, and an ideal commander. Units headed by him achieved high performance in combat and political training.

In July 1938 Zhukov became a Cavalry Deputy Commander of the army of the Belorussian Special military district. While next summer he assumed the command of 57th Special Corps, and then 1st Soviet Army Group in Mongolia. The first star of the Hero of the Soviet Union and the star of the Hero of the Mongolian People’s Republic Zhukov received on August 29 1939 for the successful control of operations aimed at defeat of Japanese invaders on the river Khalkhyn Gol (Mongolia). In the battles on the Khalkhyn Gol river Zhukov for the first time widely used tank units to encircle and destroy the enemy.

During the Great Patriotic War Zhukov was the member of the General Staff, Deputy Supreme Commander-in-Chief, and commanded the fronts. On January 18 1943 he became the first during the war to receive the rank of the Marshal of the Soviet Union. Under Zhukov’s command armies of the Leningrad Front jointly with the Baltic Front stopped the advance of the Army Group “North” to Leningrad in September 1941. Being a commander, the army of the Western Front inflicted a defeat on Army Group “Center” near Moscow (the Moscow battle of 1941-1942) and dispelled the myths on the invincibility of the Nazi Army.

In 1942 He was made Deputy Commander-in-Chief and took charge of the defense of Stalingrad. Zhukov coordinated actions of Fronts by Stalingrad (Operation “Uranus” — 1942), in the Operation “Iskra” during the lift of the Leningrad Siege (1943), in the Battle of Kursk (summer 1943).

With the name of Marshal Zhukov are also connected victories in Korsun-Shevchenkovsky offensive, liberation of the Right-Bank Ukraine, Operation “Bagration” (in Belorussia), where “Vaterland Line” was broken and defeated the Army Group “Center”. At the final stage of the war the 1st Belorussian Front, commanded by Marshal Zhukov, captured Warsaw, destroyed the Army Group “A” during the Vistula-Oder offensive and triumphantly finished the war by a grandiose Battle in Berlin.

On May 8 1945 in Karlshorst (Berlin) the commander was present when Hitler’s Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel signed an Instrument on Surrender of the Nazi Germany. On June 5 1945 American General D. Eisenhower awarded G.K. Zhukov the highest military order of the USA “Legion of Merit” of the Chief Commander Decree. Later in Berlin at the Brandenburg Gate the British Field Marshal Montgomery awarded Zhukov the Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath of the 1st class with a star and a crimson ribbon. On June 24 1945 Marshal Zhukov inspected the Victory Parade in Red Square in Moscow. Zhukov had been given the honor of leading the Red Army victory parade in 1945, riding into Red Square on a white stallion, and some historians believe Stalin feared he was being upstaged by the charismatic general. In March 1946 Zhukov was appointed the Commander-in-Chief of Land Forces and Deputy Defense Minister of the Soviet Union.

The relationship between the Stalin and Zhukov ended in acrimony when Stalin became suspicious of Zhukov's popularity after the war. Zhukov clashed with Vasili Stalin and Col.Gen. I.A.Serov. It was well known tat Zhukov took a rather dim view of the MVD and KB. Serov was Zhukov's deputy in overaall charge of NKVD and NKGB activities. Zhukov reportedly "could not stand Serov." Serov, however, was a close friend of Vasili Stalin and Beria, and also was on very good terms wtth Malenkov and Sta1in. Vasili Stalin "behaved very badly" when he was in Germany and when adverse reports on him were sent back, Serov frequently defended him. When Vasili Stalin was sent back t oMoscow, Serov allegedly againg helped by writing a favorable report on him and an unfavorable one on Zhukov.

After his recall from Germany, Zhukov was summoned before the Central Committe and accused of all sorts of of delinquiencies and acts of malfeasance. Georgy Konstantinovich was accused of exaggeration of his own role in the war and appropriation of trophies, dismissed and appointed a commander of the armies of Odessa, and later Ural military districts.

After the death of J. Stalin in March 1953 Zhukov again took top posts in the army, becoming a Deputy Defense Minister of the USSR. The governmental reorganization which followed the demotion of Malenkov in February 1955 brought significant changes in the top leadership of the Soviet armed forces. Marshal Zhukov moved on 9 February 1955 into the position of minister of defense, which had been vacated by Bulgaahn's rise to premier, the first time since 1949 that a professional military officer headed the combined armed forces of the USSR.

Zhukov was the first in the country to fight alcoholism. In all closed garrisons, the sale of alcohol was banned. Soldiers were examined at the entrance to the garrison, bottles of alcohol seized and then smashed them on a roadside stone. This did not reduce the level of drunkenness, since vodka could be bought even in a bookstore, not to mention that in all the neighboring villages there was any quantity and anytime.

1954-1959 - Zhukov Reforms

In the mid-1950s, Soviet recognition of the growing importance of atomic weaponry, reinforced by the United States' adoption of new force structures and weaponry tailored to combat in the atomic age, prompted the Soviets once again to alter their force structure and operational and tactical concepts. After Stalin's death in 1953, Ministers of Defense Zhukov and R.Y.Malinovsky implemented these reforms. The central focus of the Zhukov reforms was to create a force with greater mobility and troop protection that could better perform and survive in an atomic environment. The heavy mechanized armies and corps were too large, too cumbersome, and hence too vulnerable to survive on the atomic battlefield, while the rifle corps and divisions were too light and lacked mobility and troop protection.

Therefore, Zhukov converted the mechanized armies into more streamlined tank armies and the heavy mechanized and light rifle divisions into more agile motorized rifle divisions. Although this restructuring fully mechanized and motorized the Soviet Army and rendered the term mobile group superfluous, it did not alter the importance of operational maneuver. The new combined-arms armies consisted of three to four motorized rifle divisions and one tank division, while the tank army reversed the mixture of divisions. Although the Soviets recognized the significance of atomic weaponry, they considered the weapons neither unique nor dominant, but only one more combat factor (albeit a powerful one) to consider. Soviet concern for retaining a strong conventional capability was reflected in the size of the Soviet force structure (175-180 divisions) and the strength of the new divisions and armies within that structure.

The operational and tactical employment of the new Soviet force remained similar to former patterns. Fronts consisting of three or four combined-arms armies conducted the penetration operation, and army-level tank divisions began the operational exploitation. The fronts' tank armies then continued the exploitation to depths of up to 270 kilometers within three to seven days and up to 500 kilometers in two weeks. Soviet theoretical works reaffirmed their faith in operational maneuver, stating:

"Military operations in contemporary wars are characterized solely by maneuver. This is made possible by contemporary means of combat, especially the full mechanization and motorization of the ground forces.. The mobility and maneuverability of ground forces on the field of battle will have decisive importance in operations." Although the term mobile group no longer applied to specific operational maneuver forces, Soviet definitions of the function still made it clear that specific forces would be assigned the task: "Operational maneuver is . the organized shifting of distinct groups of forces during an operation to achieve a more favorable position with regards to an enemy in order to strike a blow against him or repel an enemy attack."

On 26 October 1957, TASS announced that Marshal Georgi K. Zhukov had been replaced as Minister of Defense by Marshal Rodion Ya. Malinovsky. The announcement provided no other details. The initial appraisal by the Central Intelligence Agency of Zhukov’s removal was in a memorandum from the Assistant Director of the Office of Current Intelligence to the Deputy Director for Intelligence, dated 26 October 1957, in which he concluded that Zhukov’s removal was likely intended to allow him to concentrate more on political matters, that his political stature had not been reduced, and that he probably would continue as a leading member of the Soviet hierarchy. The memorandum concluded, however, that “the possibility cannot be excluded at this time that Zhukov was removed because of policy differences with Khrushchev or that Khrushchev moved against the marshal to eliminate his most obvious contender for supreme power.”

Zhukov was at work for almost 10 years on his book, but he was unable to complete it as he wished. The last 5 years of the military leader's work on his memoirs coincided with the initiating of a campaign to "liquidate the mistakes in the fight against the cult of personality" (the second half of the 1960s). For this reason, contrary to the author's position, many critical ideas were discarded from the manuscript relating to the activities of I.V.Stalin, the repressions, shortcomings and mistakes in the war and so forth.

On 18 June 1974 Georgy Konstantinovich Zhukov died and was buried in Moscow in the Red Square at the Kremlin Wall. The renowned Soviet military commander was four times awarded the title of the Hero of the Soviet Union. He received 6 Orders of Lenin, the Order of the October Revolution, 3 Orders of the Red Banner, 2 Orders of Suvorov of the 1st class; the Order of Victory (twice), the Honorary weapon with a golden image of the State Emblem of the USSR, as well as 15 medals of the USSR and 17 orders and medals of foreign states.

The monument to Marshal of the Soviet Union Georgy Konstantinovich Zhukov (sculptor – V.M. Klykov, architect – Yu.P. Grigoriev) was erected on May 8, 1995 in Manezhnaya square in honour of celebration of the 50th anniversary of victory in the Great Patriotic War. The great commander is presented ahorse, having drawn the reins and half-risen, having put his hand forward, wearing his full parade dress. The famous marshal is shown on the pedestal in the heyday of his glory and greatness – in the moment of acceptance of Victory Parade on June 24, 1945. That is why the horse has such a rhythmic, almost drumbeat, step.

The American commander General Dwight D. Eisenhower, when on a visit to Moscow in summer of 1945 right after the Victory, claimed: “The names of Zhukov and other Soviet commanders will be glorified in the future as the names of the great professionals.” Narshal Vasilevsky: “In the constellation of Soviet generals who so conclusively defeated the armies of Nazi Germany, Zhukov was the most brilliant of all”. Otto P. Chaney, US Army War College: “For Russians and people everywhere he remains an enduring symbol of victory on the battlefield.” Hanson W. Baldwin, Battles Won and Lost: “Marshal Georgiy Zhukov … was perhaps Russia’s greatest WW II soldier… More than any other one man he was responsible for the formulation and implementation of Soviet strategy.”

Rokossovsky about Zhukov (his subordinate) in 1930: “skilled, decisive, demanding, but authoritarian, stubborn, morbidly proud and insufficiently sensitive”. Michael Parrish, The Lesser Terror: “Zhukov’s tactics, best exemplified in the Battle of Berlin, seem crude, wasteful, and indifferent to suffering, which made him and Stalin kindred spirits.” Viktor Astaf’ev, Russian writer and WW II veteran: "Zhukov was the butcher of the Russian peasantry.... We filled the German trenches with our blood and breached them with our bodies.”

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Page last modified: 02-12-2019 17:59:33 ZULU