World War II: Marshal Georgy Zhukov

Equestrial statue of Marshal Georgy Zhukov in front of the Kremlin
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Marshal Georgy Zhukov (December 1, 1896–June 18, 1974) was the most important and most successful Russian general in World War II. He was responsible for the successful defense of Moscow, Stalingrad, and Leningrad against German forces and eventually pushed them back to Germany. He led the final attack on Berlin, and he was so popular after the war that Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin, feeling threatened, demoted him and moved him to obscure regional commands.

Fast Facts: Marshal Georgy Zhukov

  • Rank: Marshal
  • Service: Soviet Red Army
  • Born: Dec. 1, 1896 in Strelkovka, Russia
  • Died: June 18, 1974 in Moscow Russia
  • Parents: Konstantin Artemyevich Zhukov, Ustinina Artemievna Zhukova
  • Spouse(s): Alexandra Dievna Zuikova, Galina Alexandrovna Semyonova
  • Conflicts: World War II
  • Known For: Battle of Moscow, Battle of Stalingrad, Battle of Berlin

Early Life

Georgy Zhukov was born on December 1, 1896, in Strelkovka, Russia, to his father, Konstantin Artemyevich Zhukov, a shoemaker, and his mother, Ustinina Artemievna Zhukova, a farmer. He had an elder sister named Maria. After working in the fields as a child, Zhukov was apprenticed to a furrier in Moscow at age 12. Completing his apprenticeship four years later in 1912, Zhukov entered the business. His career proved short-lived because in July 1915, he was drafted into the Russian Army to honorably serve during World War I.

Following the October Revolution in 1917, Zhukov became a member of the Bolshevik Party and joined the Red Army. Fighting in the Russian Civil War (1918-1921), Zhukov continued in the cavalry, serving with the famed 1st Cavalry Army. At the war's conclusion, he was awarded the Order of the Red Banner for his role in putting down the 1921 Tambov Rebellion. Steadily rising through the ranks, Zhukov was given command of a cavalry division in 1933 and later was named deputy commander of the Byelorussian Military District.

Far East Campaign

Evading Russian leader Joseph Stalin's "Great Purge" of the Red Army (1937-1939), Zhukov was selected to command the First Soviet Mongolian Army Group in 1938. Tasked with stopping Japanese aggression along the Mongolian-Manchurian border, Zhukov arrived after the Soviet victory at the Battle of Lake Khasan. In May 1939, fighting resumed between Soviet and Japanese forces. They skirmished through the summer, with neither gaining an advantage. Zhukov launched a major assault on August 20, pinning down the Japanese while armored columns swept around their flanks.

After encircling the 23rd Division, Zhukov annihilated it, forcing the few remaining Japanese back to the border. As Stalin was planning the invasion of Poland, the campaign in Mongolia ended and a peace agreement was signed on September 15. For his leadership, Zhukov was made a Hero of the Soviet Union and was promoted to general and chief of general staff of the Red Army in January 1941. On June 22, 1941, the Soviet Union was invaded by Nazi Germany, opening the Eastern Front of World War II.

World War II

As Soviet forces suffered reverses on all fronts, Zhukov was compelled to sign the Directive of Peoples' Commissariat of Defense No. 3, which called for a series of counterattacks. Arguing against the plans in the directive, he was proven correct when they suffered heavy losses. On July 29, Zhukov was sacked as chief of general staff after recommending to Stalin that Kiev be abandoned. Stalin refused, and more than 600,000 men were captured after the city was encircled by the Germans. That October, Zhukov was given command of the Soviet forces defending Moscow, relieving Gen. Semyon Timoshenko.

To aid in the city's defense, Zhukov recalled Soviet forces stationed in the Far East, quickly transferring them across the country. Reinforced, Zhukov defended the city before launching a counterattack on December 5, pushing the Germans 60 to 150 miles from the city. Afterward, Zhukov was made deputy commander-in-chief and was sent to the southwestern front to take charge of the defense of Stalingrad. While the forces in the city, led by Gen. Vasily Chuikov, battled the Germans, Zhukov and General Aleksandr Vasilevsky planned Operation Uranus.

A massive counterattack, Uranus was designed to envelop and surround the German 6th Army in Stalingrad. Launched on November 19, Soviet forces attacked north and south of the city. On Feb. 2, the encircled German forces finally surrendered. As operations at Stalingrad concluded, Zhukov oversaw Operation Spark, which opened a route into the besieged city of Leningrad in January 1943. Zhukov was named a marshal of the Soviet military, and that summer he consulted for the high command on the plan for the Battle of Kursk.

Correctly guessing German intentions, Zhukov advised taking a defensive stance and letting the German forces exhaust themselves. His recommendations were accepted and Kursk became one of the great Soviet victories of the war. Returning to the northern front, Zhukov lifted the siege of Leningrad in January 1944 before planning Operation Bagration. Designed to clear Belarus and eastern Poland, Bagration was launched on June 22, 1944. It was a stunning triumph, Zhukov's forces stopping only when their supply lines became overextended.

Then, spearheading the Soviet thrust into Germany, Zhukov's men defeated the Germans at Oder-Neisse and Seelow Heights before encircling Berlin. After battling to take the city, Zhukov oversaw the signing of one of the Instruments of Surrender in Berlin on May 8, 1945. To recognize his wartime achievements, Zhukov was given the honor of inspecting the Victory Parade in Moscow that June.

Postwar Activity

Following the war, Zhukov was made supreme military commander of the Soviet Occupation Zone in Germany. He remained in this post for less than a year, as Stalin, threatened by Zhukov's popularity, removed him and later assigned him to the unglamorous Odessa Military District. With Stalin's death in 1953, Zhukov returned to favor and served as deputy defense minister and later defense minister.

Though initially a supporter of Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, Zhukov was removed from his ministry and the Communist Party Central Committee in June 1957 after the two argued over army policy. Though he was liked by Communist Party General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev and Soviet leader Aleksei Kosygin, Zhukov was never given another role in the government. He remained in relative obscurity until Khrushchev fell from power in October 1964.

Death

Zhukov married late in life, in 1953, to Alexandra Dievna Zuikova, with whom he had two daughters, Era and Ella. Following their divorce, in 1965 he married Galina Alexandrovna Semyonova, a former military officer in the Soviet Medical Corps. They had a daughter, Maria. The World War II hero was hospitalized after suffering a serious stroke in 1967 and died after another stroke on June 18, 1974, in Moscow.

Legacy

Georgy Zhukov remained a favorite of the Russian people long after the war. He was awarded Hero of the Soviet Union four times in his career—1939, 1944, 1945, and 1956—and received many other Soviet decorations, including the Order of Victory (twice) and the Order of Lenin. He also received numerous foreign awards, including the Grand Cross of the Legion d'Honneur (France, 1945) and the Chief Commander, Legion of Merit (U.S., 1945). He was allowed to publish his autobiography, "Marshal of Victory," in 1969.