Thursday, 1 December 2016

The birth of Georgy Zhukov

Today is the 120th anniversary of the birth of Georgy Zhukov.

He was born into a peasant family in Strelkovka and when he was old enough, he managed to become an apprentice furrier in Moscow. In 1915 he was conscripted into the 10th Dragoon Novgorod Regiment, and during his service in the Imperial Army he achieved a reputation for bravery. He was awarded the Cross of St. George twice and promoted to the rank of non-commissioned officer.

He did not join the Bolshevik Party until after the 1917 October Revolution, but this did not hinder his career in the Red Army, and between 1918 and 1921 he fought in the Russian Civil War as a member of 1st Cavalry Army. His service was recognised by the award of the Order of the Red Banner.

His rise through the ranks of the Red Army was steady if unspectacular.
  • May 1923: Appointed to a command position in the 39th Cavalry Regiment.
  • 1924: Attended Higher School of Cavalry.
  • 1925: Commander of the 39th Cavalry Regiment.
  • May 1930: Commander of the 2nd Cavalry Brigade, 7th Cavalry Division.
  • February 1931: Appointed become Assistant Inspector of Cavalry of the Red Army.
  • May 1933: Commander of the 4th Cavalry Division.
  • 1937: Commander of the 3rd Cavalry Corps, and then the 6th Cavalry Corps.
  • 1938: Deputy Commander of cavalry in the Belorussian Military District.
His big opportunity came in 1938 when he became Commander of the First Soviet Mongolian Army Group. The Army Group was fighting an undeclared border war with Japan's Kwantung Army along the border between Mongolia and Japanese-controlled Manchukuo. As the fighting escalated Zhukov began planning what was to become a major offensive. On 20th August 1939 the much-reinforced First Soviet Mongolian Army Group began its offensive with a huge artillery barrage on the Japanese front line, and this was followed up by an attack that was led by nearly 500 tanks, supported by large numbers of fighters and bombers.

The Battle of Khalkhin Gol/Nomonhan was a decisive victory, and by 31st August the Japanese had been pushed back. As a result, Zhukov was declared a Hero of the Soviet Union, and in 1940 Zhukov he became an Army General. From then on his rise within the Red Army became more rapid.
  • 1st February 1941: After two spectacular victories during Army-level wargames held in January 1941, Zhukov became Chief of the Red Army's General Staff and Deputy Minister of Defense of the USSR.
  • 29th July 1941: Removed from his post of Chief of the General Staff and appointed Commander of the Reserve Front.
  • 10th September 1941: Commander of the Leningrad Front.
  • 6th October 1941: Appointed the representative of Stavka to the Reserve and Western Fronts.
  • 10th October 1941: When the Reserve and Western Fronts were combined to form the Western Front, Zhukov was appointed to be their new commander.
  • August 1942: Deputy Commander-in-Chief and sent to take charge of the defence of Stalingrad.
  • November 1942: After planning operations against the German troops around Stalingrad, Zhukov coordinated the attacks made by the Western Front and the Kalinin Front during Operation Mars.
  • January 1943: Coordinated the actions of the Leningrad and Volkhov Fronts (and units of the Baltic Fleet) during Operation Iskra.
  • July 1943: Stavka coordinator at the Battle of Kursk.
  • 1st March 1944: Appointed Commander of the 1st Ukrainian Front
  • May 1944: During Operation Bagration Zhukov coordinated the attacks of the 1st Belorussian and 2nd Belorussian Fronts.
  • 23rd August 1944: Sent to the 3rd Ukrainian Front to prepare it for the advance into Bulgaria.
  • 16th November 1944: Commander of the 1st Belorussian Front, which he led through the Vistula–Oder Offensive and the Battle for Berlin.
After the war he fell out of favour with Stalin, and he was sent to command troop in some of the more obscure and less important regions of the USSR. Attempts were made by Lavrentiy Beria (Head of the NKVD) to discredit him, and he was accused of Bonapartism.

When Stalin died suddenly in 1953, Zhukov led the team that arrested Beria, and he was part of the Military Tribunal that tried and sentenced him to death. Under the new leadership of Premier Nikolai Bulganin, Zhukov became Defense Minister, and he remained in post until he fell out of favour again and was retired into relative obscurity aged 62. His memoirs were published in 1969 and became they a best-seller, but on 18th June 1974 Zhukov died as a result of a stroke.


  1. In the 7th grade (age 13), my younger son was assigned the task of writing an essay on his hero. Most of his classmates wrote about Michael Jackson or some other entertainer (sad all by itself); my son, having been adopted years before from Russia, wrote his essay about Zhukov.

    His teacher noted it was the first time, and undoubtedly the last time, that a middle school student in Virginia would identify Georgy Zhukov as his hero! (Probably the only time a student would even know who he was.)

    Best regards,


    1. Chris,

      I can think of worse people to make one's hero. He was by no means a perfect man, but he was a very efficient and capable general.

      All the best,


  2. I like that story! I wouldn't call Zhukov's career between 1923 and 1938 'unspectacular' exactly: from a subaltern officer of cavalry to Corps commander in 15 years isn't too bad - and then to command a sizeable army the following year!

    I have an idea he spent some time in Germany in the interwar period, but I don't recall in what capacity.

    1. Archduke Piccolo,

      Perhaps unspectacular was not the best choice of words, but his progress was steady and it was obvious that he was destined for higher things ... just as long as he could survive being purged!

      All the best,



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