Widely regarded as the most accomplished general of World War II, the Soviet military legend Marshal Georgy Zhukov at last gets the full-scale biographical treatment he has long deserved.
A man of indomitable will and fierce determination, Georgy Zhukov was the Soviet Union's indispensable commander through every one of the critical turning points of World War II. It was Zhukov who saved Leningrad from capture by the Wehrmacht in September 1941, Zhukov who led the defense of Moscow in October 1941, Zhukov who spearheaded the Red Army's march on Berlin and formally accepted Germany's unconditional surrender in the spring of 1945. Drawing on the latest research from recently opened Soviet archives, including the uncensored versions of Zhukov's own memoirs, Roberts offers a vivid portrait of a man whose tactical brilliance was matched only by the cold-blooded ruthlessness with which he pursued his battlefield objectives.
After the war, Zhukov was a key player on the geopolitical scene. As Khrushchev's defense minister, he was one of the architects of Soviet military strategy during the Cold War. While lauded in the West as a folk hero--he was the only Soviet general ever to appear on the cover of Time magazine--Zhukov repeatedly ran afoul of the Communist political authorities. Wrongfully accused of disloyalty, he was twice banished and erased from his country's official history--left out of books and paintings depicting Soviet World War II victories. Piercing the hyperbole of the Zhukov personality cult, Roberts debunks many of the myths that have sprung up around Zhukov's life and career to deliver fresh insights into the marshal's relationships with Stalin, Khrushchev, and Eisenhower.
A remarkably intimate portrait of a man whose life was lived behind an Iron Curtain of official secrecy, Stalin's General is an authoritative biography that restores Zhukov to his rightful place in the twentieth-century military pantheon.
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June 05, 2012
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Excerpt from Stalin's General by Geoffrey Roberts
Sic Transit Gloria:
The Rises and Falls of Marshal Georgy Zhukov
Of all the moments of triumph in the life of Marshal Georgy Konstantinovich Zhukov nothing equaled that day in June 1945 when he took the salute at the great Victory Parade in Red Square. Zhukov, mounted on a magnificent white Arabian called Tspeki, rode into the square through the Spassky Gate, the Kremlin on his right and the famous onion domes of St. Basil's Cathedral directly ahead. As he did so a 1,400-strong orchestra struck up Glinka's Glory (to the Russian Motherland). Awaiting him were columns of combined regiments representing all the branches of the Soviet armed forces. In the middle of the square Zhukov met Marshal K. K. Rokossovsky, who called the parade to attention and then escorted Zhukov as he rode to each regiment and saluted them.
When the salutes were finished Zhukov joined the Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin on the plinth above Lenin's Mausoleum and gave a speech celebrating the Red Army's victory over Nazi Germany. The sky was overcast and there was a drizzling rain that worsened as the day wore on. At one point Zhukov's hat became so wet he was tempted to remove it and wipe the visor but desisted when he saw that Stalin was making no such move.
As a former cavalryman Zhukov relished the salute portion of the proceedings. Giving a speech that would be seen and heard by millions of people across the world was a different matter. The idea made him anxious and he prepared as thoroughly as he could, even rehearsing the speech in front of his daughters Era and Ella, who were so impressed they burst into spontaneous applause. The delivery of the speech was carefully crafted, with prompts in the margin directing Zhukov to speak quietly, then louder, and when to adopt a solemn tone.
Zhukov seemed more than a little nervous but it was a commanding performance nonetheless. His delivery was halting but emphatic and reached a crescendo with his final sentence: "Glory to our wise leader and commander--Marshal of the Soviet Union, the Great Stalin!" At that moment artillery fired a salute and the orchestra struck up the Soviet national anthem.
After his speech Zhukov reviewed the parade standing beside Stalin. Partway through there was a pause in the march while, to a roll of drumbeats, 200 captured Nazi banners were piled against the Kremlin wall, much like Marshal Kutuzov's soldiers had thrown French standards at the feet of Tsar Alexander I after their defeat of Napoleon in 1812. The parade over, the day ended with a fabulous fireworks display.
Stalin's choice of Zhukov to lead the parade evoked no comment. He was, after all, Stalin's deputy supreme commander and widely regarded as the main architect of the Soviet victory over Adolf Hitler's Germany, a victory that had saved Europe as well as Russia from Nazi enslavement. Newsreel film of the parade that flashed across the world only reinforced Zhukov's status as the greatest Soviet general of the Second World War.
When the German armies invaded Soviet Russia in summer 1941 it was Zhukov who led the Red Army's first successful counteroffensive, forcing the Wehrmacht to retreat and demonstrating to the whole world that Hitler's war machine was not invincible. When Leningrad was surrounded by the Germans in September 1941 Stalin sent Zhukov to save the city from imminent capture. A month later, Stalin recalled Zhukov to Moscow and put him in command of the defense of the Soviet capital. Not only did Zhukov stop the German advance on Moscow, but in December 1941 he launched a counteroffensive that drove the Wehrmacht away from the city and ended Hitler's hope of subduing the Red Army and conquering Russia in a single Blitzkrieg campaign.
Six months later Hitler tried again to inflict a crippling blow on the Red Army, this time by launching a southern offensive designed to capture the Soviet oilfields at Baku. At the height of the German advance south Zhukov played a central role in masterminding the Soviet counteroffensive at Stalingrad in November 1942--an encirclement operation that trapped 300,000 German troops in the city. In July 1943 he followed that dazzling success with a stunning victory in the great armored clash at Kursk--a battle that saw the destruction of the last remaining reserves of Germany's panzer power. In November 1943 cheering crowds welcomed Zhukov as he and the future Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev drove into the recaptured Ukrainian capital of Kiev. In June 1944 Zhukov coordinated Operation Bagration--the campaign to liberate Belorussia from German occupation. Bagration brought the Red Army to the gates of Warsaw and the capture of the Polish capital in January 1945 and marked the beginning of the Vistula-Oder operation--an offensive that took Zhukov's armies through Poland, into eastern Germany, and to within striking distance of Berlin. In April 1945 Zhukov led the final Soviet assault on Berlin. The ferocious battle for the German capital cost the lives of 80,000 Soviet soldiers but by the end of April Hitler was dead and the Soviet flag flew over the ruins of the Reichstag. It was Zhukov who formally accepted Germany's unconditional surrender on May 9, 1945.
Following Zhukov's triumphant parade before the assembled legions of the Red Army, Navy, and Air Force in June 1945 he seemed destined for an equally glorious postwar career as the Soviet Union's top soldier and in March 1946 he was appointed commander-in-chief of all Soviet ground forces. However, within three months Zhukov had been sacked by Stalin and banished to the command of the Odessa Military District.
The ostensible reason for Zhukov's dismissal was that he had been disloyal and disrespectful toward Stalin and claimed too much personal credit for victory in the Great Patriotic War, as the Soviets called it. In truth, Zhukov's loyalty to Stalin was beyond question. If anyone deserved the appellation "Stalin's General," he did. Zhukov was not slow to blow his own trumpet, at least in private, but that was characteristic of top generals the world over, including many of his colleagues in the Soviet High Command--who all voted in favor of Stalin's resolution removing him as commander-in-chief. What Stalin really objected to was Zhukov's independent streak and his tendency to tell the truth as he saw it, a quality that had served the dictator well during the war but was less commendable in peacetime when Stalin felt he needed no advice except his own. Like Zhukov, Stalin could be vain, and he was jealous of the attention lavished on his deputy during and immediately after the war, even though he had been instrumental in the creation of Zhukov's reputation as a great general. Stalin's treatment of Zhukov also sent a message to his other generals: if Zhukov, the most famous among them and the closest to Stalin, could suffer such a fate, so could any one of them if they did not behave themselves.