Military History Georgii Zhukov
by
Geoffrey Roberts
  • LAST REVIEWED: 01 December 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 June 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791279-0093

Introduction

Conscripted into the Tsarist cavalry in 1915 to fight in the First World War, Georgy (also Georgii, Georgi) Konstantinovich Zhukov (b. 1896–d. 1974) joined the Red Army and the Communist Party after the 1917 Russian Revolution. He made his name as a general in a battle with Japan’s Kwantung Army in August 1939 at Khalkhin-Gol on the Mongolian-Manchurian border. In May 1940, he was appointed to the command of the Kiev Special Military District and in February 1941, Chief of the General Staff (CGS). After the German invasion of the USSR in June 1941, Zhukov stepped aside as CGS (he claimed in his memoirs to have been sacked by Stalin) and was given command of a reserve army of fifty divisions that launched a successful counteroffensive at Yel’nya in the Smolensk region. Zhukov’s next assignment, in September 1941, was to bolster the defenses of besieged Leningrad. Recalled to defend Moscow, he mounted a large-scale counteroffensive in front of the Soviet capital in December 1941. In June 1942, Hitler launched a southern campaign to capture Stalingrad and the Soviet oilfields at Baku. Zhukov was appointed Stalin’s Deputy Supreme Commander in August 1942 and took part in planning and preparing the counteroffensive that encircled 300,000 German troops in Stalingrad. He also played a central role in the Kursk battle in July 1943, when hundreds of German and Soviet tanks clashed in open warfare. Zhukov was in the forefront of the Soviet strategic offensive of 1943–1945. In November 1943, he rode into Kiev with the Soviet forces that recaptured the Ukrainian capital. A few months later, Zhukov supervised Operation Bagration—the campaign to liberate Belorussia from Nazi occupation. In November 1944, Zhukov was given command of the 1st Belorussian Front, which liberated Warsaw in January 1945, and then he advanced to Berlin. It was Zhukov’s troops who captured the German capital, and Zhukov signed the instrument of Germany’s unconditional surrender on 9 May 1945. At the victory parade in Red Square in June, he took the salute and delivered the victory speech. Zhukov was appointed commander-in-chief of Soviet ground forces in March 1946, but was sacked by Stalin a few months later—on grounds of disloyalty and egotism—and demoted to commanding the Odessa military district. In 1947, he was expelled from the party central committee, and in 1948, demoted to the command of the Urals Military District in Sverdlovsk. Zhukov gradually returned to favor, and after Stalin’s death in 1953, he was appointed Deputy of Defense and later, Minister of Defense. In June 1957, Zhukov saved Khrushchev from an internal coup by hardliners, but Khrushchev then turned on him and dismissed Zhukov as Minister of Defense in October 1947. In retirement, Zhukov was criticized by Khrushchev’s supporters. He wrote his memoirs in reply, which were published after Khrushchev’s fall from power in 1964. When Zhukov died in 1974, thousands queued to pay their respects as his body lay in state in Moscow. In post-Soviet Russia, he has been reinvented as a national as well as a communist patriotic hero, lauded as the general who saved Europe, and the world, from the Nazis. Zhukov is not everyone’s hero, but the consensus is that he played a key role in all the decisive battles on the eastern front and that he was one of the best generals of the Second World War. He is certainly the best documented of the Soviet generals: there is now available a vast range of memoir and documentary materials relating to his life and career.

General and Reference Works

Zhukov’s generalship can only be understood and evaluated against the background, circumstances, and events of the Great Patriotic War. The books listed in this section treat that conflict primarily from the Soviet point of view and provide extensive coverage of Zhukov’s role as well. Erickson 1975 is the most detailed, but it is dated before both the collapse of the USSR and the publication of a large amount of new material from the Russian archives. This new material is utilized in the general post-Soviet accounts in Glantz and House 1995, Overy 1998, Mawdsley 2005, and Bellamy 2007. Shukman 1997, Reese 2011, Roberts 2006, and Jones 2012 are specialist studies, while Werth 1965 is an influential, older account of the Soviet-German war.

  • Bellamy, Chris. Absolute War: Soviet Russia in the Second World War. London: Macmillan 2007.

    E-mail Citation »

    Particularly strong on Soviet survival during the first two years of the war and on the battle for Berlin.

  • Erickson, John. The Road to Stalingrad. New York: Harper & Row, 1975.

    E-mail Citation »

    To be read with Erickson’s The Road to Berlin (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1983). Erickson was the leading British authority on the history of the Soviet armed forces. These detailed operational histories of the Great Patriotic War remain essential reading.

  • Glantz, David, and Jonathan House. When Titans Clashed: How the Red Army Stopped Hitler. Lawrence, Kansas: University Press of Kansas, 1995.

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    David Glantz is a prolific author of detailed studies of Soviet military operations during the Second World War, often in collaboration with Jonathan House. This book presents an overview.

  • Jones, Michael. Total War: From Stalingrad to Berlin. London: John Murray, 2012.

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    A view of the war from the grassroots of the Red Army, based mainly on veteran testimony.

  • Mawdsley, Evan. Thunder in the East: The Nazi-Soviet War, 1941–1945. London: Hodder Arnold, 2005.

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    Acclaimed book by a Soviet specialist that tells the story of the war from the German perspective as well.

  • Overy, Richard. Russia’s War. London: Penguin, 1998.

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    A judicious and accessible history by Britain’s leading historian of the Second World War.

  • Reese, Roger R. Why Stalin’s Soldiers Fought: The Red Army’s Military Effectiveness in World War II. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2011.

    E-mail Citation »

    A pathbreaking account of how and why the Red Army kept fighting through four years of war, huge losses notwithstanding.

  • Roberts, Geoffrey. Stalin’s Wars: From World War to Cold War, 1939–1953. London: Yale University Press, 2006.

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    A study of Stalin as Supreme Commander that details the dictator’s relations with his generals, above all Zhukov.

  • Shukman, Harold, ed. Stalin’s Generals. London: Phoenix, 1997.

    E-mail Citation »

    An illuminating collection of essays by distinguished authors that facilitate comparisons between Zhukov and other Soviet generals.

  • Werth, Alexander. Russia at War, 1941–1947. London: Pan, 1965.

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    The classic history of the war that incorporates the author’s memoirs as a war correspondent in the Soviet Union.

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