Marshal Georgi Konstantinovich Zhukov
Born December 1st 1896.
Died June 18th 1974
In 1896 Georgi Konstantinovich Zhukov was born in the village of Strelkova near Moscow. Like so many, he grew up in immense poverty. His upbringing reflected the impecunious times of pre industrial liver Twists England. He grew up in a tiny one-room shack and worked in state run factories for ten or twelve hours a day. His life was a monochromatic grind and yet someone it honed him. Zhukov was a tough cookie and he was adapting to the harshness in ways few people ever do.
As if the life he led was not by itself nasty brutish and short, World War I proved a relief to him. If character is destiny, then Georgy was destined to lead. In the heat of war, he learned to plan, to observe and to make plans based in fact. One of the more salient facts he surmised was that the Russian Army was run by rich aristocrats and connected politicians who had wonderfully ornate rifles and beautiful horses. However, their command experience was reading literature about the Crimean War in University. They led peasants who often were conscripted against their will fighting for a President that was more a hated monarch or royalty. The commanders were too different from the peasants they led to engender an esprit de corps. They were too refined to mix with the actual ground forces that would smash into the Czar’s enemies.
Zhukov often talked with soldiers. He developed officer corps and gave them explicit direction and rewarded those that followed orders and succeeded. There were few military organization more like the Klingons than the World War I Russian army. Losers were left behind. Those who were captured were often rewarded with escaping with a bullet in the head for being captured. An infantryman in World War I Russia was in a precarious position. But Zhukov gave soldiers a feeling of hope, that if they fought hard and smart and fought together, they could then win and survive and be proud that they protected their country.
Stalin was one of the most paranoid people alive. He actually killed tens of thousands of his own officer corps because he was convinced that once he was unpopular with an officer corps, they all had to be eliminated. That meant a bullet or imprisonment or torture. Zhukov kept a bug out bag near him at all times. Three of Stalin’s own Marshalls fell victim to Stalin’s paranoia or his umbrage at some perceived slight.
It was Zhukov’s natural leadership that kept propelling him into positions of power. People around him respected him and he won battles. In July Stalin placed him in Outer Mongolia and appointed him as commander of the First Soviet Mongolian Army Group. The Battle of Khalkin Gol was an outlier between two countries that were not formally at war: Japan and Russia. But Japan had invaded Mongolia and the Monglian government held a mutual; help pact if attacked. The Russians took it seriously. Stalin knew that a clash with japan was inevitable. Zhukov won when he deceived the Japanese commanders and surrounded their forces with a surprise and massive counter attack. It took three days to finish but Zhukov actually convinced the Japanese that the Russian forces were demoralized and o the defensive. The three-point counterattack completely confounded the Japanese. It was this ass kcikng that resulted in the non aggression pact between the two countries.
It was this battle that earned him the Hero of the Soviet Union.
ON June 22nd 1941, almost nine million men clashed on a staging line over miles lines long from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea. Operation Barbarossa was the German invasion of Russia. Russia was preparing for this move, but it happened before Zhukov Chief of General Staff (CGS), was ready. He worked assiduously preparing for it. He hand picked officers to defend the Motherland. The invasion was a massive affair, well planned and almost all of it under the impressive nose of Josef Stalin. He was so surprised that Germany attacked despite the fact that 75% of the Wehrmacht was lining up on his border. It was so forceful that Zhukov’s motivated and well-trained forces were pushed to Kiev and almost completely overrun. Zhukov wanted to order the army to retreat and regroup. Like Hitler, Stalin wouldn’t have it and argued with him. Zhukov was sacked and replaced by Marshal Shaposnikov who became chief of the Russian general staff. Zhukov was exiled to a distance cold front in the north. While in command, he reconfigured his command force and successfully strengthened the front at Leningrad. Even under tremendous political pressure, Zhukov lead and won.
Georgy Zhukov’s greatest victory was the encirclement of the German 6th Army at Stalingrad. It was the first corps level defeat of a German unit of the war and many se it as the turning point of the entire conflagration. The Russians lost upwards of a million men taking the Germans and this of course added to the concept that Stalin would take any number of casualties to win. At Kursk, Slavic peasants complained that they were the first in and cannon fodder for Zhukov.
Zhukov was defending Moscow and wanted to assemble enough troops to hit the Germans, now on the edge of the city. Stalin wanted him to attack immediately and like Hitler, he micromanaged battle fields. That said, Zhukov knew that the Germans were suffering and unprepared for the cold. With 88 infantry divisions, 1500 tanks and 15 cavalry divisions Zhukov pushed the Nazis across the pathways over the Volga-Moscow canal. It was bloody and premature because Stalin forced Zhukov’s hand. The offensive stalled, but the Nazi’s never took Moscow.
By the end of the war, 45,000 tons of ordinance had been dropped on Berlin. The people were starving. Most of the top Wehrmacht assets in existence were poised to fight to the bitter end of the Reich. There were multiple entrenched redoubts filled with anti tank guns and heavy machine guns from the outskirts to the Reich chancellery. There were battles between tanks and dug in anti tank guns and traps. There were battles in the tunnels under the city. There were strikes from Russian aircraft. The Reich collapsed at the hands of the Russians.
Zhukov lived in relative obscurity. Kruschev gave him a high cabinet minister position. He had been an exemplary commander, planner, organizer and leader. What made him especially unique is that he survived the most paranoid man in the world.