Georgi Zhukov was born in a village in Kaluga Province, southwest of Moscow. He joined the Novgorad dragoons in 1915, rose to sergeant, and twice received the St.George’s Cross.
After learning military tactics in the Czar’s army, Zhukov joined the new Red Army when the Bolshevik Revolution brought down the czar. He advanced rapidly in the Communist forces, rising to squadron com¬ mander by 1922.Zhukov attended the Frunze Military Academy from 1928 to 1931, commanded a division of troops by 1934, and advanced to corps commander in 1936.
Zhukov managed to avoid the terrible purges carried out by Joseph Stalin during the late 1930s. He was sent east in 1939 to meet a threat from Japan. Zhukov planned and car¬ ried out a brilliant battle strategy that cost the Japanese 60,000 casualties in the Khalkin-Gol campaign. He thereby ensured that Russia’s eastern front would remain quiet throughout most of World War II. He became chief of staff of the Soviet Army in 1940 and was made a full general the same year.
Zhukov played an active role in retraining and reshaping the Soviet Army after its defi¬ ciencies were shown in the Russo-Finnish War of 1939 and 1940. Like Stalin, Zhukov was lulled to sleep as far as the Germans were concerned; the Nazi invasion of Russia in June 1941 took him thoroughly by surprise.
As Russia fought for survival against the German invaders, Zhukov played increasingly larger roles. He commanded the defense of the central and Leningrad fronts in 1941, and organized the reserve units that stopped the Germans just short of Moscow in December 1941. Zhukov received the title of first deputy commissar for defense, meaning that after Premier Stalin, he was the overall commander of the Soviet war effort. Zhukov organized, though he did not carry out the counterattack
at Stalingrad in 1942, and he was prominent in the relief of Leningrad. Made a full marshal of the Soviet Union, he led the troops that captured Berlin in April 1945, thereby ending the war.
Zhukov served as deputy minister of defense in 1946, but was relieved suddenly by Stalin. Sent to an obscure post at Odessa, he languished in semi-retirement until he was reinstated in 1952. He played an important part in ensuring that Nikita Kruschev came to power in 1955, but he was ousted by the premier in October 1957. The greatest Russian leader during the Great Patrioic War (the Russian name for World War II), Zhukov showed how a humble peasant could rise and fall under the Soviet system.